Under-Studied Civil Wars in S. Asia

Some cases of civil war receive far more attention than others, both in academic research and policy analysis. Malaya, Northern Ireland, Iraq, Afghanistan, the Philippines, and Vietnam come to mind. In South Asia, Kashmir, the LTTE in Sri Lanka, and bits and pieces of the Maoist and TTP insurgency have received some real attention. Even within these cases, it’s important to note that there is a huge amount of selectiveness – there is far more on Kashmiri militancy than either civil society or party politics, for instance,.

There are numerous other cases without even selective attention – they might show up without much detail in cross-national datasets or be occasionally referenced in secondary sources or get some International Crisis Group reports, but otherwise have not been the focus of sustained research. What are some of these cases that have gone missing in the study of South Asia (at least among political scientists of conflict)? In other words, where might ambitious grad students, analysts, journalists, etc direct their attention?

The JVP revolts. I’ve written a bunch on this blog about the two JVP rebellions (1971, 1987-1990), and I’m working on 2 projects involving the JVP – one just about the case, the other a broader study of revolutionary insurgencies in democracies. Ultra-radical ideology, targeting of first mainstream politics and then the security forces, efforts at grafting international ideological currents onto local politics.

Manipur. Numerous armed groups, large-scale corruption, security forces operating with little oversight from the “mainland” Indian public, porous borders, widespread extortion, inter-insurgent competition and collusion, etc. It has it all, but is very very hard to study. John Parratt has a book on its conflict, but for the most part it is simply folded into much broader overviews of the Northeast.

The 1980s-1990s Naxalites. There is some solid work on the 1967-1972 period, and then a lot of recent stuff on the post-2004 rise of the Naxalites. But the long intervening decades are substantially less studied, despite their obvious importance in explaining how a seemingly-crushed movement was able to survive and revive.

Balochistan. For unsurprising reasons (i.e. the Pakistani state/military), this is something of an empirical black hole. I don’t know how much research we will ever see on the conflict, especially historical work that can get into the weeds on past decades. Yet there have been multiple armed groups, recurrent military offensives and military governance, extensive ethnic and sectarian violence, etc in the region.

Shan State. Everything about insurgents, militias, the military, private armies, local politics (electoral and otherwise), cross-border flows of various resources, drug lords, etc. in Shan State. Full stop.

Chittagong Hills/Bangladesh more broadly. I’ve been able to find relatively little analytical work on the various insurgent groups and military operations, as well as regional political parties, Bangladesh’s Chittagong Hill Tracts.

And Bangladesh in general receives far less research than India, Pakistan, or Sri Lanka, despite its size and the variety of political processes within it (how many political scientists studying Bangladesh – a country of 156 million people – as their main case are at top. . . . 500 political science departments or policy schools?). Armed political parties, insurgents, jihadists, and a frequently praetorian military should provide rich terrain for research.

The Indian Punjab. There have been numerous studies of the macro-politics of the Punjab conflict. But we know a shockingly small amount about the various actual insurgent groups that operated in the conflict; like Manipur and Balochistan, the fragmentation and opacity of specific organizations creates real research challenges. This seems like an area where a researcher with good contacts in the pro-Khalistan diaspora could make a real contribution.

So – go study these places!

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