By Asghar Ali Engineer []

The whole world is faced with conflict and violence today.  In fact there has been no period in history, which has not witnessed violent conflicts. But at the same time there have been sages, prophets, thinkers, religious personalities, writers, poets and Sufis who always emphasized love, peace and harmony. Though both trends i.e. of violence and of peace and harmony have gone together violence and conflict remains predominant in our memory.

Peace is desired by overwhelming majority of human beings and it is few who want to perpetuate violence, war and conflict. We must remember that violence and conflict is perpetrated by powerful vested interests whether they are local, regional, national or inter-national. Conflict is product of clashes of interests, not of religion or civilization, as some theorists maintain. These interests can also be divided into various categories i.e. economic, political, religious or social.

It is also important to remember that vested interests often invoke religion, language, nation or ideology to legitimize their interests. It should not deceive us. A peace activist should be able to see through these interests and not be deceived by an attempt to legitimize. Because of attempt to seek legitimation by vested interest we often think that conflict is religious or national though it is not.  Categories like religion or nation are not fundamental causes of conflict or violence. They are instrumental causes i.e. they are used as powerful instruments by the vested interests.  Thus we should distinguish between fundamental and instrumental causes.

If we keep this in mind it will be easier to understand these conflicts, if not resolve it. Resolving conflicts needs different kind of skills. We will throw some light on this little later. When one nation attacks on the other or one religious group attacks on the other they use emotional national or religious rhetoric as a strategy or even outright deception to mobilize support of their respective countrymen or religious community. A peace worker should never be deceived by such emotional rhetoric.

It is also important to remember that root cause of conflict is often injustice with weaker sections of society and the weaker sections may be poor, may be linguistic, cultural or religious minorities or migrants from other countries.  Justice and peace, it should be remembered, are inseparable.  Where there is injustice, there will be conflict. Peace can never be established by using mere rhetoric or exhortation.  For peace to prevail one must first establish justice.

For example, you cannot establish peace in Palestine unless question of Palestinian territories captured by Israel in 1967 war is resolved to their satisfaction. Similarly, one cannot establish peace in Sri Lanka unless the question of Tamilian people and their aspirations for autonomy is solved. The Kashmir imbroglio can never be resolved if the Kashmiri people feel justice is not being done to them. Appeal in the name of patriotism, religion or nationalism is never going to resolve such complex issues.

The communal conflict in India is again very burning question. It is not creation of Islam and Hinduism but creation of conflict of interests between the Hindu and Muslim elite.  Religion per se, as pointed out above, does not lead to conflagration until the political or economic interests use religious rhetoric and create conflict. Even partition of our country was not caused by Islam. It is very wrong perception. The causative factors for partition of the country were political and economic, not religious, though rhetoric was religious. Jinnah was a liberal constitutionalist, not a religious fanatic. Yet it is Jinnah who led the Partition movement, not religious leaders and scholars like Maulana Husain Ahmad Madani and Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, they opposed the partition tooth and nail. This itself shows the conflict was political and economic rather than religious.

Communalism is a political phenomenon, not a religious one.  The RSS and the BJP have been using Hindu religious rhetoric to grab Hindu votes. The RSS and the BJP leadership is also in the hands of those who can be described as Political Hindus, not in the hands of Hindu religious leaders like Shankaracharya. The Ramjanambhoomi movement was through and through political. It had nothing to do with devotion to Lord Ram or even for establishing Ram Rajya but for capturing power in the name of Ram Mandir.

Ramjanambhoomi conflict was not creation of Hindu religion or even Hindu religious leaders. Only BJP politicians were mainly involved so as to mobilize the Hindu voters in favour of their party and they succeeded eminently in this project. But their success was at the cost of peace and communal harmony. They provoked unprecedented communal violence in the country. And a new conflict was created where there existed none.

Thus all these examples show that interests play a major role in promoting conflict and violence and religions or ideologies play merely an instrumental role. And peace cannot be established without understanding the role of these deep rooted interests. The US invasion of Iraq was supposedly to fight the menace of terrorism and to destroy Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) but the fact is that it was only a cover. The real intention was to dominate Middle East politics, as it is an oil rich area. After invasion no WMD were found and instead of reducing terror it has increased many fold in Iraq. One cannot establish peace in Iraq without understanding the role of US interests in the Middle East.


Conflict resolution is an extremely challenging job. It requires not only correct understanding of the causes of conflict but also inexhaustible degree of patience. To deal with the conflicting parties great deal of objectivity and patience is needed. The nature of the conflict differs from case to case. It is also necessary to understand that every conflict is not necessarily violent. Non-violent conflicts could also play a positive and creative role in many cases.

But here we are mainly concerned with violent conflicts.  Our aim should be to resolve the conflict and bring reconciliation. To attempt to resolve the conflict one should acquaint oneself thoroughly with the history of the conflict and its historical, political, social and economic roots, if any. One should also be very clear that real resolution of the conflict can be brought about only through a just solution what some people describe as a win-win situation.  Both the parties, if it is a bilateral conflict, should feel that they have gained, and not lost or at least should have spirit of give and take. And if it is trilateral or multi-lateral conflict he ask gets even more complicated.

But as pointed out above justice should appear to have been done to all the parties. Sometimes and attempt is made to coerce the one or the other party to accept a solution. But such coercively imposed solution can never be a lasting solution. A conflict can be said to have been resolved only if it is freely acceptable by all the parties concerned. Some conflicts have not only long history but also extremely complicated like the conflict in Kashmir.

This conflict has an international dimension as it is between two countries who have never been at best of the terms.  And because of hostile climate between the two countries solution becomes even more difficult. Now that Indo-Pak relations are improving the Kashmir problem has become more amenable to solution though by no means it is about to be solved. But if the present climate of improved relationship continues it may become possible to solve the problem.

The ethnic problem in Assam is less complicated “though by no means easy to resolve “ as it is purely internal problem of India and it has no international dimension. There is one more dimension to the violent conflicts like the one in Kashmir or in North East in India. Once a group takes to arms it acquires powerful vested interest in retaining arms as arms empower them and enable them to dictate terms. To lay down arms is to again disempower themselves and such disempowerment is not easily acceptable. 

Often resolution is not the problem but laying down of the arms is. We see this in Sri Lankan Tamil-Sinhala conflict also. The LTTE refuses to lay down arms and now they have acquired their own naval and air force. In most of such struggles arms smuggling is a big business and these smugglers often become stumbling block for resolution of conflicts.  Unless such powerful vested interests are eliminated no conflict can be resolved.

As far as communal conflict is concerned it has a long history since the British days and one can say communal forces have created a communal psyche among a large section of people, especially urban educated class both through informal propaganda and through officially prescribed text books.  The communal conflict has no easy solution. First one has to strike at its very root i.e. the education system. Our education system is being used by the communal forces in perpetuating colonial conflict. The medieval history is being taught on a divisive communal basis. Our education system also lacks value base and without sound value base we cannot create healthy mindset. Our education system is not doing enough to impart secular values and our social environ is also far from being secular. Thus communalism is flourishing and without striking at the very roots it will be very difficult to remove communal conflict from our midst. It requires prolonged and sustained efforts.  We also lack  Most of our political leaders are in a hurry to capture power. They would do anything for capturing power including inciting communal passions.  Thus communal conflict can be tackled on adhoc basis but only with strong commitment to secularism and secular values.