Dealing with ‘Clandestine Structures’ in Conflict Zones

Contemporary conflicts radically reorganize the political and economic systems of societies, empowering ‘clandestine structures,’ built by covert action, smuggling, war profiteering, black markets and organized crime. This ‘underground’, eschewing transparency and rule-based politics and economics, poses an enormous danger to international peacebuilding efforts.

Demining agencies offer telling insights into the nexus between international agencies and clandestine structures because they often employ significant numbers of demobilized soldiers, many of whom may have links to clandestine structures, and require information, access and goods that may be controlled by such networks. There are three basic responses demining agencies can take to this issue:

1. Collusion — This is the easiest route, as the people and organizations best positioned to ‘get things done’ are usually the power structures that arose during the war.  However, they may have deeply illiberal agendas that can subvert the program; strengthening and funding them may also do damage to the peace process.

2. Avoidance and Neutrality — Trying to avoid close contact with the clandestine structures and/or remaining neutral from all armed groups can prevent a demining organization getting drawn into the conflict.  However, remaining neutral may be extremely difficult to do in the polarized politics of the war and post-war period.

3. Building alternative structures — The ideal solution would be to build alternative structures based on ideals of humanitarianism, pluralism, non-violence and a commitment to the democratic process. Some international demining NGOs have come close to this ideal in a few programs.  However, it can be painstakingly slow, expensive and difficult because these new structures pose a threat to the clandestine networks that become so powerful in conflict.

For more information, have a look at this article, which appeared (in English) in a German journal, which analyzes how demining agencies dealt with clandestine networks in Afghanistan, Bosnia and Sudan.

~ by Matthew Bolton on 31 July 2008.

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