Tuesday, 27 July, 2021
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OPINION

Ideas For Systemic Conflict Transformation



Dev Raj Dahal

Sustainable peace needs an inter-subjective, indigenous source of knowledge of conflict for its transformation.  As conflict moves from simplicity to complexity, it perturbs past causes and effects entailing fresh learning to cope with ambiguity, contingency and change telling leaders not to negate any actor from the outcome of peace. It is a part of the same polity.  Rational solution based on systemic conscience relatively satisfies all actors. It improves their stake in peace and widens scope to realise their rights, share power and build reciprocity.  The promulgation of Nepal’s constitution by the Constituent Assembly had set a hopeful tone for rule-based polity, peace and justice but they hit a snag — Madhes-based parties opposed the former, radical Maoists stayed outside both, conflict residues lingered in a lack of transitional justice and political promise to eradicate structural injustice for an equal society remained alluring.
Even elections aimed to discipline political power, circulate youths in leadership, create law-based order and orient the polity to public good faced obstacles. The power struggle of fractious leaders without confessing a pang of guilt about the terrible ordeal is unabated. Nepali civil society voiced for the adaptation of actors and system to the zeitgeist but failed to liberate leaders from their tribal and partisan passion. By contrast, the pressure to affirm international laws and human rights is visibly ratcheted up the frame of national life. The unholy trinity of violence in politics, extra- constitutional mode of change and legitimacy of external actors into Nepal’s political culture does not promise a higher conception of public good above parochial interest.

Root causes of conflict
Conflict transformation into peace needs reforms in the hitches of party leadership, organisation and ideology to scale up choices for Nepalis. Their eschatological hope for higher order values -- freedom, equality and wellbeing, entails a full fall in the scale of violence. Systemic conflict transformation aims to secure stable peace by creating virtuous cycle under which root causes of conflicts arising out of needs deficits, creeds, greed and grievances are transformed by crisis-responsive activities. Stable peace emerges from the rational pursuit of Nepalis. Systemic frame of conflict embodies networks, dynamic structures, contextual learning, co-dependent perspective, knowledge about actors’ impulse, response across social classes and generations and creative adaptation.
The systemic frame adds values:  first, it assumes conflict a complex system rooted in the context with changing needs, aspiration, anguish and technology of actors whose ties are concurrently adversarial and symbiotic. Disciplinary approach is inadequate to respond to conflicts escalating beyond the linear cycles of cause and effect.  Second, actors’ interest in the conflict or peace is determined by the incentives and costs derived from interaction among them and with macro geopolitical and micro local milieu. The engagement of all actors in a talk enables dominant actors to know the legitimate interest of others and optimise their own for the best solution. It is no secret that non-negation and reflection about conflict modify rational actors’ behaviour amenable to cooperation.
Third, ethos of human rights, democracy and justice provide entry point for compromise of interest, identity and ideology as they foster civilised conduct, including those of the hidden ones, builds tolerance to opposition and offers space for opponent aspiring for justice. Opponent defects if its leaders do not find a loop to converse with them and adjust to shared goals. Feedback offers people a leverage to control leaders of conflict operating under the doctrine of necessity.
There are scores of benefits of systemic peacebuilding. First, it is based on interdisciplinary analysis of peace embracing insights from sociology, political science, economics, organisation theory, systemic constellation, emotional intelligence and international relations — enriched by the experiences of leaders and conflict experts and harnessing new wisdom into the practical aspect of systemic view. Second, it seeks to bridge the gap between spiritual, rational and scientific knowledge and builds cycles of peace ranging from early warning, planning, intervention, monitoring and evaluation of peace process. Third, it seeks perspective transformation from the lower-order partisan bias to higher-order inclusive national identity.
Screaming victims are weaved into a systemic web and engaged in multi-track mediation and peace building activities. Fourth, it fuses systemic thinking into theory and practice of peace adding weight to the transformation of Nepal’s complex conflicts. Systemic rationality elicits coordination of means and ends of peace and enforces the accountability of actors so that spoilers and power-managers cannot upset the constructive change. Ironically, Nepali political leaders advocate multiple paths of democracy, justice and peace. Conflict transformation in favour of one path undermines the democracy’s potential for a compromise. The entry points for mediation across adversaries, solution-oriented dialogue, awareness of the contents of peace, peace building and peace education are vital strategies to bring the stakeholders into common ground for legitimate interest representation.
International community and conscience-bearing critical mass can provide moral and psychological motivation for closing the gaps of people with power structures and moderating the private ambition of leaders enabling them to engage in the cognitive liberation from their narrow boxes vital to keep the public order. Conflict opens the ability of various segments of society to adaptive change. It also makes the polity amenable to conversation and action. Transformation of changing nature of conflicts in Nepal entails new systemic awareness, constant learning of the evolving context and finding ways for its constructive change. Conflict operates in an open environment and expands horizontally and vertically across many generations. A viable transformation of conflict, therefore, needs constant engagement of all those affected in rational discourse.
The linear conflict resolution approach based on value-free, power equation of powerful actors adopted in Nepal in various times failed to transform conflict tangle because power equation always fluctuated in tandem with the rise of minority to transform itself into a majority, moral amnesia of leaders about their power and subversion of inner ethical and constitutional checks. In the win-lose game, the winner’s instinct for a new status quo has compressed the normative drives of democracy and continuously clinetalised, deprived and alienated, potential and weaker actors. Nepal’s constitutional moment of “we,” therefore, requires a transformation from parochialism to building the capability of the state as it is the sole authority to abolish the state of nature.
Old solution to new problems opened up new fault line conflicts. The winner’s curse has fertilised a torrent of agitations of critical mass of women, Dalits, Madhesis, Janajatis, Aadibasis, workers and backward classes demanding inclusive representation, resources and recognition and  conducted politics beyond hegemonic sites of mainstream parties and national borders. The shifting social coalition has created new dialectic of inclusion and exclusion affecting constitutional stability and undermining democracy’s ability to fulfil two non-negotiable conditions realisation of basic needs through economy of peace and creation of civic culture for acquiring, using and transferring political power under law.
The futility of traditional conflict management has opened new perturbation giving birth to systemic lens and invented non-violent pattern of structural change, political integration and national cohesion. There is no disciplinary path to resolve the issues of livelihood, human rights, energy, pandemic, ideological contradictions and general global issues related to climate change that affects Nepal’s governance. In contrast, systemic thinking is appropriate as it offers interdisciplinary insights into multiple causes, connections and consequences of Nepal’s conflicts. Peace building demands a synergy for healing and justice to constructive changes without impairing the state’s resilience to unify societal forces and concert their actions towards systemic goals included in the Directive Principles and Policies of the State.
The institutional innovations at the level of government, civil society, business initiative and support of international community are precisely couched in to address popular expectation and overcome anxiety disorder.  Civil rule is based on social contract but utility-maximising Nepali leaders have trampled its steering mechanism through partisanisation, deregulation, corruption and impunity deflating its integrity and eroding the efficacy of law to subdue chaos. Leaders’ will to power in the absence of essential checks, hobbled the distrust of citizens and weakened the central government’s ability to set the ground for stable peace.
Systemic thinking deems conflict a part of the whole system where its interacting actors are interwoven. They respond to macro and micro environmental stimuli — both incentives and risks — orienting to cooperation, competition and mitigation of conflict. This thinking has updated the existing theories on conflict transformation adding valuable insights, such as liberal peace, multiple causes of conflict dynamics, bridging the gaps in analysis, teamwork between action research and practical reflection and removing walls in conversation to break fear and silence, recharge and gain the impetus of life. Nepali scholars have gained experience about many conflict types and their sources.

Art of persuasion
The common hope entails peace as a tool of problem mitigation while politics is about awareness-raising, reflection and redistributive game. Leaders have to use the art of persuasion, not dehumanisation of their opponents, which turns peace a means to fight for other goals. The legitimacy of rule is derived from keeping ecological, social, gender and inter-generational justice.  Desire for peace begins with the will to work for peace, a will to shift resources to democratic institutions building, education for peace for making difference in life and economy of peace, if not an empathy and forgiveness.
Systemic feeling to common nationality of Nepalis can transcend the incongruity of subsidiary identity politics while democratic outcome can cut gaps in progress thus bringing the society back to the spirit of its heritage of civility and social connection. Constitutionalism is based on national unity, not unbolting divisive tendency of social forces. It can save the nation from an uneasy geopolitics of multi-national state. Nepalis have to weave a web of peace by acting at the community level and across the nation to beat the pre-historical brutality and seek a balance between democracy and the state. 

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