Understanding Conflict

The Imphal Free Press
July 22 2010

The often cited mantra that a lasting resolution to a conflict situation can only be brought about if the roots of the problem are identified and tackled has become little less than a cliché. The danger about mantras is, they are far too often chanted by robotically rote as if the sound of it is the diagnosis and cure for the problem addressed. The approach has seldom been of treating the contents of the mantra as a formula to be applied in practice and assessed against the results they wield. Perhaps the problem is also of the difficulty of putting this mantra into practice which has made it convenient for its chanters to shroud it in an aura of learned mystery, not easy or desirable to be analysed and dissected too closely. This would have been very fine had it not been for the fact that the approach has deprived the mantra of its applicability in problem solving. Such mantras are prone to be reduced to material for fine rhetoric, but nothing beyond. The question then is, how can this beautiful mantra be prevented from being thus made redundant?

One of the problems in seeking the roots of any vexed social problem is, you can never be sure if there is anything as the final root to any of the issues. If a root has been identified to any particular issue, this root may itself have its own roots and these subsequent roots more roots of their own etc. The search in this manner can prove to be never ending and indeed futile. Under the circumstance, what may urgently be called for is a return to the very basics of the values of life, and not just the roots of any particular event. This would entail referring back to the fundamental guiding principles delineating good and bad, right and wrong, and from there reconstruct the issue of the conflict at hand. Sounds a little distant, but experience even in Manipur in the past few decades would demonstrate why this is inevitable. Everybody in a conflict situation has a justification for their stand from their own vantage and logic. Especially if the conflicts are nationalistic in nature, the fire of nationalism normally succeeds in blinding the parties to all logic other than their own. They have also been known to seldom question their own action. This is why some very fundamental laws which both would cannot but endorse and follow must form the foundation on which both can stand and begin the negotiating process.

The introduction of the notion of jus cogens or peremptory laws in international law, is something to learn from in tackling issues of conflict on any canvas, including our own. Jus cogens are compelling laws that are presumed to be inviolable regardless of what the circumstance is. In international law, it has been agreed as per the “Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties” that any law made by any country or any conflicting party which infringes upon these jus cogens would be treated as null and void. To name just a few, some agreed upon jus cogens are genocide, slave trade, piracy, execution of juvenile offenders, torture, no wars or aggression aimed at territorial aggrandisement, no colonisation etc. Any law that gives assent to these would not be treated as a binding law by this international norm.

In our own conflict theatre, in the effort to build a common platform on which all different interested parties can thrash out their problems, an agreement on certain peremptory laws has become vitally important. The job should not be all too difficult as we will have the international jus cogens as model and North Star. Our own Ten Commandments of conflict moderation and resolution could add to the list of jus cogens, local variations of unacceptable practices that cause grievous, repulsive and indiscriminate affronts and injuries. Some of these could be a prohibition on prolonged bandhs that cause education and essential services shut downs, prolonged economic blockades, torture, rape, child soldiering, abduction for ransom etc. Any act that compromises any of these and such other absolute values should not be given any consideration for sympathetic hearing. Once such a common platform has been established and agreed upon by all parties, working out a peace model, or at least moderating the pitch and brutality of conflict, should become less daunting. Hopefully then, there would also be an agreement on what should be considered the roots of present disagreements. In such a circumstance, not only should remedies begin to appear possible but be much more lenient on each of the parties involved.

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