Engaging Diasporas in Peace-building

by | Feb 13, 2009

Diaspora and exile groups may play an important, but sometimes also controversial, role in conflicts and political unrest in their countries of origin. Often their engagement is benign and comes in the form of remittances. But many diaspora communities also lobby decision-makers and parliamentarians in the new country of residence or collect money among co-nationals in order to support ‘the struggle’ at home.

Think of the Irish in the US, sending money to the IRA for decades. Or the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka and the influence of the Sri Lankan Tamil Diaspora. Or even the role of the Pakistani community in Europe.

This is by no means a new phenomenon. Yet, the growing number of intra-state conflicts, the enhanced possibilities for transnational communication, mobilization and action as well as the upsurge in domestic and international security concerns after 9/11, have focused attention on diasporas. Or at least should have.

For despite their role, most peace-building interventions — whether UN, NATO or EU led – spend little time engaging with diaspora communities. There is more and more writing, but it is hard to see governments taking this issue seriously, except as a domestic political issue (i.e MPs placating diaspora constituents by tabling EDMs).

In a time of dwindling resources, and assuming that unilateral or coalition interventions are less likely in the future, it may become important to engage these diaspora communities in a systematic way.

How can the British government engage the Pakistani community to ensure support for democratic forces in Pakistan? Should the Foreign Office consider, as a rule, having a Diaspora Desk Officer in its Afghan Group, or Iraq Unit? Should funds be set aside by DfiD for funding diaspora-led programmes?

Such programme may not be the most effective in, say, building schools but they may have an important function in challenging the role of organizations like Jamaat-ud-Dawa, the political and civic wing of the outlawed terrorist group Laskhar-e-Taiba, which is benefitting from the Pakistani government’s inaction in many of the IDP camps in Pakistan’s North-West Frontier Province (NWFP).

With decreasing resources, but constant if not increasing security demands, finding new ways of addressing conflict (prevention, management and resolution) will be key. Re-thinking how to engage with diasporas may be part of this.


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