Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif chairing the All Parties Conference (APC) in Islamabad on September 9, 2013.— File photo
THE resolution emanating from Monday’s all-parties conference seems more of a document of surrender than an expression of a nation’s resolve to fight terrorism.
It attributes the loss of thousands of innocent lives not to the militant violence but to the “war, the illegal and immoral drone strikes and the blowback from the actions of Nato/Isaf forces in Afghanistan”. In fact, militant groups responsible for the death of thousands of men, women, children and soldiers, are virtually legitimised as stakeholders in the peace efforts.
It was apparent from the outset that a conference of parties with such diverse ideological and political views would not be able to come up with a coherent strategy to tackle terrorism. But the outcome has been even more shambolic than expected.
There are no two views that dialogue is the best way to end conflict. So, it may be a right decision by the APC to try this course once again and initiate negotiations with all the militant groups involved in violence and insurgency in different parts of the country.
But for the talks to succeed, the government has to lay down certain conditions and a specific framework. A previous APC sponsored by the Awami National Party on the eve of elections had agreed on certain preconditions for peace talks that included renouncing of violence and adherence to the Constitution.
Unfortunately, these preconditions are conspicuous by their absence in the resolution adopted on Monday. The very tenor of the resolution is indicative of a weak state willing to concede to the forces that challenge its authority.
Not surprisingly, the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan has “cautiously” welcomed the government’s offer for talks. But there is no indication that the militant group has backed down from its own preconditions enunciated by its spokesman earlier. These preconditions include virtually changing Pakistan’s foreign policy and enforcement of their version of Sharia. There is no promise of even cessation of violence, let alone of renouncing force.
In fact, the TTP has upped the ante after the APC resolution calling for the state to show more sincerity before the negotiations. “The government will also have to convince the army and to decide on a roadmap for the talks,” a TTP spokesman was quoted as saying.
Many security experts see little prospect of peace talks taking place at all, let alone of them being successful in the current situation. “There is very little probability of peace negotiations taking off the ground,” contends retired Brigadier Asad Munir, a former ISI officer who has vast experience in dealing with militant groups in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the tribal areas.
This apprehension is based on the past experience of various broken peace deals. Pakistan has signed at least nine peace agreements with the militants in Fata and KP over the last 10 years, but they all collapsed within months. “In all the cases, the agreements were broken by the militants,” said Mr Munir who had been directly involved in many of those peace deals. “It is a completely wrong perception that the security forces did not honour the promises.”
A major problem for the government in negotiation is that the militants are not a monolithic group. Security officials maintain that there are more than three dozen militant and sectarian groups or factions operating in different parts of KP, Fata and other parts of the country.
While these militant groups may be united in common cause, they all have their own agenda that often leads to fierce conflict. Even the TTP is divided into various factions, many of which are completely under Al Qaeda’s influence. In this situation, even if the TTP agrees to a peace deal others will not accept it, say some retired and serving security officials.
There is in fact a danger that any negotiations with the TTP may trigger a new wave of violence by other groups. The most serious militant threat comes from North Waziristan, which has become the main sanctuary for many Al Qaeda-linked groups. Among them are various Punjabi militant factions with a strong support network in south Punjab. These groups are also active across the border in Afghanistan. “There is no possibility of them coming to the negotiating table,” says Mr Munir.
The APC resolution has also asked the government to consider raising the issue of US drone strikes with the UN Security Council. Indeed, there is national consensus on the stopping of illegal and unethical use of drones that reportedly cause collateral damage, while killing some key Al Qaeda leaders. Most of these attacks are now targeting militant sanctuaries in North Waziristan.
However, while raising the issue at the UN and other forums, Pakistan should also be able to convince the international community that it is able to eliminate militant sanctuaries from its border areas, which threaten regional security. We cannot deny the fact that many terrorist attacks in other countries have roots in North Waziristan and other tribal regions.
For a comprehensive national security and counter-terrorism policy, the government needs to adopt a holistic approach. Indeed, dialogue and negotiations must be a part of the strategy, but it should not be the only option. Sustainable peace can never be achieved if the state gives up the option of using force to assert its authority.
Renunciation of violence and acceptance of the country’s Constitution must be a precondition for negotiations, whether they are militant groups fighting the security forces in Fata or Baloch insurgent groups.
The writer is an author and journalist.