Con­flict Res­o­lu­tion in SAARC

The Char­ter of SAARC is a ma­jor im­ped­i­ment to the res­o­lu­tion of con­flicts among its mem­bers as it pro­hibits the dis­cus­sion of con­tentious bi­lat­eral is­sues in its meet­ings and of­fi­cial pro­grams.

Southasia - - CONTENTS - By Dr. Moonis Ah­mar The writer is Dean Fac­ulty of Arts at Univer­sity of Karachi. He is au­thor and ed­i­tor of the book, ‘The Re­struc­tur­ing of SAARC’.

The 18th SAARC Sum­mit will have to deal with nu­mer­ous chal­lenges and crit­i­cal is­sues, rang­ing from the dis­mal state of re­gional co­op­er­a­tion to the loom­ing en­vi­ron­men­tal threats to the un­re­solved in­ter and in­tra-state con­flicts and the hu­man se­cu­rity predica­ment. The last SAARC Sum­mit held in Male in Novem­ber 2011 re­ferred to the chal­lenges of good gov­er­nance and build­ing bridges in var­i­ous po­ten­tial ar­eas of co­op­er­a­tion but, like all pre­vi­ous sum­mits, it failed to make a qual­i­ta­tive break­through in en­sur­ing con­nec­tiv­ity and in­trare­gional trade.

In view of past per­for­mance, one can­not have high hopes from the 18th SAARC Sum­mit. Cer­tainly, some of the big­gest chal­lenges faced by South Asia to­day are un­abated vi­o­lence, fail­ure of the rule of law and ab­sence of con­flict man­age­ment and res­o­lu­tion mech­a­nisms. The rise of ex­trem­ism, in­tol­er­ance, rad­i­cal­iza­tion and ter­ror­ism in many South Asian coun­tries is the re­sult of eco­nomic, po­lit­i­cal, so­cial, cul­tural and re­li­gious con­flicts. In ad­di­tion to the long­stand­ing in­ter-state con­flicts be­tween In­dia and Pak­istan – pri­mar­ily on the is­sues of Kashmir, Si­achen, Sir Creek and the shar­ing of wa­ter re­sources – the con­flicts at the lo­cal level are also a source of in­se­cu­rity and vi­o­lence.

As far as in­tra-state con­flicts are con­cerned – such as the Maoist/ Nax­alite move­ments in In­dia, eth­nic and sec­tar­ian con­flicts in Pak­istan, gov­ern­ment-op­po­si­tion schisms in Bangladesh and the po­lit­i­cal stand­off be­tween the gov­ern­ment and the op­po­si­tion par­ties in Nepal – the state au­thor­i­ties and civil so­ci­eties of the coun­tries con­cerned need to play their role in the peace­ful res­o­lu­tion of such con­flicts.

In Sri Lanka, a three decades long vi­o­lent Tamil-Sin­hala con­flict reached a log­i­cal con­clu­sion in 2009 when the Lib­er­a­tion Tamil Tigers Ee­lam (LTTE) was mil­i­tar­ily de­feated. The Sri Lankan case study in the realms of con­flict res­o­lu­tion is quite in­ter­est­ing. It showed that when the use of soft power and the pol­icy of stick and car­rot failed to yield pos­i­tive re­sults, the use of hard power by the Sri Lankan gov­ern­ment ended one phase of the con­flict with the mil­i­tary de­feat of the LTTE. How­ever, it failed to ad­dress the root causes of

the prob­lem.

But, it is the in­ter-state con­flicts in South Asia which need se­ri­ous con­sid­er­a­tion, as the fail­ure to re­solve them can lead to the out­break of armed con­flicts be­tween neigh­bors, caus­ing colos­sal phys­i­cal and ma­te­rial de­struc­tion. Un­doubt­edly, the op­tion of Track-I, Track-II and Track-III diplo­macy to fur­ther the process of di­a­logue be­tween In­dia and Pak­istan is es­sen­tial to pre­vent hos­til­i­ties and ten­sions along their bor­ders. But more im­por­tant is the ex­er­cise of po­lit­i­cal will and a de­ter­mi­na­tion on the part of the rul­ing elites of the two coun­tries not to re­main hostage to the past and in­stead take con­crete steps for a pur­pose­ful and mean­ing­ful res­o­lu­tion of all lin­ger­ing is­sues.

SAARC’s predica­ment is that there is no mech­a­nism within its in­sti­tu­tional frame­work which can play a vi­able role in con­flict res­o­lu­tion be­cause the char­ter of SAARC pro­hibits the dis­cus­sion of con­tentious bi­lat­eral is­sues in its meet­ings and of­fi­cial pro­grams such as the meet­ings of SAARC for­eign sec­re­taries, for­eign min­is­ters and SAARC sum­mits. Ar­ti­cle X of the Char­ter of SAARC is a ma­jor im­ped­i­ment to the res­o­lu­tion of con­flicts among its mem­bers.

When SAARC was launched as a re­gional or­ga­ni­za­tion in 1985, its seven mem­ber states de­cided that it would be im­pru­dent to dis­cuss the bi­lat­eral con­flicts in the for­ma­tive phase of the or­ga­ni­za­tion. The SAARC lead­ers also agreed that their en­er­gies should be uti­lized in pro­mot­ing re­gional co­op­er­a­tion at the eco­nomic level and that they should not get bogged down in con­tentious is­sues. But the founders of SAARC had un­der­mined the ba­sic fact that the process of re­gional co­op­er­a­tion can­not take off un­less there ex­ists an un­der­stand­ing ei­ther to freeze the con­flicts or seek their fair and just res­o­lu­tion. In the case of South Asia, there hasn’t been any ef­fort ei­ther to freeze the con­flicts or to seek their peace­ful res­o­lu­tion. As a re­sult, such con­flicts im­pede re­gional co­op­er­a­tion.

When the As­so­ci­a­tion for South East Asian Na­tions (ASEAN) was launched in 1967 by In­done­sia, Malaysia, Philip­pines, Thai­land and Sin­ga­pore, no sum­mit was held for the first ten years be­cause the mem­ber states had fo­cused their en­er­gies on for­mu­lat­ing a roadmap for pur­pose­ful re­gional co­op­er­a­tion in­stead of hold­ing meet­ings and sum­mits. By 1977, the ASEAN mem­bers had done enough home­work to in­sti­tu­tion­al­ize the process of co­op­er­a­tion by freez­ing their bi­lat­eral con­flicts, par­tic­u­larly be­tween In­done­sia and Malaysia. Later, Brunei be­came a mem­ber of ASEAN fol­lowed by Viet­nam, Cam­bo­dia, Laos and Myan­mar. SAARC should have learned lessons from ASEAN where the mem­ber states suc­ceeded in mov­ing for­ward to at­tain the goal of re­gional co­op­er­a­tion de­spite po­lit­i­cal dif­fer­ences.

Since the two gi­ants of the re­gion – In­dia and Pak­istan – make up around two-thirds of South Asia, it is ar­gued that SAARC can­not ren­der pos­i­tive re­sults un­less both coun­tries sort out their dif­fer­ences. To a large ex­tent, New Delhi’s ap­proach visà-vis con­flicts with its neigh­bors, par­tic­u­larly Pak­istan, is based on a two-pronged strat­egy. The first is to re­ject third-party me­di­a­tion and stress on pur­su­ing a bi­lat­eral ap­proach to deal with con­tentious is­sues. In­dia has fol­lowed this strat­egy quite ef­fec­tively with Pak­istan, tak­ing ad­van­tage of the 1972 Simla Pact which clearly stated that all out­stand­ing dis­putes be­tween In­dia and Pak­istan, in­clud­ing the Jammu & Kashmir is­sue, shall be re­solved peace­fully and bi­lat­er­ally.

The sec­ond strat­egy is to dis­cour­age Pak­istan’s ef­forts to raise con­tentious is­sues on bi­lat­eral fo­rums. In­dia has con­sis­tently fol­lowed this ap­proach dur­ing the com­pos­ite di­a­logue. When Pak­istan raises the Kashmir dis­pute with In­dia un­der the frame­work of com­pos­ite di­a­logue, In­dia re­fuses to give any se­ri­ous con­sid­er­a­tion to the mat­ter. New Delhi is un­able to un­der­stand a ba­sic point that un­less it has peace with its neigh­bors, its goals and ob­jec­tives to emerge as an Asian or a world power may never ma­te­ri­al­ize.

One way to em­power SAARC is to amend its Char­ter. In­stead of es­cap­ing from the re­al­ity of con­flicts and pro­hibit­ing their dis­cus­sion un­der its am­bit, SAARC needs to delete Ar­ti­cle X from its Char­ter. This re­quires to be done be­cause after over 30 years of its for­ma­tion, the mem­ber states are now ca­pa­ble of dis­cussing is­sues which are di­rectly re­spon­si­ble for de­rail­ing the process of re­gional co­op­er­a­tion.

The non-se­ri­ous ap­proach of SAARC on var­i­ous im­por­tant is­sues is also de­plorable. For in­stance, Afghanistan joined SAARC sev­eral years ago as its eighth mem­ber. How­ever, the Char­ter of SAARC men­tions only seven mem­bers and is not up­dated by in­clud­ing Afghanistan as its mem­ber.

In the forth­com­ing SAARC sum­mit, the mem­ber states must agree on scrap­ping Sec­tion Two of Ar­ti­cle X of the SAARC Char­ter which ex­cludes bi­lat­eral and con­tentious is­sues from the de­lib­er­a­tion of SAARC. This may not re­solve bi­lat­eral con­flicts but SAARC mem­bers can cer­tainly dis­cuss the modal­i­ties to dif­fuse a cri­sis em­a­nat­ing from the es­ca­la­tion of a par­tic­u­lar con­flict. That is one plau­si­ble way to dis­cuss con­tro­ver­sial is­sues in­stead of es­cap­ing from them.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Pakistan

© PressReader. All rights reserved.