Centre for Development Studies

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

November 2015 - October 2017

Principle Investigator: Professor Jonathan Goodhand, School of Oriental & African Studies (SOAS)

Research Team: Co-Investigators: Oliver Walton (University of Bath), Dr Pratyoush Onta,  (Martin Chautari),  Dr Vagisha Gunasekara, (Centre for Poverty Analysis)

Funding Body: ESRC

Total Value of Award: £392, 847

Overview of the project

This project aims to generate a better understanding of contested war to peace transitions in Nepal and Sri Lanka with a view to improving statebuilding and peacebuilding interventions in post-war contexts in South Asia and beyond. Its originality lies in an approach that takes the putative margins of the state as the primary vantage point for understanding and explaining the political and economic dynamics of 'post war' transition. By so doing it inverts the top down, centrist orientation commonly applied to studies of (and policy responses to) post-war statebuilding and reconstruction.

The overarching research question is: How have trajectories of post war transition been shaped by, and influenced, processes of political and economic change at the margins of the state?

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.

Intended outputs and impacts

The project will produce the following key outputs:

- One edited volume drawing together key findings.
- Five journal articles.
- A set of policy guidelines for policymakers and practitioners.
- A final project report and 2 background papers.
- A set of short 'borderlands' papers in local languages, exploring the local implications of the research

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:

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. 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.

For further information about this project, please contact:

Dr Oliver Walton: