Negotiating With Militants

Leaders of almost all political and religious organisations met last week at the All Parties Conference convened by Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani to discuss the situation arising out of the allegations levelled by the US against Pakistan’s armed forces and its intelligence agency, the ISI. The conference had a one-point agenda: national security in the aftermath of security challenges emerging from outside the country.
At the end of the conference a 13-point communiqué was issued that, inter alia, recommended holding negotiation with the militants who are up in arms against Pakistan. This point was specifically added at the eleventh hour by Imran Khan, backed by religious parties who have always shown a soft corner towards this group.
The thirteenth point states that the government of Pakistan should hold negotiations with the militants. However, this is a delicate and complex issue which needs in-depth discussions by the stakeholders including the army and the ISI before any overtures towards the extremists are made.
Let us study the fate of peace-treaties drawn between the GOP and the militants in the past.
In South Waziristan a peace agreement was signed between the army and the militant commander Nek Mohammad at Shakal on April 24, 2004. It had to be scrapped within a month because the condition of driving out foreigners from the area was not honoured by the commander. On February 7, 2005, a fresh peace agreement was signed by the TTP chief Baitullah Mehsud at Sararogha in South Waziristan, as a result of which troops were pulled out of the area. However, the agreement had to be abandoned because the Taliban violated its terms by continuing to push their fighters across the Durand Line to attack the coalition army in Afghanistan. After which the Pakistan army had to be redeployed in South Waziristan.
The third peace agreement was signed between the local Taliban and the political administration at Miranshah on September 5, 2006 but drew extreme criticism internationally especially from the US. Though peace prevailed at very high cost, it proved advantageous for the militants. It provided breathing space to the hard pressed Taliban to regroup and emerge as an even stronger force. They ran a parallel administration in the area, completely undermining the authority of the government appointed political agent.
When the government endeavoured to restore its writ the cat-and-mouse game between the army and the local commanders began. In Swat the ANP-led government bent backwards to appease the Fazlullah-led militants and drew a peace agreement that wholeheartedly favoured the wishes of the commander. Nonetheless, the peace overtures were considered a weakness of the KPK government and a day after the signing Fazlullah’s fighters broke the pact by forcefully entering the neighbouring district Dir. The government had no option but to deploy the army and launch a military action in Swat that worked well and holds good even today.
The Gilani government started work on a three-D policy – dialogue, development and deterrence – while dealing with the dissidents. However, offers for negotiation failed and peace did not prevail in the region, thus hampering the process of development in the strife-stricken tribal area.
The only option left for the government was of ‘deterrence’, which is being implemented through the armed forces. And have successfully contained the militants to the tribal areas.
The militants’ operational and tactical skills of attacking sensitive installations in Pakistan, reflects that the militants are enhancing their operational capabilities. This demands that the armed forces adopt counterterrorism measures that commensurate new challenges.
One of the cardinal principles of fighting insurgency is that the armed forces should exert pressure against their activities and maintain a momentum to tire them to a point of surrender. Another principal to remember is that insurgency is not time-bound; the party that has more stamina wins. Leaders like Imran Khan need to exercise patients and also back the efforts of the law enforcement agencies.
It is often said that America has failed to control Afghanistan through military action. However, I would disagree and say America has achieved its objective in Afghanistan through military action. Uncle Sam’s mission in Afghanistan was not to defend a foreign land but to ensure that the homeland, America, remained safe. And not a single explosion has been heard anywhere in the US ever since the American troops landed in Afghanistan.