Peace through the unthinkable? —Shaukat Qadir

Can Pakistan do more? Yes, I think Pakistan can do more to ensure peace, even through negotiations; but it will take extraordinary political sagacity and courage

I have been hammering home the fact that Pakistan has no option but to negotiate with the insurgent tribes in the NWFP, and that the use of force against individuals programmed to seek death in the service of Allah is futile.

Perhaps it is time to view the situation from another angle.

Over the past couple of months it has become increasingly obvious that, dealing from a position of weakness, the Pakistani government can, to begin with, only seek peace within its own territory, and that the incursions into Afghan territory by the three tribes straddling the Pak-Afghan border (Mehsuds, Wazirs, and Mohmands) are likely to continue, at least for some time.

It has also become obvious that the American forces are not prepared to wait for Pakistan to reach the stage where ‘peace deals’, which are already viewed with suspicion, can extend to Afghanistan as well. Consequently, US/NATO/ISAF retaliatory incursions are also likely to continue. Pakistan can only protest, but cannot afford to defend these tribes against retaliatory incursions which, in all fairness, have some justification.

We appear to have reached an impasse where some members of the insurgent tribes feel compelled to assist their Afghan brethren in their struggle to liberate their country from foreign occupation. They find it inconsistent with being a citizen of Pakistan that Pakistani security forces cannot defend them against aggression by foreign troops within Pakistani territory.

On the other hand, Pakistan is not only reluctant to militarily take on a super power, it also realises that American strikes are retaliatory and with some, minimal as it may be, justification.

Viewed from this angle, the question arises: can Pakistan do more? Perhaps. If it is prepared to do the hitherto unthinkable!

After four unsuccessful attempts to conquer Afghanistan in the nineteenth century, the British finally gave up and agreed to a temporary border, the Durand Line, which exists to date. Since this was drawn in accordance with military considerations rather than ethnic ones, these three tribes were left straddling the Durand Line, and never accepted it as an international boundary.

The British also realised that these tribes would be difficult to control and, what is more, if Afghanistan served as a buffer between British India and Tsarist Russia, these tribes could serve as a buffer with Afghanistan.

Thus came into being the ‘Tribal Areas’ where the writ of the British Raj did not extend and where criminals were frequently sheltered either because they enjoyed the tribal ‘hospitality’ of a friend or paid for the protection of a tribe.

It was a vast, inhospitable tract of land, undeveloped, and with no economic infrastructure except for breeding goats, some agriculture, and smuggling, inhabited by a harsh but friendly people governed strictly by their tribal customs. ‘Political agents’ acting on behalf of the Raj attempted to win their goodwill through grants, the extensive use of bribes and the occasional threat of incursions.

Upon the partition of India in 1947, this ‘poisoned chalice’ was the Raj’s legacy to Pakistan. The newly formed Pakistani government continued with the British system and, while there was the odd whisper of returning these tribes to Afghanistan, the subject was publicly taboo.

Neither did successive Pakistani governments make any effort to absorb these tribes within the country, despite numerous occasions — which I can vouch for — when such a venture might have been welcomed by these tribes.

Meanwhile the Mehsuds and Wazirs joined the security forces in large numbers, serving loyally and courageously; however, since the insurrection began, their numbers in the security forces have steadily dwindled to virtually nothing.

Now, it is perhaps time to take the bull by the horns and rekindle that taboo whisper — the unthinkable — to strengthen the Pakistani government’s bargaining position!

During negotiations with these insurgent tribes, the Pakistani government could suggest something like this: ‘since you (the tribes) feel compelled to support your Afghan brethren in their struggle for freedom from the invaders and, in doing so, not only provide a safe haven to foreigners but cross the border to fight American forces, the Pakistan government, despite its sympathy for you, cannot protect you against foreign aggression which is obviously undertaken in retaliation to your actions.

‘Therefore, if you feel compelled to fight in Afghanistan, we offer to liberate you from your allegiance to Pakistan and permit you to become citizens of Afghanistan; Pakistani security forces will be pulled out of your area and will be located at the beginning of your tribal belt. We can however, promise that if, on the other hand, you cease to provide a safe haven to foreigners and desist from your cross border incursions, Pakistani forces will protect you against any foreign aggression, including American forces, and assure you equal citizenship’.

It will take great political determination to make such an offer and mean it. But if made, the vast and silent majority of these tribes is more than likely to find its voice, contest the militants, and reach an amicable decision to retain all the perks that the Pakistani government provides to its tribal citizens.

None of them would be prepared to join the anarchical Afghanistan, where US forces can safely eliminate them. It is perhaps the only bargaining chip that can strengthen the government’s position. Pakistan cannot lose with this offer, whatever the outcome. And it will set a precedent that will make potential terrorists think twice.

So can Pakistan do more? Yes, I think Pakistan can do more to ensure peace, even through negotiations; but it will take extraordinary political sagacity and courage.

The author is a retired brigadier. He is also former vice president and founder of the Islamabad Policy Research Institute (IPRI). This is a modified version of the original written for The National

Source: Daily Times, 28/6/2008

Leave a Reply