Borderlands, Brokers and Peacebuilding in Sri Lanka and Nepal: War to Peace Transitions viewed from the margins

Lead Research Organisation: School of Oriental & African Studies
Department Name: Development Studies


Political economy critiques of the mainstream literature on statebuilding and post-conflict reconstruction, highlight its ahistorical, functionalist and technocratic orientation (Cramer, 2006; Migdal & Schlichte, 2005; Roxborough, 2012; Pugh et al, 2008). This critique emphasises the historically-divergent and contested trajectories of state formation/building, and the importance of studying the state as it actually exists rather than as an ideal type. The corollary to this is the need to disaggregate the state through coalitional analysis, to appreciate the role that coercion and the distribution of rents play in shaping political (dis)order and the critical importance of informal networks, brokers and power relations that underpin formal state structures and institutions (North et al 2012, De Waal 2009, Mac Ginty 2010).

However, important though these political economy insights are, they rarely deal explicitly with questions related to the territorialisation of power, or the spatial dimensions of scarcity, abundance and dependence (Le Billon, 2012). The implicit spatial assumption is that post-war statebuilding and development involves the creation or rebuilding of institutions at the centre, followed by the diffusion or radiation of power outwards to the margins of the state. This research challenges this narrative, drawing upon insights from political geography, political ecology and border studies which examine the interactions between territory, space, scales, resources and political processes (Agnew, 2008; Jessop et al, 2008; Korf et al, 2009; Nugent, 2003; Paasi, 2011; Watts, 2004). The research focuses on the specific histories of conflict and post-war statebuilding, the networks, brokers and institutions which link centre and periphery, and the evolving geographies of war to peace transitions. From this perspective, the margins are not merely reflective of power relations at the centre, but may actually be constitutive of those power relations (Scott, 2009; Goodhand, 2008, 2013). The research aims to open up the black box of subnational governance and study how different kinds of peripheries and differing brokering relationships may define institutional arrangements and political processes at the national level. The margins may be crucial arenas which determine how peace is built in the aftermath of war.

The research consists of a structured, focused comparison of the spatial dynamics of war to peace transitions in the borderlands/frontier regions of two conflict-affected states in South Asia - Sri Lanka and Nepal. The comparison between two different types of peripheries - borderlands, which span an international border as in the case of Nepal, and internal frontiers which lie on the margins of an island state as in Sri Lanka - will be particularly fruitful in revealing differing dynamics of conflict, brokerage and post-war consolidation. These cases also represent two contrasting post-war settlements: while Sri Lanka's war ended with a military victory leading to a victor's peace; Nepal's war concluded with a negotiated settlement and a subsequent period of protracted bargaining between the centre and borderland regions. These contrasting characteristics will help us to develop an understanding of how different contextual features shape the role of borderlands and brokers in post-war transitions, and broaden the applicability of these findings to a wider set of cases in South Asia and beyond.

The research will have three strands (national mapping study, district-based studies, and programme/broker studies), which will allow us to capture different levels of analysis and explore the connections and pathways linking structures, institutions and agents. In order to shed light on the complex international/national/local interface, the research deploys a multi-sited research design that mixes methods, including interviews, surveys, life histories and historically-informed contextual analysis.

Planned Impact

The research project is designed to have a significant impact on policy discussions and outcomes. A borderland perspective unsettles an emerging policy consensus related to notions of state 'fragility', peacebuilding/statebuilding, good/good enough governance, and conflict sensitive reconstruction and development. More specifically the research will have an impact on the following actors and issues:

Multi-lateral and bi-lateral donors
The research will be directly relevant to donor agencies working in Nepal and Sri Lanka, including the UN Peacebuilding Fund, UNDP, USAID, DFID, GIZ, ADB, and the World Bank. Donors in both countries are struggling to navigate the complex political dynamics surrounding the post war transition. Projects of particular significance include; the UK FCO's support for inter-ethnic reconciliation; DFID and Asia Foundation's work on local governance and security; the World Bank livelihoods projects for conflict-affected communities, and ADB's road construction projects. The research will also be of relevance to the Chinese and Indian governments, which are amongst the leading bi-lateral donors in both countries. We will engage with India through its embassies in Nepal and Sri Lanka and the Ministry of External Affairs in Delhi. We will seek to engage with the appropriate Chinese ministries and think tanks.

The policy guidelines will relate to a range of policy domains including: the allocation of post-conflict aid; area-based programming; the inclusion of borderland populations in peace settlements; decentralisation and post-war governance and the role of infrastructure development in post-conflict settings. The guidelines will be directly relevant to policy frameworks linked to fragile states and post-war peacebuilding - including the UK government's Stabilisation Unit and the FCO's Building Stability Overseas (BSOS).

The research will benefit a large number of local, national and international NGOs working on development and peacebuilding in both Nepal and Sri Lanka. Key NGOs include from Sri Lanka the Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA) and Sevalanka Foundation, and from Nepal the Asian Academy for Peace and Nepal Institute for Policy Studies. The research will inform key projects such as CPA's research work on governance reform, or the Asian Academy for Peace's work on peacebuilding and participatory development. Several international development and peacebuilding NGOs work in both countries including Search for Common Ground and Oxfam. By exploring the potential negative consequences of development programmes in borderland regions, and the potential role that borderland populations can play in peace settlements and governance, the research will provide important practical recommendations to improve these NGOs' practice.

Business community in Sri Lanka and Nepal
While we envisage the project's findings to be most relevant to NGOs and donor agencies, we also hope that these findings may be of use to international and local private sector actors involved in post-war reconstruction and service delivery. We will engage with the local private sector through local chambers of commerce. We will identify international private sector actors through discussions with donors and seek to engage them in discussions on conflict-sensitivity and policies related to corporate social responsibility. International Alert has extensive experience on these issues and will also facilitate the involvement of these actors.

National and Local Government
It is necessary to engage with particular sensitivity with government representatives. However MC and CEPA have extensive experience with this regard and will identify receptive individuals and government departments to work with, in order to develop policy recommendations that are relevant and politically viable.


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