National and International Issues

Engaging Violent Non-state Actors in Peace Negotiations

Historically, the use of force was considered the only viable option to safeguard and retain territorial integrity, however, peace processes have sidelined such options in the contemporary world. Offering a peaceful alternative, negotiations are proving to be more effective for governments to engage non-state actors for solutions.

In the past, the question of democracies negotiating with terrorist organizations would have left a sour note. However, in the contemporary arena, the most effective method available is to hold table talks with the said violent non-state actors. It not only bypasses the use of force and its ultimate problems, but it promotes the softer side of dealing with threats. Moreover, rather than enforcing the state’s writ through might, negotiations are a far more viable and successful option in such scenarios. 
An example of state success through negotiations is the Northern Ireland Peace Process which ultimately concluded in the form of the Good Friday Agreement/Belfast Agreement in 1998. It was primarily due to the difference in wanting to be governed between the Unionists and Nationalists. After a period of heightened violence, the Irish Republican Army (IRA) carried out the deadliest attacks against Britain and Northern Ireland; the IRA was known for targeting the British Army. However, soon afterwards, the peace process was initiated upon the realization that the involved parties were ultimately reaching a stalemate after continued violence and spread of fear among the population.
A 30-year conflict was brought to an end after two years of talks in the shape of the Good Friday Agreement. Realizing the productive prospects of negotiation, the agreement underlined the establishment of a new government that would liaison power sharing between the Unionists and Nationalists through the Northern Ireland Assembly. Additionally, it would also allow the facilitation of consultation between the concerned governments and application of law. The agreement was mainly a success due to the timely realization that violence would not result in any effective solution but would only prolong the stalemate process.
Similarly, since the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan after the Doha Peace Process 2020, the U.S. and Taliban are once again involved in a round of talks in Doha to chalk out a framework for the entity in control of Afghanistan. The main premise of the table talks is to ensure that the Taliban adhere to respecting the human rights of the Afghan people, to formulate an inclusive government and not to let Afghan soil be used for any terrorist activities. Whereas, the Taliban have wished for international recognition along with unfreezing their assets that are held up by the U.S. Federal Reserve.

A failure in the past, however, doesn’t mean one should not try again and keep themselves riveted in the past. Dialogue is the only tested available option to permanently settle or resolve long-drawn violent conflicts everywhere.

Pakistan has played a crucial role within this set of negotiations again as they wish for the same demands to be adhered to by the Taliban in order to ensure regional security, as reiterated by the National Security Advisor of Pakistan, Moeed Yusuf. Apart from being involved in talks between the U.S. and Taliban, Pakistan has also initiated talks with the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), brokered by the Afghan Taliban. Amir Khan Muttaqi, Afghan Taliban’s interim Foreign Minister, in a public talk held at the Institute of Strategic Studies, Islamabad, discussed the role of the Afghan Taliban as being instrumental for bringing both sides under one roof for face-to-face interactions. On the other hand, in an interview on BBC’s HARDtalk, Moeed Yusuf has highlighted the role of Taliban as mediators within this nexus due to the TTP leadership being settled in Afghanistan and using its soil to hamper Pakistan’s internal security. 
The talks between the two actors resulted in the announcement of a month long ceasefire. However, in December, TTP brought an end to the agreement on the claims of not respecting the decisions reached during the initial rounds of negotiations.
About the talks with TTP, the government had been sending signals all along the way, from the President to the Foreign Minister and later the Prime Minister himself when he chose an international channel to reveal that talks were ongoing with TTP. The Prime Minister had then stated that those who wanted to lay down arms and live as peaceful citizens will be offered amnesty.
Engaging the violent terrorist groups in peace negotiations is neither a new phenomenon nor is the Pakistani state reaching out to the extremist elements for the first time for offering concessions in return for laying down arms, shunning their violent activities and living as peaceful citizens.
However, engaging TTP is not an ordinary development in the emerging scenario, particularly in the neighboring Afghanistan. For almost two decades, the group has inflicted severe harm to the entire nation, having been involved in scores of deadly terrorist activities including the horrific and ruthless attack on the Army Public School in Peshawar, where hundreds of innocent students were butchered and burnt alive to death.
Before discussing in the Parliamentary Committee on National Security and official confirmation by the government, the development had already led to a sort of debate over negotiating peace with a group and its allies who are responsible for the murder of thousands of Pakistani citizens, who are opposed to our ways of life, are anti-democratic and have known links with international terror syndicates.
From 2002 to 2013, a number of agreements were made with different militant groups by different governments of various political parties. Of all the peace agreements made, the most important one, the ‘Swat Agreement’, was signed between the government and militants in Swat, Malakand Division. Unfortunately, the agreement ended in a total failure. These agreements signed in the past provide us the best reading materials for understanding their failures. 
A failure in the past, however, doesn’t mean one should not try again and keep themselves riveted in the past. Dialogue is the only tested available option to permanently settle or resolve long-drawn violent conflicts everywhere. In the case of TTP, if the extremist group has shown its willingness for peace; it is an opportunity which shouldn’t be thrown away.
Since Operation Zarb-e-Azb in 2014, the group is hiding in Afghanistan, using Afghan soil for terrorist attacks. However, when signing the peace agreement with the U.S. in Qatar’s capital, Doha in February 2020, the Taliban leadership promised that once in control of the country, they will stop the terrorists from using Afghan soil against its neighbors, including Pakistan. When Taliban took over in August of this year, militant attacks on Pakistani security forces and citizens in bordering areas increased phenomenally from the Afghan soil. 
In the instant dialogue process, it was reported that Sirajuddin Haqqani, the deputy head of Afghan Taliban and Interior Minister in the Taliban regime, played a leading role in engaging TTP leadership in face-to-face talks with the Pakistani authorities.
Pakistan has achieved unprecedented success in the war against terrorism and established the state’s writ, a feat no other country has been able to accomplish, but to neutralize the remaining threats, it is more prudent to opt for talks and negotiations in return for peace and in the larger interest of the region. The state has shown inclination for a peaceful resolution to the problem of terrorism, but has also underlined the point that it is only the state of Pakistan that can exercise the prerogative to take action against the threats. No doubt that restraint shall be duly exercised when offering concessions or allowances to the group which is not a monolithic entity as scores of militant groups tend to operate under TTP’s banner. It is to be seen how much influence the shura (leadership council) exercises over various groups operating in different areas.

The writer is associated with a private TV channel in Islamabad. 
E-mail: [email protected]

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