Thursday, September 26, 2013

Negotiations without a Red Line

Zaresh and Samreen, two bright students, were awarded scholarships to All Saints Church, Peshawar, after passing their intermediate exams from Saddar Convent. Their dreams came to an abrupt end on Sunday morning when they were blown apart along with scores of other parishioners. The church was the target of a suicide attack which left 81 dead and over 120 injured, one of the deadliest attacks ever on the Christian community in Pakistan.

The Jundullah wing of the Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility.

The attack casts serious doubts on resolving any issues with the Taliban through negotiations and begs the question: will the Taliban ever halt their attacks without a clear Red Line drawn by the government of Pakistan?

A Taliban spokesman said: “They are the enemies of Islam, therefore we target them. We will continue our attacks on non-Muslims on Pakistani land.”

Recently held All Parties Conference (APC) passed a resolution by the representatives of the main coalition and opposition parties asking the government to "initiate dialogue" with Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).

“We repose full confidence in (the) efforts of the Prime Minister in this behalf and call upon the federal government to initiate the dialogue with all stakeholders”  the resolution said.

Few days after the APC,  Maj. Gen. Sanaullah, Lt. Col. Touseef and Sepoy Imran embraced Shahadat (martyrdom) when their vehicle hit a planted bomb (IED) in the Upper Dir district of northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.

Proudly, the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) accepted responsibility for the attack.

PTI chairman Imran Khan, who was quick to condemn the US drone strike that killed the Taliban leader Wali-ur-Rehman, was silent after the attack on the  All Saints Church and the army convoy.  Imran Khan believes that these recent attacks are a “conspiracy against peace talks” He emphasizes that the Taliban are not the real enemy of Pakistan and the process of negotiations with them should continue.

Imran khan also asked the PML-N government to allow Pakistani Taliban to open offices in Pakistan.

On the other hand, liberal political parties in the province of Sindh, namely MQM, ANP, JUIF and PPP,  jointly issued a resolution condemning the barbaric suicide attack and called for action against the perpetrators.

Negotiations and peace pacts are not new terms for the Taliban.  The first pact between Government and the militants in South Waziristan was in 2004 followed by second and third peace deals in 2005 and 2006, respectively, in North Waziristan. All of these truces did not have a substantial effect in reducing bloodshed. The latter two deals were officially broken in August 2007. In 2008 government also made a peace agreement in Sawat with Maulana Fazlullah. The ANP government agreed to implement the Shari`a-based Nizam-e-Adl regulation in Swat. However, agreements failed in a month

Non-state actors such as rebels, warlords or militia groups do not have the same level of experience in negotiations that their government counterparts do. As a result, that weaker party may not understand the structure, pace and process of mediation, which may result in a failure of confidence in the peace initiative.
All Parties Conference (APC) failed to address key ingredient of Negotiation which resulted in continued attacks on civilians and the military,.

Drawing a “Red line” is an effective solution for many conflicts around the world.  Recently we have seen such examples in Syria, Afghanistan and Myanmar.

APC should have clearly spelled out that if “Any attack on civilian or military personals by TTP or their affiliated groups during the negotiation will be considered a violation and will result in a full scale military offense”. Setting this precondition would have forced to the TTP to halt their attacks and convinced their affiliates to stop their activities.

If governments still want to give peace and stakeholders another chance then the government has to define who will participate in negotiations, what issues are on or off the negotiations, what is an appropriate venue, and, importantly, define deadlines, and red lines otherwise future peace deals/Negotiations might end up as previous pacts/Negotiations.

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