Moeed Yusuf, Associate Vice President, USIP


In 2014, I edited a book on counterinsurgency in South Asia (Insurgency and Counterinsurgency in South Asia: Through a Peacebuilding Lens). In comparing India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Nepal, the analysis identified a number of common threads across the case studies. Arguably the most politically controversial of these is the role of third party spoilers in insurgencies. Insurgent support from external actors – usually near and far neighbors of the insurgency-infested state – has been the norm rather than the exception in South Asia.

The finding is extremely consequential but not altogether surprising. South Asia suffers from an unfinished process of state and nation building. National identities and territorial boundaries are deeply contested and the contestation involves neighbors who often feel justified in manipulating the situation in pursuit of their preferred configuration on these questions. Massive organized violence tin the forms of insurgències often originate from domestic grievances linked to the contested issues and provide obvious opportunities for outside states to exploit them further. The normative concern about ‘sovereignty’ in statecraft is trampled in the process – it always has been in this region.

Both Daud and Semple have aptly captured the importance of this broader geo-politics for the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban insurgencies in their papers but without referring to this dynamic. The Afghan Taliban have benefited tremendously from the overlay of Machiavellian politics among regional and extra-regional actors with a direct stake in developments in the country. The U.S. (as an extension of the Afghan state given its central role in shaping the direction of post-9/11 Afghanistan) and Pakistan have been the most important actors. Their interests have never fully converged on the end state in Afghanistan. For the U.S., the ideal state in Afghanistan is a decisively defeated Taliban, an inclusive democràtic political system friendly towards the West, and a strong security apparatus that can defeat and prevent the resurgence of any Islamist outfit. Since 9/11, this has translated into an expansive counterinsurgency effort, replacement of the Taliban with an ethnically diverse set up in Kabul, first under President Karzai and now Ghani, and a 350,000-plus strong Afghan security force.


About the Author

Dr. Moeed Yusuf is the Associate Vice President of the Asia Center at the U.S. Institute of Peace. His current research focuses on youth and democratic institutions in Pakistan, policy options to mitigate militancy in Pakistan and the South Asian region in general, and U.S. role in South Asian crisis management. He was a fellow at the Frederick S. Pardee Center for the Study of the Longer-Range Future at the Pardee School of Global Studies at Boston University, and concurrently a research fellow at the Mossavar-Rahmani Center at Harvard Kennedy School. He has also worked at the Brookings Institution. In 2007, he co-founded Strategic and Economic Policy Research, a private sector consultancy firm in Pakistan. He has consulted for a number of Pakistani and international organizations including the Asian Development Bank, World Bank, and the Stockholm Policy Research Institute, among others. From 2004-2007, he was a fulltime consultant with the Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI), Pakistan’s premier development-sector think tank.