Role Of Civil Society In Conflict
By C. D. Bhatta
THE significant impact exerted by
the 'people power' phenomenon in the latest political developments
in Nepal opens up several issues such as the nature, role
and power of civil society. That is, if the amorphous mass
that contributed to bringing about the political changes
was really the civil society.
Theoretically speaking, the April showdown of 'people power'
cannot be equated with the civil society because these types
of amorphous movements come and go. And in most cases, they
are driven to meet the interest of the political society
- whether for the cause of democracy or autocracy - whereas
civil societies are firmly rooted, sustained in a given
society and of a permanent nature.
Whatever the trajectories of understanding
the civil society in the Nepali context, the power of the
amorphous mass has played a crucial role in regime change.
Having said this, the biggest challenge, however, is how
best to transform the amorphous notion of people power into
civil society which could play a significant role both to
address the immediate crisis, i.e., conflict resolution
and long term issues, i.e., strengthening the democratization
Civil society, in the Nepali context,
has been identified as the new avatar for conflict resolution
right from the first peace talks. Since then, many civil
society organizations (CSOs) have joined the fray by engaging
in the much-talked conflict resolution activities. Moreover,
the real downpour of foreign money, which remains unaccounted
for, in conflict has also worked as a motivational force.
Many foreign NGOs have opened up shop in Nepal. The spontaneous
eruption of (I)NGOs and CSOs in the name of conflict resolution
and peace-building saw rapid industrialisation of the Third
Sector. As a result, every NGO/CSO and in some cases individuals
as well, irrespective of their knowledge in this field,
have projected themselves as conflict resolution expert(s).
By and large, conflict has been projecticised,
which has given rise to the maxim 'maobadi ko nam ma khaobadi
ko rajniti'. Hence the Third Sector's engagement was and
is not voluntary in nature. It was somewhat, by contrast,
motivated to tap the monetary benefit that was being generated
by the Maoist insurgency. This could be the reason, among
others, why professional civil society organizations in
Nepal have no consensual voice in terms of conflict resolution
There could be two reasons behind this
approach. First, if the conflict is really resolved, the
whole industrialization of the Third Sector will dry up,
and many (I)NGOs and CSOs will go bust. Second, this will
endanger the Nepali middle class and elite particularly
those who are on the 'NGO business' and dependent not on
the Nepali state but on the NGOs for their livelihood. This
could produce twin impact in the conflict resolution process.
First, the professional civil society
organizations, including the middle class and elite, might
be reluctant to play a constructive role in conflict resolution
per se for the obvious reasons. Second, the amorphous power
might come out again in the street every time there is dissatisfaction
or disagreement. In the long run, this will legitimise street
politics, assisting perpetual political instability to take
permanent shape in the nation.
Another factor to be noted is that the
money that comes in the name of conflict resolution via
NGOs will have its own objective to fulfill and a message
to deliver. And if the result is not in line with donor's
interests, this could further complicate the situation.
There are evidences where (I)NGOs have helped to prolong
the conflict. Thus, there is very little we can expect from
donor- driven civil society and their NGOs in terms of conflict
mediation or peace-building in the long run. Hence, what
is needed is the transformation (grounding of) of amorphous
power into the society for this to develop into civil society.
Nevertheless, despite all these predicaments,
civil society has emerged as one of the most powerful means
in the Nepali political discourse, and great deals of expectations
are pinned on it. In this regard, UNESCAP's Gender and Development
Chief Dr. Tone Bleie during a recent seminar organized by
the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES) on the role of civil
society in conflict mediation and peace-building mentioned
that Nepal is in a volatile state of no-war and no?peace.
And any sort of transition towards post-conflict reconstruction
depends on the adherence to already negotiated agreements
and responsiveness to allow an expanded role for the civil
society in the peace process. This, he said, would help
to recognise the right of the people of Nepal to stake out
their own future.
There is no denying that the civil society has a crucial
role to play, and it can do so, as civil societies, normatively
speaking, have no vested interest whatsoever. Civil society
can help to sideline the differences and find out common
denominators for conflicting parties to work on. The role
of civil society in conflict resolution is even more meaningful
in countries like Nepal where politicians (both protagonists
and antagonists) have unlimited loaded interests with reasonably
high chances of derailing the peace process.
Paradoxically, the most worrying factor
in the Nepali context lies in the way the civil society
is understood and interpreted by the society at large. Attempts
are being made to bring the civil society into the parliament
not as a 'watchdog' but as an equal partner in power sharing
with the political parties without understanding its repercussions.
Funny enough is that some sections of the Nepali civil society
are waiting for this opportunity. If this happens, that
will be uncivil for the whole civic movement with nothing
left out to differentiate between civil society and political
How then can one expect civil society
to play a constructive role in conflict resolution in this
context? The causality of this might push Nepal from the
state of no-war and no-peace as Dr. Bleie said to perpetual
war. The dilemma with the civic movement, therefore, is
not single but many, which are unfolding slowly but steadily.
Hence, what can be argued is that the Nepali civil society
needs to be civilised in the first instance, let alone mobilising
it for peace-building.
Note: This article is published
in The Rising Nepal (27 July 2006)