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Classifying Responses

Namrata Goswami

By Paul Staniland
Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers  (Originally published by Cornell University Press, 2014), New Delhi, 2015, pp. 300, Rs. 995.00


Insurgencies, by definition, signify organized violence waged for a specific political end. Insurgencies are waged within a defined territory, aspire to represent a social base, and portray themselves as enjoying legitimacy from their host population. In accomplishing these tasks, insurgent groups tap into the pre-existing social networks of which they were part before taking up arms against the state. The Naga insurgency in India is a case in point. Before the Naga National Council (NNC) took to violence in 1955, it was part of nonviolent social networks for nearly nine years since its inception in 1946. Paul Staniland highlights the importance of pre-war social networks in the organizational structure, recruitment base, ideology, and social constraints for insurgencies. The author classifies insurgencies into four distinctive types, namely, integrated, vanguard, parochial, and fragmented groups. Integrated groups display strong central leadership, suffer few splits, and enjoy high levels of local compliance (p. 6). Vanguard groups have robust central control but limited or weak local control (p. 7). While they exhibit tight leadership discipline at the top, they suffer from local indiscipline affecting their intelligence gathering and recruitment capabilities (p. 7). Parochial groups are characterized by weak central control and discipline but exhibit strong local control. Consequently, they suffer from lack of unity across the different factions (p. 8). Fragmented groups exist as loose factions, and have very weak coercive power (p. 8). According to Staniland, insurgent organizations that build social ties over time sustain themselves in the face of counter-insurgency. For him, an insurgent group that can maintain its cohesive structure, can powerfully influence the process of negotiation, demobilization and post-war rehabilitation. I agree as my work on the National Socialist Council of Nagalim-Isak-Muivah-(NSCN-IM)in India established that its success in maintaining cohesiveness during negotiations with the Government of India strengthened its bargaining power.1 Insurgent organizations that establish strong command and control and local processes of recruitment, intelligence, and tactical combat, succeed.  The author analyses several case studies, for supporting or falsifying his social-institutional explanation, in which his conceptual prop is the study of pre-war social bases that were politically active before the insurgency. He examines how insurgent groups built their organizational structures from the social support they received as well as the constraints this imposed (p. 9). Staniland offers explanations on change in insurgent organizations over time. His case studies include the insurgencies in Kashmir, Sri Lanka and Afghanistan, the Malayan Communist Party (MCP), the Viet Minh, and the ...

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