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Impermanence

Nigel Roberts's picture

Bamiyan, Afghanistan—December 12

    Nothing lasts forever, not even a good government. After more than three decades of conflict, violence, and extreme poverty, many Afghans hesitate to trust outsiders. Photos ©Ed Girardet.

The statues

The empty frames in the rock face greet you as you land in Bamiyan—home for 1500 years to two great carved Buddhas, until the Taliban pulverized them in 2001. Unlike the inhabitants of Bamiyan, the statues survived several major episodes of invasion and mayhem, most notably Genghis Khan’s 1221 rampage in which every person and every animal is said to have been slaughtered. A number of other invaders tried to obliterate them—in particular the Indian emperor Aurangzeb’s troops, who hacked their faces off in the 18th Century. The will was there, but the requisite technology wasn’t available until more recently.

Tragic as the dynamiting of the statues was, there is another way of looking at this episode of zealotry. In the words of the journalist Matthew Power, “High up in the empty alcove, I was struck by the absurdity of trying to kill the Buddha with tanks and rocket-propelled grenades. I recalled the Buddhist practice of contemplating emptiness, and realized how utterly the Taliban had been defeated.”

Absolute democracy

Nigel Roberts's picture

Trisuli Bazaar, Nuwakot District, Middle Hills of Nepal—November 19

    Nigel and Deepak (from left) in a Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) district office in Nuwakot.

Returning to Nepal after a gap of 16 years, I am struck by the explosion in political activity. The Nepal I knew was a politically literate country, and my memories of the Eastern Hills in the 1970s are peppered with intense discussions about landlordism, police corruption and the lifestyles of appointed district politicians.

But this is something different. I have arrived in Trisuli with Holly Benner of the WDR core team, and Deepak Thapa, our lead author for the WDR case study on Nepal. Three hours by winding road from Kathmandu, Trisuli is a town of perhaps 3,000 people, with one main street and a few simple shops. An hour’s walk up the hill is Nuwakot, the site of a glorious old Newar palace built in 1762, and soon thereafter occupied by King Prithivi Narayan Shah as his capital as he planned the unification of Nepal.

We find Trisuli consumed by politics, to an extent you would hardly ever see in a small town in Europe or the USA. In the course of the day we meet all three main national parties, as well as the government’s Chief District Officer and Chief of Police.

Meeting the ‘Conflict Community’

Sarah Cliffe's picture

The World Bank’s upcoming World Development Report on Conflict, Security and Development is an opportunity to reflect on lessons from experience in preventing and resolving conflict. For me personally it is also an opportunity to work with people I have come to respect a great deal—in government, civil society, international institutions and academia.

We have just completed a first round of brainstorming meetings—with our Advisory Council, with researchers who work on conflict, and with reformers from governments and civil society who are fighting to overcome the legacy of conflict or combat conflict risks in their countries right now.

I had a concern when I took on this project that we would end up producing yet another bureaucratic report and holding a lot of meetings on a crucial issue without delivering any action. Our first brainstorming sessions helped me to see that there is a huge demand for a process which brings real action on conflict and development. 

World Development Report 2011—Not a Cookbook

Nigel Roberts's picture

Many leaders and practitioners familiar with the challenges of delivering in fragile and conflict-affected states are urging us to come up with practical suggestions for them. We in the WDR Team feel we have to be careful not try and develop some set of 'conflict recipes', though: this would mean falling into the trap that characterizes a lot of institutional development work by external parties (i.e. that it is based on prescriptive models and is insufficiently adapted to real-life situations of fragility and conflict). Rather than a cookbook, then, we are shooting for an approach that shares insights and experiences from all types of situations, and points to those that have worked well and could prove useful elsewhere.

For a summary of the purpose and content of the upcoming World Development Report 2011, please take a look at my video:

WDR 2011 - Not a Cookbook from World Bank on Vimeo.

Humanitarian action and state-building in Conflict?

Bruce Jones's picture
   Photo © Arne Noel / World Bank

The past few years have seen the revival of an old debate about the relationship between humanitarian action, military/peacekeeping intervention, and state-building. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, where the military, humanitarian and development actors are working together in new ways, have raised concerns in each community.

Humanitarian actors worry about the loss of perceived impartiality and access to vulnerable populations. People in the military worry about their effectiveness if not backed up by humanitarian and economic assistance. Development actors worry that military actors are undertaking state-building functions without adequate understanding of the implications of their actions.

Given that the renewed debate derives from Afghanistan and Iraq, the argument is probably overplayed, since it is highly unlikely that the specific mode of engagement in those two cases—grounded in large-scale U.S. military deployments—is likely to characterize the predominant form of response to humanitarian crises or fragile states in conflict. Nevertheless, changing forms and patterns of violence will pose new challenges to these communities.

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