Price of peace

Published June 9, 2024
The writer is a security analyst.
The writer is a security analyst.

PAKISTAN is not alone in confronting armed opposition. Many nations grapple with persistent violence, often resorting to force over peace negotiations. This hesitation stems from the fear of concessions, neglecting the heavy price paid for prolonged conflict.

Colombia offers a compelling example. In 2016, it opted for peace, establishing a ceasefire with major rebel groups — primarily factions of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), which has been active since 1964. Despite initial setbacks, Colombia recently enacted a Total Peace Bill to forge agreements with remaining armed groups.

Colombia’s peace process has been arduous, with the government determined to achieve an end to the conflict, even if it necessitates meeting some of the armed groups’ demands. This dilemma resonates with states facing insurgencies, who fear internationalising their conflicts. While Colombia’s UN involvement, prompted by resistance demands, ultimately aided negotiations, core issues like land reform, victim justice, and political participation remain unresolved.

The success stories of other peace processes offer valuable lessons. Notably, many successful agreements involved compromises across the ta­­b­le. In some cases, these have caused major amendments in social contracts of the states, the autonomy of a region, the separation of a territory, or agreement on resource distribution. The Good Friday Agreement in 1998 in Northern Ireland helped end the violent conflict known as ‘The Troubles’, leading to power-sharing in the North­ern Ireland Assembly and disarmament of paramilitary groups.

Colombians took 50 years to assess the strength of the resistance movement.

The Comprehensive Peace Agreement of 2005 ended the Second Sudanese Civil War, granted southern Sudan autonomy, and led to a referendum in 2011, after which South Sudan gained independence.

The Peace Accords (1996) in Guatemala ended 36 years of civil war, leading to the demobilisation and integration of guerrilla fighters into society, and significant political reforms. The Mindanao Peace Process (2014) in the Philippines and the signing of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro established the Bangsamoro Autono­mous Region, granting greater autonomy and addressing the grievances of the Moro people.

Finally, the Final Agreement (2016) between the Colombian government and the FARC was signed. The agreement ended over 50 years of armed conflict. These peace processes typically involved lengthy negotiations, international mediation, and the establishment of frameworks for disarmament, political integration, and socioeconomic development to address the root causes of the conflicts.

A multifaceted armed resistance stretched out for 50 years in Colombia because it had roots in socioeconomic factors, took time to pick momentum, and once it picked momentum, it became more lethal compared with movements triggered by religion and ideologies. A mix of socioecono­mic, political, and ideological factors can nurture a separatist solid resistance against the states. The FARC emerged as a response to deep-rooted social and economic inequalities in rural Colombia. Vast land ownership disparities and peasant communities’ marginalisation provided fertile ground for the group’s initial support and recruitment.

Colombians took 50 years just to assess the strength of the resistance movement, which resu­l­ted in thousands of deaths, political instability, a poor economy, and a constant state of fear. Un­­governed and poorly governed spaces have always provided fertile ground for resistance movements, and Colombia was no different in this respect.

A similar situation was witnessed in the Fed­e­rally Administrative Tribal Areas — now the New­ly Merged Tribal Districts — where the state is still facing armed and unarmed resistance aga­inst its approach to governing these areas. The banned TTP wants to revoke the status of these areas to regain the strength it enjoyed before the military operations and under tribal arrangements.

Balochistan is facing the worst governance crisis; a hybrid governance system has failed to stop the power elites’ misuse of the province’s resources. It cannot deliver services to the people and needs help to conceive a development plan. The securitisation of the province fuels anger among the people, including those who have experienced urban life in other parts of the country.

A comparison between the Baloch and FARC armed resistance can be drawn as both movements are deeply rooted in socioeconomic disparities. An­­oth­er common feature that creates a conducive environment for the armed resistance movement lies in the structure of the parallel economies in the areas, which include illicit trade, smuggling, drug trafficking, etc. Both state and non-state actors become the beneficiaries of this parallel ec­­o­­nomy. The resolution of the problem can hurt their economic benefits, and they resist any attempt at this.

In Colombia, the FARC survived so long because of parallel economic structures, which significantly funded its operations through the cultivation, production, and trafficking of cocaine. Kidnapping for ransom and extortion of local businesses and individuals were also significant sources of income for the FARC, further sustaining the resistance.

Two factors that the state emphasises are regional dynamics and external support for the armed resistance. These are essential factors, but to deal with armed resistance, it must concentrate on other aspects too. For instance, the state underestimates the armed group’s ability to adapt its tactics and strategy to changing circumstances, as well as the local support network it has built up over time.

There is nothing new about the dynamics of armed resistance — a vast amount of literature is available on the subject. However, the peace process is challenging. First, realising that the chain of violence cannot be broken without a dialogue takes time, as the state evaluates strength in terms of resources, and not in terms of the local support that is available to resistance movements. The ceasefire between the Colombian government and FARC dissidents has been mixed, with both positive outcomes and significant challenges. However, spoilers continue to provoke both the state and non-state actors, which causes violations of agreements and inconsistencies in the implementation of peace agreements, often extending the peace process.

While a good takeaway from the Colombian peace process is that it has not caused the country’s disintegration, it is also true that had the peace process been started 40 years ago, the results would not have been very different. The state took 50 years just to prove it is strong, but real strength comes through dialogue.

The writer is a security analyst.

Published in Dawn, June 9th, 2024

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