Travails of Post Conflict Societies

Cost of Peace

26 Aug, 2014    ·   4622

D Suba Chandran writes why no cost is too high to wage peace

While there have been enormous emphasis in studying the cost of war and the evil effects of conflict, in the recent period, there have been an emphasis on the cost of peace in terms of economic and political investments and its fallouts.

Can there be a cost to peace? In the public and political debates in countries such as the US and Israel, there have been questions and emphasis on “peace at what cost”, “peace, but with honour” and “peace with justice”. The above inputs are based on an understanding that peace is desirable, but not to be fought with a high political or economic cost.

Efforts to arrive at peace in Afghanistan and Iraq have been questioned by a section in the US and elsewhere, in terms of cost involved. The human, material and economic cost for the US to ensure that peace prevails ultimately in Afghanistan and Iraq has been high so far. In fact, this argument has been effectively used not only in the US, but also in many European countries to cut the costs and get out of Afghanistan, irrespective of achieving the original goal.

The general argument – “peace at what cost” in this case primarily involves human, material and economic cost in fighting the war, with an ultimate objective to win it. Equally compelling arguments on similar lines have been on “peace with honour” which could be seen in Israel’s approach towards Palestine. A section within Israel would prefer peace, but only on certain conditions. “Peace with honour” and the “high cost of peace” arguments have an inherent hawkish approach, which is negative in nature and essentially aims at scuttling the peace process.

The Iraqi example today would prove the fallacy of the above argument. If the cost – economic and political becomes a primary factor not to follow a peace process today and pursue the war/conflict to its ultimate end, we will have to pay a higher price tomorrow. If only the US had stayed the course in establishing peace in Iraq, and not aimed only at overthrowing the Saddam Hussein regime, the ISIL would not have become a factor today. Iraq would not be this violent today, had there been enough emphasis on the process yesterday. The US and the international community is repeating the same mistake in Afghanistan today.

Israel has been seen pursuing a similar approach. Returning to a conflict mode to arrive at “peace with honour” is fraught with dangers. This would only strengthen the hands of the hawks, who are waiting to push their own agenda. Peace cannot be achieved with the complete annihilation of the other party; it has to be proactively fought and achieved. There has to be something for everyone; else, it would only be a matter of time before a section recuperates itself to spoil the larger process.

The above argument brings to the larger issue of complexities in fighting peace.

Waging War is easier than fighting peace. Waging Peace is complicated for it involves different actors and intricate issues. The political and economic costs in waging peace may definitely be higher; however, irrespective of the cost involved, it has to be fought and achieved ultimately. Like engaging in developmental activities and building the basic infrastructure – if we are worried and unhappy about the cost today and not engage in the same, we will have to undertake the same in the future, but with a higher price. No cost is high enough to achieve peace.

One of the biggest complications in waging peace, especially in a post conflict society is the number of actors involved. The number of actors during a conflict phase, or during waging war is small and limited; the opposing sides are clear and easy to identify, hence it is easy to fight a war or conflict.

But waging peace involves multiple actors. Once the violence comes to an end in a protracted conflict, there emerge multiple groups and actors, as has been the case in Sri Lanka, Nepal, J&K and India’s Northeast. Their demands are varied from strengthening panchayats and local institutions of governance to improving the business environment. From rehabilitating the displaced to integrating the former combatants, suddenly there are multiple actors in the scene, each with a long list of demands.

At times, there is also a competition amongst the multiple groups to ensure that the reconstruction and rehabilitation packages. Groups that were never a party to the conflict, and demands that were either muted or kept under the surface, come to the fore during the post-conflict period. The multiple demands are not only clearly articulated, but also are loud, in terms of being projected. There are rallies and protests, at times even violent, with an objective to be a part of the political process and reap the peace dividend.

Worse, in some cases, a peace process or solution in one region, results in creating a domino effect in other regions. An example is the separation of Andhra Pradesh and creation of new Telengana state; today, there are multiple demands for creating new states in India’s Northeast, by dividing, for example Assam and Nagaland.

While the demands are high in a post conflict situation, the capacity of the State and its institutions are limited in South Asia. Thanks to the prolonged nature of conflict, in many parts of the conflict regions the State institutions and delivery mechanisms – from schools and hospitals have been affected. More than building the infrastructure, the State is also handicapped with declining work culture in its institutions. It is extremely unfortunate and ironic, that in most of the post conflict regions, which have been earlier known for hard work and honesty, today there is a casualness and corruption set in. On the one hand, in the post conflict societies there are ever increasing demands, while on the other hand the ability and efficiency of the State and its institutions to deliver is declining.

Not only the demands are increasing, but also the criticisms of the civil society against the State and its ability to deliver in a post conflict situation. Thanks to the vibrant media and the expanding reach of Social Media, the problems of governance are discussed in public and in real time. For the State, which was primarily fighting the militants and separatists until now, it is suddenly in a new territory with numerous actors with varying demands.

Added to the problem, is also an increasing urge to make use of the armed forces and the para military to engage in civilian functions. For example in Sri Lanka, where the war against the LTTE has come to an end, there is not only huge manpower available to the State, but also seen as highly organised and efficient to implement projects. Such a process, though found attractive and even useful, in the long run it would be counterproductive. The civilian institutions need to be strengthened and made accountable to deliver the goods.

Finally, the issue of trust between the Centre and the provincial units in post conflict situation in devolving power and responsibilities. In many parts of South Asia, the Centre is apprehensive of the State actors and are conservative in devolving powers to the units; even if there is devolution, certain areas or portfolios continue to remain with the Centre. More than financial and administrative issues, the “trust” factor, play a crucial role in this process.

Waging peace is a complex process only if we perceive it from a prism of economic, political and security costs. Once a conscious decision is made, that whatever may be the cost, the peace process should be continued to its logical conclusion, many pieces will fall in its place.

No cost is high enough to wage peace.

By arrangement with Rising Kashmir