Wednesday, July 30, 2008

How peace deals in NWFP/FATA help only militants

How peace deals help only militants
The News, July 31, 2008
Sayed G B Shah Bokhari

A very dangerous trend has taken root among some elected representatives, hailing from constituencies adjacent to FATA. For the sake of short-term gain and their personal glory, these people are actively involved in brokering so-called peace deals between the government and militants. All this does is give much-needed respite to the militants, enabling them to re-group and re-organise themselves. This respite is also crucial from the militants' point of view because in most cases they would not otherwise be able to fight for long periods of time against the might of the government's security forces.

Also, the behaviour and role of these legislators before the law and order situation takes a turn for the worse also needs to be scrutinized. For instance, as the situation begins to get out of hand, these people's representatives remain silent spectators and do nothing to stop it from worsening. They swing into action only when the situation turns so grave that the government is compelled to use the military option. The question that obviously comes to mind is that why convene a jirgas only when an operation is going on against the militants? Surely, the only side that will benefit from that, especially if the operation is going reasonably successfully, is the militants.

Public representatives need to realize that during such an operation it is usually the case that some security forces personnel may lose their lives and a larger number may become disabled. Also, the number of young widows and orphaned children continues to swell with each passing operation. So from the soldier's point of view, why should be he risk his life and everything to achieve something that is immediately given up once a peace accord is signed?

I wrote about the Hangu operation recently but need to elaborate on its winding up in some detail. It began on July 9 and after some time the military had driven around 400-odd militants out of the area, forcing them to take shelter in neighbouring North Waziristan and Orakzai agencies. However, despite this weak position, they employed the clever trick of giving a warning to the ANP government to wind up the operation by or face retaliation. And what did the NWFP government do? It caved in and asked the army to wind up the operation within a day the warning was given.

The next day a grand jirga was called and a ceasefire agreement duly signed. Though its terms have not been made public, a member of the jirga revealed that the government's first priority was to get 29 people still held hostage by the Taliban released in exchange for the release of three of the seven militants (including presumably Rafiuddin, said to be Baitullah Mehsud's close aide) arrested by the police in Hangu (which led to the militants laying siege to a police station). As usual, the army would then withdraw and the Taliban would give an 'assurance' that they would not challenge the writ of the government again. However, it is unclear whether any monitoring mechanism will be put in place to ensure that the Taliban abide by the terms of the agreement. Also, the release of even a single, let alone three, militants hardly makes sense given that it was over this matter that the operation had been initiated in the first place.

In any case, the sincerity, or lack thereof, of the militants was shown soon. On July 26, armed men kidnapped the brother of the Hangu district nazim, who ironically was the most enthusiastic member of the jirga which had brokered the so-called peace deal. Also, unknown person attacked the residence in Kohat of the SHO who in Hangu had arrested the seven militants.

If agreements in Wana or Swat are to any guide, it is likely that the agreement in Hangu will end up helping only the Taliban.

The writer is a retired colonel based in

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