Tuesday, 23 October 2012


A Contemporary Record
Ali Ahmed

The Book Review, October 2012

ARMED CONFLICTS IN SOUTH ASIA 2011: THE PROMISE AND THREAT OF
TRANSFORMATION
Edited by D. Suba Chandran and P.R. Chari
Routledge, New Delhi, 2012, pp. 297, `795.00
The book under review is the fifth Annual Report on Armed Conflicts
in South Asia brought out by the think tank, Institute of Peace and
Conflict Studies, New Delhi. The Institute’s idea and practice of
taking out annual reports is laudable. Over a period of time, these can
serve as a reliable contemporary record, besides being useful for students,
academics, policy makers and practitioners over the immediate term.
The previous editions have been welcomed, no doubt prompting and
enabling continuing of the series.
It is perhaps in genuflecting to peace studies that the editors have
chosen to include the term ‘Transformation’ in the subtitle. Suba Chandran
details why this has been done in his leading chapter in the second part of
the book (pp. 137-38) in referring to the concept of some significance for
peace studies. He goes on to say that his contribution ‘focuses on negative
conflict transformation and conflict decay’ (p. 138). This goes against the
grain of the definition from the Berghof Handbook he reproduces while
launching into his chapter: ‘actions that seek to alter the various
characteristics and manifestations of conflict by addressing its root causes
over the long-term, with the aim to transform negative ways of dealing
with conflict into positive, constructive ones.’
It is therefore with good reason that the editors use the term
‘transformation’ in the subtitle rather than ‘conflict transformation’. What
they appear to have in mind are the changes in conflicts for better or
worse brought about by conflict dynamics when they use the term
‘transformation’. Where a conflict goes downhill, Chandran typifies it as
‘conflict decay’. This departure from peace studies theory concept of
conflict transformation explains the possibility of transformation as a
‘threat’, phrased in the subtitle thus:  The Promise and Threat of
Transformation.
Since the editors have chosen to adapt the term transformation to
their purpose, an opportunity to examine South Asian conflicts in the
‘conflict transformation’ framework has been passed up. The volume could
have proved innovative, given that most such analyses, including some
essays appearing in the book, are from an international relations and
strategic studies framework. Conflict transformation, on the other hand,
as a field of study in peace studies concerns itself with structural,
behavioural and attitudinal changes required to move towards ‘just peace’.
The potentiality of conflict transformation of conflicts endemic in South
Asia could have been broached. This is testimony to the marginal presence
of peace studies as an
academic discipline in
India, despite fledgling
academic centers such as
that of this reviewer and
of institutions such as
the IPCS to which the
editors are affiliated.
The book is in two
parts. The first has
chapters by experts well
conversant with the
conflicts each has been
called upon to elaborate
on: Afghanistan, FATA
and Khyber Pukhtunkhwa, J&K, North East
and the Naxal movement
in Central India. The
second part is titled
‘Conflict Transformation
and Early Warnings’.
Though the part falls
short of the promise of
looking through the conflict transformation lens as obtains in theory, the
part is a useful prospective look at conflict potentiality for escalation and
de-escalation in J&K, North East, Central India and of fundamentalist
violence in South India. It also has chapters on Nepal and Sri Lanka. It is
debatable whether violence on account of religious revivalism needs to
figure in a book on armed conflict, for that would amount to suggesting
that terror incidence in South India, the locale covered in the essay, is of
the order of an armed conflict. A definitional exercise at the outset by the
editors could have dispelled this observation, even one reproducing a
discussion from a previous edition of the series.
The impression a reader carries away is that conflict management is
all that is being attempted by the State. This can at best help mitigate or
end violence. The shortfalls in delivering on this limited ambition often as
not end up sustaining the violence. Clearly, conflict resolution, the effort
towards sustainable peace by ending of structural and cultural violence, is
not on the cards, leave alone conflict transformation, taken as a step at a
deeper level than even conflict resolution. This is a sobering insight on the
capacities of the States in South Asia, including India that is popularly
taken as an incipient great power. The significance of this observation
deepens in the light of P.R.Chari’s negative take on trends in his introductory chapter. He reflects on the ill-effects of globalization, on the
uncertainty of the ‘demographic dividend’, decline in the rule of law, and
finally disputes over depleting resources.
The lack of capacity of States suggests that peace studies needs being
taken seriously as a subject area. Insights from conflict resolution and
conflict transformation can help with a non-Statist answer to root causes
and conflict dynamics. Answers anchored in the people are necessary
since conflicts are now ‘among people’ (Rupert Smith). Therefore solutions
should also be ‘people to people’ (P2P) centric. Currently the academic
field draws principally on conflicts in the Balkans and Africa for insights.
Its generic insights are sustainable in this region’s setting. A theoretical
prism that can be applied fruitfully is that of ‘protracted social conflict’. It
is perhaps the perspective that privileges State interventions and power
centric approaches that is sustaining the conflicts in the region.  The
Institute can live up to expectations prompted by its name, by deploying
its Annual Report to bring about this change of perspective. This will help
widen the field, attract students to its fold and over time create conflict
resolvers in numbers and quality necessary to tackle conflicts of the future.
Ali Ahmed is Assistant Professor at the Nelson Mandela Center for Peace and
Conflict Studies, Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi.

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