Yes, it’s possible to do research in conflict zones. This is how.

Studying active conflict zones in the 21st century is uniquely difficult. New forms of war and non-state armed actors blur the lines of the battlefield, and Westerners are increasingly targeted.

We have spent years researching the politics of warlords, rebels and foreign interventions in Afghanistan, Somalia and the Turkey-Syria borderland. These places have become increasingly perilous countries in which to work. But they remain of great concern for Western policymakers. Continue reading

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Afghanistan militias: after a decade of counter-insurrection efforts, what role do they play?

As a candidate and now as US president, Donald J. Trump has consistently refused to specify his plan for fighting Daesh, short of his earlier promise to “bomb the (expletive) out of them”. The White House also seems to be at a loss when it comes to developing a comprehensive strategy for Afghanistan. Continue reading

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The ‘Tribal Politics’ of Field Research: A Reflection on Power and Partiality in 21st-Century Warzones

Can fieldwork still be done in today’s most violent warzones? We contend that long-held methodological principles about power and impartiality do not hold in today’s conflict-ridden environments. Research of this kind can still be pursued, but only if the scholar’s place is reconceived as one of limited power and unavoidable partiality. We argue that those still able to do fieldwork in sites of increasing danger do so by virtue of building their own ‘tribes,’ forming and joining different social micro-systems to collect data and, in some cases, survive. Field research must, therefore, be recognized as its own form of foreign intervention. In considering the future of political science research in the most challenging war-torn settings, we examine the risks and opportunities that accompany ‘tribal politics’ of this kind and underline the importance of reflecting on our own positionality in the process of knowledge production. Continue reading

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Afghanistan : des milices pour quoi faire ?

Donald Trump s’est toujours refusé à livrer un plan de lutte contre Daech. Il a, en revanche, maintes fois affirmé son intention d’intensifier les bombardements aériens contre l’organisation terroriste et sa volonté de rompre avec la stratégie de l’actuel gouvernement américain en la matière. Continue reading

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What An Afghan Warlord-Turned Vice President Tells Us About Military Intervention and State Building

Last month, American officials denied Afghan warlord-turned Vice President Abdul Rashid Dostum a visa to the United States. In doing so, they did not simply refuse entry to the second-ranking official of a regime the United States helped put in place. They also turned down a man who was instrumental in recapturing the Northern city of Mazar-e Sharif from the Taliban in 2001; a man who worked hand in hand with US Special Forces as part of the “Global War on Terror.” Fifteen years later, the same man is barred from entering the United States. Continue reading

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Warlords, Intervention, and State Consolidation: A Typology of Political Orders in Weak and Failed States

Despite efforts to bolster failed states over the past two decades, many states in the international system still exhibit endemic weakness. External intervention often leads to political instability and in most cases fails to foster state consolidation, instead empowering and creating ties with the ones it aims to weaken. Using the case of Afghanistan, I develop a typology of political orders that explains variation in degrees of state consolidation and provides the basis for more systematic comparative analysis. I demonstrate the resilience of a political logic according to which non-state armed actors (warlords) “shape-shift” and constantly reinvent themselves to adapt to changing political environments. This article, based on extensive field research in Afghanistan, shows why failed states are unlikely to consolidate and exhibit Western-style state building, as a result of intervention or otherwise.

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NATO in Afghanistan: Fighting Together, Fighting Alone

Book review – NATO in Afghanistan: Fighting Together, Fighting Alone by David P. Auerswald and Stephen Saideman, Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2014, ISBN: 9780691159386

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