Development in Armed Conflict

Modern conflict is frequently chronic and fluctuating with hostilities varying in intensity and location. With majority of the casualties being civilians, people feel threatened even when their particular locality is quiet. Many register ‘wounds of war and conflict’ in social and economic terms rather than psychological terms. Suffering caused in the course of conflict is a social experience and not a private one. 

People who have not been able to generate an interpretation of what has happened and who find events incomprehensible are likely to feel the most helpless and unsure what to do. In such conditions there is a greater sense of victim-hood, distrust, suspicion, vulnerability, anxiety and trauma. Peoples further easily succumb to rumors and accept outside intervention without much critical thought and there is lack of direction where life is reduced to only a question of ‘survival.’ 

It is therefore an ethical necessity to ask yourself what development is under circumstances of armed conflict and how do we even begin the process? And very often in situations of armed conflicts it is the military which becomes the largest developing agency, getting involved in housing, medical and social projects, thereby increasing dependency and bypassing all democratic institutions of decision making. 

There is a direct link between poverty and conflict and one needs to examine the nature of this link in greater depth. The cause of poverty is not so much a lack of resources per se, but mostly because the powers that be creates a structure of dominance that causes a relationship of dependency, which enables them to maintain their control to the extent of denying the grassroots the most basic economic, social and political rights. Johan Galtung has coined the term ‘structural violence’ to describe these patterns. 

In areas of armed conflict, these conditions of structural violence lead to economic disintegration which in turn results in lack of opportunities to generate income. The presence of mistrust and suspicion directs people’s loyalties only towards their family, clan and lineage rather than the society as a whole. This attitude of ‘exclusiveness’ that is pre-dominantly nurtured in the midst of crisis and conflict further polarizes society, which becomes an obstacle for holistic development. 

Armed conflict reduces social stability therefore making the entire community more vulnerable to internal and outside pressure. Under such unstable conditions of armed conflict any investment for development made does not reach the people who need it the most; rather it is confined to a few selected strata in the power pyramid. It results in greater poverty and more often than not – the investments for development are diverted for military purposes to ensure that the people continue to suffer peacefully. 

The international community has slowly begun to acknowledge that sustainable development cannot take place in the midst of armed conflict – development can best be enhanced through a democratic process of resolution, reconstruction and reconciliation. It further recognizes that Peace – in terms of political, spiritual, economic, social – is a pre-requisite for holistic development. Peace not just in the sense of absence of war, internal peace of mind, or self-determination but peace in terms of a whole new way of life that is life giving, one that breeds dignity, justice and true democracy.