How can insurgent groups that are militarily far weaker than the state survive and grow? Influential accounts drawing on Kalyvas' “control-collaboration” model argue that limited state reach can make this possible by allowing rebel groups to carve out pockets of control where they can elicit collaboration. I suggest that this account is inadequate. Even states with limited reach are likely to transfer sufficient forces to rebel-affected areas to establish at least partial control. Weak rebels therefore often face the challenge of building capacity without local control to begin with. I identify two broad factors that can make this feasible: first, strong pre-existing rebel networks, which facilitate collaboration through solidarity, norms of reciprocity, and social incentives; and second, counterinsurgency policies and practices that fail to exploit the opportunities that control offers for incentivizing collaboration and shaping political preferences. These arguments are grounded in a fieldwork-based case study of insurgency processes in a hamlet of Rolpa, Nepal.
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