Knowledge, Humanity, Religion, Culture, Tolerance, Peace

Conflict Management

Conflict Management - The Challenge of Peace

If conflicts and wars cannot be resolved immediately or even in a longer time frame, the next best alternative is to contain them, reduce their damage and secure a breathing space during which, hopefully, a solution of the conflict could be found.  The world is witnessing lingering conflicts in various regions that defy solutions and continue to pose serious threats to peace and stability. There have been long-lasting conflicts in Palestine, Kashmir, Sri Lanka, in Africa and in Korea.
In Afghanistan, the terrible suffering caused by the Soviet occupation in the 1980s was followed by the bloody civil wars in the 1990s. Worse was to follow after 9/11 with the US and NATO seeking, unsuccessfully, to crush the Al Qaeda and the Taliban. Iraq has been at the centre of conflicts for the last three decades, involving neighbours like Iran and Kuwait, and the current conflict that started with the US invasion of March 2003.
Terrorist incidents brought Pakistan and India close to war twice in this decade, after the attack on the Indian parliament in December 2001 and in Mumbai in November 2008. In Pakistan the internal conflict between Islamic extremists and the state becomes more threatening with each passing day.
Conflict management is an alternative approach to peace. It seeks to secure a cooling off period, the creation of conditions for a ceasefire and preventing further escalation of the conflict. It is now a practical requirement for peace in today’s world, not only for international conflicts, but even more so in the case of domestic conflicts.
While resolving a conflict is considered idealistic in nature, an intermediate and pragmatic approach for de-escalating conflicts and minimizing the level of violence is termed as conflict management. It means controlling, limiting and containing conflict behavior in such a way as to make it less destructive or violent. It does not necessarily eliminate the causes of conflict but its success may help towards resolving it.
The diversion of attention from war fighting is the hallmark of conflict management. It proceeds in the hope that the conflicting parties would not resort to the barrel of the gun but would turn instead to their diplomats and lawyers, the negotiating table and the courts to solve their disputes.
The various articles in this book take up the specific cases of conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan, Bosnia, Northern Ireland, Kashmir, Chittagong Hill Tracts, Nepal and Sri Lanka. Out of these Bosnia and Northern Ireland can be seen as relative successes where conflict management has moved towards conflict resolution.
In Afghanistan, the Soviet withdrawal was secured after a decade of fighting through the Geneva Accords of 1988.
Sri Lanka has seen periodic progress in conflict management but the last phase has ended the war through a military victory. In Iraq, the trend since the ‘surge’ of US forces in 2007 suggests some progress in conflict management.
In his paper on Afghanistan, Zafar N. Jaspal says that the country appears to be stuck in a no-exit cycle of chronic political instability. The US invasion has deepened the ethnic divide, failed to eliminate the Taliban phenomenon and the Al Qaeda network, and warlords have reemerged. This perpetual cycle of violence is nourishing anarchy in the state. He recommends a ‘realistic’ conflict management mechanism, consisting of an arms embargo, replacement of foreign forces by Afghan forces, engaging of war lords, formation of a broad-based representative government in Afghanistan and locals’ participation in reconstruction. This seems like a tall order that might not be forthcoming for quite some time.
As for the Indo-Pakistan peace process launched in January 2004 which produced several important confidence-building measures, the seeming progress was recently demolished by one spectacular terrorist attack in Mumbai, making a bit of mockery of the claims by both sides that the peace process had become ‘irreversible’.
In his thought-provoking article on Kashmir, Swaran Singh (writing before the Mumbai incident) calls Kargil the fourth India-Pakistan War. He notes a paradigm shift in the evolution of discourse towards alternative dispute settlement techniques, including several out-of-the-box ideas emerging from Track-II diplomacy during Musharraf’s rule. But he agrees that conflict management in Kashmir will continue to face formidable challenges, inter alia, because there are ‘conflict entrepreneurs’ for whom any solution will rob them off their important political positions and legitimacy.
Both countries also remain mired in post-colonial nation-building projects while facing serious post-modernist challenges. Noting that there are Indian circles in whose perception Pakistan threatens India with secessionism, while some in Islamabad perceive India as threatening Pakistan’s dismemberment or absorption, Singh argues that conflict management must, therefore, remain an objective for the present.
The basic premise of the book is that conflict management is not just aimed at eliminating the causes of the conflict but rather to limit its intensity. There are several important mechanisms introduced in it for conflict management viz. ceasefire, negotiations, confidence-building measures, interim agreements, legal remedies and regional arrangements.
[Conflict Management Mechanisms and the Challenge of Peace Book edited by Moonis Ahmar University of Karachi, Reviewed by Shahid M. Amin, Courtesy Dawn.]
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