Conflict and Development: Where is Conflict Concentrated in South Asia?


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After Iraq, South Asia is the second most violent place on earth. Conflict has increased in South Asia during the last decade. Where is conflict concentrated? What can be done about it?

Conflict is a very broad term, which is often defined differently in different contexts and data sets. We can, however, consider two broad classes of conflict. The first category includes conflict against the State. Examples of this include civil war or terrorism, which is an extreme manifestation of conflict, and it reflects a certain degree of organization of conflict. It is carried out by a relatively organized group of non-state actors, and directed against the State. Some researchers choose to focus on terrorism as a measure of conflict, because it has implications for the overall stability of the state itself, and therefore its ability to implement any developmental policy. The second category includes people-to-people conflict, rather than directed against the State. Examples of this include localized land conflicts, religious riots, homicides or other crimes. They too have adverse implications for development, but are probably less severe, compared to terrorism.

South Asia suffers from both types of conflicts—conflicts against the State, and people-to-people conflict. However, they are evolving differently in the region--one is on the rise, and the other is declining. In India, people-to-people conflicts (homicides, riots) have been trending downwards over the past decade. This is in sharp contrast to terrorist incidents which have increased.

Is there a relationship between conflict and development? Figure 1 plots the relationship between conflict and per capita income for a group of developing and developed countries. The vertical axis shows the number of people killed in terrorist incidents (normalized by population) as a measure of conflict. The horizontal axis plots real GDP per capita. It shows a downward sloping relationship. This suggests that high conflict rates are associated in countries that have low per capita income. One cannot infer anything on causality from this plot. What is striking in the figure is that most South Asian countries (except Bangladesh) have much higher conflict rates for their income levels.

A negative relationship between per capita income and conflict rates would also suggest that violence should be much higher in poor regions within countries. This is exactly what we find in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka. We find that conflict is concentrated in the lagging regions, which have a per capita income below the national average.

The lagging regions in Pakistan (Balochistan, Federally Administered Tribal Areas [FATA], and North-West Frontier Province [NWFP]), India (Maoist insurgency in Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, and Orissa), Sri Lanka (North-decreased significantly since the end of the war), and Nepal have attracted global attention because of the high level of conflict. Afghanistan has had a civil war for the last 30 years. Lagging regions have experienced more than three times the number of terrorist incidents per capita, compared with leading regions, and almost twice as many deaths per capita in such incidents.

Conflicts can be triggered by internal deficiencies in development and governance (a lower economic opportunity cost of rebellion in poor areas, unequal distribution in gains from development, political marginalization) or external shocks (economic shocks, calamities, and war). These deficiencies are concentrated in the lagging regions. Leading regions too have conflict, but they manage it better, because of rapid growth, job creation, and better institutions and safety net programs. The adverse consequences of conflict are more severe in regions that have weak institutions, poor geography, and are poorly integrated with markets. These are also the characteristics that limit their pace of growth and poverty reduction in lagging regions.

In the next blog, we will discuss what can be done to reduce conflict in logging regions. Can something be done?

Julien Katchinoff
February 24, 2010

Mr. Ghani,

Thanks for this interesting post! The relationship between governance/development and conflict is a critical thread in this region, and one that I'm glad to see the WB exploring. A few questions for you as you craft your next post:

1. You mention two classes of conflict; violence towards the state, and violence between people, with the former measured by terrorism deaths per capita. In your analysis, have you found any other measures of conflict, or perhaps other conflict types/ranges not represented in this post?

2. You mention that some of the adverse consequences of conflict are more severe in regions that have weak institutions, poor geography and are poorly integrated. I wonder if you would be interested in further examining the relationship between conflict and local geography (environment, natural resource base, etc.) through work completed by UNEP's Post-Conflict Branch. I've included a link to a recent post on the subject from our blog at the Wilson Center:…

Thanks again for your post!

Taimur Ali
March 03, 2010

Mr. Ghani, thanks for sharing a thought provoking analysis. I would like to add that education is also one of the major factor in bringing a change. Educated society has tendency by default to deal adequately and appropriately in a sustainable manner to avoid conflict or manage conflict. You may also take your analysis in context of MDGs attainment in conflicted areas. I wish if you come up with some best practices, lessons learnt and replication as well as scaling up of success stories or paradigm shifts for creating detterence to conflict or couping conflict.
Best wishes and appreciated your post.
Taimur Ali

March 04, 2010

The observations on the grass root of violence or violent incidences, conflict between the groups in terms of caste, ethnic groups, religion and similar groups between the dominating group and suppressed groups and at the boiling point it broke into violence. Needs for more working between the groups and individuals can minimize conflicts and thereby violence. More can be write on this in the coming days.

Shanna Dietz Surendra
March 03, 2010

Thank you for the thought provoking piece!

Although this blog did not make the distinction, I think it is important to note that conflict does not automatically equate violence. The above statistics used violence (homocides, riots, etc.) as the sole indicator of conflict, thereby implying that the two concepts are one and the same. However, conflict can and often does exist without outbreaks of violence. A broader understanding of conflict - to include, for example, identities of intolerance at the individual level - would yield markedly different results, particularly in India where in the face of economic development interreligious (i.e. communal) violence may be decreasing, but interreligious discord certainly is not.

Just my two cents. Thank you again for your important work!

Suren Dixit
March 04, 2010

It was a pleasure to go through the post and the observations. From the historical perspective the South Asian region over the centuries has gone through "Chaos and Cosmos" as coined by Gen JFC Fuller in his foreword in a book. A state wants to become a nation and then wants to protect and expand its borders to become an empire. This is exactly the cycle going on in this region over the last 500 years at least.Through all this to edcuate the masses,provide basic amenities and give them a life worth living has been very difficult for the governments.
Other than the Mongols,Pathans and Mughals, there were only two kings in India called Chandragupta MAurya and Emperor Ashoka who managed to rule and administer most of these territories which are now countries.Unfortunately, in the New world there have been no statesmen of any standing like Mahatma Gandhi or even of a lesser staure in these areas to lead the common,uneducated man. The sense of purpose driven by a luminary can rule over communal,ethnic,religious and even economic considerations. It can create an atmosphere of sharing,caring,giving and growing together.Government policy to promote education,equality and fraternity also need a buy in from the common man.One of the primary drivers would be a Leader whom people can look upto. Till such time, this area will be divided by parochial interests and relegious,ethnic considerations.

Tahir Tabassum
July 01, 2010

I like many views on poverty and very interesting comments on SA.
I feel injustice and disparity in many other fields. Poverty is essential
part of development and peace but we must face the reality & truth.
Kashmir dispute is a big reality in South Asia, Peace can not possible
with out resolution of Kashmir issue.
There is many conflicts in Nepal, Sri Lenka, Bhutan, Burma and many
other countries in South Asia but two Nuclear powers standing against
other on the conflict of Kashmir.
We are working on peaceful durable resolution of Kashmir, coexistence
and dialogue since 1995.
If you need more information please visit web site
http:// and join peace team.

November 27, 2012

dear Lakshmi Iyer,

thanks for blog.
please3 write a blog on wb projects in india

shiv jhalani
faculty management and commerce
biyani girls college

March 24, 2013

thx for............

May 27, 2014

i need data on conflict..which measure the conflict my topic for research is does conflict disrupt firm growth,GDP and employment.any one help me...

asad khan
January 19, 2021

very well wrote about conflicts affecrts on south asian .