Give Peace a Chance? Thank but No Thanks!

Published in Daily Times on Tuesday December 13, 2011 as my weekly column BAAGHI

Pakistan’s ‘government’, it seems, is well on its way to ‘give peace a chance’ in compliance with the declaration of an unelected All-Parties Conference (APC) convened by the prime minister in September this year. The otherwise ‘hawks’ when it comes to relations with India, were all adamant to invoke John Lennon — the one from the ‘oh-so-bad-west’ — on the Taliban of Waziristan. A non-corrupt Punjabi Khan and a patriotic think-tanker succeeded in getting a lease of life for the militants continually battling with the Pakistan Army and persistently attacking the people of Pakistan and abetting attacks on the people of Afghanistan. The attempts towards ‘peace’ thus started with a new vigour, permanently sedating common as well as a basic sense of history.

And now we are told by the militants that not only are the talks underway, the government has also started taking confidence-building measures. Although denied by the government, Maulvi Faqir Mohammad, the Taliban spokesperson, has informed that 145 of Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan’s (TTP’s) prisoners have been released as a goodwill gesture. The TTP’s claim of an underway peace dialogue holds a bit of ground keeping in view a brief lull in terrorist activities by the group for a couple of weeks. The lull could, however, be the terrorist winter, or it could be a strategy by the Taliban as claimed by Omar Khalid, the Taliban commander from Mohmand Agency. As per Omar’s statement that came last Saturday, TTP has been deliberately restraining itself from fresh attacks as part of a new strategy under which they will start guerrilla attacks in Mohmand Agency.

But there are some important questions here. If the talks are indeed underway, as per Maulvi Faqir who represents the Taliban of Bajaur, why is the government refusing to acknowledge the process? If talks are not being held by the government, who is talking to the Taliban on the government’s behalf? If there are absolutely no talks going on, why are the Bajaur Taliban adamant on leaking this ‘false’ information to the media? While denying the existence of any peace talks, the government at no time has denied the release of 145 militants, or at least one did not come across any such denial. If this is true, it is a formidable piece of information, the detail of which the people of Pakistan have a right to know.

The ‘Give Peace a Chance’ group might celebrate it as a victory but it surely is a devastating setback for peace and a blow to the families of innocent victims of terrorism these 145 militants perpetrated and who are now roaming freely as per reports. One wonders why these John Lennon fans keep raving about ‘there is no military solution’ every now and then when around a dozen times formal or informal peace deals have been sealed between the militants and Pakistan Army during the last 10 years. Every time the militants went back on their word and sabotaged the peace deals. Many a time these deals were secured in order to give breathing space to the militants who re-organised and consolidated themselves during the ‘shutdown’ periods only to re-emerge with new force and more lethal activities.

The model adopted here seems to resemble what Haji Zaman may have implied to help Osama bin Laden escape from his Jalalabad compound in 2001. Haji Zaman Ghamsharik, as he was known, was an Afghan warlord who fought against the Red Army in the 1980s with around 4,000 mujahideen under his command. When the Taliban increased their control in the 1990s, he fought against them and continued his operations against the Taliban from Pakistani bases after the conquest of Kabul by the Taliban. But on complaints of the then ruling Taliban, the government of Pakistan forced Zaman to leave the country (see, we know who to oblige and when!). After 9/11 and the NATO attack on Tora Bora, Zaman came back to Afghanistan from his self-imposed exile in France and started helping the US forces in capturing al Qaeda leaders. In one of such sieges in 2001, Zaman gave his famous 24 hours ultimatum to al Qaeda and the Taliban fighters to lay down arms. The rest is history. No one from the militants laid down anything except the farce of border security on the Durand Line.

The same sequence was repeated in 2002 after the inpouring of al Qaeda, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) and the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) militants in South Waziristan. While these militants were organising themselves in South Waziristan Agency, Pakistan’s security establishment kept conducting operations in the rest of the Agencies and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, killing mostly innocents. At the end of 2002, instead of carrying out decisive strikes against these foreign militants who were being joined by local youngsters, the Pakistani establishment started ‘giving peace a chance’. Under the agreement, the locals pledged to push the foreigners out. History shows the results of this ‘peace drive’: South Waziristan became a permanent hub of foreign militants.

Another deal between the Pakistani authorities and the militants is famous as the Shakai Peace Agreement between the Ahmadzai Wazir tribe of South Waziristan, Nek Mohammad, leader of the Taliban, and Pakistan’s security forces. When the Pakistan Army insisted on signing the agreed verbal agreement, Nek Mohammad went back on his word and refused to sign it. The agreement could not survive for even a couple of months. After Nek Mohammad’s death in a predator drone strike in 2004, the subsequent leadership of the Taliban in South Waziristan pursued the implementation of the Shakai Agreement afresh. The attempt, however, dissolved in thin air in a few months.

Similar was the fate with the Sararogha Peace Agreement of 2005 with the Mehsud tribe’s elders and Mehsud Taliban faction. The agreement fell flat after Abdullah Mehsud abducted two Chinese engineers and the Pakistan Army refused to give him amnesty. The North Waziristan Peace Agreement of September 2006 was yet another attempt to achieve a ceasefire between the Taliban militants and the Pakistan Army. Brokered by the governor of the then NWFP, Lieutenant-General Ali Mohammad Jan Orakzai, the peace agreement was a written document unlike the previous futile attempts at ‘giving peace a chance’ signed by the elders of the Utmanzai Wazir and Daur tribal elders. The agreement could only be achieved with the direct intervention of Mullah Omar through his trusted lieutenant Mullah Abdullah, an aspect that the Pakistan Army continues to deny. This agreement was unilaterally ended by the Taliban who announced the end of the Waziristan Peace Agreement in July 2007 in response to the military action on Lal Masjid (Red Mosque), Islamabad. In just two days after they ended the agreement, more than 60 innocent Pakistanis, including soldiers and security officials, died in four suicide attacks in Swat, Matta, Dera Ismail Khan, etc.

What all these peace agreements achieved was a temporary hiatus in terrorist attacks on Pakistanis (which could resume any time at the whim of the Taliban leaders), and an immense opportunity for the militant organisations to consolidate and organise themselves as well as enjoying impunity and freedom. The present attempt at ‘giving peace a chance’ is just another reward to the terrorists — a sabbatical — to re-energise, at the maximum. What do the ordinary people of Pakistan get? Some fiercer and lethal attacks after the Taliban sabbatical is over. Why give ‘peace’ a chance?

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