By Aryaman Bhatnagar
Claims and reports have surfaced regarding renewed peace talks between the Pakistani government and the Tehrik-i-Talliban (TTP). This begs the question how did past peace agreements fare out? And what lessons can be learnt from their failures?
A Bleak History of Peace Deals
The experience of the Pakistani government with peace deals has been highly unpromising so far. Of the 13 peace treaties signed between the state and various militant groups, only two (with North Waziristan groups led by Gul Bahadar and Mullah Nazir) remain intact. Most of these agreements were quite similar as far as the provisions were concerned. The militants agreed to halt attacks on state targets, not harbour or support foreign militants and disallow cross-border attacks from their territories. In return, the government agreed to pardon a number of key militant leaders, release prisoners and withdraw the army from their territories.
Since the militants were freed from the constant harassment of military operations due to the ceasefires that came into effect, these agreements provided the militants with breathing space and an opportunity to regroup and reorganize themselves, which allowed their further entrenchment. Moreover, the militants never abided by the terms of the agreement, especially when it came to halting violence or evicting foreign militants. As a result, renewal of military operations became imminent in almost every case, but this faced far stiffer challenges given the militant’s strengthened position.
Weak Bargaining Power
Most of the deals so far have been negotiated by the government from a position of weakness. The agreements were essentially face saving measures intended to limit the conflict zone from expanding and to provide temporary relief for the military forces fighting in the region. It was only the failure of the state to control the militant groups, which led them to accept virtually all their demands at a great cost.
Another reason for the failure of the peace talks was the presence of foreigners among the TTP, who continue to play an important role in persuading the TTP to breach the agreements. According to Khuram Iqbal (Daily Times, 25 November 2011), the foreign militants have no stake in a peace process as a militancy-free tribal area can put their survival at risk and thus, look for a reason to keep the pot boiling.
The Lessons Learnt
A number of lessons can be learnt from the failures of the past peace agreements. The most important lesson is that if the state negotiates from a weaker position, it will never be able to break the back of the militancy or impose its demands upon the militants strictly. The balance between the militants and the state, in recent years, has shifted in favour of the latter due to the steady decline of the TTP marked by a weak and divided command structure, dwindling funds and erosion of the support base. A continuation of the state’s ‘divide-and-conquer’ strategy-military campaigns against some factions and peace talks with other factions- that has long been employed against the militants will help in keeping the balance in favour of the state. This strategy has been very important for the splintering of the TTP into much smaller factions and can help in causing further dissension among the militants. If negotiations take place from a superior vantage point with continued pressure on the militants the state would be in a much better position than it was earlier.
Another important lesson concerns the nature of the demands made by the state from the militants. For peace talks with the TTP to be successful, it is important to first reduce the influence and the presence of foreign militants among them. The eviction of foreigners is also important to allay the international accusation of duplicity and being a safe haven for al Qaeda operatives. The drone attacks borne of Pakistan’s inability to deal with the foreign militants have done much to further erode the legitimacy of the state in Pakistan’s border areas. Similarly, although it is important to insist upon the militants to surrender their arms in order to reduce the military challenge posed by them, it is critical to factor in the local tribal traditions, whereby, the militants would be allowed to hold on to some arms. Without first reaching an agreement on this crucial point, it would be unlikely that there will be any major breakthrough in the talks between the two sides.
Finally, in order to ensure the durability of the peace agreement, Pakistan would have to exert greater pressure on the Americans to halt their drone programme. Public support for the state in these areas tends to increase when it stands up to America and decreases when it is perceived to be an ally of the foreigners against its own. Moreover, this further weakens the militants by robbing them of a powerful emotive call to arms.
Pakistan’s bleak history of peace agreements with the militants should not dissuade them from engaging in further negotiations. By factoring in the lessons learnt from past failures the state may learn to engage with them successfully.
Research Intern, IPCS
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