Musings on Conflict Resolution


Rahul Bajaj


            I am neither a scholar nor a Gandhian.  I have been in the rough and tumble of business. But I value and try to remain true to the legacy of my family and these institutions.


     These days the words of Yeats echo, "The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity" (From the poem The Second Coming).  These are times of bewilderment. But as Umberto Eco in his essay on Roots of Conflict says, "it is at times of bewilderment that the weapon of analysis and criticism comes into its own".  I hope that in an atmosphere of trust, and the desire to get to the root of the problem and its solution, we will develop some leads at this gathering.


     Why are conflicts increasing ? What is the psychological basis for this increase? What are the sociological factors abetting violence.  What are the economic factors ?  Are they poverty, the development processes itself or the competition for resources?  I presume your discussions would centre around such questions and more.


     I am impressed by western society's proactive thinking on social issues.  It is interesting to note that the Carnegie Commission on Preventing Deadly Conflict was set up in 1997 to ponder on the events at Kosovo and Rwanda; but the issues they discuss resonate in Afghanistan.


     To quote the Carnegie Commission "War and mass violence usually result from deliberate political decisions".


     It also notes that across the globe, intrastate wars now outnumber inter-state tensions.  Be it the EFTA in Spain or the Basques in France or the many mutinies in our own land, the Kurds in Turkey, the Chechens in Russia, LTTE in Sri Lanka, tribes fighting each other in some African countries.


     One of the persons connected with the Carnegie Commission, Scott Appleby, explored the link between religion and the stoking and ebbing of violence, in his essay -The Ambivalence of the Sacred-Religion, Violence and Reconciliation.  He puts forth the thesis that the solution to religious conflict may lie within the religious community.


     If one analyses the prerequisites of lack of conflict, they centre on the existence of an effective state, laws, an effective police and judicial system.  Also, economic opportunity, protection of fundamental human rights and a robust civil society.  What do we have of these? I wonder!


     I believe that any idea, be it Gandhian or of a religion, has two components.  One that is relatively fixed; its basic beliefs, approach etc.  The second is its evolution over time, in relation to changing circumstances. That is necessary for its vitality and continuing relevance.  This is even more important for Gandhian thought than for a religion. An idea, a thought, has to continue to be relevant to be in use by people, to be a living tradition.  Gandhian thought has proved its power even within the last 50 years. There is increasing awareness about sustainable development and caution about mindless industrialisation in the world today.  Gandhi was an amalgam of idealism and pragmatism.  Though now, he is associated by many with idealism, to him and to people who followed him, that idealism usually delivered results; be it independence or a sense of national dignity or an alternate way of development.  He understood both human motivation and use of simple symbols in a way that few have done.  This is why I am convinced that the Gandhian approach to conflict resolution will continue to be effective.


     In any society, besides the state, civil society as embodied in NGOs, media etc.  has a crucial role in resolving conflicts.  This is especially so when the state becomes a party to the conflict.  The advent of the concept of human rights and a unipolar world have ensured that even intra-state conflicts are no longer an internal matter of any country.  Iraq is possibly taking it too far, but in Kosovo and Rwanda, UN  agencies were instrumental in reducing the level of conflict.  Today, non-governmental organisations like Red Cross or Green Peace have greater legitimacy than many governments/states.  So, it is only appropriate that one of the sections of this seminar is on "The Role of UNO and NGOs in Conflict Resolution."


      My experience with conflict resolution has recently been in the area of world trade. On globalisation and WTO agreements we hear many voices saying that these are unfair and biased towards the developed world. This is broadly true. The developed countries have been heaping iniquitous trade agreements on developing countries and at present a new trade round is being negotiated. Developed countries are interested in unhindered access to markets of developing countries. However, wherever their interests are hurt, e.g. Agriculture in the European Union or Textiles, or TRIPS and Public health, they ensure that either the WTO agreements allow them to control access; or they violate the spirit, if not the letter of these agreements. Developing countries have realised the intentions of the US and the EU but are powerless, individually, to thwart them.  This is when at the WTO each nation has one vote, and developing countries are in an overwhelming majority.  Unfortunately, even major developing countries have not been able to stay united even on the major issues. Either they should learn to unite or one-sided agreements will continue. Such one-sidedness can only stymie growth and development of the developing world.


     However, I remain optimistic about resolution of conflicts. The world over, people are seeing the fruits of development in peace. There is today a greater constituency for peace than for conflict. We are seeing shoots of reconciliation in as diverse a setting as Korea and Sri Lanka. However, this requires leadership and the magnanimity to forgive. We have lot to learn in South Asia.

            For all interested in resolving conflicts, Pope Paul VI's dictum, "if you want peace, work for justice"; remains as valid as ever.