Negotiating the Peace Talks

Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N) led government in Pakistan decided to hold talks with the outlawed Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan. In this regard a new committee has been formed after Prime Minister’s consultation with Pakistan Tehrkke-e-Insaf Chairmen Imran Khan and party leadership. The government acknowledged that the abandoned four member committee laid the groundwork for direct engagement with the TTP while the newly formed committee is empowered to take decisions. The composition of the committee somehow supports government’s claim as the members have deep knowledge of FATA   and would be better equipped to deal with the emerging situations. The presence of PTI member in the committee shows government’s resolve to take the concerned parties on board on the issue of dialogue.

Earlier, to build consensus regarding future security and stability of the state, the government after assuming power convened All Parties Conference to decide the future course of action to deal with the Taliban. Though the government has the mandate to negotiate with Taliban but it is also the responsibility of government to protect the lives and property of people and get rid of menace of terrorism. The process of negotiations is considered as a mean and mechanism to achieve the objective of peace and security in the state by dismantling the terrorist network that has been operating in the state and targeting the people.

Its not the first time that the dialogue process is initiated but there has been five to six peace deals with militant organizations in FATA so far, and most of these agreements had consensus on some points such as observing the ceasefire and maintenance of law and order as a collective responsibility of both parties, but the issues relating to release of prisoners, drone strikes, putting down arms by militants, and future of foreigners had always stalled the dialogue process.   One important factor that has been neglected earlier was the time factor that is crucial in the process of negotiations. Timely decisions and timely implementation of these decisions should be the prerequisite of the dialogue otherwise any terrorist attack will reduce the public support for peace talks and the sincerity of government would be questioned by considering their offer just as a political ploy as has been the case after the killing of Hakimullah Mehsud in a drone strike.

The dialogue process with TTP have entered in its crucial and defining phase but it is yet to see which demands will be made by TTP and whether these will be accepted or not. These talks have raised serious questions about the future of TTP under the constitution of Pakistan. Article 256 of the 1973 constitution declares such private military organizations as illegal. Despite their illegal status, there are many militant outfits that threaten security and stability of the state. On the issue of release of prisoners, Prime Minister in his statement during meeting with Ulema Council has made it clear that Taliban who are not involved in militancy will be released but no demand against constitution or law will be met.

Another important element that can impact the dialogue process is the situation in Afghanistan. The spillover effects of Afghan conflict on FATA are immense. The war on terror, US-Afghanistan relations and Pakistan’s relations with Afghanistan and US has remained significant in defining the federal-FATA relations. The post-2014 forces withdrawal scenario in Afghanistan also poses challenges for security and stability of FATA in particular and of Pakistan in general.

The previous government’s three “D” policy i.e. Deterrence; Development and Dialogue, has not produced any results due to its focus on deterrence and negligence of the two other components, development and dialogue. Along with initiating the dialogue process the government should take steps to revive political bodies in FATA, to introduce economic packages, rehabilitate the displaced people and to introduce de-radicalization programmes. Development should be the prerequisite of dialogue because developmental projects not only empower the people but also help to reduce militancy in the region.

Much depends on the success of dialogue process, both parties should have clarity of objectives and they should articulate their objectives well while remaining within the constitutional framework of Pakistan. The success of talks can lead to improved law and order situation that may harness the economic activity in the state whereas their failure may unleash a new wave of instability and insecurity.

The article was carried by Pakistan Observer on March 25, 2014. The views expressed belongs to author and do not reflect the policy of the Institute.

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