Asia — prospects for peace

SEARCHING FOR PEACE IN CENTRAL AND SOUTH ASIA — An Overview of Conflict Prevention and Peace Building Activities: Monique Mekenkamp, Paul van Tongeren, Hans van de Veen — Editors: Lynne Rienner Publishers, Boulder, London, Distributed by Viva Books Pvt. Ltd., 4325/3, Ansari Road, Daryaganj, New Delhi-110002.

Rs. 695.

THIS BOOK is the outcome of a project of the European Centre for Conflict Prevention, Netherlands — The Searching for Peace Programme. It is the third in the series, the other two being, Searching for Peace in Europe and Eurasia (2001) and Searching for Peace in Africa (1999). Subsequent volumes are expected to cover South-East and East Asia, the Middle East and North Africa, and Latin America and the Caribbean.

The chapters and surveys have been written by practitioners and scholars with long term expertise on the specific conflict or issue. Some of them live in the area of conflict they have analysed and some of them have written based on their research and extensive experience of working with people and organisations concerned with the conflict.

The regional seminars held at New Delhi, Colombo and Almaty have enabled the development of drafts, which were finally shaped with discussions and comments from various experts. The book is organised into three parts. The first part consists of five articles and gives an overview of conflicts, dynamics and approaches to prevention and resolution. It also lists out a few lessons learnt from the past experiences.

The second surveys the existing and potential conflict areas in Central and South Asia, analyses the genesis of the conflicts, describes the current status and action taken by various agencies and also makes recommendations for conflict prevention where possible and lists out the recommended peace building activities. In most situations, the role of the NGOs, multi-track diplomacy and possible outside agencies in resolving the conflicts have been well covered.

This part of the book covers the conflicts in Central Asia and South Asia. The Central Asia chapter has eight sections. The first four sections are devoted to general issues.

The remainder concentrate on conflicts in Afghanistan, the Ferghana Valley, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. The interesting point that emerges is that the source of the conflict in most areas of Central Asia is not religious fundamentalism as generally believed, but poverty, unemployment, water shortage, ethnic rivalries, poor governance and certain elite groups in each country usurping power and national resources.

It highlights the fact that if not resolved soon they are bound to snowball into serious militant conflicts fuelled by religious fundamentalism.

The chapter on South Asia is the longest, indicative of the large number of conflicts in Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

0The first six sections cover general issues to include non-official dialogues for forging new solidarities, the need for confidence building measures, border conflicts and regional issues, protecting victims of forced migration, issues involved in water related conflicts and understanding religious conflicts.

The indigenous struggle in Chittagong hill tracts of Bangladesh is analysed in the next section. Section eight surveys conflicts in India to include multiculturalism, Hindu-Muslim problem, Jammu and Kashmir, Naxalite movement, caste violence in Bihar and conflicts in the North-East.

While most of the analyses appear to be fair and in detail, the bias of the authors of the sub-section dealing with Jammu and Kashmir, does bring down the credibility of the analysis.

For example, while referring to the address to the Nation by General Musharaff on January 12, 2002, the authors have stated "... ... ..that Pakistan would henceforth disassociate itself from terrorism and from Jihad culture. Five organisations (including Lashkar and Jaise) were banned and 2000 known terrorists were arrested. After the crackdown by Pakistan, the Indian Government has failed to reciprocate. It actually has intensified its repressive regime after the enactment of the Prevention of Terrorism Legislation."

Elsewhere it says, "the Government of India has reacted in an unresponsive way to a number of offers made by the President of Pakistan in recent years." Such a bias by one or two authors would harm the fair name and good work done by many others who have painstakingly produced excellent work in other sections of the book.

Section nine deals with the Maoist insurgency in Nepal. The next section deals with the conflicts in Pakistan and covers ethnic and religious conflicts, the Sindhi-Mohajir conflict and Shia-Sunni problem. Twentyfive years of violence in Sri Lanka and the possibility of finding a negotiated settlement there has also been covered.

The third chapter is interesting in the sense that it is a directory, a compilation of various organisations working in the field of conflict prevention and peace building across Central and South Asia.

It contains the profiles and contact information of 187 organisations in Central and South Asia. The directory also includes a selection of organisations in North America and Europe involved in relevant activities in Central and South Asia.

The book does highlight the seriousness of the conflicts and raises the uncomfortable question about prospects of peace — a point to be taken seriously by the concerned governments and international agencies. It is a compilation of enormous research work and makes good reading.


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