Politics and Threat Perception: Explaining Pakistani Military Strategy on the North West Frontier Security Studies
Paul Staniland, Asfandyar Mir, Sameer Lalwani  |  October 2, 2018

Analysts and policymakers agree that the Pakistani military has engaged in selective repression of and collusion with armed groups. Yet beyond this general observation, fine-grained theory and evidence do not exist to systematically explain patterns of military strategy across groups and over time. This paper provides a theoretical framework for explaining regime perceptions of armed groups and the strategies state security managers pursue toward different types of groups. It then probes this framework using a combination of new medium-N data on military offensives, peace deals, and state–group alliances in Pakistan’s North West and four comparative case studies from North and South Waziristan. We argue that the Pakistani military—the key state institution in this context—has assigned armed groups to different political roles reflecting both their ideological affinity with the military and the operational benefits they can provide to the army. This mixture of instrumental and ideological motivations has created a complex blend of regime threat perceptions and state–group interactions across space and time. A clearer understanding of how the military views Pakistan’s armed political landscape can inform policy debates about the nature of Pakistani counterinsurgency, as well as broader theoretical debates about order and violence.