Influencing Violent Extremist Organizations in South Asia


Project Details


This project is a follow-on project to the global IVEO project completed in June 2011. In this effort, the research team synthesized existing knowledge and evidence relevant to influencing violent extremist organizations (VEOs) with a focus on the empirical evidence available within the country contexts of Afghanistan, Pakistan and India. Additionally, researchers completed set of micro-case studies of efforts in Pakistan to influence militant Islamist organizations in Pashtun regions.

Primary Findings:

Researchers established that empirical testing of the reviewed hypotheses is weak in the context of South Asia, with 35 hypotheses having not been subjected to any empirical tests and with an additional 14 hypotheses having only anecdotal support. Robust empirical support was found for only three hypotheses in the South Asian context. Regardless of the schema one uses to categorize hypotheses, the primary focus of the literature is on the assessment of coercive strategies directed against the leadership and active memberships of VEOs. Pakistan has been the primary focus of empirical investigations, with a primary focus on coercive strategies. Assessments of influence strategies are more balanced between assessment of “hard” and “soft” options for Afghanistan and India. The 35 influence operations, as categorized into the Davis schema, are primarily coercive, with the largest categories being “deter next time by punishing now” and “be seen as able to defend.” However, less coercive policies, namely co-optation and inducement, are also used with some frequency. Specifically, limited military operations are the modal category. A general pattern of talk-fight emerges from the analysis of the 35 identified influence operations. More specifically, this pattern is characterized by the following:

  1. No action until levels of militancy become too difficult to ignore OR militant action directly threatens Pakistani government.
  2. Pakistani government launches limited military operation, which is limited in geographic scope and of short duration.
  3. Pakistani government engages in negotiations with VEO, reaching peace deals.
  4. Peace deals break down when VEOs unwilling or unable to implement terms of the agreement.
  5. Pakistani government then launches additional limited military operations, which restarts the cycle.

The project team generated micro-literature reviews for 88 hypotheses related to influencing VEOs in the South Asian context. These reviews, along with coded information on each hypothesis, comprise the South Asia I-VEO Knowledge Matrix. The methodology employed for generating case studies focused on producing cases that provide insight to the problem of political instability in South Asia. Researchers identified the Pashtun areas of Pakistan as a region that contributes heavily to political instability in South Asia (contributing to instability in both Pakistan and Afghanistan) while sufficient open-source information is also available to conduct assessments of influence operations with some level of confidence. The team identified 35 influence operations with sufficient open-source information to consider them for more in-depth treatment. Of these 35 operations, five were selected for more in-depth examination, based on their representativeness of the body of influence operations identified.


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