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Peace deal: back to square one!

September 06, 2006

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History repeats itself but in Pakistan’s case, it perhaps repeats itself rather too often. And so the government and militants in the volatile North Waziristan tribal region have signed a peace agreement and quite understandably, Governor Ali Mohammad Jan Aurakzai, the chief architect of the accord, has hailed it as an unprecedented event.

Unprecedented it is. Like a pendulum, the government policy has swung from one extreme to another, from the use of brute military force to what appears to be total capitulation to militants. Never did the government try to intelligently combine the use of force with pursuit of dialogue.

Jirga parleys were conducted in extreme secrecy with Governor Aurakzai emerging as the focal person and President Musharraf’s pointsman on the government’s policy on Fata.

This was good in that instead of operating multiple channels to negotiate with militants which often complicated matters, the government was speaking with one voice.

So, if there is one man who can claim credit for the agreement, it should be Governor Aurakzai who single-mindedly cobbled the deal together; of course with the help of JUI-F leader Maulana Fazlur Rehman.

It was Mr Aurakzai, who as the Peshawar Corps Commander had led the Pakistan Army into the tribal region in 2001. And being a native of the tribal region that straddle the Pakistan-Afghan border, the onus was again on him to pull the army out of what has proven to be a quagmire.

Just to recap. Before signing the agreement, the government virtually agreed to meet all the demands of the militants. Captured militants were freed, their weapons were returned, all privileges were restored, 12 checkposts were abandoned and troops stationed there have been relocated to forts.

Unlike the past agreements however, there are some new elements in the peace deal signed in Miramshah on Tuesday.

The government has also undertaken not to launch any ground and air operation and to resolve the issue in accordance with local riwaj or customs.

Foreign militants could either leave the tribal region or live there peacefully and abide by the law of the land. This is a major concession, considering the fact that the government had been insisting all along that all foreign militants must get themselves registered.

Significantly however, barely an hour after the peace agreement had been signed, a spokesman for the militants insisted that there were no foreign militants in North Waziristan and that despite what the government had been saying it had not been able to produce any evidence of their presence in the tribal region.

He also denied that militants were crossing over into Afghanistan to carry out attacks on Afghan and coalition forces.

The denial is reminiscent of refusal by militants in the neighbouring South Waziristan Agency to admit to the presence of foreign militants there — an issue that led to the collapse of the famous Shakai agreement in 2004.

On the face of it, the agreement does look good but as they say, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. What is important is not the three-page document itself but whether the two sides would be able to implement it.

Will the foreigners leave? Unlikely. But why would they be here?

They have nowhere to go. Their countries do not accept them and worse, they will be prosecuted there. Will foreign and local militants stop their ‘Jihad’? Not likely.

The whole tangle in North and South Waziristan involves two fundamental questions; the presence of foreign militants and cross-border movement. The agreement seeks to address these questions, but whether it will help resolve the main issue remains to be seen.

Also, the militants have agreed not to set up a parallel administration or interfere in affairs of settled districts adjacent to the tribal region. But if reports from the region are any indicator, militants continue to patrol the streets of Miramshah and vigilantes in groups of five and six continue to police the area, seizing people, levying punishments and administering justice.

The government on its part has gone back on its word by lifting a ban on the display and carrying of weapons in Miramshah.

Locals fear that this would allow all sorts of elements to carry weapons and put the tenuous peace agreement at risk.

There is also an apprehension, and not entirely without foundation, that the agreement would undermine the writ of the government, the very objective of the entire jirga effort, and strengthen the militants.

For now the government has been able to achieve peace but whether it will be durable and not relapse into more chaos and lawlessness, remains to be seen. It will indeed be a daunting task for the government to ensure that there is no cross-border movement by local and foreign militants and they do not indulge in activities detrimental to peace and security.

Unless that happens, the government would continue to be under pressure from Afghanistan and the US-led coalition partners to rein in militants, prompting it to launch another operation and that may result in the unravelling of the agreement.