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After being plagued by a deadly civil war for the better part of a century, the South American nation of Colombia has recently concluded a historic peace accord. The comprehensive plan outlines several remedial measures and defines a way forward for the rebel party; Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia – or FARC, as they are popularly known.

Colombian diplomat Dr Marcelo Macedo Rizo recently gave a public talk in Islamabad, where he explained the mechanics of the peace process and the challenges that lie ahead. Dawn caught up with Dr Rizo and asked him about ways Pakistan could benefit from the Colombian experience in forging peace after decades of violence.

Q: Can you describe some of the challenges that are faced by the government and the people in terms of ‘forgiving’ the crimes of FARC?

A: In general, there are three principles we should have clear: firstly, that peace is always better than war. In contemporary times, every war has ended through dialogue and political negotiations aimed at achieving peace.

Secondly, peace processes in general, and particularly those that involve illegal groups, are mainly aimed at the demobilisation and transition to non-violent political activity for such groups.

Thirdly, peace agreements are not perfect and it will always be necessary to give up some justice in exchange for peace. This is exactly the case in Colombia, and the Colombian state and its people – specifically those who were victims of FARC’s crimes – are conscious that they cannot afford to be too harsh in the sentencing of former guerrilla members if they are to be disbanded as an armed group.

While some of them will be in jail for a relatively short time, some may not even be punished at all; this is a big sacrifice, but one that is necessary in order to acknowledge the truth about the conflict and guarantee its end.

Q: You called the plan to rehabilitate victims of the war “the most important part of the peace”. How far has that process come so far?

A: For us, the part of the agreement dedicated to the victims is the most important pillar of the deal; the success or failure of this entire process depends on it.

The special justice system created under the agreement – whose pillars are truth, justice, reparation for victims, and non-repetition guarantees – is not only meant to punish the crimes committed by former FARC members, but also offers closure to the over eight million victims in our country.

We understand that although victims claim they want justice, the truth is more important to them; the need to know what happened to their relatives who were murdered, kidnapped, tortured, or disappeared, and why FARC did this to them and their families.

In the case of reparations, there are two types: material and symbolic. Although the economic aspect is relevant, particularly for families whose patrimony was affected by the war, it is symbolic reparation, which is about asking for forgiveness and allowing the victims the catharsis they need to get over the pain and the suffering caused by the rebels, that is most important.

Fortunately, in the past months, we have witnessed several acts of forgiveness where the victims have been receptive and accepted the apologies tendered by FARC members.

Q: What measures have been taken to ensure the “never again” part of the peace plan?

A: There can be two kinds of causes for a conflict like this: structural and circumstantial.

In the first group, we have historic problems such as the inequality, social injustice, exclusion, discrimination, hardship, concentration of power, concentration of property, a lack of democracy, unjustified violence against the people, etc. All these phenomena existed in Colombia in the middle of the 20th century.

Among circumstantial causes, there are factors such as violent guerrilla actions, which elicit a reaction from the establishment and generate deep pain among the victims. Any peace agreement must aim to tackle both kinds of causes.

Q: Given what you know about Pakistan’s own war with militancy and internal strife, what course of action would you recommend based on your own experience with the way peace was brokered in your country?

A: We are completely convinced that political negotiation is the only way to solve an armed conflict. This affirmation is not a theoretical precept, but a matter of fact.

If groups persist with war, they will only get more war. Contemporary history shows us that a military victory in any kind of conflict is almost a utopic concept, and at the end it is always necessary to turn to a political option.

Of course it is not easy, especially when there are very deep and sensitive differences, but the strength of political negotiation is the capability to process such differences and find principles of agreement.

In Pakistan’s case, we think you could try an addressing the alterity – or sense of otherness – and recognising these ‘others’ based on your own identity, thereby answering the question ‘Why are these others different from us?’.

Subsequently, empathy would be required to place yourselves in their shoes to understand what they feel, what they think, what they want, and also to make them understand your perspective. Maybe this could help to identify the main differences and the common interests, which could lead to an initial agreement.

Published in Dawn, November 16th, 2017