This paper traces the ethnographies of conflict and development in Sri Lanka on two levels of analysis. First, it examines two related discourses in the policy arena of Sri Lanka, one looking at the peace–development nexus, the other at the paradox of welfarism and clientelism in Sri Lanka’s polity. Second, it analyses the political field of relief and development practice—its order and disjuncture—as it presented itself during times of ongoing warfare. The empirical studies build on ethnographies of a bilateral German – Sri Lankan development project operating in the waraffected areas of Sri Lanka. Four trajectories of politics and practices in aid and conflict are discussed to illustrate the ambiguities and complexities of multiple perceptions, rules and discourses, which influence the work of aid agencies operating in spaces of military contestation. The analyses suggest that clientelism as a deeply embedded system of ordering and meaning production can be found in both the peaceful areas and the war zones, though in different manifestations. Aid agencies operating in the context of clientelism and ethnicism may need to engage with combatant parties—to “dine with the devils” as it has been named—to build space for bringing aid to needy people in war-affected areas.