Reconciliation in South Asia: Exploring the Terrain

WISCOMP in collaboration with the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA), an inter-governmental organisation based in Stockholm, organised a symposium titled ‘Reconciliation in South Asia: Exploring the Terrain’ from March 17-19, 2005 at India International Centre, New Delhi, India.

The symposium brought together over 50 senior and mid-career scholars and professionals to reflect upon the discourses and practices of reconciliation in the context of a plural and multicultural South Asia. It was premised on the understanding that people and countries are held together not simply through political institutions but also through processes and relationships which need to be restored every time there is a breach of peace either within or between states. The processes of reconciliation ¾ of restoring fractured relationships at the personal, societal, national and regional levels ¾ are integral to conflict transformation and peace-building.

The symposium focussed on South Asian responses to protracted intra and inter state conflicts and attempted to map the field of reconciliation. It drew from past experiences and practices in South Asia to examine whether it is possible to build an inclusive vocabulary on reconciliation that resonates for the region as a whole.

The symposium was conceptualised along three major thematic rubrics. These were:

  • Mapping Reconciliation: Opening up Thinking Spaces for South Asia
  • Resources for Reconciliation: Perspectives from South Asia
  • Reconciliation: People, Processes and Challenges ¾ Experiences from South Asia

Non-Traditional Security Discourse: Gender in South Asia

A regional conference on the theme Non-Traditional Security Discourse: Gender and South Asia was organized by WISCOMP. Bringing together scholars, researchers and practitioners from a wide range of disciplines including International Relations, Political Science, Sociology, History and Gender Studies, the conference provided a context to interrogate the existing security discourse, particularly the apparent binaries of the “traditional” and “non-traditional” formulations on security, and to look at the possibilities for evolving a shared vocabulary through which the so called “non-traditional” security issues in South Asia could be cognized and located.

The non-traditional variables of security are now recognized as impacting both inter- and intra-state security beyond what the cold war discourse cognized or envisaged. The globalized environment of the post-cold war period has thrown up new challenges, threats, new actors and indeed new concerns that decisively change the contours of ‘security’. The outlines of the non-traditional security discourse still seem to be emerging and there appears to be little consensus and considerable ambiguity on what constitutes its domain.

In this context, the conference sought to visualize the possible directions, which the currently fledgling discourse might take, examine some of the critical tensions within it, and dialogue on how the discourse can become inclusive and relevant while at the same time remain focused, cogent, and coherent.

Informed by WISCOMP’s ongoing efforts to encourage multi-disciplinary dialogue on the question of how gender and non-traditional security concerns intersect in a South Asian setting, the conference provided points of entry for gender perspectives to be reflected in peace initiatives and processes of post-conflict reconstruction in South Asia. The leitmotif of gender wove together the diverse presentations on non-traditional security. The different kinds of research questions that emerge when non-traditional security issues are looked at through the gender lens, and the major challenges that the theorist and practitioner confront in their efforts to foreground gender in the security discourse were discussed at length.

An important focus of dialogue was the mapping of intersections between traditional and non-traditional security concerns, particularly how the two can be harmonized and a correlation established between the individual and the state. Such a focus is currently missing from the security studies agenda in South Asia where traditional and non-traditional security concerns are boxed into separate compartments in spite of the opportunities that exist to synergize the two.

The gendered dimensions of transnational flows, terrorism, small arms, drugs and human trafficking raise important questions that significantly inform any discussion on non-traditional formulations of security. The WISCOMP regional conference took cognizance of the manner in which terrorism; small arms, drug and human trafficking have entered the security lexicon as variables that straddle both the domains of what is regarded as traditional and non-traditional security concerns. The ways in which terrorism has reconfigured the traditional notions of conflict and war is particularly crucial in this context. An attempt was made to trace the different strands in the international discourse on terrorism, to evolve a South Asian perspective on terrorism, and to explore how gender mediates the debate particularly after September 11.

Analyses on non-traditional security concerns are also increasingly taking stock of issues of life, livelihood and freedom from want and “new” sectors of security are being redefined in a manner that cognizes non-military variables of security. Crucial in this context are questions that look at the “feminization of poverty”, the impact of globalization on the use of natural resources and on women’s access to the commons, and how international agreements under the World Trade Organization impact upon the arenas of women’s economic participation. In this context, the conference specifically addressed questions of food security, land rights and water security in South Asia.

The regional conference brought to the fore a wide range of questions and opinions on the relevant disciplines within which an emerging field of Post-Cold War Security Studies could locate itself, its association with International Relations, the linkages between the development discourse, the rights discourse, and the security discourse, and the implication of factoring in gender into the discourse on security.