The Bloody Millennium: Internal Conflict in South Asia

by Lakshmi Iyer

Overview — What accounts for the disturbing trend of increasing terrorism and associated fatalities in South Asia? In 2007, a quarter of all terrorist attacks worldwide were committed in South Asia, second only to Iraq. HBS professor Lakshmi Iyer presents the first comprehensive analysis of internal conflict in South Asia using multiple data sources and incorporating a long-run time frame. She finds that the intensity of internal conflict in the post-2001 period is strongly associated with poverty, both in a cross-country comparison and in a comparison of districts within India and Nepal. Measures implemented by regional and national governments to combat internal violence vary considerably across countries and over time. Typically, the use of military force or relying on unofficial militias has not proved to be a successful counterinsurgency tactic in South Asia; strengthening police activity and using a political accommodation approach has led to some successes in the past. Key concepts include:

  • Since 2001, incidents of terrorism and associated fatalities have been rising steadily in South Asia.
  • The increasing trend in incidents of terrorism and associated fatalities is observed primarily in the economically lagging regions of South Asia. There is a clear difference in conflict trends in leading and lagging regions.
  • Economic backwardness can have adverse security consequences in the long run.
  • Global events are likely to increase conflict within individual countries.

Author Abstract

This paper documents the short-term and long-term trends in internal conflict in South Asian countries, using multiple data sources. I find that incidents of terrorism have been rising across South Asia over the past decade, and this increase has been concentrated in economically lagging regions in the post-2001 period. This is in contrast to both the historical patterns of conflict, and the evolution of other types of violence. Analyzing the role of economic, geographic and demographic factors, I find that poorer areas have significantly higher levels of conflict intensity. The paper reviews the various approaches taken by governments to deal with conflict, contrasting security-based approaches with political accommodation and economic approaches. Finally, the paper reviews the potential role of regional cooperation in mitigating conflict.

Paper Information