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Talking peace again


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ONCE upon a time, four wise men met with recalcitrant TTP leaders. Impressed by the merit of their arguments, convincing mannerisms and generosity of the state to let bygones be bygones, the cruel resolve of hardened terrorists melted away and they suddenly saw the light.

They returned to the fold of civilised society, swore allegiance to the Constitution and the state’s writ, surrendered their weapons, released hostages, repented of the killing of innocent civilians and agreed to work with community leaders and state officials to rebuild war-tattered Fata.

In response the state announced an amnesty scheme for everyone who admitted past wrongdoing and repented. It amended Article 247 of the Constitution to mainstream Fata and extended rights enjoyed by ordinary Pakistanis to tribesmen as well. Its team of leaders, legal experts and scholars devised indigenous local government and criminal justice systems for Fata within the framework of the Constitution, Sharia and tribal riwaaj. Fata emerged as the Switzerland of the East and everyone lived happily ever after.

If wishes were horses, peace talks with terrorists would produce happy endings. It has been said before and it needs to be said again: the predominant opposition to talks is not rooted in the belief that exterminating members of the TTP-led terror syndicate or revenge is a goal as desirable as peace. Notwithstanding the TTP’s savagery and the thousands of citizens lost to it, the argument for forgiveness over retributive justice would win any day if the probability of talks resulting in the surrender of terrorists — as opposed to the surrender of the state — was a reasonable one.

Let’s quickly revisit our experience with militants and peace agreements. In 2004, the Shakai agreement was signed with Nek Mohammad in South Waziristan. The government was to release militants taken prisoner during the military operation and pay compensation for casualties and collateral damage. Nek Mohammad and his men were granted amnesty. In return, the militants agreed not to attack state property and personnel and to desist from participating in armed conflict in Afghanistan. There was no requirement to oust foreign militants or surrender heavy weapons.

Within days the agreement blew up in the military’s face: Nek Mohammad reiterated allegiance to Al Qaeda and had to be taken out by a drone.

In 2005, the Sararogha peace deal was signed with Baitullah Mehsud in South Waziristan. Baitullah agreed not to attack government functionaries and property or harbour foreign militants. In return he and his men were afforded amnesty for past actions. There was no prohibition on cross-border actions.

Abdullah Mehsud opted out of the agreement and Baitullah never really abided by it. Eventually, Baitullah was taken out by a drone attack in 2009 and Operation Rah-i-Nijat was carried out.

In 2006, the 16-point Miramshah peace deal was signed in North Waziristan with Hafiz Gul Bahadur and others. There were to be no terrorist attacks in Pakistan, cross-border attacks in Afghanistan or attacks on state personnel and property. Foreigners were to be asked to remain peaceful or leave. The government agreed to halt the military operation, release militants, pay compensation for collateral damage and withdraw the army to the barracks. Some understanding with Hafiz Gul Bahadur has probably survived but North Waziristan is enemy territory today.

In 2008, a peace deal was concluded in Khyber Agency with militants including Lashkar-i-Islam (Mangal Bagh) and Ansarul Islam (Qazi Mehbub). Militants agreed not to set up a parallel administration, initiate incursions into Peshawar, allow foreigners in the Bara area, attack government property, impede developmental work or brandish unauthorised weapons. The deal didn’t survive long and eventually a military operation (Sirat-i-Mustaqeem) was carried out. The 2008 deal with Faqir Hussain in Bajaur also didn’t last and was followed up by Operation Sher Dil.

The year 2009 saw the infamous Swat agreement with Sufi Mohammad and the TTP’s current head Mullah Fazlullah. It was agreed that Sharia would be enforced (Nizam-i-Adl Regulations, 2009 were promulgated), militants would be released, no private militias would exist, foreign militants would surrender and barber shops and vaccination campaigns would not be attacked. The state agreed to withdraw the army. In response militants annexed Buner and Shangla and rejected democracy and the Constitution. Operation Rah-i-Haq had to be launched to reacquire Swat.

What are the lessons? Peace talks failed each time not because of deficient skills of interlocutors or the talks’ agenda, but because of the fundamental clash between the interests of Pakistan and those of the militants. Militant leaders have no social or political prospects in a peaceful Fata. They are the new power elite within the tribal areas and across Pakistan (as patrons of the crime and terror-syndicate spread all over). It is a zero-sum game for them. Their power flows from the gun. If they put it down, they become irrelevant.

Re-establishing preeminence of traditional tribal leadership won’t happen amicably. The power has not shifted from the maliks to the army but from maliks to the militants. The hands of the clock can’t simply be turned back. The state needs to help strengthen and rejuvenate traditional tribal structures in Fata but it can only be done through introduction of new instruments such as local government and criminal justice structures contrived in consultation with the tribes. Bringing North Waziristan back within the fold of Pakistan is only one part of an anti-terror policy. As we continue to rely on the miracle of talks succeeding, let’s not suspend work on its other vital components meant for all of Pakistan.

The writer is a lawyer.

Twitter: @babar_sattar

The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (14) Closed

An observer Feb 03, 2014 10:52am

Sounds like the militants only understand the language of violence. Full scale military action is the only solution to this problem. Talks and peace agreements only buy them more time to wreak more havoc.

Zainab Feb 03, 2014 12:32pm

True.. I don't understand that government and PTI are living in which fool's paradise? What will cause them to open their eyes. Shame on all peace talkers.

Parvez Feb 03, 2014 01:39pm

Again, very well said. The difference between the TTP and the government is that the TTP knows that the talks will fail and they have planned ahead. The government, on the other hand. appear clueless on all accounts.

Shafiq Khan Feb 03, 2014 04:30pm

Why the politicians in favour of talks come out and tell the nation why they think the talks with the TTP is OK. What do they want to come out of such talks ? We have an Assembly elected to legislate and debate the issues of importance to the country. Why is that debate missing , why the Prime Minister is not there to tell the nation his version of talks ? What does he think is democracy ? Is it OK if some violent outfit kills innocent citizens and then gets away with it on the promise that they would not do it again, if you suspend the sanctions of the Law of the land and ignore the Constitution of the country to suit us. You know you do not have the authority of doing anything of the kind. Besides, they have the right to keep their weapons and the authority to decide whatever number of foreigners in the country ,they want ! It will not wash. You know the consequences. Mr Prime Minister tell the people, who gave you the power, to be there, where you are. What is going on ? You are going to face an election sooner or later.

Why are you talking to those who have been tried and tested ? It is your basic duty to inform the people of the rational.

Stop repeating the mantra of great military strength ad nosium without showing us any demonstrable benefit . Use the force of Arms and get the country rid of the blight that has affected our economy,our social structure , our well-being and the peace of mind. You choose to play the proverbial fiddle while the country literarily burns. It might sound trivial, but how long since any cricket team came to play in Pakistan ? Why is there that fear of playing in Pakistan ? Shafiq Shafiq

mohib khan Feb 03, 2014 04:57pm

it is one of the best article i have ever read on the subject. you cant beg for peace. at first we were sleeping and now we are unworthy of the sacrifice demanded by the situation. So we will resort to another round of talks and another failure and then so on an so forth in the mean time the country will bleed and no one cares.

Muhammed Ali Feb 03, 2014 05:38pm

Can the govt really deliver what the taliban want....i dont think so..

Abubakar Mehmood Feb 03, 2014 06:52pm

Absolutely nailed it! Always admire your thoughts, Mr Sattar. What a pity such brilliant minds do not participate in the policy- and decision-making process!

Chakwal wala Feb 03, 2014 07:39pm

Been there,..done that. So,..what now? The lion of Punjab will sell the country downriver in a heartbeat. Has already started the process, in bits and pieces.. Then will export himself to some safe and secure country. With his trademark..'just swallowed a lemon'.. look on his face.

Masood Hussain Feb 03, 2014 08:12pm

It is futile to narrate the history of talks and peace with Taliban The peace negotiators on either side know it very well.Difficulty is that we are very weak students of history and try very hard to forget it,with every change in the Govt.The new man thinks himself cleverer than the previous one and believes to succeed in his efforts. .

Muhammed Ltaf Feb 03, 2014 08:42pm

Ours is a unique nation,we refuse to learn,continue to make mistakes and believe in conspiracies.

secular Feb 03, 2014 09:06pm

Spot on! The newly 4 members established committee should bring this piece of writing in their given home work for peace talks ...this write up will definitely help them out a step forward ......

excersiseyourbrain Feb 04, 2014 04:33am

Question, What does TTP what?
Answer, Islamic way of life. Are they wrong? Should not Muslims want a true Islamic state? Do what religion says and not what west does.

Mohammed A. Sukhera Feb 04, 2014 09:22am

It appears that you don't have a clue about the reality in tribal areas. I ask you that who is going to establish and strengthen tribal structure when you can't even access the area.The problem is that the country has been under military dictatorship for most of its existence. The dictators generally opt for military solution for every problem they confront because they are only trained to fight and not in diplomacy. General Musharraf assaulted the Lal Masjid complex resulting in 154 deaths which could have been avoided through negotiations. The military action should always be the last resort as a self defense and not the first option.The focal point of the operation was the Jamia Hafsa (adjacent madrassa) for women which was the largest institution in the world with more than 6,000 students. The assault resulted in pro-Taliban rebels along the Afghanistan border nullifying a 10-month-old peace agreement with the Pakistani Government. Lal Masjid was frequented by leaders of the Pakistani military and government. General Zia-Ul Haq , the army chief who became president after seizing power in a coup in 1977, was a close associate of Abdullah (the founder of the Lal masjid). The mosque is located near the headquarters of Pakistan's Inter Services Agency (ISI), and several staff members were known to go there for prayers. This unfortunate event triggered a surge in violence and militancy resulting in more than 3,000 causalities. I don

shahid Feb 04, 2014 12:28pm

Your narrative about the agreements is quite out of line with facts. Talk to people such Ayaz Wazir or Rustam Shah Mohmand who come from that area and would be able to tell you what really transpired. And I do not need to tell you who they are and with what authority they can speak. Sitting in Islamabad you have no clue about what happens in FATA on the ground. Has any independent news organizations ever been allowed to go there and report. That nine year old girl whose family was killed by a drone had to fly all the way to Washington DC so that some one can hear what is happening to the people of FATA. You say:

Bringing North Waziristan back within the fold of Pakistan ...

Have you forgotten that FATA is not and never was a conquered territory that was acquired by Pakistan by force. They joined Pakistan of their own free will and inspite of pressure by the Congress and its allies. No bullets were exchanged for this union Jinnah Sahib in fact withdrew all armies from there declaring that these are needed as the people of FATA will defend Pakistan themselves. And this was done after decades of insurgency there against the British. If you think now that you can use guns and rockets to forcibly reconcile FATA and its people with Pakistan, then my dear sir you live in some world of make believe. Friendship, EQUALITY, and respect is needed the same way that Jinnah sahib handled the situation. But unfortunately it is too difficult for the desktop warriors in Lahore and Islamabad to realize this.