By Aiman Masoodi
Why, despite the best of intentions and often enormous resources invested, do peace efforts so frequently fail to result in solidified peace? Even if war is not resumed on a large scale, violence, insecurity, and instability plague many postwar countries.
In the pursuit of lasting peace, noble intentions and substantial resources often converge, yet the elusive grasp on sustained tranquility persists. Despite concerted efforts, the aftermath of conflict frequently witnesses the lingering shadows of violence, insecurity, and instability in many postwar nations. Unraveling the complexities behind this paradox unveils a myriad of challenges that undermine the transformative potential of peace initiatives.
A wealth of literature on peace processes indicates their frailty. Although there is no single factor that accounts for the success of peace processes and peace building, political exclusion, particularly of minorities, is one of the most fundamental factors that makes them fragile. While researchers have focused on whether and how minorities’ perceived or actual deprivation of an expected opportunity to engage in state administration was handled throughout peace processes, permitting public articulation of conflict narratives has largely gone unnoticed.
Furthermore, when this has been addressed, the emphasis has mostly been on the necessity of creating shared histories by negotiating these narratives with hegemonic ones in order to open a new page of coexistence, ignoring how the exclusion and delegitimisation of such narratives, as well as the resistance of different groups to accepting their presence in socio-political environments that do not support ‘confronting the past’ (CTP) initiatives that means the root causes of the conflict, affect peace processes. As in the case of Bosnia and Herzegovina, the exclusion of minorities became evident in the political representation and decision-making processes which has hindered reconciliation efforts and long-term peace.
The need of transforming antagonistic groups into agonistic adversaries is emphasised in agonistic peace literature. It is critical in such transformations that traditionally delegitimised and unaccepted conflict narratives find a public place to be communicated without necessarily being accepted by the entire population. Such expression serves to change certain groups that reject alternative narratives or remain mute in the face of injustice, and thereby support the conflict without necessarily being personally involved in it. Second, peaceful conflict transformation necessitates transforming these groups into agonistic citizens so that they not only allow space for alternative narratives, but also change conflictual relations to make peace efforts more powerful.
Establishing peace necessitates repairing damaged relationships at multiple levels: between the state and individuals, between the state and groups, and between various groups in society. A comprehensive and multifaceted approach to peace necessitates the development of many strategies to repair these strained relationships. Peace processes can fail for a variety of reasons, including a lack of political will on the part of the conflicting parties, a focus solely on the political elite level, poor peace process design, a lack of trust, an inability to respond to changing political and social environments, resistance to spoiler effects, and so on. Most studies on peace focus on the power of the parties in conflict, their negotiation (or lack thereof), and the actions of the state and armed groups, restricting such perspectives to only achieving negative peace at the decision-making level. Such a focus weakens the importance of modifying group interactions at the societal level, particularly when it comes to the role narratives play in influencing inter-group connections. This not only hampers the development of a positive peace, but it can also have an impact on other stages of peace-building. For example, in Afghanistan the lack of positive peace has hindered the success of peace efforts along with the differences in the demands of different stakeholders. Factors such as poverty, corruption, unequal access to resources, and political marginalisation has contributed to the ongoing violence and instability. Attempts for peace negotiations have taken place but genuine efforts to address grievances and structural issues along with the underlying causes of the conflict have been insufficient. Thus, failure of the peace process in Afghanistan is limited to focusing on the negative peace.
Another important aspect is that, in many societies, while conflict parties in peace processes address institutional (e.g., power-sharing arrangements) and legal aspects of the conflict (e.g., constitutional reforms), they undermine inter-group relations, particularly when groups have not engaged in open confrontation with each other. In contrast to cases where groups openly fought each other and accused each other of being perpetrators, many hegemonic narratives that are accepted by leaders and the majority of society as valid stories focus on the assumed ‘peaceful relations’ among groups when there is an armed conflict between the state and an ethnic group. As a result, peace processes highlight the importance of forward-thinking inter-group connections rather than encouraging social CTP efforts, which can open the Pandora’s box. In reality, narratives, in addition to providing guidance for future collective behaviours, provide a “description of past events, an epistemic basis for justifying current objectives and policies.” In this sense, when counter-narratives are not recognised by society, it might encourage the continuation of current state practices and facilitate the rejection of minority groups’ peace demands. For instance, in the asymmetric conflict of Turkey, hindrance to peace is the undermining of intergroup relations between the Turkish majority and the Kurdish minority. Historical grievances, cultural differences, and political marginalisation have fuelled mistrust and animosity, making it difficult to find common ground and sustainable solution.
At the same time, when efforts to listen to citizens’ narratives are imposed as a top-down mechanism in the absence of a strong and sustained political will, as well as the depth and intensity such processes would necessitate, dominant group members may perceive peace processes as projects of dividing the country, manipulation by foreign powers, a plan of high treason, and so on. Furthermore, such efforts may overlook how minorities’ narratives are easily dismissed by members of privileged groups in society, because they do not necessarily aspire to bring these groups into an agonistic dialogue aimed at understanding difference rather than creating a shared conflict history, and because such groups stand to gain little from including minorities in dialogue and collective narratives. As in the case of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the peace processes have often been negotiated and implemented by elites at the national level, without sufficient inclusion of grassroots organisations, civil society, and marginalised communities. This top down approach along with the lack of genuine political will from various parties involved in the conflict has further complicated the peace process. Self-interest, power struggles, and the exploitation of resources have played a significant role, making it difficult to reach consensus and implement necessary reforms.
Political will is required to support CTP actions at various stages of peacemaking. Such an approach does not imply that transforming inter-group relations by allowing space for alternative narratives and transforming antagonists are the most important requirements for peace processes to succeed, but rather that failing to understand resistance to alternative narratives contributes to their fragility. The chasm between opposing groups is so wide that reaching consensus on key topics in society is difficult. As a result, rather than attempting to reach ultimate agreement, it is critical to celebrate “diversity through a conflict-ridden pluralism.”
Understanding the root causes of the conflict is one of the most contentious aspects of peace processes (peace building) since it is accompanied by other elements like as accountability, compensation, forgiveness, rethinking national history, and re-designing political institutions and laws to ensure that such injustices do not occur again. It ‘validates the victims’ experience,’ and such validation is critical if victims are to transcend their history of domination and abuse and prevent it from happening again.
Navigating the complexities of peace processes becomes particularly challenging when delving into the roots of conflicts. Unraveling the reasons behind why conflicts occur is no easy task and involves grappling with multifaceted elements such as accountability, compensatory measures, forgiveness, reevaluation of national history, and the restructuring of political institutions and laws to establish safeguards against the recurrence of injustices. This comprehensive approach goes beyond a mere examination of historical grievances; it serves as a validation of the profound experiences endured by victims. This validation holds significant weight as it becomes a crucial linchpin, empowering victims to rise above the shadows of their painful history. It not only allows them to transcend a past marked by domination and abuse but also plays a pivotal role in preventing the haunting specter of such injustices from casting its shadow on future generations.
Views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the editorial stance of Kashmir Observer
- The author is currently pursuing a Masters Degree from the Nelson Mandela Centre for Peace & Conflict Resolution, Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi
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