Understanding Peace Through Conflict Studies

Peace and Conflict studies remain one of the most significant subjects being taught in a world that appears to be engulfed in chaos. Nowadays, more and more students from conflict-ridden areas around the world are taking up the subject to understand the root causes of conflict and how they can bring about a change in their communities. Given the myriad of conflicts Pakistan has been exposed to, Aisha Saeed suggests Pakistani youth can understand regional and global issues much better if they pursue peace and conflict studies as a study subject.

Niamatullah moved to the country’s capital in search of a better education. But that might not have been the only reason for his journey to Islamabad. Nimat is a member of Hazara community, a group that found itself caught in the middle of an unfortunate wave of sectarianism in recent years, forcing many to flee Quetta to safer areas.But even if security of life was not the question for a youngster like Niamat, a sheer lack of educational opportunities certainly was. “The situation in Quetta made me leave my hometown for my higher studies,” he told Academia Magazine. Although Pakistan has freed itself from the clutches of barbaric terrorism in the past few years, the years preceding those few years were a time of torment for the nation. In a terrorism assault that lasted almost a decade, the country lost 70,000 of its men, officials and civilians to wave after wave of terrorism. But with peace widely restored, many among the country’s young have become interested in understanding the causes and effects of conflict and how disputes give rise to violence if the symptoms are not addressed in time. The same has been the case with Niamat, now in this his third year at Pakistan’s National Defence University. “I wanted to study peace and conflict to understand the unfortunate targeting of Hazaras.”

Having faced an unprecedented wave of terrorism, Pakistan’s case has made way for the need for expediting research in the discipline of conflict and peace studies, which are essential to understanding the reasons behind past violence to effectively tackle any crisis that emerges in the future.

Early Efforts

But before it was formally taken up as a formal subject in Pakistani universes, initiatives to develop peace and conflict resolution as a specific discipline began as far back as the 1990s. Given the change in regional dynamics after the fall of Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, many academicians working in the realm of international relations started writing and researching about various local and regional conflicts and the peace processes that followed. In the mid-1990s, Professor Dr Moonis Ahmar of the University of Karachi took the initiative to develop a Program on Peace Studies and Conflict Resolution (PPSCR) .He took up numerous research projects, organized international conferences and published books on several themes and case studies of peace studies and conflict resolution. 

Understanding the reasons behind past violence is essential to effectively tackle any crisis that emerges in the future

Later, the Higher Education Commission of Pakistan devised a curriculum for Peace and Conflict studies for graduate and post-graduate levels to be introduced in universities across Pakistan. The introduction of curriculum designed for Peace and Conflict Studies reads as “Academic Program offered at undergraduate and post graduate level in Peace and Conflict Studies (PCS) are envisioned to bring Peace into the society by incorporating alternative conflict resolution mechanisms as a specialized curriculum and research area in the existing academic programs offered under Higher Education Commission throughout Pakistan.”  HEC’s vision of the program explained the need for Pakistan to offer Peace and Conflict studies, whereby it states, “Dedicated to creation of adequately resourced pool of professionals as champions of peace to help prevent and resolve conflicts, promote stability, augment conflict management capacity & supplement intellectual capital in the region”. However, till date, only a handful of institutions in Pakistan offer the program, making it difficult for students from other stations to avail the opportunity.

Importance

One of the few universities to offer the program in peace and conflict studies is the National Defence University. According to Maria Saifuddin Effendi, assistant professor at NDU, “peace studies and conflict resolution will continue to be a relevant subject to study, research and practice” in the years to come. Conflict resolution as a field is not a new phenomenon in Pakistan. There have been many indigenous platforms and institutions that have been engaged in the process of dispute management such as Jirga, Panchayat, Baithak. However, formally and officially the field of PCS is still at its embryonic stage in Pakistan, but it promises a bright future. Peace and conflict resolution studies is one of the most relevant field for government and non-government sectors,” Maria opined. Salma Malik, who is an assistant professor at the department of Defence and Strategic studies at Quaid-e-Azam University, said peace and conflict might appear paradoxical, “but they are two sides of the same coin”. Peace and conflict studies helped those in policy making positions develop a better understanding of issues. For analysts and practitioners, studying these concepts is essential for a comprehensive and holistic understanding of conflict, peace and security,” she added.

In a world where new conflicts and crisis brew rather quickly, understanding conflict and the ways with which they can be resolved can help pupils turn into more rounded professionals

The discipline of peace and conflict studies, along with relevant subjects like international relations, strategic studies and diplomacy appear to be regaining interest among the younger generation. In a world where new conflicts and crisis brew rather quickly, understanding conflict and the ways with which they can be resolved can help pupils turn into more rounded professionals. The knowledge gained through these study is almost universally applicable, and the art of conflict resolution can equip an individual with the skills that make him or her an able problem solver in any are of work or any setting they are exposed to.Understand conflicts and their resolution is essential for ensuring peace, as Albert Einstein right pointed out: Peace cannot be kept by force; it can only be achieved by understanding.