Dialogue Over Conflict
Dev Raj Dahal
Dialogue is a part of everyday life. It opens cognitive space for creative exchange of ideas and understanding and coordinates human desire, feeling, emotion and behaviour for action. Learning through dialogue is an old vocation in Nepal. In ancient times, public space was a platform for scholars, rulers and citizens to converse on knowledge, and rethink and revise one’s own assumptions and perfect self on the basis of empathy to others. It was the source of socialisation, policy craft and governance. Citizens prized justice above laws and, therefore, leaders had to organise public consultation with sages, nobles and ordinary folk before taking any decision. The Nepali public still treasures the rich experiences, unveil conflict causes, even the hidden ones through dialogue. Dialogue thus offers the perception of a conflict from a variety of angles and resolves it on a rational ground. Many communities of Nepal utilise the intuition of older citizens and their accumulated wisdom.
Modern time of Nepal is marked by a glut of borrowed ideas to respond to conflict: the adversarial court, a powerful Leviathan gifted to execute its power monopoly in the society, logic of legal experts, adjudication on the basis of identity of litigants or power-equation where powerful elites settle conflicts based on their common interest and impose decision, laws and legislation on the weak. But it has also embraced a variety of pacific, deliberative and mediation means of conflict resolution. Many community mediation techniques at the local levels embody human rights, democracy, social justice, gender and peace lens.
Depending on the scale of conflict federal, provincial and local level conflict management mechanism have been created by the Constitution of Nepal. The lingering macro problems of Nepal, such as political flux and feud, regular reshuffle of government even after signing peace accords, promulgation of Constitution, holding of federal, provincial and local elections and the formation of coalition government led by the Communist Party of Nepal leave the polity run in a sub-optimal gear. The use of peace as a means for power struggle has left transitional justice in an unfixed state. Ineffectual deals on power and subtraction of the state’s autonomy and authority halted the polity to act in an impersonal way. This has cut the ability of democratic institutions to create a civic order, control combustible politics and provide peace as public goods to all Nepalis.
Mutual adjustment of Maoist and democratic, socialist, regional and nationalist leaders in power-sharing falsified the irreversibility of cause-effect ties, distorted their ideological boundaries and rehabilitated them into the materiality of state power. Still, certain odds on interests, positions, issues and actions among them act as disharmonious propeller. This means the peace accord did not provide common socialisation for all actors for a shared future. The power struggle hit the rationality of dialogue. It neither did address conflict residues nor did create ample peace dividends, not even a set of values for durable justice and order Nepalis esteemed the most despite some positive action of local peace committees.
Conflict-victims are still waiting for transitional justice, whereabouts of their vanished persons and reconciliatory measures. The ruling parties are gripped by factional rows on patronage, management of civil servants for provinces and local bodies, formulation of plenty laws for them, demarcation of tax boundaries, infrastructural development, transfer of offices to local units, etc. It has bound the victims on the grounds to impeccably interact, reconcile, self-heal and adjust. Recently set up dialogue team by the government to negotiate with extra-constitutional forces has yet to reveal notable outcome
The nature of conflict in Nepal is not linear. It is always transforming with the use of new tools, issues, creed, greed and grievances. The polity is unsteady to keep pace with the rate of conflict formation, multiple gyrations of change and stretching vertically across many generations and horizontally across macro actors each reinforcing the other in a vicious way. If not managed timely with the optimisation of learning, it can spill into geopolitical dimension. Already, the authority vacuum is filled by the manoeuvres of external powers for space and social engineering. In Nepal, the peace accord, supposed to become non-zero-sum outcome, created some losers.
Similarly, fractious leaders within the parties bred spoilers of peace. The inability of polity to manage the losers stemmed from top leaders’ vulnerability to social struggles of identity-crazy forces, agitation of conflict victims, even disqualified child soldiers and right-based movements which fertilise the fury and fluidity of politics. These conflicts are intensified by the determination of class, ethnicity, gender, interest groups, regionalism, religion and privileges of leadership. It has weakened the sovereignty of demos and made the aspiration for democracy and human rights tormenting. Peace process, like the Constitution of Nepal, is, therefore, hobbled by its non-stakeholders. Only attaining dynamic stability through the public use of reason and mobilisation of intra-systemic agencies, Nepali polity can manage undue external leverage and find a semblance of equilibrium. Engagement of insiders of the community in mediation is vital. They boast better perspective on the causes of conflicts than those perceived by outsiders and also have greater stake in safeguarding peace. In this context, dialogue furnishes many benefits.
In a culturally diverse society like Nepal political dialogue of enormous scale creates huge values for all actors to settle multi-polar and multi-level conflicts infected by many causes. Dense interactions alleviate the fear of conflict relapse and renew multiple new social contracts, build hope, transmit positive messages and nurture confidence to abide by new rules. Peace researcher Herbert C. Kelman, used interactive problem solving way in Arab-Israel conflict. Intensive multi-stage dialogue between Palestinian-Israeli leaders offered new entry points across the divides, reduced tension and discovered a new path to navigate in every turning point.
Dialogue includes many stakeholders but the outcome of peace will not be the same for each infusing the source of conflict. Still, inclusion spurs trust and enables to modify position, value and concern of conflict drivers, actors and stakeholders and improves communication. Only a rational perception of conflict through shared standpoint can uncover a middle ground open to resolve conflict. Conflict victims fear that delay in justice in Nepal can brace impunity and stoke a new fault line. Trust between the rival actors is vital to seek joint solution. Dialogical approach can be more durable than unilateral imposition of solution by powerful actors on left out and negated ones because it optimises the complexity of all interests and meet the demands for democracy’s resilience.
Nepali leaders have engaged in peaceful dialogues with non-state armed actors and justice-demanding groups and signed deals with them to unlock new potential for peace. Nepal is country of minorities on every count except Hindu-Buddhist religion and, therefore, lasting solution of any problem requires deliberative approach so that alienation and rebellion can be addressed. Many of macro deals including Peace Accord, however, reflects the notion of power equation though its provisions talk about inclusion, social transformation, end of discrimination and justice-based governance. The domination of politics by few powerful leaders has ruled out the prospect of optimisation of the interests of left out, potential and negated actors feeding often factionalism, agitation and inertia of governance.
Similarly, legitimisation of change through extra-constitutional means has incubated a political culture less conducive for democratic stability. This has bred a tension between those satisfied with the new status quo, those who wanted to revise it and those who wanted to subvert it for complete change of political culture. Still, flexibility in position has not ruled out scope for non-violent option.
Creative dialogue does not push the actors to extreme. The use of intergroup theories in dealing with social and political conflicts pins belief on a multi-stakeholders’ dialogue to advance education for peace and determine middle ground opened to reason. The Nepali regime has signed deals with scores of defiant actors to placate them without any intention to execute. As a result, the persistent distrust among them borders on agitation and rebellion. Effectual dialogue response is required to retain conflict control system through the demarcation of legitimate, revolutionary and predatory demands, those which can be fulfilled instantly and those which requires long-term efforts. Clearly, value-based deal can calm the hope of actors in the polity.
Nepal’s peace process is the product of top level leaders’ dialogues. Owing to their interests in personalised approach, top down mindset and lack of effective means to learn and change the behaviour of self and others to peace orientation left the question of re-building the peace economy vegetate, not acquire locomotion. International community is seeking certain humanitarian standards and some space to engage. Nepal’s inclusion in the UN Peace Building Commission can be an entry point for it. Political leaders require finding ways to persist in bonding and bridging peace.
The transition from insurgency to civil society requires socialisation, democratisation and constitutionalisation of all actors and renewing their social ties so that each feels respected. It helps Nepali political actors of various hues to share basic values on state building, uphold the integrity of polity and enable citizens’ pursuit of public good. National formation of “we Nepali” identity removes fundamentalist concept of politics based on friend and foe distinction and elicits their cooperation for durable peace.