Risks involved in peace agreements in NWFP and tribal areas

Many controversies have arisen about finalization of peace agreements between the government and the militants. They are being perceived as a panacea for ending insurgency on the one hand while on the other they are termed as sell outs. Tribal areas have a long history of agreements, which were first initiated by the British as a method of tribal control. The British were astute to realize like the Mogul emperor Aurangzeb before them, that military force alone was not enough to control tribes. The federal government has begun the process of negotiating a peace agreement with the Tehriq e Taliban (TeT) in South Waziristan. There are certain important reflections on this matter which need consideration.

Let us first quickly review the past. Less than a month after the annexation of Punjab by the British in 1849, they recognized the importance of the Adam Khel Afridis and made an agreement with them to keep the Kohat Pass open. The Afridis were to be paid a subsidy of Rs. 5,700 annually in return. A basic principle was established; that for every service a subsidy was to be paid. If violations occurred, it was the subsidy that was confiscated. Latter, many more agreements followed. What was the structure of such agreements?

An examination of such agreements indicates the presence of certain minimum conditions. Firstly they should involve the tribes only. Secondly, they must be in simple and unambiguous language. Thirdly, they must clearly specify the terms fourthly there must be a clear definition of what constituted a violation and lastly the penalty in financial terms that was to be levied for a violation.

However, many of these conditions were not met, when the military negotiated the Shakai agreement of 2004 with the South Waziristan militants. For instance, this agreement was between the government and the Taliban and not the tribe. Thus, the first essential condition was absent. Secondly, the difficulty was that while an agreement is enforceable against a tribe, it cannot be implemented against militants since they are not a tribe. The military thus made the militants superior to the tribe! This destroyed the political system of tribal administration based on collective responsibility from which Waziristan has not yet recovered.

This mistake was again repeated in the North Waziristan agreement of Sept 2006, which was signed between the government and the Taliban and had the same drawbacks as the Shakai agreement. It is hoped that any future agreement should not suffer from the same weakness.

            Another important issue to recognize is that the conflict raging in FATA and NWFP has an important external aspect; this relates to the consequences of such agreements on peace in Afghanistan and the world at large.

            Therefore, for any peace agreement to succeed, two other strategic conditions must be met. Firstly, that it is genuinely aimed at bringing peace and is not driven by expediency. Secondly, that it should not result in expanding belligerency in Afghanistan. If it fails to achieve these two necessary conditions, then it cannot be a peace agreement but appeasement.

            Earlier this month, the NWFP government signed a peace agreement with the TNSM, which is a religious movement in Malakand division, where TNSM is demanding the implementation of Shariat. In the agreement, the TNSM promised to abandon violence and to propagate its views peacefully. It also condemned the recent militant violence in Swat. Although, the agreement was signed by the TNSM, yet its fighting rank and file, led by Maulvi Fazlullah has condemned it! There is a danger that this agreement will wither away without having accomplished much.

            The NWFP government has thus opened itself to criticism for failing to include an enforcement clause based on indemnities as well as the absence of any mechanism through which the agreement can be monitored and enforced.

On the other hand the proposed agreement with TeT of Baitullah Masud, is in a totally different category. Firstly, this agreement though not yet finalized, is the responsibility of the federal government as it relates to tribal areas. Secondly, it is not understood how the government can sign an agreement with TeT, when it is not a tribe but an armed organization. Thirdly, TeT is signing the agreement in South Waziristan. How will it for example be effective in Mohmand agency, which is different from South Waziristan? How will it be monitored by the federal government in NWFP, where TeT is also active? If the government signs the agreement with the Mahsud tribe it will not be with the TeT, who could ignore it and continue to fight. There are thus so many technical bottlenecks in the signing of an agreement with TeT that it is unlikely to materialize.

But euphoric Taliban are already claiming victory. They state that under the terms of this draft agreement with TeT, the military will withdraw from FATA, the imprisoned Taliban will be released and the government will award compensation for losses suffered by TeT members. TeT also claims that the draft agreement did not prevent them from Jihad in Afghanistan! If such an agreement is negotiated then it is a victory for TeT indeed. The last assertion about continuing the Jihad in Afghanistan is a cause of worry.

            When Pakistan sent the military into FATA in 2002, it was a fatal mistake. This move increased the battle worthiness of the Taliban and turned it into an armed political movement like the Maoists in Nepal. At the same time, US operations in Iraq and action against Jihadis internationally attracted the Al-Qaeda, Uzbeks and Chechens into FATA and NWFP, which further aggravated the situation.   

            If TeT is successful in obtaining an agreement of its liking, then there will be an increase in the area under their effective control. What will that mean? We are already seeing their rapidly increasing influence in the Mohmand and Khyber agencies, particularly due to the addition of former Kashmiri Mujahideen in their ranks. Both these tribal areas lie on the periphery of the provincial capital Peshawar, where life has already become insecure. The security system has practically disappeared; only a few days ago, the Taliban executed kidnappers in Mohmand and furthermore they have warned the political agent to remove the security posts protecting the road, or they would demolish them!

Due to the increase in crime of kidnapping, the Taliban activity has received popular support from the vast majority of the poor. Is this a repeat of the Mullah Omar phenomenon in Kandahar? I am not sure that it is. However, one needs to quickly revive the executive authority of the province in the districts, which has been severely weakened by amendments to the constitution made under the Legal Framework Order; the ability of the province to regulate matters barely exists!  

            The authority of the state has declined because of the absence of a mechanism protecting the province’s turf at the district and tehsil level. This was previously provided by the magistracy. Secondly, by removal of the magisterial structure, a big regulatory gap was created which has now been filled by gangs and armed militias. The Indo-Pak system of custodian control by executive magistrates was a time tested structure; India still has it. We in Pakistan abolished it! That is yet another reason why the Pakistani state is weaker today. This area needs immediate capacity building.

            While drafting any peace agreement we must remain aware of the risks indicated in this discussion. If agreements bring peace they are welcome. If agreements surrender state authority, then they should be avoided. Secondly, we have a responsibility towards enhancing security of Afghanistan and internationally to the extent possible. We must not lose sight of this responsibility. 

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