Monday, 6 December, 2021

Dialogue As Tool To Solve Conflict               

Dev Raj Dahal


Dialogue is a multi-actor conversation to discover a shared process of reaching conclusion, behaviour coordination and rational action. Democracy requires regular dialogues among leaders and with citizens. Without a worthy opposition democracy loses its dynamic and descends into authoritarianism. Meaningful dialogue eases open flow of ideas of individuals from various sides and furnishes relevant options to solve conflicts. Group conflict looms large if individual boundaries are melted into a larger unit for existence and fosters identity politics, negates the Other and stokes lawless fight. These factors add muscle to irrational egoists who refuse to negotiate thus turning democratic compromise a Sisyphus labour.
Learning through dialogical process is ancient practice in Nepal. Dialogue of sages and seers based on equal liberty constituted the source of knowledge, socialisation, policy, action coordination and inputs for the art of statecraft.  It helped resolve conflict on a just ground. Nepali communities of all hues have treasured rich experience of settling conflict through dialogue. The beauty of dialogue is that conflict at stake is opened to solution-specific inputs from various lenses capturing the interest, position, identity and motivation of all sides. Contextual dialogue produces practical ideas which are useful for the adaptation of Nepalis of varied biological, social, economic and political origins within the state.
In a nation of diversity, conflict resolution needs unprejudiced optimisation of the interests across a variety of individual leaders and a balance of sub-groups’ propensity for equalisation and societal interests for order in which each has its own values and validity of claims. Dialogue becomes infinite so long as creative ideas do not enlighten the rival sides making them ready to transcend personal greed, grievances, ambition and egotism for common good - peace. 

Variety of tools
Nepali history tells that leaders have used a variety of tools such as power equation of powerful actors, adversarial or majoritarian model common among Anglo-Saxonic tradition, a macho spectacle of Leviathan able to execute its authority, negation or isolation of opponents common in dialectical convention or even muscular use of power by non-state actors. Each of these styles in Nepal has fertilised new sores of structural and manifest conflicts. Party factionalism, split and frequent government change, abetted by spoilers, have bred chronic political instability at the top even after the signing of peace accord. Peace as a leverage for power has thus left both transitional justice and peace dividends to linger.
Similarly, ineffectual compromises of the establishment with social classes and dissidents of the polity to retain its own power have weakened state capacity to act in the interest of public. This has cut the impersonal performance of democratic institutions even in matters of public order and public goods.  Nepal’s tradition of local dialogues has helped to mediate many conflicts and made solution mutually acceptable and mutually binding. Like Lockean and Kantian method of the use of public reason to solve problem, Nepal’s political leaders have used their clout to enter into compromises but their skewed execution left the rivals frustrated posing complexity to abolish violence in politics. Still dialogue bears certain benefits in conflict resolution:
 Assume conflict as non-linear process:  Conflict spurs energy for social change. But if there is no viable mechanism to manage changes it expands vertically to several generations and across individual relationship to geopolitical dimension. In Nepal, peace accord has created some losers within fractious leadership of various parties and those outside the new establishment. The efforts to manage the losers were less tenable as there was poor contextual learning owing to their preoccupation with power. Incubation of armed groups, social struggles of identity - manic forces, regular agitation of conflict victims, even disqualified child soldiers and social movements of various groups are the byproduct of deficiency of peace accord.
The nature of conflict in Nepal is transforming with the use of new techniques, issues, groups, creed, greed and grievances. One can see each vertical dimension of conflicts in Nepal - geopolitical, structural, manifest, latent, and perceptual - influencing the other and creating a vicious trap. There are also horizontal conflicts sited at interest, ideology and identity levels triggered by the struggles of mini identity groups - caste, ethnicity, gender, political parties, regionalism, religion and privileges of leadership with no sign of moderation. It has devalued the sovereignty of demos and made both aspiration for democracy and its animation by civic institutions almost dysfunctional. 
Peace process is, therefore, contested by the deprived prompting them to struggle at multi-scale. The negative outcome of its geopolitics is: security dilemma for neighbours - India and China, leadership losing sight of the shift in larger strategic environment and inability to adjust to conflicting initiatives. Irrational framing of conflict does not make it amenable to resolution. Only the public use of reason, mobilisation of systemic resources and engagement of insiders of the national community are vital because they have better perspective on the causes of conflicts than those perceived by outsiders.
Gyrate interactive process: In many culturally divided societies like Afghanistan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bosnia, South Africa and Northern Ireland, political dialogues have been taken as a tool to build trust, communication of positive messages, nurture confidence and invite rival sides to engage in a dialogue to resolve their conflicts. Peace researcher Herbert C. Kelman has applied interactive problem solving method in Arab-Israel conflict. Intensive multi-stage dialogues between Palestinian-Israeli political actors incubated new entry points across political and religious divides aiming to reduce tension and discover a new dialogical approach to conflict management.
Include diversity:  Dialogue as an inclusive process is opened to the perspectives of diverse actors as opposed to linear muscular or binary dialectic one where only the opposing sides have relevance. Though dialogue includes every stakeholder, but if the outcome is not mutually satisfying, it opens another source of conflict. Obviously, dialogue builds confidence, unveils novel perspectives, needs and concerns of drivers, actors and stakeholders of conflict and improves the scope of communication. But in Nepal, disharmonious interests, positions, identities, ideologies and actions of political leaders has continuously fuelled the sources of conflict.
Only rational frame of conflict through mutual perspective taking can help to find a middle ground for moderation of position. Conflict victims in Nepal fear that delay in justice may give rise to impunity and stoke new faultlines while conflict actors only glamorise their bravery. The contesting positions of Nepali leaders on national issues, politics of negation and power of impunity keep on utilising the legitimacy of violence. Confidence building between the rival actors is important to seek joint solution. In this context, dialogical approach is durable than unilateral imposition of solution by powerful actors on those potential, left out and negated ones. On the contrary, the later can beat the former in redistributive struggle in a world of scarcity and competition in electoral politics.
Help rivals learn from each other and change position:  Nepal’s various establishments have engaged themselves in peaceful dialogues with non-state armed actors, social movement forces, justice-demanding groups and signed agreements with them for the resolution of their grievances. Nepal is country of minorities and, therefore, lasting solution of any problem requires deliberative approach so that alienation and rebellion can be addressed and ownership of each group is maintained in the outcome. Nepal’s constitution embraces inclusion, social transformation, the end of discrimination and formulation of justice-based state.
Similarly, legitimisation of change every time through extra-constitutional means has incubated a political culture less conducive for democratic stability. This has generated a political tension between those satisfied with the new status quo premised on syndicate regime, those who wanted to revise it and those who wanted to subvert it for complete institutional change. The inflexibility in position has opened scope for confrontational politics, not learning from each other and changing position amenable to conflict resolution.
Generates better outcome: Intergroup theories have offered an engagement model applied by various initiatives to promote dialogue, education for peace and discovering democratic middle ground across the rivals. Nepal’s mainstream parties have signed countless deals with social groups and Madhesi parties.  Still, the lack of trust among them borders on increasing preconditions for dialogue and refusing to satisfy. Effective dialogue designs and processes are needed to maintain conflict control system. This helps make a separation between “legitimate” and “revolutionary” demands and those which can be fulfilled immediately and those that requires long-term justice-based consensus.

Common ground
Nepal’s lessons of peace process are hardly internalised by key leaders owing to their habitual interest in power, personality cult, top down mentality, lack of effective means to disseminate its messages and concert diverse actors to non-violent orientation. The adversarial model of politics failed to create common background for all actors for a joint solution of conflict and chart a better socialised future. Now international community is seeking international standards on transitional justice and human rights. As it could not create rational “common ground,” the outcome is systemic disharmony between national and international standards. Neither peace accord did address conflict residues and unjust wounds nor did it create peace dividends, not even high stake of all on durable peace, justice and order.
Conflict victims are still waiting for transitional justice, to know the whereabouts of their disappeared relatives and expect reconstructive measures. The establishment, gripped by factionalism and lack cohesive stand on national issues differences, have been unable to find common interests. The constitution, a link to conclusion of peace process, has become a contested site. Political leaders of all hues require finding ways to hone bonding and bridging trust, reciprocity and concrete public action beyond the clutch of patronage. The transition from insurgency, agitation and social movements to state politics requires socialisation, democratisation and constitutionalisation of all actors. It helps to synchronise political parties, business and civil society to share basic values of state building, integrity of polity and engage citizens in the economics of peace embodying what Jack Hirshleifer calls “two  great life-strategy options: production and exchange.” 

(Former Reader at the Department of Political Science, TU, Dahal writes on political and social issues.)