Edward Newman / Jaideep Saikia / Alex Waterman

The Impact of COVID-19 on Insurgency and Rebel Governance: Lessons from India's Northeast

Journal of Global Security Studies | 2023

  • Abstract

    Emerging research has suggested that the COVID-19 pandemic has generally favored rebel organizations—rather than states—in situations of intrastate conflict. This article challenges this perspective by analyzing the pandemic's impact on three dimensions of rebel activity—armed activity, popular support and recruitment, and rebel governance. It does so by using illustrative evidence from long-running insurgencies in Northeast India, characterized by long-term rebel weakness and minimal, if any, territorial control. The article finds that during the early, acute phase of the pandemic in 2020, state-imposed lockdowns, rebels’ own restrictions, and disruptions to supply chains constrained most dimensions of rebel activity. The easing of restrictions in 2021 revealed complex and multidimensional impacts on different armed groups, which often hinged on pre-existing positions such as armed group strength, strategy, relations with the state, and operational circumstances. These experiences of low-level insurgencies lacking territorial control add important qualifiers to the notion that rebels are inherently best placed to capitalize on stochastic shocks such as pandemics. Beyond the case of Northeast India, these findings make a number of contributions to the analysis of counterinsurgency and rebel governance.



    Journal of Global Security Studies








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