Research Blog

Raghu Rai’s photos of 1971

Magnum Photos has a (low-resolution) set of online photos from the famous Indian photographer Raghu Rai’s book Bangladesh: The Price of Freedom. A usefully visceral complement to excellent recent books on 1971 by Bass, Tripathi, and Raghavan. And also a reminder of just awful warfare is to those of us who study abstractly and from afar the suffering of others.


Prashant Jha on the neighborhood

A useful overview of the challenges India faces in its neighborhood:

“What is India’s key problem in the neighbourhood today?

It is simply that even though Delhi believes having friendly regimes is indispensable for its security, it has not been able to shape domestic political outcomes in key neighbouring capitals as it desires; where it has succeeded in doing so, the situation remains fragile; and Delhi’s favourite political allies are ranged against Beijing’s preferred political allies.”

Are Indian security force casualties martyrs?

A recent RTI case in India asked whether the Ministry of Home Affairs and Ministry of Defence use the phrases “martyrs” or “shaheed” in official terminology. MHA and MOD both responded that this is not official usage:
“”The respondent from the stated that word ‘shaheed’ or ‘martyr’ is not used by the MoD. Instead the one used is ‘battle casualty’. The respondent from the Ministry of Home Affairs stated that in the MHA the word used is ‘operations casualty’,” Azad said.”

It’s worth noting, though, that the CRPF, BSF, and MHA use “martyr” in their website lists of killed-in-action (which Drew Stommes and I are just about done putting into dataset form). Not a particularly important issue, but worth noting the disjuncture between official bureaucratic policies and the actual languages of politics that those institutions use.

New working paper with Matanock

Aila Matanock and I have a new working paper out (link here for PDF).

“Armed groups engage in elections in many regimes, and, in doing so, they pursue a surprisingly diverse array of electoral strategies. In this paper, we explore the strategies that armed actors seek to change electoral politics, and we identify four distinct electoral strategies by armed groups, compared to nonparticipation. We theorize that the specific dimensions on which participation types differ are directness, i.e. whether or not the armed group runs its own candidates in elections, and openness, i.e. whether or not the armed group makes official statements expressing electoral positions publicly. The strategies include openly fusing bullets and ballots to form an armed political party, controlling a political wing that stands candidates in elections, openly targeting particular parties or politicians, and secretly providing resources for separate parties. In contrast, some groups choose instead to target all parties and politicians or ignore electoral politics. Beyond laying out this new typology, and providing examples, we explore a first important question in this research area: why groups pursue different strategies. We argue, and show evidence in diverse case studies, that the support and cohesion of the armed groups, government tolerance, and party cleavages drive armed actors’ electoral strategies.”

When did which insurgency start? And was it Marxist?

I’ve blogged in the past about the challenges of both qualitatively and quantitatively measuring civil wars and “armed politics.” Right now, I’m having fun with cross-national civil war datasets as part of a project on leftist insurgencies in democracies (mixing Sri Lanka JVP micro-data with cross-national cases). Which requires figuring out which insurgencies were leftists, when they started, and which regimes were democracies in what years. I’ll bracket the latter question (anyone who’s tried to figure out what 1950s Pakistan counts as will be familiar with the vexations that can await).

I’ve been focusing on South and Southeast Asian cases, with Latin America up next.

Why can this be tricky? Well, take the Communist Party of Thailand (CPT). Much of the literature says it began in 1965 and Kalvyas and Balcells (2010 – data and appendix linked to here) code 1966 – but UCDP says 1974 was the year of onset. The Polity regime score of Thailand in 1965 is -7 (autocracy), but in 1974 it’s +3 (some kind of partial democracy or anocracy or whatever you want to call it). So the year of onset matters hugely if you are trying to figure out whether this was a revolt against a democratic-ish regime. Plus, telling a Thailand expert that the CPT revolt began in 1974 would probably be met with a incredulous look and then a dismissive eye roll about quantitative American social science.

Thomas and Wood (2017 – data here) code the CPP/NPA insurgency in the Philippines as a Marxist rebellion, but don’t list the 1946-1954 Huk rebellion because they focus on post-1979 cases. Kalyvas and Balcells (2010) agree on the CPP, but explicitly code the Huk uprising as a non-Marxist rebellion – even though many case experts would say was a Marxist insurgency. So who knows what the Huks were – do they count, or not? I’d say yes, but it’s a judgment call rather than a straightforward exercise.

UCDP says the CPP/NPA began in 1969 but Kalyvas and Balcells (2010) say 1972. Only three years off – but the Polity score of the Philippines in 1969 was +2 and in 1972 it was -9 (Marcos’ dictatorship). Either the CPP/NPA took on a semi-democratic regime – or it rebelled against a deeply authoritarian government (a similar quandary as with the CPT).

UCDP doesn’t have anything for Bangladesh in 1972-1974, when it was coded as an 8 in Polity (highly democratic). But the case literature points to the Jatiya Samajtantrik Dal (JSD) as a leftist insurgency during precisely this period. So if we put the JSD in, we have a leftist insurgency against a democracy. If we follow UCDP, there is nothing to see here. Once we add the Maoist Purba Banglar Sarbahara Party (PBSP) during the exact same period (the chaos leading up to Mujibur Rahman’s assassination in 1975), things get even wilder – not in UCDP, but definitely in case literatures. And both are leftists, but don’t appear in Kalyvas and Balcells (2010). We don’t know how many people (sources say things like “over two thousand”), or at whose hands, died during this period, so it’s little surprise it hasn’t shown up in datasets. But that doesn’t mean it didn’t happen or definitely doesn’t meet the relevant coding criteria.

India’s Naxalites are coded as getting going in 1969 in UCDP, 1967 in the case literature, and 1989 in Kalyvas and Balcells (2010, see Table A3). So either at the passionate height of Sino-Soviet split in the international communist movement – or in the final year of the Cold War when the whole Marxist thing was going out of style.

UCDP says the second JVP revolt in Sri Lanka kicked off in 1989. But the case literature and Kalyvas and Balcells (2010) say 1987. Who cares about two years? Well, Sri Lanka in 1987 was the year of the arrival of the IPKF, JR had been the president for a decade, and there hadn’t been a parliamentary election since 1977. In 1989, Premadasa was president, the IPKF was starting to back for the exits after having been around for a little while, there was an early-year parliamentary election – and the JVP’s strategy was totally different than in 1987. In 1989, it’s total war, total onslaught especially by the summer, targeting especially the security forces. In 1987, it was a much more selective focus on the UNP cadres while leaving open the possibility of some kind of deal (on JVP take-over terms) with leftist mainstream political forces. So your story about onset in 1989 would have to be very different than for 1987.

To be clear, there is also a ton of important agreement across datasets and case literatures. Everyone agrees that the CPB began its revolt in 1948 Burma, that the CPN-Maoist started its rebellion in 1996 Nepal, the Huks in 1946 Philippines, and the first JVP revolt in 1971 Sri Lanka. And many of the disagreements come down to specific, defensible coding criteria that come with many good things (UCDP knows its emphasis on verifiable battle death thresholds will lead to undercounting of particular types of phenomena, for instance – it’s a trade-off with the clear upside of comparability across cases). And I’m using all of this stuff for my more medium-/small-N-ish research project.

So this isn’t a cri de coeur against cross-national datasets, at all. But since we’re not dealing with many cases and we are grappling with very complicated questions, getting under the dataset hood is really important. Pulling stuff off the shelf to mix-and-match, by contrast, may not always be wise, since coding decisions can have inferential consequences.

The Pakistan Army and Khadim Hussain Rizvi

This Dawn article by Kalbe Ali is sobering reading. In a profile of Khadim Hussain Rizvi, the Barelvi cleric who has been leading pro-blasphemy law/anti-Ahmadi protests with military backing, we have this passage on why the security establishment has lent its support:

“Incidentally, a senior security officer also claims that the matter relates to more serious issues that is beyond politics and elections. “This will eventually lead to de-radicalisation of the society away from the clerics who preach violent extremism and are secretly affiliated with banned groups such as the TTP,” he says.

The strong reaction on social media to video clips of DG Punjab Rangers distributing envelopes containing Rs1,000 to the participants of sit-in who were released from police custody generally been based on criticism against the military’s involvement in local politics and on it being seen as rewarding those who had defied the state. The senior security officer, however, asserts the need to consider the other side of the coin too.

“The involvement of the establishment in local affairs is nothing new in this country, but it has never been in such a way,” he says. “This distribution could be indirect too but it was open and so obvious that the religious majority will develop a liking and attachment towards the armed forces, and not believe in what is being said by some clerics.”

The officer says that the main problem in eradication of terrorism was that very small number of sleeper cells were present in the society, operated by experts who have had hardened training in Afghanistan.

“Only clerics can counter the extremist narratives, and if Barelvis become organised and active, they will eventually prevent the youth from falling into the hands of extremists,” he adds.”

If this is accurate (a caveat throughout), I’m not even sure what to say, beyond that it’s extremely obviously not a good idea. The notion that Rizvi isn’t an extremist is only not laughable if your definition of “not extremist” includes “big supporter of Salman Taseer’s assassin” and “hates Ahmadis.” It’s a reminder that perceptions of moderation and extremism are contextual and ideological.

The Army’s support for the TLYRA is presented in this article as a coldly strategic calculation to abandon Pakistan’s Ahmadi citizens (and likely others, from Shias to “blood thirsty liberals”) in order to undermine the TTP among the so-called “religious majority.” It also shows the Army’s simultaneous deployment of and vulnerability to religious languages of legitimacy. Even if officers themselves are personally not particularly Islamist, the institution has regularly fused Islam and nation in ways that provide advantages in domestic politics (as the guardian of Muslim nationalism, however one might try to actually define that) – but also make it difficult to credibly criticize and crack down on large swathes of Pakistan’s Islamist landscape, since they often use similar discourses and symbols.

(This is why I don’t have much patience for “Well, the officer corps isn’t personally Islamist!” argument – analysts shouldn’t care what they do at home if what they do in the public square is different. That’s what matters. Same deal with the Jinnah historiography.)

The history of such divide-and-rule strategies in Pakistan is of course disastrous –  the 1971 war, the very rise of the TTP, the expansion of sectarianism, etc all have involved the Pakistan Army trying to be clever in manipulating identity cleavages and/or discriminating between armed groups. Propping up one set of extremists against another is a hard-to-control process – it will entrench and legitimize the further exclusion and marginalization of people who the Army is technically supposed to be, you know, protecting, while allowing deeply destructive forces to further implant themselves in society.  The Army’s calculations, if correctly presented in media accounts, blend myopia and malevolence. This won’t end well.

The growth in MHA forces/budgets

Devesh Kapur in The Print:

“over the period 2006-14, personnel increases in the MHA (thanks to CAPFs) were more than six times the net increase in personnel of the entire central government. . . .

his expansion has proceeded much more rapidly than that of the other security-providing instruments of the state, the army and the police (Table 2). In 1998, CAPFs were less than 58 per cent of the size of the army. By 2015, this had increased to 82 per cent – and the number is climbing. . . .

At the other end, the size of CAPFs relative to the civil police has increased by nearly 15 per cent over the last two decades, which means that basic law and order – which is the first line of defence and is already under severe stress – is being neglected at the cost of a more militarised approach to policing. . . .

IPS officers have a stranglehold on top paramilitary positions, even though the service was never meant to lead a paramilitary force, and most have little experience of leading from the front in insurgency areas.. . . .

Internal officer recruits in these forces know they have little chance to get to the top, undermining motivation and how they care for their troops. Little wonder that the officer-to-soldier casualties in the CAPFs are much lower than in the army.”