Mar 3, 2009

Swat deal -- what next?

By Saba Gul Khattak
The provincial government has reached a temporary political settlement in Swat, which has provided a respite. However, the present lull in violence does not mean that peace has returned to Swat. In fact, the militant groups continue with a combination of kidnappings and negotiations, and the people of Swat remain apprehensive about the fragile peace. Although there are numerous valid criticisms and misgivings about the proposed Nizam-e-Adl, at this point we urgently need to debate practical steps to bring meaningful peace. Therefore, two key questions are: In the short term, how can the present lull in violence be used strategically to prevent things deteriorating further? And, in the long term, how can peace be made viable?One does not know the labyrinthine ways in which the main actors--i.e., the provincial government, the military, the Pakistani and foreign intelligence agencies and militant groups--play their games. However, it appears that the Taliban groups are not the ideologically driven invincible force that they are portrayed to be. They seem to be mercenaries, probably acting at the behest of agencies, as they have reportedly agreed to indefinite ceasefire and the peace deal in lieu of Rs480 million from a special president's fund. If this is indeed the case, then critical spaces exist for pro-people negotiations between the military, political leadership, and intelligence agencies regarding the future. Finding the niches from which to argue for democratic arrangements is key. If the government considers the current peace deal as an opportunity, it must first regain administrative control over Swat to ensure security and stability. This includes a consensus with the military. The provincial government must pursue its election promises of peace with support from the military and chart a holistic implementation plan for eliminating militancy in the province, not only in Swat. Otherwise, like the multi-headed hydra, militancy shall keep resurfacing. To do so is not easy, as the confidence of state institutions has eroded. Therefore, as a second step in tandem with political moves, the provincial government must implement key decisions to restore the confidence of those who serve in these institutions. The police and military personnel, especially at the middle and lower end of the hierarchy, need assurance that their lives are valued; that they are not pawns in a larger game. Giving compensation alone (though better than nothing) is inadequate as it implies that token money to the bereaved families entitles the government to forget, and deliver the same fate to others. Third, at the political level, the government must rely upon elected representatives at different levels. We must remember that the people of Swat were involved neither in provoking the conflict nor stalling it. Even now, MNAs and MPAs are excluded from negotiations and decisions and local-government representatives have become a lost tribe. The representatives, both women and men, have a stake in the success of the peace process, hence the government can count on them. Specifically, the ANP will have to overcome its reservations about the local-government system (viewed as weakening provincial government powers), and work with local-government representatives. Granted that the current crisis have paralysed the local-government system system, local-government representatives, local communities and households can be contacted and given responsibilities in a systematic manner. For example, instead of distribution of 30,000 rifles among people upon the recommendation of the local SHO, local-government representatives can be contacted. In principle, the government must depend upon elected representatives who can reach the hearts of people. There are still ANP leaders in Swat like Afzal Khan Lala whose determination to resist the Taliban inspires confidence and admiration. However, not every leader is an Afzal Khan Lala. Therefore, in the short term, experts can brief local-government representatives about measures for effectively ensuring peace in their communities with solid backing from the government. In the medium term, targeted programmes and trainings on successful experiences of conflict resolution, conflict prevention and peace-building should be planned for elected representatives and community leaders. The use of the mass media, especially the radio, would be key. Although some politicians and analysts suggest the creation of lashkars, this may be amount to laying down the blueprint of what happened in Afghanistan: the emergence of local militias. They would ultimately threaten the government's power instead of being its allies. Thus, building community strengths through democratically elected leaders is vital. The process may be messy but will ultimately yield results.A fourth aspect is the demand for accountability through a fair and transparent process. Many governments have used accountability for settling political scores--but this time the government must actually deliver the promised justice to all those who have been killed and wounded, or lost their homes, properties and livelihoods. There should be no blanket forgiveness for any militant group and criminal gangs operating in Swat. Fifth, the government must take the issue of weaponisation and disarmament seriously. Although it may not be in a position to make the militants give up their arms at present, this does not mean that this goal be forgotten. Instead, this goal can be pursued in earnestness as a longer-term strategy and be part of political agreements. The future of Swat is important not only for the people of Swat but also all Pakistanis as it signals the future relationship of the state with its people. If the federal and provincial governments wish to enforce their writ and control and pursue peace through the principles of non-violence, they must depend upon democratic and just processes that include people and respect their wishes. Simultaneously, both must translate their vision of peace into a concrete strategy.

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