The conflict curve of Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Kashmir insurgencies is at a fragile and vulnerable state of stability. Sri Lanka has given a massive mandate for a ‘new democracy’; stability and accountability, yet it does not take away the shadow of instability that might follow. There is a state within a state for the outgoing President Rajapaksa and his brother Gotabaya in the last two decades have dug their claws deep into the state machinery to co-opt the judiciary, army and civil services. They have a backing of large sections of the army and extremist groups like Bodu Bala Sena (BBS).
In Kashmir too people braved intimidation, threat to life and severe cold conditions to usher in ‘change’ indicating human aspiration for governance, peace and justice, thereby creating an environment for political solutions and nonviolent responses to the conflict. The recent elections also indicate a shift in state response in democratizing the political process; however it is yet to rid itself of divisive political parties and their struggle to strengthen personal core constituencies thus disregarding people’s aspiration. The divided mandate has led to Governor’s rule in the region with extremist and hardliners on all sides now ready to jump into the political vacuum that has been created. In Pakistan the Peshawar killing of school children by TTP has exacerbated the continuing cycle of violence involving state response and insurgents. Subsequent punitive military action in the tribal Khyber region by the Pakistan Army undermines a peacebuilding approach to break the cycle of violence; however it reminds of the Sri Lankan strikes on LTTE crushing insurgency thus raising questions as to when in the conflict curve creative and imaginative peacebuilding interventions are possible for conflict transformation and durable peace. Looking at some of these crucial answers and exploring in a rather focused way the conflict trajectory using the conflict curve theory in major South Asian insurgencies and counter responses by the state through a peacebuilding lens is an edited volume by Moeed W. Yusuf, director South Asia programmes, United States Institute of Peace, Washington DC. The book Insurgency and Counter Insurgency in South Asia is timely when the South Asia region with two nuclear powers and salient armed insurgencies are grappling with innovative responses to prevent or resolve inter or interstate conflicts.
People mired in deep rooted human conflicts and protracted armed violence between state and non state in South Asia are struggling to transform the nature of the conflict including conflictual relationships through a variety of interventions. While a strategic peacebuilding matrix which presents a potential and viable framework of action is useful for conceptualizing activities and interventions, literature that illustrates specific political insight to specific conflicts in South Asia—Kashmir (India), Pakistan, Nepal and Sri Lanka—from a peacebuilding perspective have not been attempted. In most conflicts the human dimension of political relationships and interactions before the conflict manifests into a violent one is missing as central to peacebuilding efforts. Insurgency and Counter Insurgency in South Asia specifically brings this aspect into focus specifically through these four case studies. The political trajectory of insurgency and counter-insurgency in each of the cases studies is mapped to explore peacebuilding applicability at various stages of the conflict specifically in the context of Michael Lund’s conflict curve theory. The edited volume departs from generic literature on peacebuilding interventions in full fledged insurgencies, but through four selected case studies in the region arguably on the basis that these are the ‘most serious insurgent challenges that these countries have faced’, raises fundamental questions on areas of interventions that peace builders have traditionally neglected.
If we look at the peacebuilding framework as outlined by Lisa Schirch and Harold H. Saunders useful for conceptualizing the range of activities and actors involved, which are now increasingly being recognized as peacebuilding approaches, this book adds another dimension to conflict prevention and resolution. Schirch identifies four clusters of issues around which peacebuilding activities can be designed. These include activities to reduce direct violence, (including legal and justice systems, humanitarian assistance, peacekeeping, ceasefires, establishment of peace zones and early warning programmes), activities to enable conflict to be waged nonviolently (including monitoring advocacy and civilian based defense), activities to build capacity (training, education, research etc) and activities to transform relationships (including trauma healing, transitional justice, governance and policy making). Saunders emphasizes the role of citizens outside the governments. This book through nine empirical chapters, each written by a practitioner or academic who is a native of South Asia, looks at ‘political peacebuilding’ as the core approach for conflict mitigation, transformation and resolution. The moot question therefore for peace builders is—when in the conflict curve are effective interventions for stable and durable peace possible?
The Kashmir conflict is very well documented from a plethora of perspectives including identity politics, armed resistance for right to self determination, proxy war, security, insurgency and counter insurgency and terrorism. Happymon Jacob, Rekha Chowdhary and Khalid Mahmood in that sense do not offer new information. However well crafted chapters have peeled off labyrinths of complexities of the last three decades and singularly focused on the political root cause of insurgency, its response by the state, the different stages the insurgency went through locating it in the India–Pakistan peace process. In doing so the three chapter combo offers a different and unique approach to the subject of insurgency looking minutely into those stages when the state or the insurgents could have transformed the conflict and ended direct violence. Jacob’s ‘Conflict in Kashmir: An Insurgency with Long Roots’, pans the breakdown of the federal relationship between New Delhi and Kashmir to spiraling violence in the 90s to full-fledged insurgency of the entire population to a period of political reconciliation. Chowdhary assiduously captures the graph of conflict curve from a military-security prism to political governance and democratization of the political process. ‘India’s Response to the Kashmir Insurgency: A Holistic Perspective’ implores ‘maximalist and mutually exclusive territorial claims of India, Pakistan and Kashmiris’. Chowdhary does not bring into purview the complex layers of religious extremism, sub regional conflict and
competing nationalisms, however she deftly manouvers through these complexities to singularly pin point and list different political phases and important shifts in responses to conflict, including the ceasefire by Hizb and Comprehensive Peace Process initiative by Vajpayee. As a peace builder who has been working in the region for the
last two decades, the chapters on Kashmir including Khalid Mahmood’s ‘Peace Process With India: A Pakistani Perspective’ urges to reimagine and restructure the peacebuilding framework to explore, encapsulate, translate the act of peacebuilding into political peacebuilding.
However the most interesting aspect of the book is its structure. The chapters on Kashmir when read along with chapters on Pakistan provide an aerial yet strategic overview of similarities in which the conflict curve moves from durable to unstable peace to intense insurgency because of the way the state initially responds or actually not responds to growing tensions and grievances. As the political vacuum grows, everything from local identities, religious extremism, military and security tactics overlap and blur making it extremely challenging for peace builders to intervene. ‘Taliban Insurgency in FATA: Evolution and Prospects, by Muhammad Amir Rana ‘The State’s Response to the Pakistani Taliban Onslaught’ by Shaukat Qadir as well as the chapters on Sri Lanka ‘From Postindependence Ethnic Tensions to Insurgency: Sri Lanka’s Many Missed Opportunities’ by Chalinda D. Weerasinge and ‘Sri Lanka: Tackling the LTTE’ by Kumar Rupesinge explicitly highlight a common thread running through each of the conflict curves that heightened violence can only be responded to by a higher degree of military action which leaves no space for peacebuilding intervention. However as the Nepal chapters ‘Anatomy of a South Asian Revolt: Nepal’s Maoist Insurgency in Perspective’ by S.D. Muni and ‘Nepal’s Response to the Armed Insurgency, and Its Political Settlement’ by Bishnu Raj Upreti suggest that perhaps the best time to build peace is during the post-conflict stage.
This book is important for peacebuilders because it brings to focus an additional dimension to the cluster of peacebuilding matrix—the political process. Remarkably told through four specific case studies of insurgencies in South Asia, the book is a founding ground for further building on to peacebuilding narrative in the region. A strong recommendation would be to make use of it for reference in opening a dialogue around the probabilities and questions it has raised in the case of each of the four insurgencies.
Ashima Kaul is Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace and Justice Women Peacemaker Program Fellow, and Founder and Managing Director Yakjah Reconciliation and Development Network.