LACK of awareness within civil society, weak political manifestation, institutional gaps, misconceptions, and over-expectations from peace talks and amnesty schemes have cast a shadow over a pragmatic approach to dealing with militants and insurgents. Consequently, peace has remained elusive. What lessons have been learned from this process?
Before peace talks and the announcement of any amnesty scheme, the delicate issue of dealing with militancy needs extensive discussion. Can any state afford a prolonged spell of militancy? For sustainable peace, what are the options: persistent efforts to counter terrorism, killing terrorists, countering ideologies, or increasing investments in diplomacy? There is also a need to understand how media speculation can negatively impact the process. It must be asked: how can we develop political and societal consensus regarding issues related to the peace process, including resettlement? How can we identify and overcome any irritants?
During the pre-negotiations phase, the names and other details of militants must be collected, and a screening committee should be entrusted with scrutiny of the process. The benefits of amnesty schemes should not be used to recycle surrendered militants. Those who surrender should go through a rigorous re-training cycle. Eligible persons should be entitled to a fixed monthly stipend and an initial grant that will only be paid out on the successful completion of training.
Amnesties are used when there is no resolution to an ongoing conflict in sight. To deal with rebels, Uganda tried both kinetic and non-kinetic options. Eventually, in 1999, it opted for peaceful solutions and announced a general amnesty that resulted in the ‘Amnesty Act of 2000’. It provided blanket amnesty for all Ugandans engaged in armed rebellion.
Can any state afford a prolonged spell of militancy?
To oversee the implementation, a seven-member Amnesty Commission (AC) was established, funded by the Ugandan government and the World Bank’s Multi-Country Demobilisation and Reintegration Programme. The Amnesty Act used the term ‘reporter’ to refer to individuals who had taken steps to secure amnesty. At the time of the establishment of the commission, the approximate number of potential ‘reporters’ was estimated at 50,000. By the end of 2008, a total of 22,995 people had ‘reported’ under the scheme.
Under the Ugandan amnesty scheme, a reporter was not to be prosecuted for their past crimes. They were given the option of reporting to the police, army, local council, a magistrate, or a religious leader. A reporter who faced insurgency charges had to declare to a judge, a prison officer, or a magistrate that they had surrendered and desired amnesty. They also had to surrender their weapons. Reporters residing outside Uganda were provided the option of reporting to a Ugandan diplomatic mission. After the completion of the process, the reporters were given amnesty certificates. The military and police ensured their security. To ensure their well-being, the government also sought assistance from NGOs like Give Me a Chance, which helped the AC repatriate, rehabilitate, and reintegrate former militants. Unicef also helped to resettle child soldiers.
The armed conflict between militants and the military in Nigeria’s Niger Delta continued for two decades, defying all peace efforts. To mitigate conflict in the oil-rich region, the Presidential Amnesty Programme was introduced in 2009. PAP was a special intervention from the federal government to disarm, demobilise, and reintegrate former agitators. The PAP followed a multipronged model: robust stakeholder engagement, strategic and targeted communication, community outreach, peace building, and reconciliation.
In our case, amnesty schemes may be classified differently for ‘home-based militants’ and ‘foreign-based militants’. In 2015, the Balochistan government announced a general amnesty for those who abandoned violence. Point 17 of Pakistan’s National Action Plan emphasises the need to fully empower the Balochistan government for political reconciliation with complete ownership by all stakeholders. The idea needs to be magnified, so other areas can also be included in such endeavours.
Since militants are far away from the brighter aspects of human life, bringing them closer to the pragmatic aspects of life is inevitable. Militants need to be convinced that death and destruction are not the way to achieve their ideals. However, general amnesty and offering financial incentives may not prove enough in the absence of skills training and employment opportunities, so picking up a gun may be the only option left for militants trying to reintegrate. Denying such an option requires collective will and response. Let’s give peace a chance.
The writer is author of Pakistan: In Between Extremism and Peace.
Published in Dawn, July 12th, 2023