Whither Peace Com­mit­tees?

While the govern­ment talks peace with the Tal­iban, in­no­cent people con­tinue to die.

Southasia - - CONTENTS - By Shahzad Chaudhry

If the govern­ment seeks to barter peace through ac­com­mo­da­tion and di­a­logue,

it must do so on its own.

When the govern­ment de­cided to take for­ward the di­a­logue process with the Tal­iban, it re­struc­tured the com­po­si­tion of its peace com­mit­tees and also con­sid­ered, quite loudly, the need for in­clud­ing a se­nior mem­ber from the mil­i­tary as a part of the di­a­logue com­mit­tee. Nor­mally, this wouldn’t have been the govern­ment po­si­tion given that this govern­ment in par­tic­u­lar has been per­sis­tently en­deav­or­ing and claim­ing more ef­fec­tive civil­ian con­trol over the mil­i­tary.

Yet, the thought found greater res­o­nance with ev­ery pass­ing mo­ment, reach­ing a crescendo which al­most sug­gested that the mat­ter was a done deal. It was not.

If there is one thing that all who hold power must know, it is that even power has lim­its. The COAS met his Corps Com­man­ders and his Prin­ci­pal Staff Of­fi­cers and their com­bined wis­dom was that the army must stay out of the busi­ness of di­a­logue, which any­way was a po­lit­i­cal ef­fort. The army would, how­ever, be on the standby to as­sist with any mat­ter that the com­mit­tee might need help with. The govern­ment agreed. How­ever, it can be sur­mised that there would be a lav­ish in­tel­li­gence sup­port to the com­mit­tee as it thrashed out the more sub­stan­tive is­sues with the Tal­iban Com­mit­tee.

Con­sider this. The mem­bers of the orig­i­nal com­mit­tee – per­sons from the me­dia, a for­mer mil­i­tary ma­jor and a scion of a re­li­gious fam­ily – were all con­sid­ered an­o­dyne; good people with­out much ef­fect and in­flu­ence. The Tal­iban must have thought that with this kind of an op­pos­ing in­ter­locu­tion there wasn’t much hope to talk sub­stance. The for­mer com­mit­tee, on the other hand, felt that given the likely na­ture of the talks, re­flected in the three is­sues that were dis­cussed, only the army could give a fi­nal ver­dict. In­clu­sion of the army

in the com­mit­tee at that time would have made a sig­nif­i­cant dif­fer­ence. It is equally likely that given the notso-lauda­tory press that the com­mit­tee was re­ceiv­ing, its mem­bers found the less-than-muted wish of the Tal­iban to have a more in­flu­en­tial govern­ment com­mit­tee an op­por­tune mo­ment to bow out and save them­selves from fur­ther em­bar­rass­ment.

The three is­sues that found men­tion dur­ing the ini­tial phase of the talks in­cluded: one, set­ting free the Tal­iban pris­on­ers – these were deemed to be with the army and hence their re­lease could have only been pos­si­ble with the army’s con­cur­rence. This par­tic­u­lar con­di­tion has since mor­phed into a more doable re­lease of the non­com­bat­ants. Two, com­pen­sa­tion to the ‘people’ of FATA who have lost their rel­a­tives and home and hearth in the mil­i­tary op­er­a­tions with these groups. This is a po­lit­i­cal de­ci­sion and will need to be dealt with at that level. And fi­nally, the with­drawal of the army from those ar­eas of North and South Waziris­tan that are home to many of the Tal­iban.

When you give some­one a whole lot of money, re­lease their fight­ing cadres from your cus­tody and then with­draw your own troops from an area that you have beaten the other side out of, what you get is the other side now con­trol­ling the ar­eas that it had lost ear­lier with added strengths of more troops re­leased from your cus­tody and sig­nif­i­cant fi­nan­cial sup­port gained in com­pen­sa­tion for the losses that they had borne when start­ing an in­sur­gency against the state. This may not have a name as yet as a phe­nom­e­non, but it should be called the Cir­cu­lar Er­ror of Stu­pid­ity. Let’s call it CES from now on.

The army would not have liked its name to be added to the list of those who be­came a part of this CES. The govern­ment, un­aware that such a thing even ex­isted, would have been equally ill-in­formed about its con­se­quences. How­ever, it knew that a di­a­logue could not suc­ceed with­out ‘give’ and ‘take’. What it was to ‘take’ was pretty clear – peace at all costs. What it was to ‘give’, how­ever, gave it much greater worry. The govern­ment did not want to ‘give’ alone; it hoped to have the army on the sign­ing sheet when it bartered peace.

Philo­soph­i­cally, the ap­proach to the peace is­sue is con­tra­dic­tory. The state hasn’t lost, but is bar­ter­ing for peace. The army, on the other hand, is meant to ‘win’ peace – un­less it has lost the war in which case it can­not win peace and must then agree to ‘find­ing’ peace through other means. In this case, the po­lit­i­cal lead­er­ship will barter for peace to make up for the in­ad­e­quacy of the army. In the process of ask­ing the army to sit on the com­mit­tee, ‘bar­ter­ing’ for peace would ac­tu­ally mean that the army has in­deed al­ready lost; which is not the case. Hence the army chose out.

By opt­ing to stay out, the army sug­gests that it be af­forded an op­por­tu­nity to lose first – which can only come through a war or an oper­a­tion – and then the govern­ment would in­deed be within its right to barter for peace. Or, if the govern­ment shies away from a war, or seeks to barter peace through ac­com­mo­da­tion and di­a­logue, it must do so on its own. The dia­lec­tic may seem com­pli­cated but re­flects the re­al­i­ties as they stand. It also ex­plains that the di­a­logue for peace in the man­ner that the govern­ment seems to be pur­su­ing does not stand to rea­son and, there­fore, seems per­plex­ing to most.

On the pre­con­di­tion of the re­lease of the non-com­bat­ants, the army has been cat­e­gor­i­cal: none ex­ist. How­ever, if there are some who can be iden­ti­fied by the Tal­iban, the army will con­sider if no se­ri­ous charges against them re­main. One feels there is rea­son­able chance to progress on this point if at all there are any non-com­bat­ants. Some com­men­ta­tors with more in­ti­mate knowl­edge now agree that there was a pos­si­bil­ity that some people from the Swat oper­a­tion may have been held in 2009, but are un­likely to be still in any kind of cus­tody; es­pe­cially chil­dren and women.

Ask­ing the army to va­cate ar­eas where it has won its con­trol and es­tab­lished, in­ter alia, the govern­ment’s writ can­not be a rea­son­able de­mand for the fol­low­ing rea­son: no one va­cates an area won by its force un­less there is suf­fi­cient com­pen­satory rea­son to do so – which in this case is the Tal­iban shed­ding arms and sub­mit­ting them­selves to the le­gal pro­cesses of the state of Pak­istan. There should also be suf­fi­cient de­ter­rent mea­sures in place to keep a check on any re­course to their bad ways. With­out any such as­sur­ance, hand­ing ar­eas back to the Tal­iban is akin to grant­ing them the ge­o­graph­i­cal base that they have been en­deav­or­ing to cre­ate for their move­ment.

Un­der such du­bi­ous con­di­tions, it is un­likely that the di­a­logue process will give us a durable end-state. One of the sides must con­cede and move away from its averred gains. If the state com­pro­mises, it loses con­sid­er­ably in the longer run. Again, will the Tal­iban give up on their ide­al­ism or the op­por­tu­nity to gain, es­pe­cially when the Afghanistan chap­ter is yet to find a clo­sure? The pos­si­bil­i­ties are end­less and the army may just be right to hedge. The writer is a re­tired Air Vice Mar­shal of the Pak­istan Air Force and served as its Deputy Chief of Staff.

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