Fotini Christia  interviews Afghanis.

Fotini Christia interviews Afghanis.

Studying war-torn Afghanistan, Fotini Christia, assistant professor of political science, challenges the view that diversity in religion or ethnicity leads inevitably to sharply drawn civil wars. In her field research with Afghanistan warlords, Christia is examining how regional or tribal leaders sometimes flip from warring against neighboring groups to forging alliances with these same neighbors.

Under certain conditions, she finds, groups can overlook longstanding grievances and form new, supportive alliances, according to a recent article in Soundings, published by the MIT School of Humanities, Arts, & Social Sciences. Her findings have implications for U.S. policy and for the future of peace in the region.

“Groups are driven by balance-of-power considerations,” says Christia. “That means that, as relative power changes, so do alliances. Groups then come up with narratives and stories about why they make the alliances they do.” Read the article for more on her research.

Christina, a native of Greece and fluent in several languages, learned Farsi and the regional dialect called Dari so she could speak directly with Afghanis. She began her field work in the country in 2004, and she has interviewed war loads, government officials, and other local people. Drinking tea is a very important part of the interview ritual, as she says: “You need to have at least three cups of tea before they start telling you the real stuff.”