TWO HANDS TO CLAP

The Imphal Free Press
August 10 2010

It needs two hands to clap, just as it takes at least two to be in a conflict. The inference is clear from this that in the search for comprehensive peace in a conflict ridden region, there can be no solutions in isolation. Nobody lives in a vacuum so that settling a single party’s problem alone cannot result in regional peace. In fact, this is all the more likely to aggravate the situation. Settling one problem in isolation may result in setting off several others in the same stroke. This is why the notion of inclusive peace must have to be promoted before any tangible blueprint of peace can emerge. This is especially true after the breakdown of walls in the post Berlin Wall era that once were thought capable of putting people in isolated compartments of nation-states, provinces, districts and whatever other classifications of segregations. There have been initiatives towards inclusive peace from many quarters, but unfortunately it has to be admitted that for every step forward, there have inevitably also been as many steps backwards so that overall there has been little headway made. Communities still continue to erect walls around them and think theirs is the only worthwhile problem and that solution of their problem must be pursued even if it is at the cost of others.
  This unfortunately cannot be, as events in the northeast are proving. Manipur is no exception. In fact it may be the prime example with the sole possibility of Assam beating it in terms of complexity of this divide. The ethnic diversity of the two states has ensured none of their social problems are a cakewalk for anybody to resolve, including not the least their respective state administrations. The complexity does not end at this either, for many of the problems if not most, spill across state and international boundaries. If this diagnosis, or prognosis as the case may be, were to be agreed upon, can there be any real and credible opposition to the proposition that there is no alternative to an inclusive peace initiative that takes care of everybody’s problem? There is of course no question that agreeing on an idea can be the complete destination. The tougher thing would be to evolve a policy strategy to give this idea a tangible and workable shape. The metaphor must ultimately translate into action.

The question that would follow next in the minds of the genuine peace workers would be, how can this be achieved? There is no easy answer to this, but the broad approach from examples worldwide is for all the parties to agree to certain broad parameters of permissible and not permissible actions. In other words, the effort must be to evolve a common denominator of values on which to consensually establish certain basic inviolable set of rights, as well as a consensual set of desirable codes of conduct. We have shining examples of successful initiatives in establishing these common norms on the international arena. The Geneva Conventions, the Hague Law, the Universal Charter of Human Rights, the notion of Jus Cogen, are just some of these. All of them say that peace efforts have to begin primarily on a presumption that there are certain notions of rights and wrongs which cannot be unique to any party, and instead have to be treated as universal values. The justification for differences in perception signified in the popular cliché “one man’s food is another man’s poison” is what is challenged, for what is also justified in this cliché are the conditions for conflict. There will always be differences between one individual and another, one community and another, but there will also be commonality between them all too. To use an analogy from basic school arithmetic, if a common denominator were to be established between different fractions meant to be summed up, the numerators standing on the common denominator can freely be subjected to the simple rules of addition and subtraction. The end result would be the simplest and most comprehensible expression of the correlation between the different fractions. This analogy is apt. In all conflict resolution efforts, unless and until this common denominator is discovered, no solution will ever be reached. For then, there is no way the relationship between the different parties can be reduced to their simplest and easily comprehensible expression. Two hands to clap, therefore there must at least be two minds establishing the same wavelength before any meaningful communication on problem solution can happen.

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