July 26, 2012

Dipali recently completed a postdoctoral fellowship at Princeton, during which she prepared a a book manuscript for Cambridge University Press. It is based on her doctoral dissertation at the Fletcher School at Tufts University: Warlords, Strongman Governors, and State Building in Afghanistan.

What do you study?

I study modern state formation in conflict and post-conflict settings. In particular, I have spent the last several years studying the role of warlords in the state building project in post-2001 Afghanistan. I am fascinated by the challenges weak political centers face as they attempt to grow their authority in the face of formidable competitors. Unlikely alliances sometimes form that turn strongmen into governors operating on behalf of the very centers with which they were once competing. These are the kinds of dynamics that most interest me as a scholar.

What do you teach?

I teach in the field of international security. This fall, I will teach a course on state formation, violence, and intervention in the modern world. Next spring, I will teach a course on warlords, militiamen, and mafias and another on foreign intervention and conflict management. I look forward to giving students the opportunity to tackle rich scholarship on the state, governance, and non-state armed actors in the context of recent international efforts at rebuilding "broken" states and engaging various forms of non-state authority in the developing world.

What do you consider today’s most pressing global issue?

It is hard to choose just one, as so many of the world's most pressing issues are profoundly interconnected. But the one that concerns me the most is the phenomenon of so-called weak statehood. The incapacity of state capitals to control what goes on at their peripheries opens up space for a variety of destabilizing activities, from violent extremism and drug trafficking to banditry, local rebellion, and civil conflict. The impact of these phenomena on the lives of ordinary citizens (especially women, minorities, and young people) is often devastating and sometimes irreversible.

What concerns me the most about the challenge of weak statehood is the absence of any sure-fire policy solutions to this problem – foreign-led military interventions are costly in every sense, and their results are always mixed and often disastrous. Less drastic forms of interference leave most parties dissatisfied, while some wonder if the best approach is one of non-interference.

I suppose this reality is what motivates me to continue studying and teaching about the phenomenon of weak statehood. I hope that further research on the subject will shed more light on how these kinds of states function and what might be done (or not done) by foreign actors to encourage better governance within their borders.

What professional achievement are you most proud of?

I am most proud of the field research that I conducted in Kabul and two provincial capitals during four trips to Afghanistan between 2007 and 2012. I believe in the rich potential of qualitative field research to expand our understanding of societies and cultures other than our own. While my experience was uncharted, challenging, and sometimes frightening, it was my great privilege to learn about Afghan power and politics from those who were living, breathing, and experiencing it firsthand.

Why did you choose to come to SIPA?

For a variety of reasons: I am excited to engage with a student body whose members will bring their own knowledge and experiences to the classroom and shape the conversation in mature and interesting ways. I look forward to learning from and collaborating with an extraordinary set of colleagues, both scholars and practitioners. And, finally, I believe in the mission of this school and consider it a privilege to educate those who seek to improve the lives of others around the world through their professional careers.