Violence Unviable

From within the ruins of the World War II a spark of hope in the form of the global urge for peace was born. It resulted in the creation of the United Nations with an objective of maintaining global peace and security. Its achievement has been the commitment to decolonisation, creating an expanded regime of rights of people and communities, initiating and coordinating global efforts to meet the common challenges and the good work in redressing human sufferings and problems that mankind is confronted with. It does so within the constraints of the problematic global order.  Its operations have been hampered by the structural factors inbuilt in the unequal international order, legacy of unresolved issues, discrepancies in the social, cultural and economic positioning of countries because of the distortions inflicted by the colonial interventions.  Decolonisation process created a fresh hope and opened up new possibilities for the newly independent countries. However, along with the process of liberation the global community was taken over by a new phenomenon called cold war between the two super powers born out from the ruins of the war and dividing the world into their respective spheres of influence. It hampered the working of the UN and created its own issues and concerns for the world community to deal with.

However, as said earlier the destruction in the war had resulted in an urge for peace mostly in Europe because it had suffered the most. It emerged first as an intellectual idea that gradually began to unfold in the institutional initiatives in the desired direction reaching today’s level of the European Union as a model of peace and cooperation and an example for the rest of the world to follow.  But, the rest of World, in spite of the commitment to peace and creation of the UN as an institutional arrangement for maintaining global security, continued to suffer the aggressive posturing for war and violent conflicts. Mostly because of the colonial legacy conflicts continued at two levels i.e. state verses state and within state aggrieved groups engaged in violent resistance on their own or with the support of external agencies or states who used some of these as proxies to achieve their own political objectives. But during the recent decades there have been a number of developments that have caused or call for a very serious re-thinking on the feasibility of violence as mechanism of redressing conflicts both at the inter and intra state levels. The lessons of the Second World War were enough to make people realize that war with the kind of weaponry that mankind has been developing particularly since the early 20th century is making its cost unbearable for anyone involved. Since Europeans and Japan suffered the most, their commitment to peace has been more significant compared to the rest. But as said earlier the rest of the world continues to be afflicted with violence even though comparatively at a smaller scale.

However, in the recent decades war technology has developed further and any war, particularly involving major powers, is going to be suicidal for those involved and even disastrous for the rest. Each one of the super/major powers be it the United States or Russia (even growingly China) has nuclear and thermonuclear weapons and delivery systems (ICBMs) that can destroy the whole world several times over. Even India and Pakistan at their present levels of arsenal can not only destroy the whole region of South Asia and its periphery but will also have serious implications for the global habitat in terms of health, vegetation, economy and more. The traditional norms of war (specified in the International Humanitarian Law, or as prescribed in Islamic Jurisprudence on the conduct of war) have become redundant in practice. Even moderate level weaponry does not differentiate between combatants and non combatants. For example, the kind of cluster bombs that the Americans used during the Gulf Wars and in Afghanistan killed more civilian (including children, women and elderly) than army. In our own context, even in the minor skirmishes on the LoC it is more of the civilians than army personal that become victims of cross LoC shelling.

The second kind of conflict is where an aggrieved community within a state has taken recourse to violent uprising to get redressel of real or perceived injustice and secure recognition of their identity/national character. We have referred to the success of the American War of Independence. Similarly Mau Zedong used the guerrilla warfare with success in bringing in a socialist revolution in China by destroying a decaying feudal order within a weak state structure. In the post war years compared to traditional type state to state wars employing major and mass destruction weapons more conflicts happen within states using small and medium level weapons causing much larger death and destruction. Cross-border war if any has become a primarily “small or medium-power activity.”  Particularly since the beginning of the decolonization, the security threats to the state apparatus in the Third World are far more frequently internal than external, especially given that many decolonized nations were formed containing substantial linguistic, cultural, or ethnic plurality with minorities having little ties to the state. Such warfare seemed to degenerate “into universal, anarchic, and self-perpetuating violence.” Sri Lankan-Tamil conflict looked as if there were two states contending within. These conflicts in the process create a large number of subsidiary issues with serious implications for the general society. The changing nature of state in recent decades is making the chances of such violent struggle lesser and lesser feasible to succeed mainly for the following reasons.

Contemporary state is increasingly becoming all-pervading and omnipresent through the length and breadth of its territory leaving nothing outside of its scope, jurisdiction and active monitoring. Recent development in satellite and information technology has allowed the states much greater capacity to penetrate everything and everyone leaving little secrecy for any operation to succeed. As understood, all non state violent movements pitched against the superior authority of the state have traditionally used guerilla tactics operating with an element of surprise in their campaigns. That is no longer possible thereby considerably undermining their chances for success. Therefore, in desperation such groups are increasingly using terrorist tactics of attacking civilian targets instead of military ones. The 9/11 attack in New York and 26/11 in Mumbai, attacks on civilians in Churches, Mosques, shrines and schools across countries are reflections of such a frustration.

The dominant powers globally, particularly since 9/11 (2001), have succeeded in catergorising all non state violent action, with whatever justifying cause it might be pursuing and irrespective of selection of its targets, as terrorist. That has taken away whatever legitimacy such movements may have enjoyed historically thereby further undermining the chances of its success.

The combination of the two factors have  made Fenon’s proposition  about violence being liberating in anti-colonial context (1961) in effect completely redundant in the face of an increasingly omnipresent and strangulating contemporary state facing no serious moral challenge from the global community. First major thinker in the twentieth century to realize the dangers implicit in non-state political violence and contest the position of Fenon through her essay “On Violence” (1970) was Hannah Arendt (1906-1975). It is in this context we see the LTTE in Sri Lanka as probably the most powerful militant movement operating against a relatively smaller state in recent times getting decimated completely leaving the Tamil population completely high and dry. At one time in late eighties and 1990s, Sri-Lankan state was willing to negotiate and give substantial degree of autonomy to them. Only few years back the ISIS emerged with tremendous euphoria attracting large number of educated Muslim youth to join their cause. After spectacular initial successes it has been decapitated and destroyed (in its organized strength) in the face of a global resolve against it. All non-state private violence in the contemporary times is universally dubbed as terrorism and there is increasing global consensus on multi faceted decisive measures against this.

In the light of these and other examples there is a strong case for rethinking of violence as a strategy for attaining political objectives. The discourse of violence complicates issues, brings in death and destruction and creates more problems than it resolves. It generates more hatred, hardens attitudes, blocks communication, hinders understanding, precludes the possibility of continuing dialogue and, as our present day experience indicates, it badly afflicts those involved socially, economically, culturally, physically and psychologically. In contemporary context it marginalizes the weak further and exposes the weaknesses of the strong also. In the vicious cycle of violence there are no winners. The telling example of irreparable death and destruction that violence brings in recent times are that of Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Yemen and Syria. Even the US (the sole super power) whose intervention created some of these problems has failed to achieve any of its stated objectives. The limits of its capacity to shape up global reality on its own, with its tremendous coercive capacity (and economic might), stands exposed. Because of these its arrogance of power has got considerably dented and it is being constrained to withdraw in places without having achieved its professed goals.  Violence also begets more violence and afflicts even those that want to use it against other. Therefore, in today’s world any movement for changing the status-quo (particularly for weak) needs to be led with tremendous care and high levels of intellectual sophistication and by means that are morally superior and need to be combined with right kind of strategy. Adversities do not hold negatives only. In fact, every adversity may be pregnant with a potential opportunity. Emerging global challenges are pushing states to collaborative action. Above all the recent proliferation of conceptual references to emancipation and values of human security, rights (in their expanded form), dignity and democratic empowerment whereby deprived, weak and subaltern  are seeking reworking of politics to make it more responsive, fair and just are important instruments for seeking Justice and change for better. 

 (Prof. Baba teaches Political Science in Kashmir University and at the Central University of Kashmir)