Tuesday, 23 October 2012

A Contemporary Record
Ali Ahmed

The Book Review, October 2012

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 Asiabrought 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 Pukhtun-khwa, 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 intro-ductory 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