The evolution and course of the Conflict Transformation Program presents a fascinating journey of the exhilaration, fulfillment, and challenges that accompany peacebuilding work. A short description of the Conflict Transformation Workshops, which formed the core of this Program and through which WISCOMP sought to build ‘strategic relationships’ between the next generation of ‘future influentials’ in the two countries, is shared here.
Rehumanizing the Other (2001)
designed as a ‘peace camp’, brought together graduate and undergraduate students from India and Pakistan for a first-of-its-kind dialogue-cum-training in the field of conflict transformation. The Workshop was held after the Kargil conflict and the failed Agra Summit (between Prime Minister Vajpayee and President Musharraf); when cross-border dialogue was discouraged. The Workshop provided a safe space, hitherto unavailable, where the third generation could discuss a range of issues—some connectors, other dividers.
Transcending Conflict (2003)
held some months after the attack on the Indian Parliament and the launch of Operation Parakram, brought together researchers, practitioners, and journalists from the two countries for a training in peacebuilding. Facilitating contact between young Indians and Pakistanis at a time of intense political animosity was based on WISCOMP’s belief that dialogue becomes even more relevant in the wake of conflict; and in the long run, military mobilizations and suspension of talks only take adversaries further away from the goal of conflict resolution. This Workshop also took on board the new global and regional scenario, changed forever after the catastrophic 9/11 attacks and the subsequent ‘war on terror’.
Dialogic Engagement (2004)
brought together young artists, educators, journalists, NGO workers, and entrepreneurs. Using ‘multi-track diplomacy’ which advocates society-wide ownership of a peace process, this Workshop looked at the interface between governments, political parties, business groups, and the non-governmental tracks of peacebuilding. It was infused with the optimism that the reenergized ‘composite dialogue’ had generated among people in the two countries.
Envisioning Futures: Dialogue and Conflict Transformation(2005)
continued with this hope and momentum, bringing together 40 young professionals for a course in dialogue and leadership models for social change. WISCOMP advanced the view that a new model of leadership, not linked to ‘conventional positions of power’, was needed in the region. And this should be reflected in a new generation of leaders who possess the transformative capacity to generate social change by shifting public consciousness away from fear and hostility and towards coexistence and mutual strength.
Collaborative Explorations (2006)
brought together a select group of Indian and Pakistani alumni for an intensive dialogue on cross-border peace partnerships. This dialogue witnessed the expression of unbound creativity with respect to the diverse ways in which issues surrounding the Kashmir conflict were addressed. Some of these included formats such as quiz, photo installations, and films. Another exciting addition to this Workshop was the study of diverse international peace accords (and peace processes) to explore creative solutions that transcended the conventional focus on borders and boundaries.
Coexistence and Trust-Building: Transforming Relationships (2007)
engaged with the burgeoning literature on ‘trust’ and ‘coexistence’—concepts that are increasingly being seen as central to the sustenance of peace and security in regions torn apart by violent conflict. With the focus squarely on strategies to infuse trust in adversarial relationships, participants looked at different levels of multi-track interaction between the two countries. There was a clear understanding that the trust deficit between the two countries lay at the root of the bilateral conflicts and that sustained dialogue was the only way to overcome this. In addition, the Workshop included sessions on ‘education for peace and multiculturalism’ and the role of religious leaders in conflict transformation.
Seeking Peace in Changing Worlds: Conflict Transformation and The New Geopolitics of Power (2009)
marked an important stage of the Conflict Transformation Program. WISCOMP decided to ‘scale up’ the Workshops by diversifying and expanding the demographic profile of the participants and the issues that formed the agenda of the dialogues. The Workshop brought together participants from all countries of the South Asian region to address the following issues: the challenges that the ‘war on terror’ has revealed; the geopolitics of peace; the growing power of ‘spoilers’ who have a vested interest in perpetuating political/social violence; and the relationship between religion, spirituality, and peace. The decision to ‘scale up’ was based on WISCOMP’s view that while young South Asians are well-versed with the cultures and lifestyles of their peers in Europe and the USA, they know little about their immediate neighbors, and in some cases even harbor prejudices towards them (despite acknowledgment of a shared history and cultural affinity).
Enriching Democratic Practice in South Asia: Possibilities from the Field of Peacebuilding (2010)
continued with the engagement with broader South Asian issues. It built on a unique opportunity, which was that all countries of the South Asian region were, at that time, ruled by democratically elected governments. It looked at the complex relationship between democracy and peacebuilding, exploring the challenges of ‘embedding’ democracy in ‘post-conflict’ societies. This Workshop also took on board the growing international concern that the field of peacebuilding was not living up to the transformative goals it professed, reflected in the surprisingly large number of ‘post-conflict’ societies that were relapsing into violence. In this context, the tenuous transitions from violence to peace in countries such as Afghanistan and Nepal were discussed extensively.
Gender, Democracy, and Peacebuilding in South Asia (2011)
addressed the challenges emerging from the interface between democracy, conflict, and the delivery of justice. Although the cross-country conversations were a big takeaway for participants, WISCOMP observed that bilateral issues often came in the way of forging a South Asian sensibility. For example, the hostility between the Afghan and Pakistani participants was discernible as their conflicting narratives collided frequently at the Workshop. This experience led WISCOMP to do a rethink on the timing of the decision to ‘scale up’ because it became apparent that intense and sustained bilateral dialogues should precede the regional dialogues. This Workshop also saw a more focused dialogue on how gender identity influenced the experiences of men and women, not just in situations of armed conflict but also in everyday conflicts within the four walls of the home and the workplace. In this context, participants reflected on their notions of masculinity and femininity and how, often, they unwittingly become part of cultural processes that further patriarchy.
The Software of Peacebuilding (2012).
Drawing on the experience of the earlier regional Workshops, returned the focus to India-Pakistan relations, bringing 38 ‘next generation’ leaders together. While Kashmiris have formed a large sub-group at all previous dialogues, this Workshop was unique in bringing together stakeholders from both sides of the Line of Control, across the religious and ethnic diversity of what was once the princely state of Jammu and Kashmir. Looking at the diverse ways in which ordinary citizens can contribute to the bilateral peace process and make it truly ‘irreversible’, this Workshop was also a ‘homecoming’, with several alumni returning to the WISCOMP space to share their experiences of building bridges and ideas on how cross-border partnerships could be strengthened.