The TTP and jirgas

If empty talks and statements could solve problems, Pakistan would have been a model of development. Disregarding the half-baked solutions given by half-baked intellectuals, the need for effective policies regarding militancy in Pakistan was first realised in October 2008. This realisation came after almost five years of full-blown insurgency and daily violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty by a foreign power.

On October 22, 2008, an in-camera joint session of the two houses of parliament was held. The session produced a 14-point document. The declaration had all the usual rhetorical words like resolve, determination, peace, national unity and sovereignty.

The document said “we need an urgent review of our national security strategy and revisiting the methodology of combating terrorism in order to restore peace and stability to Pakistan and the region through an independent foreign policy.” The declaration went on: “The challenge of militancy and extremism must be met through developing a consensus with all genuine stakeholders.” But then the declaration was assigned to the records.

Three years later, on September 29, 2011, an all-parties conference (APC) was held on the subject. The participants of the nine-hour session talked about a paradigm shift. It was agreed that a dialogue should be held with all militants, including the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan.

The APC produced a 13-point declaration. “Pakistan must initiate dialogue with a view to negotiate peace with our own people in the tribal areas and a proper mechanism for this be put in place,” the declaration read. It was left unsaid exactly who in Pakistan was going to do this. Photo opportunities were availed, pages of newspapers were filled, TV anchors had a field day and people once again started to hope for peace.

But nothing changed. Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas were the most affected. The Awami National Party, the largest party in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, continued to issue statements against the militancy.

It was after the TTP took its violence to the very core of the ANP that the party came to the conclusion that the path of conciliation was the safest. Conciliatory statements started emanating from party leaders.

So the ANP worked hard and convened an all-parties conference under its aegis on February 14, 2013. This latest APC, attended by 24 parties, produced no different results. From its following rhetoric, it appeared the ANP had no hostility towards the TTP. The TTP, however, did not seem impressed by this change of tone.

If the ANP could convene an all-parties conference, so could the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam of Maulana Fazlur Rehman (JUI-F). This is election season and both parties vie for the same turf in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. So if the ANP grabs newspaper and television headlines one day, the JUI-F is sure to outdo its rival the next day.

The Political Parties Act now extends to the tribal areas. The JUI-F feels it must be seen in a better light in the tribal areas, where it thinks it has a bigger following. It has been kind to the TTP all this while.

Barely two weeks later – on March 1, 2013 – politicians assembled at yet another all-parties conference, with the objective of bringing peace to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Fata. There was a twist in the story this time. It was decided that a grand tribal jirga must negotiate peace with the TTP.

Here we must pause for reflection. The TTP has shown scant respect for jirgas in the past and was, therefore, hardly impressed with the latest jirga idea. The TTP’s spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan said that a jirga would be a meaningless exercise without the blessings of the army. And this is correct. We need to understand the mechanics of jirgas in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Fata.

In a conflict situation, a jirga can be convened by the government to negotiate peace between two sides. This is called an official jirga. Care has to be exercised that the members of the jirga are men of standing and are neutral. They can succeed only if they gain the confidence of all parties to a dispute or conflict.

The same initiative can be taken by a qaumi jirga if the government’s effort is not successful. Participants in the qaumi jirga realise that this is an opportune moment to prevent further bloodshed. It tries to secure a ceasefire and seeks a guarantee from the parties that they will do everything to ensure peace.

Once the guns are silent, there is a pause, at times extending over months, and tempers become cooler. After the pause a tiring process of negotiations commences till an agreement is wrapped up. Solemn pledges are obtained from the parties to abide by the agreement reached.

In another scenario it can be the dominant party that sends a jirga invitation to the rival party to agree to peace. The dominant party may offer inducements like swara or some other concessions in order to receive the gains it seeks. The dominant party has achieved its goals and sees no further reason to prolong the conflict. The second party appraises its present and future position and comes up with a response.

Yet another situation may be that the weak party sues for peace and covertly approaches a jirga to safeguard its position. The jirga tries to be the well-wisher of the two parties without giving way to the position of the weak party. This is important, otherwise the dominant party will not play ball.

How does one categorise the present grand jirga sponsored by the JUI? The approach taken may not be any of the above. It may be just a futile attempt – done more for political point-scoring. In the process it may bring tremendous embarrassment to Rawalpindi if the TTP agrees to something that is not favoured by the army.

Let us presume that it is a true qaumi type jirga based on good intentions. Can this jirga go back and forth between Miram Shah and Rawalpindi to disentangle the knots? Can it take sureties from either party for future good behaviour? Who will stand as surety for either party even if an understanding is reached?

There is no place for gimmicks here. The only hope is that the party of the first part and the party of the second part realise that it is in their interest, and in the national interest, that they enter into negotiations through a structured process – first behind the scene and then openly either through intermediaries or directly – and hammer out a solution.

No party should place preconditions nor should they ask for sureties. There can be no sureties in this case. Both must rely on good faith.

The writer is a former federal secretary and author of Fundamentalism, Musharraf and the Great Double Game in North-West Pakistan.




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