Primary Networks and Insurgent Success

Networks are essential for understanding the organization, adaptability, and persistence of armed insurgent groups.  Insurgents rely on ties of sympathy and solidarity with elements of the larger society in order to effectively threaten standing authorities.  The relationships and affiliations inherent in these shared purposes allow insurgents to understand their operational environments and develop intelligence capabilities.  Situational awareness means building perspective through linked observers and information providers.

            Insurgents must also establish and sustain a viable resource base and a pattern of logistical continuity.  No organization can pursue its purposes without the means to press on, especially if it is exploiting opportunities.  Finally, insurgencies must ensure an adequate level of recruitment while simultaneously protecting their organizations from infiltration by government forces and their sympathizers.  All of these requirements rely on networks to achieve threshold capabilities.

            Paul Staniland’s article, “Organizing Insurgency: Networks, Resources, and Rebellion in South Asia” (International Security, Vol. 37, No.1 (Summer 2012), pp. 142-177), is a detailed, scholarly investigation of the foundational social bases for insurgent groups and the network structures that integrate necessary elements of armed resistance.  Trust and allegiance translate into discipline and control through the proper evolution of networks which bridge divided social bases and rationalize (i.e., make efficient) overlapping social bases.  The central question which Staniland addresses is why a sharp increase in the resources available to insurgent groups leads, in some cases, to breakdowns in collective discipline and consequent fragmentation, while in others, to more refined organizational integrity and internal discipline.

            Staniland proposes a social-institutional theory of insurgent organization which is rooted in network dynamics.  As the decisive factor for insurgent success, he posits the ability of rebel groups to draw upon the institutions and social networks in which they are embedded.  Staniland believes that when kinship ties, religious associations, political formations, and veterans’ networks can be reconfigured and applied as disciplinary structures for insurgent organizations, the rebel enterprise can leverage its available resources for self-promotion and enhanced integrity.  The gist of Staniland’s argument is that a successful insurgent group marshals the connective power of the societal linkages in which it is situated and harnesses their mobilizing potential.

            Having set the theoretical background for his study, Staniland proceeds to test his hypothesis against the experience of the two most prominent Kashmiri separatist groups, the Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) and the Hizbul Mujahideen (Hizb).  The former was a broadly popular resistance group which sought to liberate the Moslem-majority provinces of Jammu and Kashmir from Indian sovereignty by employing a strategy of mass mobilization.  The latter was a more narrowly based organization fueled by an Islamist ideology not favored by the general population.  It was, however, focused, disciplined, and internally coherent.

            The spike in available resources to both organizations was provided by the covert weapons, training, and financial support provided by the government of Pakistan.  The leadership in Islamabad sought to repeat the success of similar insurgent support to the Mujahadeen tribesmen in Afghanistan, who were able to throw off Soviet occupation with covert Pakistani assistance, often diverted from U.S. defense grants.  These infusions of foreign military aid actually precipitated the fracture of the JKLF, as it ended up facilitating the training and arming of tribal groups which didn’t share its core purposes.  For the Hizb, on the other hand, foreign assistance generated the means of cementing deep vertical ties into primary Kashmiri social groups.  These groups were not the incidental products of mass mobilization, but rather unique cultural dispositions of long standing.  Therefore, the Hizb was able to build and reinforce its original structure with resources that rewarded and blessed, while the JKLF diffused the potential effects of its resources through crude attempts to impel mass movements.

            The lessons emerging from Staniland’s research emphasize the importance of linking the arbitrary network structure of insurgent cadres with the existing, tested, and proven networks which define the traditional substrate of societies.  Successful insurgencies fashion the deep networks of their area of operations into linkages that promote both internal discipline and opportune alliances with external resource providers.