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Focused Solutions of the Armed Conflict

Dev Raj Dahal


The great Greek historian Herodotus said, "in peace, children bury their parents; war violates the order of nature and causes parents to bury their children."

The Problem

Violent conflict constitutes a clash of hostile interest causing civic and moral breakdown and punishing the entire community, majority of members are women, children and deprived. Violent conflict is the manifestation of the biological instinct of human nature. Its solution lies in the application of social and spiritual norms. Violence against women involves murder, widowhood, rape, sexual slavery, forced sterilization, displacement, destruction of family connection, problem of citizenship of the child of raped women, etc. They play key roles in maintaining livelihood in times of uncertainty. Women's perspective on conflict resolution, therefore, goes to the roots of violence. But, their participation in negotiation hardly receives priority. The tendency to employ violence as a tool for coping with conflict is learned through early childhood socialization. Hence, it is essential to mainstream gender perspective into relevant policies and programs regarding peace action. Changing the causes of conflict can change the nature and dynamics of conflict.

The political life in Nepal presents a pattern of social movements, political agitations and violent conflicts producing prolonged political and constitutional deadlock and increasing decay of public and political institutions. The often changing constellation of political equation has further defied the structural stability of the state and its legitimate monopoly on power, taxation and loyalty of citizens. These conditions have stalled the productive life of society, upset the equilibrium between the state-society relations and weakened the connection between national security and democracy. Problem occurred when politics got frozen into inflexibility, disengaged from the society and the state, lost commitment in public sector and clogged the prospects for peaceful change. In such a context, how focused solution is sought?

Focused Solution

Any focused solution of conflict largely rests on three conditions: political pressure of diverse people which is able to contain selfish tendencies of leadership within legitimate, constitutional bounds; condition of society creating "social contract" which tends to address the root causes of conflict arising out of poverty, inequality, injustice and alienation; and finally, an ethical climate which allows people to expect a balance between a modicum of order and social justice. What sorts of social thought and political action are needed to address these conditions? How can they help resolve conflicts in Nepal?

Condition one: Political pressures exerted through human rights organizations, women's associations, conflict victims, school children and religious organization and their peace campaigns continue to represent the aspirations of cross-section of people for peace. These pressures are useful for shaping public opinion. Still, in terms of behavioral change, they have not gone beyond the level of pious exhortation. The resistance to violence by high leverage actors such as FNCCI, political parties and several interest groups of society has not been able to underline a common interest in peace and alter the behavior of major contestants. The magnitude of Maoist problem has become overwhelming but the solution tends to be either "inaction," or "perfunctory action" or even "wrong action." Discontinuity and breakdown in the government-Maoist negotiations clearly illustrate this fact. Lack of orderly political engagements in the peace process means there is a void in the political space which is being filled by the irrational tendencies of non-political and anti-political forces who hope to get more by conflict than by a negotiated settlement. Peace movement of civil society in Nepal centers on mobilizing public opinion, conflict reporting, civil peace action by rehabilitation of conflict victim widows, displaced journalists and children, movement against the violation of human rights, attempt to release innocent from detention, reporting about extra-judicial killings, demonstration against the violation of women's rights, etc. These activities have not been able to adequately sensitize the behavior of political actors and hence become a part of the political process. Each political actor has prepared "road map" and "political agenda," for peace but due to a lack of trust among them they remained inoperative. Civil society groups have been formed to articulate peace agenda. Trade unions have also begun to discuss about conflict-sensitive project. These activities do suggest that public pressure for peace is mounting. The only problem is it has not reached a critical threshold to effect conflict transformation.

Condition two: Due to the heterogeneous character of Nepalese society where none of the social group can claim majority it is not difficult to attain political equilibrium if political power is made truly representative of social pluralism. Multiplicity of social groups also provides certain deterrence against non-political conflicts. As women and girls remain vulnerable to violence during conflict, their perspective tends to offer non-violent resolution of conflict. Democratization of political parties can minimize the personal ambition of political leaders to stay in power life-long and bring their relatives to succeed them. Empowerment of people, their growing social competence and critical discourse, make them cooperative citizens and enable them to understand common aspiration for peace through collective action. Inner party debates undergoing in Nepal tend to focus on the principles and policies regarding gender justice, democratization and peace.

Condition three: Order and justice spring from the ties of the state with society and ethical laws and policies followed. Realpolitik thinkers believe that problem of order can be solved by the distribution of power between contestants, but it does not guarantee long-term peace. Nepal's experience in 1950 and 1990 illustrates that distribution of power among powerful actors alone could neither achieve political stability nor satisfy popular aspiration. Idealpolitik thinkers like Lord Buddha found stability in the Golden Mean, that is, the end of peace should be accompanied by peaceful means and the process of peace should nurture life-enhancing values and institutions. This theory holds that peace is essentially a question of nurturing democratic values and culture. The role of women in humanitarian service in the midst of conflict and post-conflict scenario cannot be underestimated.

Rational formula

Political problem cannot be solved by non-political or anti-political means. It is, therefore, important to make the position of various actors politically reasonable to transform their mutually exclusive position into a cooperative game. How to establish common ground of rationality? Solution must be sought in the light of reason and ethics. An absolute satisfaction of a particular party or a class or gender prevents their collaboration for mutual advantage. Nepalese political actors offer a number of formulas but they have not agreed on as to how they want to be governed by mutually agreed goals, rules and institutions.

Peace through national security: The fundamental rationality of national security rests on the civil-military synergy. But a lack of trust between them has left their rational potential for cooperation unrealized. While the army seeks its role in defending the "reasons of the state," and remove the "state of nature," political parties fear that they might be subordinated or sidelined in the negotiation of social contract. If conflict is embedded in the basic structures of the society, economy and polity, solution lies in the structural transformation of public sphere. A careful management of the nation's delicate geopolitics is equally central to pull the loyalty of centrifugal forces of society towards the consolidation of statehood and beef up its role in governance. Peace, stability, democracy and development cannot be organized in a security vacuum.

Peace through law and order: Conservative political forces of Nepal do favor constitutional status quo as a means to settle conflicts. Leaders socialized on the patrimonial governance fear from the egalitarian consequences of democracy and the concept of checks and balances of power and, therefore, resort to culture and power as a means to resolve conflict. Two main political parties-- Nepali Congress (NC) and Communist Party of Nepal Unified Marxist-Leninist (CPN-UML) fear the risk of losing the achievement of 1990 if a new constitution is prepared in the future.

Peace through constitutional reforms/ amendments: The position of Nepali Congress (NC), NC (Democratic), Rastriya Prajatantra Party (RPP), Nepal Sadbhavana Party (NSP) rests on this formula. While NC is interested more in limiting the king's power and civilian control of army, RPP lays stress on proportional representation of social groups and women in politics and the state. The CPN-UML is caught between constitutional status quo and a demand for opening debates for constituent assembly. NSP is seeking solution in the territorial federalization of the state and devolution of power.

Peace through Constituent Assembly: Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist, Nepal Workers and Peasants Party (NeWPP), Jana Morcha Nepal and many left parties prefer a new constitution drafted by a constituent assembly to resolve the crisis faced by the nation. The constitutional issue has to be settled immediately before election because it has become a bone of contention since 1950s.

Conclusion

When the interests and positions of political actors are so different can a positive peace be achievable? Certainly, it is if face saving options are provided to contesting forces and intermediaries facilitate communication among them for creative political engagement. The government has started consultation for the formation of all-party government that can facilitate dialogue with the Maoists. The responsibility of civil society and the scientific community lies in understanding the nature of this problem and discovering "reason" and the "rationality" of political action with the hope of seeking a solution. Positive peace is a condition in which there is no existence of latent, manifest or even structural violence and a well-functioning democratic framework is in place to ensure the supply of adequate common good for the satisfaction of peoples' spiritual, social and material needs. Positive peace does not mean the continuation of things as they are. Peace talks aimed at a negotiated settlement represent the best solution to the conflict. A durable peace also relies on the appropriate accommodation of diverse societal interests in the framework of political power and their participation in governance that is both legitimate and just.

 
Copyright©2001. Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, Nepal Office
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