Post-Mumbai blasts, many Indians would argue in their drawing rooms that it is time the Indian government resolved the Kashmir issue with an iron hand. Frequent attacks on tourists in Kashmir pose the basic question: How long will innocent people pay the price for the conflict in Kashmir? Some may even argue that the Indo-Pak dialogue itself needs a fresh approach - it is time we re-negotiated peace.
But what is a good time to re-negotiate peace? When your losses are mounting or when the future does not promise any victories? When terrorists don't understand the language of peace, or when wounds of State-inflicted terror (like in Gujarat) have not healed. How do countries like India and Pakistan walk the path of peace from here?
Since the 1990s, several conflict resolution theories have been propounded and tested in Africa and in the Balkans with varying degrees of success. Among these, the 'ripeness theory', authored by William Zartman, Professor of International Organizations and Conflict Resolution, Johns Hopkins University, is most engaging.
Zartman explains that "a ripe moment comprises three elements: pains and losses (hurting stalemate), deadlock, and the realization of this deadlock by all the parties". A 'ripe moment' is when all the stakeholders realize that they are facing a huge increase in costs and there is a major drop in the perceived probability of success in continuing with violence and coercion.
In South Asia, the potential of this theory has not been fully explored. Conflict resolution will evade India and Pakistan as long as there exists a deep 'trust deficit', reflected in the comments made by government spokespersons in the aftermath of the Mumbai and Srinagar blasts.
Recently, two researchers - an Indian and a Pakistani - decided to address this deficit by conducting a joint study on the question: Are Indo-Pak conflicts ripe for resolution? Have the various conflicts between the two countries, particularly Kashmir, reached a stalemate that is mutually hurting?
Suba Chandran, Assistant Director, Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies, New Delhi, and Rizwan Zeb, Research Fellow at the Institute of Regional Studies, Islamabad, address these questions in their book 'Indo-Pak Conflicts Ripe to Resolve'? They explain that conflicts are considered ripe for resolution when all stakeholders find themselves locked in a situation from which they cannot escalate to victory. This deadlock is painful for them; hence they decide to opt for negotiations.
In the period between 1999 and 2002, India and Pakistan had arrived at a mutually hurting stalemate. This was due to various reasons, including political interventions, applied military strategies, fidayeen (kamikaze) attacks and the 2002 elections in Jammu and Kashmir. This, perhaps, explains President Pervez Musharraf's decision to adopt a political approach after the military confrontation in Kargil (2001); Prime Minister Vajpayee's decision to offer an olive branch in 2003 after the intense hostility of 2002 (following the attack on the Indian Parliament); and the subsequent initiation of the composite dialogue.
One can see the limitations of the 'ripeness' theory with respect to the Indo-Pak conflict. For example, the element of mutuality presents a challenge. Do all the stakeholders to the India-Pakistan conflict perceive the 'hurting stalemate' at the same time and with the same degree of realization? While the Indian and Pakistani governments might consider the situation ripe for resolution, the peace process can be jeopardized if other stakeholders (militant groups, for example) do not find themselves in a hurting stalemate. So, who decides whether the conflict is ripe for resolution?
Chandran and Zeb recommend the formation of a panel incorporating Track-2 actors, which can participate in inter-government dialogues. They also suggest the creation of compartmentalized dialogues on different issues of contention, so that deadlock in one does not affect progress on another issue. There is also a need to identify Kashmir and terrorism as the 'core' issues; include Kashmiris from both sides of the LoC in the peace process; engage with right-wing forces in the two countries; allow sincere third-party facilitation (if there is any); and emphasize regional economic growth (which could have positive spin-offs for the larger peace process).
These perspectives are now actually being adopted by third generation Indians and Pakistanis (in the age group of 22-40 years). To address the deep deficit in trust that 59 years of hostility have created, several young Indians and Pakistanis are using this methodology of partnerships in the form of joint writing projects, joint field-trips, workshops, policy analysis and recommendations.
In fact, it was with this thinking that some organizations instituted awards to encourage collaborative work between Indians and Pakistanis. The Mahbub-ul-Haq Fellowship of the Regional Centre for Strategic Studies (RCSS), Colombo, the Collaborative Research Award of Women in Security, Conflict Management and Peace (WISCOMP), New Delhi, and the Fulbright Conflict Resolution Programme of the United States Educational Foundation (in Islamabad and New Delhi) are a few examples.
While the Chandran-Zeb study was made possible by the RCSS Mahbub-ul-Haq Fellowship, WISCOMP recently supported a partnership between an Indian and a Pakistani to conduct a first-of-its-kind joint study on prejudiced writing in school textbooks in the two countries.
Through its annual Fulbright Conflict Resolution Programme, the United States Educational Foundation provides an opportunity for Indians and Pakistanis to pursue graduate studies in the field of Peace-building. The uniqueness of this initiative lies in the fact that Indians and Pakistanis study Peace-building together.
The purpose behind such collaborative projects is not to suppress the differences or homogenize identities, but rather to create greater understanding of, and respect for, the differences that exist between people in the two countries. Their aim is to understand each other's worldviews and jointly generate options for the resolution of this protracted conflict.