The Terrorism Trap: How the War on Terror Escalates Violence in America’s Partner States

Columbia University Press (Studies in Terrorism and Irregular Warfare), 2023

After two decades and trillions of dollars, the results of the War on Terror are decidedly mixed as the U.S. government and its many partner states continue to grapple with the threat from terrorism around the world. Despite the vast resources and attention committed to global counterterrorism efforts since al Qaeda’s 9/11 attacks, terrorist violence seems to have worsened for many societies that have been caught up in America’s fight against terrorism. What explains this dilemma? In The Terrorism Trap, Harrison Akins looks back on the War on Terror and addresses this key question.

Drawing on extensive primary sources including newly declassified documents, dozens of in-depth interviews with leading government officials, and statistical analysis, Akins provides a groundbreaking analysis demonstrating that partner states’ U.S.-backed counterterrorism operations, intended to target al Qaeda within the “ungoverned spaces” of the periphery, provoked a violent backlash from local terrorist groups, leading to a spike in retaliatory terrorist attacks. As domestic terrorism increased abroad, senior U.S. officials frequently failed to fully grasp the implications of the historical conflict between the central government and the periphery and exerted greater pressure on partner states to expand their counterterrorism efforts. This exacerbated the underlying conditions that led to the escalating violence, trapping America’s partner states in a deadly cycle of tit-for-tat violence with local terrorist groups, the eponymous terrorism trap. This process accounts for the lion’s share of the al Qaeda network’s terrorist activity since 2001. Akins reveals that this unintended impact of the War on Terror—increasing domestic terrorism inside America’s partner states—has been hiding in plain sight.

Conquering the Maharajas: India’s Princely States and the End of Empire, 1930-50

Manchester University Press (Studies in Imperialism), 2023

At independence in 1947, India and Pakistan confronted a vast mosaic of political entities: directly administered districts, tribal areas, European enclaves, and the princely states ruled by India’s maharajas, rajas, khans, and nawabs. The over 560 princely states dotting India’s political landscape were no minor or inconsequential feature of the British Raj, comprising 40% of its territory and containing nearly 100 million people.

Yet, India’s princely states is a relatively under-studied aspect of British rule in India and the early years of Indian and Pakistani independence. Far from playing second fiddle to events in the British Indian provinces, the princely states played an integral role in shaping events leading up to and following the transfer of power. Within the British Raj, the princely states were autonomous with recognized sovereignty through treaties with the British Crown. Therefore, each prince had to be convinced, cajoled, and, in some cases, forced to accede to either India or Pakistan. As Indian and Pakistani authorities sought to assert the writ of the post-colonial state, the princes’ sought to preserve their sovereignty, setting the stage for political and military clashes based in competing conceptions of state sovereignty. 

Conquering the maharajas examines the often overlooked but essential history of Princely India through the tumultuous end of British Empire in South Asia and the early years of Indian and Pakistani independence. As the noted Indian diplomat K.M. Panikkar once remarked, ‘Any account of the last days of princely rule will sound incredible today.’