On Peace-talks with militants

Talking peace with militants

 

http://jang.com.pk/thenews/Jan2013-weekly/nos-27-01-2013/pol1.htm#7
What are the chances of a dialogue between the militants and the 
government? What does it hope to achieve and how soon? These re all 
relevant questions at a time when we are so close to general election
By Tahir Ali

With the federal and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa governments as well as the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) having agreed for negotiations — albeit with some conditions — there cannot be a better time to discuss the pros and cons of this process.

What, at all, are the chances of this dialogue? What are the respective demands/conditions of both sides? What are the obstacles and how could these conflicting differences be bridged in a way that is acceptable to both the parties? What are the minimum requirements that will have to be fulfilled and the confidence-building measures that need to be taken by both the government and the TTP to create a conducive atmosphere for dialogue? Who among the Taliban should the government talk to and who should comprise the official or intermediary peace-body for negotiations? Which are the other national, regional and global stakeholders that need to be taken on board during the process? What should be the agenda of talks? Who will be the guarantors of any accord that is reached? What, are the chances of its success in bringing about peace in the volatile region? And what should be the subsequent options if the talks fail for intransigence?

Questions such as these and others need to be focussed on and discussed at length for working out a viable agenda and a conducive atmosphere for talks towards sustainable peace in the region.

The ANP Chief, Asfandyar Wali Khan, and the KP government recently said they were sincere in holding talks with the militants and that negotiations would be held before elections. However, no dialogue process has begun as yet. One hopes the talks are held and are successful in bringing about the much needed peace in the region.

Bakht Raziq, a political activist, is optimistic about the prospects of dialogue. “No problem could ever be solved by the use of power alone. To bring the war to a responsible close and for a lasting peace in the region, a political settlement is absolutely essential.”

That the provincial government has only two months left to start/complete the lengthy peace process and that the militants and the government have sharp differences of opinion has led some experts to be sceptical of the process.

Brigadier (Retd) Mehmood Shah, a security and tribal affairs’ expert, thinks the process is a non-starter and only a time-buying tactic on the part of the government. “Despite offers of talks from both sides, there is still no plan as to when, with whom and how the dialogue would be held.”

Aftab Ahmad Khan Sherpao, ex-Interior Minister and Chief of the Qaumi Watan Party, also thinks talks are hardly possible as the government has only four weeks to go. “The ANP government has been in for five years but failed to curb militancy and bring peace. Still the dialogue must be given a fair chance. With elections due shortly, the Taliban would also like to wait till the next government is installed. They had stalled attacks against the incumbent ANP-led government for four months when it came to power five years ago.”

There are other factors that show dialogue is still possible, even if a bit later. The US is holding negotiations with the Afghan Taliban. The Pakistani military establishment has changed the focus of its security doctrine from external to internal threats. Pakistan has released, and is releasing, the Afghan Taliban prisoners. It is reluctant to launch a military operation in North Waziristan (NWA) despite demands from the US.

The successors of Maulvi Nazir in NWA have vowed to continue the truce with the Pakistan Army while the TTP too has pledged to abide by it. The incumbent regime is almost at the end of its term and with general elections at hand, the militants may halt their attacks and prefer to adopt await-and-see policy till a new government is installed after elections.

Mehmood Shah opines that as dialogue with terrorists is not acceptable to the world, “the government will certainly ask the militants to accept Pakistan’s constitution, shun militancy, lay down arms and stop interference in Afghanistan before coming to the negotiating table.” They, on the other hand, would urge the release of their mates, withdrawal of army from the tribal belt, enforcement of Shariah and end to alliance with the US, says Shah.

Sherpao says though parties differ in their priorities, these can be bridged or else the differences be kept aside for the time being. “The Taliban would obviously demand the enforcement of Sharia, end of support to America, release of their prisoners, cessation of war policy in Pakistan, payment of compensation etc. They would also ask for guarantors to supervise the implementation of an accord. But these problems can be discussed and sorted out later.” The first question would be how to bring the contending parties to the negotiation table, says Sherpao.

He thinks these differences should not be made an excuse to stop or derail the negotiation process. “After all talks between the US, the Afghan government and insurgents, including the Taliban, are held despite the fact that Taliban don’t accept the Afghan constitution/government, have killed many Afghan leaders and closed girl schools.”

Some experts are of the view that Pakistani Taliban are an extension of the Afghan Taliban. So talks with the Pakistani Taliban cannot be held in isolation. The two and other regional and global elements must be taken on board.

Afghanistan president Hamid Karzai and Pakistani and American establishments still suspect each other. Each of them has its own list of enemies and friends. The friend of one is often the enemy for the other. Bridging this conflict of interest is essential. Whether the US would discontinue its drone programme inside Pakistan is still uncertain. An attack could spoil the entire peace process in no time.

All stakeholders — Pakistan, Iran, US, Afghan government and Taliban along with other groups there, TTP, political parties — of the conflict will have to be taken on board during the peace process.

The next government in Pakistan will have to own the process that begins today. For this, a national consensus between the stakeholders — political/religious parties, the security establishment, civil society — about the enemy, the ailment and the solution is needed.

“The government will have to form a peace council/ reconciliatory commission that should be acceptable to all stakeholders. This reconciliatory body would be given ‘Waak’ (authority of representing and deciding on behalf of a party in a conflict) by the sides. It will first conduct negotiations and then supervise the implementation of the agreed decisions,” says Sherpao.

To bridge the huge gap between the opposing views of the Taliban and the government, a mediator would be required. But an arbiter usually starts work on mutual request or at least upon the consent of the parties involved in a dispute. Again, an arbiter should be a neutral person or a body of people respected by all the parties concerned. He must be given authority or ‘Waak’ in Pushto. Has any Waak been given to a third party or arbitrator?

“The militants are practically divided into several groups that are separate and independent from the TTP. For example, Maulana Fazlullah-led Swat Taliban and Maulvi Faqir-led Bajaur factions are not under the operational control of TTP. Then there are sharp differences on dealing with al Qaeda, Tajik, Uzbek and other foreign militants,” states Shah.

caption

What if talks fail?

………………

Original text of the article

Chances of a dialogue between militants and government

By Tahir Ali

With the federal and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa governments as well as the Tehrik-e-Taliban PakistAAAan (TTP) having agreed for negotiations –albeit with some conditions-, there cannot be a better time to discuss the pros and cons of this process.

What are, at all, the chances of a dialogue? What are the respective demands/conditions of both the sides? What are the obstacles? How could/should these conflicting differences be bridged in a way that is acceptable to both the parties? What are the minimum requirements that will have to be fulfilled and the confidence building measures that need to be taken by both the government and the TTP to create conducive atmosphere for the dialogue? Who should be talked to and how? Who should comprise the official or intermediary peace-body for negotiations? Which are the other national, regional and global stake-holders that need to be taken on board during the process? What should be the agenda of talks? Who will be the guarantors of any accord that is reached at? What, if held, are the chances of its success to bring about peace in the volatile region? And what should be the subsequent options to curb militancy if the talks fail for intransigence?  

Questions such as these and others need to be focussed and discussed at length for working out a viable agenda and a conducive atmosphere for talks towards a sustainable peace in the region.

The ANP Chief Asfandyar Wali Khan and KP government recently said they were sincere in holding talks with the militants and that negotiations would be held before elections.

However, no dialogue process has begun as yet. One sincerely hopes that the talks would be held and would be successful in bringing about the much needed peace in the country and region.

 Bakht Raziq, a political activist, said there are lots of chances that dialogue will be held.  “No problem could ever be solved by use of power alone. To bring the war to a responsible close and for a lasting peace in the region a political settlement is absolutely essential.”

That the provincial government has only two months left with it to start/complete the lengthy peace process and that militants and government have sharp differences of opinion on the way forward has led some experts to be sceptical of the process.

Brigadier (R) Mehmood Shah, a security and tribal affairs’ expert, thinks that the process is a non-starter and only a time buying tactics on part of the government. “Despite offers of talks from both sides, there is still no plan as to when, with whom and how dialogue would be held.”

Aftab Ahmad Khan Sherpao, Ex Interior Minister and Chief of the Qaumi Watan Party, too thinks talks are hardly possible as the government has only 4 weeks to go. “The ANP government has been in for five years but failed to curb militancy and bring peace. But dialogue must be given a fair chance. With elections due shortly, Taliban would also like to wait till the next government is installed. They had also stalled attacks against the incumbent ANP-led government for four months when it came to power five years ago.”

But there are some factors that show dialogue is possible, even if a bit later. The US is holding negotiations with the Afghan Taliban. Pakistani military establishment has changed the focus of its security doctrine from external to internal threats. Pakistan has released and is releasing Afghan Taliban prisoners. It is reluctant to launch military operation in NWA despite demands from the US.  The successors of Maulvi Nazir in NWA have vowed to continue the truce with the Pakistan Army while the TTP too had pledged to abide by it. The incumbent regime is almost at the end of its term and with general elections at hand, the militants may halt their attacks and prefer to adopt wait and see till a new government is installed after elections.

Priorities of the parties

Mehmood Shah opines that as dialogue with terrorists is not acceptable to the world, “the government will certainly ask the militants to accept Pakistan’s constitution, shun militancy, lay down arms and stop interference in Afghanistan before coming to the negotiating table. But they would urge release of their mates, withdrawal of army from the tribal belt, enforcement of Shariah and end to alliance with the US,” he adds. 

Aftab Sherpao says though parties differ on their priorities’ list, these can be bridged or else differences be kept aside for the time being.

“The Taliban would obviously demand enforcement of Sharia, end to support to America, release of their prisoners, cessation of war policy in Pakistan, payment of compensation etc. They would also ask for guarantors to supervise the implementation of an accord. But these problems can be discussed and sorted out later. The first question is how to bring the contending parties to the negotiation table,” he said.

 “These differences should not be made an excuse to stop or derail the negotiation process. After all talks between US, Afghan government and insurgents including the Taliban are held despite the fact that Taliban don’t accept the Afghan constitution/government, have killed many Afghan leaders and closed girl schools. Obviously when the militants accept the writ of the state and its constitution, the problem would be over. Why would they fight the government then?”

Obstacles and hitches 

Experts say Pakistani Taliban are an extension of Afghan Taliban. So talks with the Pakistani Taliban cannot be held in isolation.  The two and other regional and global elements must be taken on board.

Afghanistan president Hamid Karzai and Pakistani and American establishment still doubt suspect each other. Each of them has its own list of enemies and friends. The friend of one is often the enemy for the other. Bridging this conflict of interest is a must.

If US would discontinue its drone programme inside Pakistan is still uncertain. An attack could spoil the entire peace process in no time.

All stake-holders –Pakistan, Iran, US, Afghan government and Taliban along with other groups there, TTP, political parties – of the conflict will have to be taken on board during peace process.

The next government in Pakistan will have to own the process tomorrow that begins today. For this national consensus between the stakeholders -political/religious parties, the security establishment, civil society – as to who is enemy, what is the ailment and what is the solution is needed which is far from there. Confusion on the friends and enemies will have to be removed.

“The government will have to form a peace council/ reconciliatory commission that should be acceptable to the stake holders. This reconciliatory body would be given Wak (authority of representing and deciding on behalf of a party in a conflict) by the sides. It will first conduct negotiations and then supervise the implementation of the agreed decisions,” says Sherpao.

To bridge the huge gap between the opposing views of Taliban and government, a mediator or arbiter between the two is needed. But an arbiter usually starts work on the mutual request or at least upon the consent of the parties involved in a dispute. Again, an arbiter should be a neutral person or body of people respected by all parties. He must be given authority or “Waak” in Pushto. Has any Waak been given to a third party or arbitrator?

 “The militants are practically divided into several groups that are separate and independent from the TTP. For example Maulana Fazlullah-led Swat Taliban and Maulvi Faqir-led Bajaur factions are not under the operational control of TTP. Then there are sharp differences on dealing with Alqaeda, Tajik, Uzbak and other foreign militants,” states Shah.

With no office for TTP still allowed or established, how and where talks would be held.

Militants will be extremely reluctant to stop cross-border attacks.

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About Tahir Ali Khan
I am an academic, freelance columnist, writer and a social worker.

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