Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs
Center for Contemporary South Asia

Political Science PhD Candidate, Muhammad Omar Afzaal was recently awarded the Minerva Peace and Security Scholar fellowship at the United States Institute of Peace.  Omar's dissertation, “Picking Your Battles: A Story of Pakistan’s Perceptions," asks: What explains the variation in a state’s choice to escalate against adversarial attacks? This is motivated by the puzzle of why enduring rivals experience violent conflict occasionally but not consistently. Focusing on Pakistan and shadow cases of India, and Israel, Omar hypothesizes that the choice to escalate in conflict is biased by how specific elites and institutions perceive adversarial attacks as threatening to their interests. In turn, this perception creates organizational bias when interpreting those attacks. The resulting dataset will help identify when rival states choose peacebuilding over retaliation and escalation. The project seeks to bridge the gap between civil-military policymakers and academic-policy practitioners in understanding the risks of violent interstate conflict in the backdrop of an increasingly aggressive China and a resurging Russia in the Middle East and South Asia.