Role of the Civil Society in Preventing Armed Conflict in South Asia 2004-01-18 Mumbai, India

A meeting on The Role of Civil Society in the Prevention of Armed Conflicts in South Asia, organised by the Regional Centre for Strategic Studies (RCSS) in collaboration with The European Centre for Conflict Prevention (ECCP) as part of the programme on Global Partnership for Prevention of Armed Conflicts (GPPAC), was held at the Kohinoor Park Hotel, Mumbai, India, January 18-19, 2004.

An interactive session was also organized by RCSS in the grounds of the World Social Forum to familiarize participants at the forum with the programme.

A “Brainstorming Session” had been organized by the RCSS at Marawila, Sri Lanka, on November 8-9, 2003 to conceptualise the project.

Paul Van Tongeren of ECCP, opened the discussion in Mumbai by explaining the objectives of the project. He said that at some of the previous meetings questions were raised as to whether the programme is just about holding a UN conference or if there were further aims? He explained that the objective of the programme is to extend the initiative beyond 2005 to establish a global network which can oversee further work on the area of Conflict Prevention. Dr Van Tongeren further said that Catherine Barnes has already presented a working paper clearly setting its principal objectives and, subsequently, all the regions will be invited to send in their recommendations. He emphasized that research is one of the most important components of this exercise which has to be expanded in the direction of understanding of what works best, which programmes are useful, what are the lessons learnt, and what the best practices are. It will make possible, to bring out research publications periodically, and to develop a system, whereby, every two or three years, newsletters could be produced. They would outline descriptions of the work accomplished and the dynamics involved in the conflict prevention process, providing publicity to the programme activities.

He held out the hope that when some literature based on these experiences can be distributed to the key people in the world dealing with conflicts, and these will then go into the like minded civil servants of the UN, thereby presenting our case more clearly to international audiences.

Dr Van Tongeren concluded his speech by saying “it is one thing to convene a conference where you will have prepared speeches and reports, but quite another to disseminate information on practical recommendations and to develop a regional action agenda. We in Europe have asked Catherine Barnes to prepare a number of books on lessons learnt from peace processes all over the world, and, in particular, do a piece of writing on elements of an action agenda for Western European Initiatives. She has, already, prepared a four paged draft-Western European Action Agenda. We have asked the other regions to do a similar job in respect of their regions. All these action agendas are to be discussed at the Dublin Conference, and will then go to Brussels, and also later to New York.”

Next to speak was, Vasu Vaitla, a representative of Initiative of Change, who based his contribution to the theme: “How can the UN system be influenced?”. He went on to say that, although, a lot has been done on conflict prevention during the last ten years or so, there still remains a tendency to restart the process again, again, and again and not to take the process forward. The trend has been to add regional nuances and the regional best practices to this programme. On this issue, there are not less than four studies at UN currently, attempting to give a definition to civil society, i.e. by the Non- Governmental Liaison Service (NGLS), the Department of Social affairs, UNDP and Eminent Persons’ Panel.

Maria de la Fonte of Japanese Peace Group dealt with the importance of identifying regional differences and getting the academic community and social workers together, in Conflict Prevention. With her experiences, by working in Japan with students and attending meetings in Soesterberg, Philippines and Tokyo on this issue, she emphasized the fact that the nature of the issues differ from region to region. Sridhar K Khatri, Executive Director, of RCSS,outlined the work already accomplished and attempts at defining the terms being used, in this field, and said that at Marawila the consensus was, for example, to exclude what is, ‘not civil society’, when defining what “Civil Society” is, and “Armed Conflict” was defined as ‘contestation between collectives in which armed violence is used as an instrument for producing an outcome’.

At Marawila the issues prevailing in South Asia were prioritized and now the need is to address these objectively. O.P. Shah of Centre for Peace Progress, stressed the value of lessening human suffering when dealing with conflict prevention issues. Building consensus among conflicting parties, bringing them to talk to each other, bring about reconciliation, demonstrating sincerity of purpose is necessary to achieve results, he said.

Vijayalakshmi of the Jawaharlal Nehru University, spoke of the need to draw women into civil society’s role in Conflict Prevention. When the perceptions on security issues are broadening, when the need for inspiring trust, transperancy, accomadating viewpoints, and non partisanship is becoming, important, women’s role has become paramount. Experiences like Naga Mothers,’Association and the Association of Parents for Disappearing People show their significance. Women had been an inclusive group in conflict situations in South Asia, but the whole conflict discourse had been male oriented; from the commencement of military conflicts up to the peace processes women had been marginalized. Even the U.N. resolutions 1325 and 1366 had not helped women to play an active role in conflict situations ; this should be corrected by including them in the processes, forming groups like daughters of Ladakh, Jammu and Kashmir, and making constitutional provisions, for political participation of women at local, national, and regional levels, and also peace processes.

Yoginder Singh Sikandh of International Institute for the Study of Islam in the Modern World in his presentation outlined the role of religion in conflict prevention methodologies especially in India. The Kashmir Issue, for example, although, projected as an Islamic Issue dominated by extremists of Sufi faith, there are moderate Muslims in other parts of India who want Kashmir taken out of an Islamic prism, and treat it as a National Issue. They could be organized to influence Kashmiri Muslims, which will also, neutralize extremist Hindu Groups like RSS who use it as a Islamic Issue .Similarly, alternative Hindu groups and groups from other religious faiths should be called into the resolution of this conflict.

Noor Baba, of Kashmir University, reflecting on the Kashmir Issue said that Civil Society comprising the sum total of people informally or formally, organized, has not been used in India. For example, When in 1987 elections, people who took to violence participated in elections, they were punished whereas, they should have been rewarded. Both in and out of Kashmir the civil society did not attempt to infuse concepts such as freedom, democracy and federalism as tools which could have been used to meet such situations, and resolve this problem. Indian Civil Society should intervene in the Kashmir Situation, both when it is violent and also peaceful, to rehabilitate resettle and reintegrate people.

Gul Wani, University of Kashmir, reposed the blame for the exacerbation of Kashmir Problem on the State .From the time of Nehru, not enough was done to establish civil society, free elections and economic reforms, until militancy took over. Nehru once said that Democracy does not flourish in Kashmir, because, Kashmir Soil is not fertile for it, Sheikh Abdulla once remarked, that Indian Democracy stops at Patanpur, and a journalist said that Indian Democracy has a problem with Kashmir because it never travels by bus. Basically, the conflict is between National Interest of Kashmir and Party Politics of India. The Civil Society too is sandwiched between Government and the militants. However, after the Islamabad SAARC Summit, initiatives could be taken like opening conflict resolution centers in Universities, in Jammu and Kashmir and restoration of Kashmir Identity; for example, Kashmir Pundits now called themselves as Kashmiri Hindus, as against Kashmiri Muslims, whereas both groups are Kashmiris. Two examples of mutual concern, cited are of, Kashmiri Muslims renovating a Hindu Temple during Amarnath yatra and Kashmiri Pundit Prakash intervening in securing the acquittal of Delhi University’s Rahman Gilani. He, referred to Sri Lankan Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar’s statement that future of South Asia lies with India and said that, he, too, endorses it.

Wasbir Hussain, of The Sentinel, Guwahati, dealing with The North-east Scenario, outlined the various demands of the 30 insurgent groups, spearheaded by the Naga rebels, Assamese, Manipuris, Tripuris, their demands ranging from secession, autonomy, to self-determination.

The attempts by the Government for talks through a mix of political and military means have not been positive, but the question now hinges on whether the Government will agree to ULFA demands of a presence of a third party supervision and a venue out side India. In any negotiations, the role of the Church is important, for example, in Nagaland, where the Christian population is 90 percent; the women, as represented by the Naga Mothers’ association formed in 1984, have assumed a peace making role by being in the legislature. On the contrary, in Assam the rebel movement which started 30 years later than in Nagaland, the situation is worse as there is no credible or structured Civil Society. Being a multi-religious society, even a religious institution has not got much of a say. It is necessary, therefore, to build Civil Society structures, identify and train peace makers in this region.

Ajrimand Hussain, Director, United Mission Foundation, analyzing the role of Civil Society in the Prevention of Armed Conflict in India and Kashmir, said, that people should be empowered to prevent armed conflict. In addition the governing circles should reach out to the marginalized and vulnerable groups of the society, without political bias, in reducing a conflict situation. In the ensuing discussion, the participants arrived at a consensus that conflict situations differ from one another, and the application of one solution will not suit another. The different Civil Society groups should analyze these placing them in the correct perspective gathering the support of all segments of the society.

Participants at the first India National Meeting were:

Prof Noor Ahmed Baba, Head, Dept of Political Science,Kashmir University, Srinagar, India;

Ms Aditi Bahaduri, Calcutta Research Group,olkata, India;

Ms Ashima Kaul Bhatia, Consultant, Women in Security, Conflict, Management and Peace, (WISCOMP), New Delhi, India;

Ms Maria de la Fonte, Japanese Peace Group, Japan;

Mr Wasbir Hussain, Consulting Editor, The Sentinel,Guwahati (North-east India) & Associate Fellow,Institute of Conflict Management, New Delhi, India;

Mr Karan Sawhny, Director, International Centre for Peace Initiatives, New Delhi, India;

Mr O P Shah, Chairman, Centre for Peace Progress,Kolkata, India;

Dr Yoginder Singh Sikand, Post-doctoral Research Scholar, C/o International Institute for the Study of Islam in the Modern World, The Netherlands;

Dr Paul van Tongeren, Executive Director, European Centre for Conflict Prevention (ECCP), The Netherlands;

Mr Vasu Vaitla, Initiative of Change, Representative to the UN;

Dr K P Vijayalakshmi, Associate Professor, Centre for American and West European Studies,Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, India;

Dr Gul Mohammad Wani, Reader, Department of Political Science, University of Kashmir (Srinagar),Kashmir, India;

Mr Arjimand Hussain Wani (Talib), Director, United Mission Foundation, Columnist, Greater Kashmir, India.

Prof Sridhar K Khatri, Executive Director, Regional Centre for Strategic Studies, Colombo, Sri Lanka; and

Dr R A Ariyaratne, Member, Board of Directors, Regional Centre for Strategic Studies.