How my village can teach a lesson in conflict resolution

It may be naïve to imagine that countries could resolve disputes like villages but complex problems often need simple solutions

Ehtesham Shahid
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Scenes of village panchayat (courtroom) are among my best childhood recollections. Disputing parties would gather around a group of wise, usually old, men. Cases such as theft, forgery, property and family disputes would be taken up. Disputing parties would present their cases and then the accused, the aggrieved party and the witnesses would be cross-examined. After a little bit of deliberation, some pressure tactics and open pleas, the verdict would be delivered.

Of course the process would be preceded by lobbying and sometimes followed by murmurs of dissent, even contempt. But there would be general consensus and recourse in the form of appeal, with the same protocol, at a mutually agreed time and place. At the end of it all, grievances would be addressed, the guilty would be punished and the victim compensated. More importantly, there will be no spillover. There were no winners or losers. It was a classic case of collective community compromise brokered and reached within the confines of a village with no outsider getting an opportunity to intervene.

It may sound a bit of a stretch but if you apply the same logic to a group of countries, it seems my village can still teach a lesson in justice, reconciliation and conflict resolution. An inward-looking approach to conflict resolution isn’t about institution building but instead focuses on a workable solution. It ushers in a better sense of camaraderie. If efforts are made to find solutions locally, then that means dealing with very similar socio-political and cultural milieu. There is likely to be more empathy and greater understanding of each other.

It also doesn’t make sense to involve a party that doesn’t have a locus standi on the matter. For instance, it is indeed great for Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to become the first leader of his country to visit Communist-ruled Cuba. But bringing up North Korea’s nuclear program in his meeting with Fidel Castro was never going to gain much traction. At the cost of oversimplifying, it seems like my village folk travelling to a faraway place to discipline his feuding neighbor.

There is no denying the fact that multilateral platforms have their benefits. However, internationalizing a local or regional conflict mostly worsens it – as has happened in the case of Syria

Ehtesham Shahid

In other words, why travel over 8,000 miles to mend fences with a country that is 800 miles away. Why can’t countries surrounding North Korea come together and resolve disputes as they are likely to understand each other better than the faraway Cubans?

The UNGA jamboree

Whosoever followed the last week’s flurry of activities at the United Nations General Assembly would have caught several neighboring countries trading jibes with each other. They were all taking their regional conflicts to the global stage. So it was India vs Pakistan, Israel vs Palestine, Russia vs Ukraine, and it even descended into a United States vs Russia over Syria.

It may be naïve to imagine that countries – with their varying size, resources and influence – would behave the way villagers do but as long as the focus remains on the solution and not the feuding parties, complex problems can find simple and local solutions. It is important to acknowledge this also because multilateral institutions have generally gone nowhere with conflict resolution of any kind.

There is no denying the fact that multilateral platforms have their benefits. However, internationalizing a local or regional conflict mostly worsens it – as has happened in the case of Syria. If you allow big and small “outsiders” into the battlefield, they are bound to bring with them their own sets of agendas and geostrategic calculations. This relegates the actual stakeholders to the background and can complicate the situation further.

This is why it probably makes sense to go back to more regional blocks that are more homogenous. This backward integration, if it really works, can lead to more and more conflicts being resolved locally. Whenever that happens, I will return to my village and try to become the wise old man who can be fair and deliver justice. I will then, at the least, contribute toward keeping the community together.

Ehtesham Shahid is Managing Editor at Al Arabiya English. For close to two decades he has worked as editor, correspondent, and business writer for leading publications, news wires and research organizations in India and the Gulf region. He loves to occasionally dabble with teaching and is collecting material for a book on unique tales of rural conflict and transformation from around the world. His twitter handle is @e2sham.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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