Peace deals elsewhere -DAWN

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THE state is talking to the TTP for a deal and its critics are being told such deals have happened the world over and the Northern Ireland peace accord called the Good Friday Agreement is among the examples being cited.

The Good Friday Agreement signed in 1998 ended the decades’ long conflict in which the British forces and their Protestant ‘unionist/loyalist’ paramilitary allies were arrayed against the pro-unification Catholic Provisional Irish Republican Army committed to ending British rule on any part of Ireland.

The second example cited would be of the Basque separatist group ETA which strived for over four decades for the creation of an independent homeland in northern Spain and south-eastern France but their military/terror activities were restricted to Spain.

While IRA’s campaign enjoyed huge support in the Northern Ireland Catholic community and was triggered by years of discrimination, ETA’s support after Franco’s exit started to dwindle and the group announced a number of ceasefires over the years.

Pakistan can learn from global examples of deals with militant groups.

Franco’s dictatorial rule where all power flowed from him and his small coterie in Madrid fuelled the separatist movement in the Basque Country that straddles the Spain-France border as even their language dating back centuries was banned from the public sphere. So much so that schools could not teach Basque.

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With Franco’s exit in the mid-1970s, a more relaxed and democratic order replacing the dictatorship led to falling support for militant activities but even during its worst time ETA’s popular backing remained at between 12 to 20 per cent.

The major blow to ETA came in the changing of a Franco-era French law in the 1980s that did not allow extradition to Spain of those charged with crimes there as free trials were impossible then. Now ETA members could be extradited to Spain and were. This triggered an internal ETA debate on abandoning its violent campaign.

Finally, negotiations ordered by the government of socialist prime minister José Luis Zapatero with the moderate element of the political leadership of the ETA in his first term in office starting in 2004 isolated the hardliners and the group announced a total and ‘ultimate’ ceasefire in 2011, a month before the prime minister left the government.

In many decades of ETA violence the total number of dead stood at some 800. Mostly these were security officials and ETA members. The ETA bombing campaign in mainland Spain never targeted civilians as such as ‘coded’ (pre-agreed codes between ETA and the security forces) warnings were used which enabled the police to evacuate the targeted buildings or sites to avert civilian casualties.

In one of the gravest incidents in 1987, 21 people were killed in Hipercor supermarket bombing in Barcelona which ETA maintained it had issued a coded warning for but the police failed to evacuate shoppers. The police said the warning came too late.

The IRA more or less followed the same pattern. In the Northern Ireland Troubles over seven decades, some 3,000 people lost their lives but the vast majority of these victims were mostly paramilitaries belonging to rival majority Protestant unionist/loyalist groups on the one hand and republican/nationalist Catholic IRA members on the other.

There were, of course, a smaller number of casualties among the security forces. The dead on either side also included those adjudged ‘traitors’ or informants by the different paramilitary groups and who had been executed.

IRA had a coded warning system in place like the ETA to avoid civilian casualties. One of the most lethal IRA bombing on the mainland was when the Tory Party Annual Conference in 1984 was targeted in a Brighton hotel in an attempt to assassinate prime minister Margaret Thatcher.

The peace deals with both these terror groups included a verified decommissioning of weapons that was certified by impartial, neutral observers. Sinn Fein, IRA’s political arm, to this day enjoys huge support among the Catholic community in Northern Ireland and has been part of the elected government after the Good Friday Agreement.

In contrast to these two groups which were officially classified as terrorist entities and mostly avoided civilian casualties, the two main South Asian terrorist entities TTP in Pakistan and the LTTE massacred civilians in thousands over the years of their violent campaigns.

Unlike the TTP, the LTTE did have legitimate political grievances after facing discrimination by the majority Sinhalese community for years but even when given a chance to negotiate a peaceful end to the conflict, its leader Prabhakaran chose a violent final chapter for himself and thousands of his diehard followers.

The Sri Lankan conflict saw some 100,000 people dead, mostly civilians but this number included 27,000 LTTE personnel including women and child soldiers, who died either fighting Colombo’s army overwhelmingly in the northern Jaffna peninsula or as suicide bombers all over the country.

In the end, the conflict ended after the Sri Lankan military overwhelmed the LTTE but this win was marred by documented cases of officially sanctioned rape, torture, imprisonment and an officially acknowledged 20,000 Tamils missing presumed dead.

The indiscriminate bloody bombing campaign all over Pakistan, in addition to the killing spree of the TTP in the erstwhile tribal areas, needs no reminding as it is a recent experience. The TTP did not and does not have a modicum of legitimate cause for its murderous campaign apart from an extremist, violent ideology.

Therefore, any negotiations with it are fraught with peril as their only political agenda is to enforce their brand of Sharia rule in not just the former tribal areas but all of Pakistan. And one is still to hear of any decommissioning of weapons, while bizarrely hearing of the amnesty proposal first.

Any conflict that can be peacefully ended ought to be welcomed. But if there are legitimate fears regarding the extremist and violent track record that has seen 80,000 casualties in Pakistan these need to be fully addressed. Any concession made without verifiable decommissioning of weapons cannot be acceptable. Neither can a blanket amnesty.

The writer is a former editor of Dawn.