The possibility of a restorative approach: India has a choice in responding to the Kashmir attack 

pulwama attack 2

The way India chooses to respond to the Pulwama suicide attack has consequences for its future and for its relationship with Pakistan.  In light of the speech made by Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan soon after the attack, India perhaps has a chance to consider responding to the offer made in his speech, although many Indians reasonably feel the speech was deficient.  Mr. Khan’s speech made an offer of dialogue including talking about addressing terrorism, and offered Pakistan is ready to cooperate in investigations and hold accountable if evidence is found that anyone from his country was involved in the attack.

Responding to the speech, the Indian government stated it was inadequate, lacking in offering condolence for the victims’ families, and given that Jaish e Muhammad has claimed responsibility, it asked what more proof does Pakistan want of its own involvement.  From India’s point of view, this sense of inadequacy of the offer is understandable given the magnitude of loss endured.  Based on the words spoken so far, Indian government seems to be perhaps indicating a response of revenge.  No doubt his speech would have come across as more credible if Mr. Khan had acknowledged the suffering caused to Indians from the lives lost of so many soldiers.  He did not do so.

Putting aside for a moment the sentiments of sadness, fear, anger, and resentment that Indians are justifiably feeling after the attack, the relevant question to ask for India is whether the offer is good enough to get both sides to the table to begin a dialogue.  If Indian government perceives the offer as inadequate to begin talks, it may end up precluding a chance for peace that both countries badly need.

This is a critical moment for Indian response.  To find a response that has the possibility to lead to a sustainable solution towards peace, we need to step back and look at the incident in the big picture context.   Since partition and independence, the conflict between the two countries has increased, including the three wars that were fought.  And so has the perpetuation of hateful language that is commonly used for the other side in mainstream media as well as by large number of political leaders on either side.  If we ask whether this has helped to bring the two sides closer to a peaceful co-existence or away from it, the answer is clear.

India pays a huge price for the perpetual conflict, just as Pakistan does.   Mr. Khan acknowledged in his speech that the conflict has cost Pakistan tens of thousands of lives and economic costs in billions of dollars, and that it is in his country’s interest to address the conflict.  India also bears costs of high magnitude in lives lost and economic costs.  So, it is in India’s interest to move towards a peaceful solution.  It does not pay to do more of the same.  As hard as it would be, this is an opportune time for both sides to rise above the mindset of right and wrong, judgement and blame, and come together to work to build peace.  The media too bears a huge responsibility, in the way it reports stories and plays them over and over, in promoting or de-escalating conflict.

Where must we look to find suggestions for ways to a peaceful solution? It would not help to look at what the two countries have done in the past because that has not worked.  The place to look would be the work of leaders who worked tirelessly to find peaceful solutions in situations of extreme conflict.  Mahatma Gandhi’s genius lay in recognizing that violence is subject to a universal law.  When used as a means to bring peace, violence always leads to more violence.  Nonviolent means to bring peace lead to more peace.  So if we respond to violence with violence, we would never get to peace.

Looking at historic and contemporary examples in the world, peace leaders have been clear on one principle: the antidote to violence is non-violence.  Desmond Tutu, the South African leader and Nobel peace prize winner, defines violence quite simply: words or actions that separate us are violent and those that bring us closer together are non-violent.  If we apply this definition to the words Indian leaders are using in reaction to the violent Pulwama incident, it is violent rhetoric that will escalate the conflict.  And Pakistan is using similar violent rhetoric. Of course, a tragedy where numerous families have lost members makes us contract in anger, resentment, and judgment.  But if we pause and reflect, we can clearly see that to address the problem at its root we would need to seriously consider responding non-violently.  This is in India’s self-interest.  It may sound a cliché but it is easy to observe from past experiences that if India responds to hate with hate, we will secure more violence for our country in the future.

In weighing which way to respond, the question to ask is what are the pros and cons of a retaliatory compared to a non-violent conciliatory response by India?  If India retaliates, the pro is we may be able to stem the immediate tide of anger and resentment in the country arising from the loss of lives and derive solace that we have exacted revenge.  The con is we would contribute to another cycle of violence in the long run that has huge costs for us.  If India chooses a non-violent conciliatory response, the pro is we may end up shifting the trajectory of the relationship between the two countries to a path towards sustainable peace. The con is such a response may look weak but this is not really so.  In Gandhi’s view, non-violence requires much more strength than violence.

A non-violent response does not in any way mean condoning the attack or letting go of seeking justice and accountability. Investigating, going after and holding fully accountable to law whoever has done this needs to be part of any long run solution towards peace.  However, if done carefully such a response holds the possibility of a win-win solution for both sides in the long term.  This is the power of a restorative justice approach that holds the potential to shift the conflict from destructive to constructive.

On the other hand, a violent punitive response such as military solutions or attacks by either side can provide short term victory for one side but both sides will lose in the long run.  The parents of the suicide bomber in Pulwama have stated their son went the route of violence after being beaten up by the Indian army a few years back.  This is proof one more time, if we pause and reflect, that violence leads to more violence.

India has a choice of an empathic response to the seemingly deficient Pakistani offer in order to get the two countries to the table.  Any international dispute that has been settled with mediation and resulted in a win-win outcome that is sustainable has involved responding to the other side with empathy using some form of non-violent communication.  This is at the heart of a restorative option that requires, at the very minimum, empathy because it requires understanding where the other side is coming from and finding common ground.  And this does not imply condoning or minimizing the gravity of what has happened.

James O’Dea, former director of Amnesty International, writes of his peace work experience “It is a fundamental basis of conflict resolution that you must give the other party the space to be the very best they can be. If you confine the other to the very limited view you have of them you will never have dialogue or a breakthrough in communication with them. Giving the other a big space to be truly the greatest they can be can feel threatening because you have to allow them out of the box you put them in. And that means you have to be open to possibilities your own experience told to close off.

That means you have to be the one prepared to be vulnerable, hurt, slapped down and more. But you create that space for the other because the transformational possibility is too tantalizing—and you also know in your heart that if you don’t we will be confined to separate boxes and miniature versions of each other… or something much worse.”

Using a restorative approach would mean we fully denounce the Kashmir incident staying cognizant of the magnitude of suffering caused, and at the same time take up the offer of dialogue without compromising on investigation and accountability.  Making peace is by no means easy in the face of such a destructive event, but it is possible and worthwhile because the stakes are very high.  The President of Colombia, Juan Manuel Santos, said in his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, “It is much harder to make peace than to wage war”.  It can be built in conscious choices that the government, media, and people of the two countries make.  India can make these choices if we can remind ourselves it is in the country’s interest to do so.

Priyanka Pandey  is an Economist based in US. [email protected]


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