Research Blog

Laksmana on “micro” military politics in Indonesia

Evan Laksmana has a really interesting article out in the Journal of Contemporary Asia that examines how internal promotion patterns have influenced the politics of the TNI after democratization. I have found research on military politics in Indonesia (i.e. Kammen and Chandra) a real inspiration for my own work, with Dann Naseemullah and Ahsan Butt, on “Pakistan’s Military Elite.” Here’s the abstract of the Laksmana paper:

“This article seeks to explain the increasingly regressive (or illiberal) behaviour on the part of the Indonesian military. It focuses on the expansion of the Army’s Territorial Command structure, the growing military intrusion into civilian polity and the stunted progress of military professionalism. It provides an organisational, rather than political, perspective. Conceptually, the article synthesises various approaches to comparative politics to explain why and how military personnel policies affect political behaviour. Empirically, using a series of original datasets of hundreds of officers, the article demonstrates how promotional logjams – too many officers but too few positions available – over the past decade help explain the regressive behaviours we recently witnessed. It is further argued that the lack of institutionalisation in personnel policies gave rise to and prolonged these logjams. This article draws attention to the importance of intra-organisational dynamics in understanding the state of civil–military relations in post-authoritarian Indonesia.”

Malik and Siddiqui on violence & politics in Karachi

This is a fascinating new report for the United States Institute of Peace by Mashail Malik and Niloufer Siddiqui on exposure to violence and politics in Karachi. Some key takeaways:

“individuals exposed to violence are less likely to trust that elections would be free and fair, and more likely to expect and fear electoral violence. The impact of violence on political behavior was greater for respondents exposed to violence perpetrated by political or state elements, and such individuals are less likely to turn out to vote.”

“the survey also found very low baseline levels of trust between ethnic communities in Karachi. Exposure to violence is correlated with higher levels of intolerance”

“Narratives that framed Karachi’s history of violence in distinct ways had minimal effect on decreasing prejudice, indicating that intergroup trust may be difficult to alter in the short term”

Publishing your first academic book

I’ve recently had several in-person and electronic conversations about the process of publishing a first academic book. I thought it might be useful to offer some thoughts and advice because it can seem like a very murky and opaque process. I’m drawing here on my own experience and that of friends and colleagues: others’ advice will surely differ, but I hope this gives at least a broad sense of how to think about approaching publishing.

One key step is to meet or speak with an editor about the project. You probably don’t want to approach before the book is even remotely ready (this appears to be different for more senior scholars), but I also don’t think there is any reason to have the full revised manuscript done. You can provide a timeline of when you expect a full manuscript or specific chapters.

I would suggest emailing press editors 6-8 weeks prior to a major academic conference (ISA, MPSA, APSA, etc). You can ask friends or advisers who have worked with an editor to make a connection ahead of time if you feel comfortable doing so. This doesn’t actually seem necessary, though; my sense is that the best editors have a pretty good nose for topics they are interested in, regardless of who has or hasn’t emailed them ahead of time.

It would be a big disservice if people talk themselves into not contacting top editors because they don’t have the pedigree/connections to get an introduction – I’d suggest just going ahead and doing it once you have a polished prospectus, a credible timeline, and a good sense of what you want the book to look like.

It can, however, be very useful to ask around among colleagues or looking through recently published books for a clear idea of which editors are most relevant to your project. If at all possible, don’t email the general email address for the press.

This email should ask if it would be possible to meet, provide a very brief overview of who you are and 1-paragraph summary of the book, and include an attached 4-6 page book prospectus. As an example, this is the prospectus I sent to Cornell in 2011 (note: much changed since!). I drew this from several older friends, so it seems like a useful general template. You may attach an introductory chapter or some other chunks of the book if you want; I didn’t but know others who did. You can also propose an email or phone conversation if you or the editors won’t be heading to relevant conference anytime soon.

The editor will hopefully write back and set something up, or let you know that he or she doesn’t see a great fit for the project. I’d recommend either contacting several editors at once or having a back-up list to go to if your top choice declines. Try to be gracious (easier said than done, I know. . .) if there is a rejection – you may end up wanting to work with this person again and they get many times more proposals than they could possibly publish.

At the meeting/in the conversation, try to get your basic argument and contribution across in a clear and engaging way – why would someone pay money to read your work? Why does this need to be a book instead of an article or set of articles? Which audience/s do you want it to appeal to? How far into the process are you? Engage the editor about the shape and direction of the manuscript, since they have tons of experience on the different ways books can be structured, what works and doesn’t, etc. You want them on your side, since all of their incentives are to pass on books given the crush of proposals/submissions they face and the alarming economics of academic publishing.

The editor may express interest and ask to see more of the book when it’s ready, or politely decline to move forward. Follow his or her lead on how to keep in touch and how to submit if there is interest. I personally have found book manuscript workshops staggeringly useful (I just had an amazing lineup of scholars break my current project down and rebuilt it on Tuesday) prior to submitting for review, but your rhythm, resources, and needs will vary of course.

Some people get interest from multiple presses. You can definitely ask about or even push for multiple submissions for review (i.e. to both Cambridge and Princeton, or Oxford and Chicago), but don’t expect it.

If you don’t have a finished manuscript ready to go, you can send an occasional brief email to the editor keeping them up to date on what you are up to. And then the review process is not unlike journals – off it goes into the ether, for some undetermined period of time, without much certainty about results. People tend, I think, to share their book rejection stories far less than their journal rejection stories, but they very much do happen, so don’t let your submission get too close to promotion time if at all possible. Even if it does get accepted, then there will likely be another year or more of the production process. Long-term thinking is important here – there is a limit to how fast even a supportive editor can move things along, and none can guarantee good news.

There is a whole complicated world after acceptance – contract negotiations, copyediting, indexing, etc, but those are ultimately secondary to getting someone to offer a contract. This is just my limited take on the process, so if you have more thoughts, feel free to leave them in the comments.

PS. My colleague Austin Carson offered a set of valuable thoughts and tips on this process in this Twitter thread.

Approval of Chinese and American leadership in South Asia

I’ve been crashing on a whole variety of things: teaching a new IR of South Asia lecture class, finishing the first full draft of my Armed Politics book manuscript for a late May book workshop, keeping up with the news and new research, and trying, and mostly failing, to not catastrophically fall behind on absolutely everything. So I am basically accomplishing almost nothing beyond frantically building Powerpoint slides and triaging my email.

That said, a project I am *thinking* about as my next book is the domestic politics of foreign policy in South Asia. I have several data collection projects of various forms going on regarding India, and am finding various interesting pieces of quantitative data and case studies to explore in the rest of the region.

I’ve been particularly interested in tracking down public opinion data, which seems like a potentially under-explored area. The internal breakdowns are of greater theoretical interest (what explains variation within each country in views of China?), but here’s an aggregate comparison of “Approval of China’s Leadership” from the Gallup World Poll, 2006-18 (the chart can also be found here if you have trouble reading it embedded in this post):

Pakistan (red) is by far the highest approval overall, and has increased a good bit in the last decade, at 73% in 2018, with 55% the lowest in 2009 and 82% the highest in 2016. Nepal follows up (light blue), hitting 52% in 2018, up from a low point of 29% in 2012.

Sri Lanka (yellow) and Bangladesh (green) sit in the middle – both have bounced around a bit, but broadly in the 30-40% approval range over time. India brings up the rear, from 8%-24% depending on the year.

Now here’s the equivalent for the United States (link to chart here):

There’s a substantially lower spread – Nepal brings up the top at 55% in 2018 (low point 28% in 2011), followed by a clustering of India, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka at 39-41%, and Pakistan the lowest at 14%. Pakistan has ranged from 7% (2006) to 26% (2011), India is currently at its highest approval (lowest in 2011 at 16%), Sri Lanka has bounced from 48% (2002) to 14% (2012) back up to 39% in 2018. Bangladesh’s low was 19% in 2007 and its high was 48% in 2013.

Obviously there are massive caveats with this kind of work, but I thought these were interesting patterns across countries and time.

Indian foreign policy & domestic politics

Vipin Narang and I published an article in Security Studies last year. It’s currently free and ungated here. We’ve been thrilled to see the article engaged by three excellent young scholars and analysts:
1. Rohan Mukherjee reviewed it for H-Diplo/ISSF.

2. Kunal Singh (heading off to MIT for a Political Science PhD next year) used it in this article on why Pakistan attracts so much more attention in Indian politics than China, which poses an objectively much bigger challenge.

3. Neelanjan Sircar explores what the Kargil war can, and cannot, tell us about the links between international security and electoral outcomes.

Two Kashmiri narratives

With the attack on the CRPF at Pulwama and ongoing India-Pakistan tension, it’s important to understand some of the politics at stake here. While most, understandably, emphasize 1947 and the battles over partition and accession, I want to suggest to readers two memoirs that provide insight into contending narratives about the origins of the insurgency and the evolution of the conflict since. These matter both for Kashmir and for the broader battles over nationalism in contemporary India and Pakistan. The point of this post is not to judge their relative quality or accuracy, either of the books (there are plenty of reviews out there) or of the narratives (which do not seamlessly overlap with either author, to be clear), but instead to provide a little context to the political contest over history.

The first book is Basharat Peer’s Curfewed Night. Peer grew up as a Muslim Kashmiri and his book can be seen as one approach to understanding the lived experience of Indian counterinsurgency (Mirza Waheed’s The Collaborator is fictional but conveys similar themes). For many in Kashmir, the 1990s were a period of brutal, heavy-handed state repression – the systematic use of torture, extrajudicial killings and disappearances, rape and sexual humiliation, disregard of human rights by the security forces, and a deep, hypocritical gap between the self-regarding Indian narrative about democracy and the actual behavior of the forces. This is a world of BSF interrogation centers, arrogant and unaccountable officers, stacks of dead bodies, an Indian population fundamentally disinterested in how its security forces rule “restive” peripheries, at best, and jingoistically cheering on indiscriminate violence, at worst, and a long history of political manipulation and mis-governance. I have a vivid memory of an auto driver in downtown Srinagar telling me that he was ruled by a “government of the stick.”

This has broader implications. One could imagine how the attack at Pulwama would not be seen as a terrorist attack but instead a clean hit on an armed convoy of security forces in a war zone, and far less of a moral outrage than Gawkadal or Bijbehara. Talk about “winning hearts and minds” or the “healing touch” would seem superficial and meaningless. Development as a pathway to peace would seem to be sidestepping the core political issues at stake. Kashmir is seen as a historically distinctive and particular place, not a stand-in for either Pakistan or Muslims in general; it is a small and marginal population facing the wrath of a massive India.

Many Muslim Kashmiris would accept that militants committed atrocities and excesses (including, to some extent, toward Pandits), but would argue that India’s security forces committed vastly more killings, tortures, and general acts of coercion and violence. In the background lies a long history of Hindu minority rule in Jammu and Kashmir – Hindu Rulers, Muslim Subjects – and the numerous interventions from Delhi.

The second book is Rahul Pandita’s Our Moon has Blood Clots, which explores the experience of Kashmiri Pandits as they fled the Valley early in the insurgency. Pandita argues that the Muslim population often was complicit in often-vicious violence against Pandits, that the insurgents were not idealistic nationalists but instead driven by a clear Islamist agenda, and that the Pandit exodus must be a central part of any narrative of the 1990s. The misery of the Pandit refugee population and its erasure in favor of an inaccurate portrayal of a victimized, passive Muslim Kashmiri population are the key injustices to be righted.

Kashmir, and the Pandit question, in the eyes of the Hindu right were on my mind when I wrote this post about threat perception among Hindu and Buddhist nationalists in South Asia:
“Christianity and Islam are seen as offensive, aggressive forces that tend to take and seize land that once belonged to indigenous religions. They then demand an unearned indigeneity, asserting their total claim to the conquered territory. Non-proselytizing religions like Hinduism and Buddhism find themselves ever more squeezed and restricted, unable to take back what was rightfully theirs. This is, for instance, part of the Hindu right’s narrative on Kashmir – rather than a Muslim territory that needs to be in some way accommodated as special and different, they frame it as a formerly Hindu territory seized and colonized by Islam.”

In this narrative, Islam is on the march in Kashmir and beyond (see, for instance, the skepticism of Rohingya claims and opposition to providing them sanctuary among many on the Hindu right). Liberal elites tie themselves up in knots trying to justify double standards and so-called “minority appeasement,” but the truth must be faced by true nationalists: Kashmir is where a line must be drawn, with force when needed and with vigorous support and empathy for the security forces facing down hardened, implacable jihadist foes. There is little sympathy for Kashmiris – they throw stones at security forces, celebrate radical Islamists from groups like Jaish and Lashkar at militants’ funerals, encourage their children to martyrdom, live on land bloodily stolen from indigenous Hindus, extract money from the Indian taxpayer despite holding that taxpayer in contempt, and then have the temerity to complain about human rights abuses.

This has bled in recent years into the claim that even pro-Delhi/mainstream Kashmiri political parties are functionally secessionist and treasonous. Kashmir is particular only in the intensity of its rebellion – more broadly, however, it represents a chauvinistic and expansionistic Islam backed by Pakistani guns and money. The narrative also is instrumentally useful, both within the state (Jammu) and in the broader national electoral showdowns that face a powerful but still embattled Hindu nationalism.

These battle lines are visible in today’s political debates, and even once this particular escalation dies down, they will remain fundamental to the political cleavages defining the politics of India and South Asia.

I also want to recommend this sobering Human Rights Watch report from 1996 for anyone interested in the conflict in the 1990s: India’s Secret Army in Kashmir.

India’s deterrence dilemma

This is a really fascinating piece by Yogesh Joshi in War on the Rocks on the new INS Arihant, India’s first SSBN. A couple passages that jumped out at me:

“With China and Pakistan as nuclear adversaries, India confronts a unique challenge. It has to build up its nuclear capability enough to ensure that Chinese decision-makers fear it, without sending Islamabad into panic and undermining regional stability. This “Goldilocks dilemma” will be difficult to resolve, and India should not leave it to chance — especially as the United States, once South Asia’s chief crisis manager, loses both interest and influence in the region. India should reassure Pakistan by reaffirming its policy of no first use of nuclear weapons and a retaliation-only nuclear doctrine. More importantly, India should rethink its deterrence requirements vis-à-vis China.”

” Indian decision-makers must accept the reality of this modest enterprise. Rather than engaging in premature triumphalism over Arihant, India should take a page from the Chinese playbook to hide its capacities and bide its time.”

“Even after nuclear weapons have been mated with missile tubes, the military will not be in command of nuclear weapons. Any ballistic missile launch requires a two-step authorization, in which civilian authority plays a key role. Even in situations where an imminent enemy strike may be about to take out the submarine’s ballistic missiles, civilian authority will remain the sole custodian of India’s sea-based nuclear forces.”

What to read on Assam

Assam has been in the news recently, as well as the broader Northeast, as a site of protest against the recent citizenship bill passed in the Lok Sabha. These are a few works that can help situate the politics of Assam in a broader historical perspective:

Sanjib Baruah, India Against Itself and Durable Disorder

Udayon Misra, The Periphery Strikes Back

BG Verghese, India’s Northeast Resurgent

Sanjoy Hazarika, Strangers of the Mist

Myron Weiner, Sons of the Soil

Monirul Hussain, The Assam Movement

Deeka Meeta, Student Movements in Assam

Nani Mahanta, Confronting the State

S.K. Chaube, Hill Politics in Northeast India