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Dipali Mukhopadhyay Examines the (Il) Logic of Precarious Sovereignty in State-building at the Annual Kelleher Forum

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Sediqa Balkhi, a member of the Afghan High Peace Council, addresses a women's peace conference
Sediqa Balkhi, a member of the Afghan High Peace Council, addresses a women's peace conference on September 22, 2013.

On March 7th, Dr. Dipali Mukhopadhyay joined the Center for International and Security Studies at Maryland (CISSM) at the School of Public Policy for this year’s Annual Kelleher Forum. Mukhopadhyay is an associate professor at the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University and also serves as a senior expert on Afghanistan with the U.S. Institute of Peace. Her presentation explored contradictions between counter-terrorism and democracy promotion objectives in U.S. policies towards Afghanistan and other so-called ‘weak states.’ 

During Women’s History Month, CISSM hosts an annual event to honor Catherine M. Kelleher, one of the founding faculty members of the School of Public Policy, the founder and first director of CISSM, and the founder of the Women in International Security Network (WIIS)

CISSM Director Nancy Gallagher opened the event by recollecting how Kelleher used her positions in government and academia and her ever-expanding professional networks to create opportunities for other women to advance in the security policy field. “Catherine never hesitated to ask challenging, uncomfortable questions about logical contradictions in U.S. policy,” Gallagher said, “so she would have been an enthusiastic champion for Dr. Mukhopadhyay’s probing analysis.” 

After opening her talk with a sincere recognition of Kelleher’s trailblazing career and the inspiration she gained from it, Mukhopadhyay presented her new book project. In the post-2001 “war on terror,” the United States intervened in countries it considered incubators for terrorism both to enhance security and to promote democracy, but misguided efforts to strengthen and advise client governments inadvertently kept them from governing in ways that would have been most effective and legitimate in their own political context. Mukhopadhyay critiques this as a Western-centered, imperial logic that perpetuates precarious sovereignties and undermines indigenous forms of governance. Using Afghanistan as a case study, she argues that U.S. intervention has perpetuated a fragile balance of power that hinders sustainable governance efforts. 

“The attacks on September 11th, 2001 catapulted Afghanistan into the center of the American imaginary, where it would become the object of paradoxically intertwined fantasies. Fantasies of vengeance and liberation. These assaults on the homeland provoked a sense of existential dread, revealing a kind of vulnerability not experienced since Pearl Harbor and an accompanying awareness that an amorphous threat roamed the earth and the sky, capable and prepared to strike at the heart of all that mattered to America,” said Mukhopadhyay. 

As Mukhopadhyay puts it, the Western military intervention in Afghanistan promoted the idea of state strength as a solution to extremism while fostering dependence and weak statehood. This intervention left Afghanistan in a perpetual state of vulnerability, caught between the threat of foreign control and the risk of sudden withdrawal.  “This precarious form of sovereignty drew a weak state into the international community of states but not on its own terms. For Americans after 911, the place and space of Afghanistan held within it an enemy to be vanquished, women to be saved, tribes to be tamed and a nation to be freed,” said Mukhopadhyay. 

Watch the 2024 CISSM Kelleher Forum featuring Dipali Mukhopadhyay here:

Honoring Catherine M. Kelleher

CISSM director Professor Nancy Gallagher authored Catherine McArdle Kelleher – an Appreciation. Comments in remembrance are welcome.

Support the Catherine M. Kelleher Fellowship for International Studies, which continues to honor Kelleher’s inspirational legacy, funding an exceptional graduate student pursuing their master’s or doctoral degree at the School of Public Policy.


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