Yelena Biberman, Gambling with Violence: State Outsourcing of War in Pakistan and India, New York: Oxford University Press, 2019.

Cover for 

Gambling with Violence

This book tackles a global problem that is particularly consequential for Pakistan and India: state outsourcing of violence to ordinary civilians, criminals, and ex-insurgents. Why would these countries gamble with their own national security by outsourcing violence – arming nonstate actors inside their own borders? Drawing on over 200 interviews, archival research, and fieldwork conducted across Asia, Europe, and North America, I introduce the “balance-of-interests” thesis to deepen our understanding of state-nonstate alliances in civil war. This framework centers on the distribution of power during war and shows how various combinations of interests result in distinct types of coalitions. Incorporating case studies of civil war and counterinsurgency, the book sheds light on how militias, alliances, and South Asian security connect today.

Table of Contents

CHAPTER 1: Introduction
CHAPTER 2: State-Nonstate Alliances in Civil War: A New Balance-of-Interests Theory
CHAPTER 3: Saving the House of Islam: Pakistan’s “Volunteers” in the War of 1971
CHAPTER 4 “Guns Plus Interest:” Renegades and Villagers in India’s Kashmir War
CHAPTER 5: Tribal “Awakenings” in Pakistan and India
CHAPTER 6: All the State’s Proxies in Turkey and Russia
CHAPTER 7: Conclusion


Perspectives on Politics

[A] welcome case approach with a wealth of interview and archival material of substantial theoretical interest to political scientists… [I]llustrates the value of layers of evidence on the sequence of events and the incentives at work… [A]n intrepid political scientist who overcomes the obstacles and risks of field research in this challenging environment. — Neil J. Mitchell, University College London

Journal of Peace Research

Spanning nearly half a century of violence in highly diverse and complex socio-political settings, what brings these cases together is the author’s pointed focus on alliances between state and non-state actors as a questionable form of outsourcing of state violence. — Åshild Kolås, Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO)

Asia Policy Book Review Roundtable

Her framework is useful in understanding the complex and often convoluted relationships between states and their domestic proxies. — Tamanna Salikuddin, Director of South Asia programs at the U.S. Institute of Peace

Arguably, the book’s most important contribution is the theoretical model it constructs to explain the alliance between states and nonstate actors. …Biberman’s position regarding policy recommendations is particularly appreciated. … [T]his is an interesting and compelling work that effectively contributes to the debate around the outsourcing of violence. It will be of interest to both the casual reader and those engaged more profoundly in the study of conflict, political violence, and security. — Rashmi Singh, Pontifical Catholic University of Minas Gerais (Brazil)

The “gamble” in the book’s title points to its greatest strength: a philosophical ease throughout the writing with the variegations of human motivation.  Biberman correctly points to the fact that large-N studies neglect the human dimension and that only a dedicated contextual and historical narrative can uncover the diverse reasons actors make certain decisions over others in wartime. … Overall, the material as presented is of high quality. The narrative of the case studies advances at a brisk pace, and the writing is clear throughout. Similarly, the book is undergirded by references to several of the most durable classic philosophies of war and self-interest politics. … [A] rare and useful addition to the burgeoning library on countering insurgency. — Samir Puri, Senior Fellow for Hybrid War and Urban Security at the International Institute for Strategic Studies’ Asia headquarters (Singapore) 

Strategic Analysis

[A]n excellent study that contributes to an improved understanding about why and how states can attract and use non-state actors to counter insurgency. — Ryan Shaffer, independent scholar

Modern War Institute at West Point

In emphasizing the interests and incentives facing nonstate actors, the book provides a corrective to earlier studies that frame alliances as driven exclusively by state interests… [T]he book’s argument and empirical evidence provide a rich and persuasive account of the outsourcing of violence. In analyzing the incentives facing both states and their local allies—and taking seriously the ideological motivations and long-term interests of nonstate actors—Gambling with Violence helps provide a fuller understanding of the dynamics of counterinsurgency. In emphasizing the conditions under which states outsource a central function to nonstate actors, the book also raises new questions about what it means to be a contemporary state. The findings should be of interest for students and scholars of civil war, armed group governance, and state building. — Erica De Bruin, Hamilton College

The Book Review India

The six case studies between them cover most conceivable issues that arise from a political, strategic and human rights perspective. The book is on this count a recommended read for both practitioners and academics since it elaborates on a topic usually touched on in hushed tones and of which little is known. — Ali Ahmed, Nelson Mandela Center for Peace and Conflict Resolution, Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi

India Quarterly

[A] compelling book that has knitted together a rich array of case studies, adding new theoretical insights to the scholarship of IR theory and alliance formation. Overall, this book has made a substantial contribution in the field of political violence, civil wars and terrorism in the world. — Syed Eesar Mehdi, South Asian University, New Delhi


This excellent book makes an important contribution to the literature on South Asian security, addressing the neglected issue of state-nonstate alliances in civil wars… This is a useful addition to the literature on civil wars and the conflict over Kashmir. Highly recommended. Upper-division undergraduates through faculty. — M.E. Carranza, Texas A&M University-Kingsville