The All Parties Conference has decided to initiate dialogue with its own people to negotiate peace in the tribal areas. No state should use force against its own subjects if the issue can be resolved through dialogue. However, unfortunately, peace agreements, enacted with tribal and militants, did not work in the past.
A bit of recent background is in order. From November 2001, following Afghanistan’s invasion by the Americans, and till March 2002, foreigners entered Waziristan in large numbers. Their local tribal facilitators were identified by the political administration and were asked to expel the foreigners. The facilitators, however, did not oblige and instead absconded. The following month, negotiations were held with the elders of the Ahmadzai Wazir tribe and that is when the target killing of prominent maliks by the terrorists began. The tribe agreed to support the use of force against the terrorists and raids on suspected terrorist hideouts were conducted that April.
A few tribals from Waziristan had been crossing the border and fighting with the Taliban against the Northern Alliance. Apart from them, Pakistani jihadis, particularly the Harkatul Mujahideen and the local jihadi tribals, offered these foreigners — mostly members of al Qaeda, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) and the Turkistan Islamic Movement — a support system. Initially, most of them were taken by their local facilitators to different cities. But after a few months they started moving back to South Waziristan and by end 2002 the agency had become al Qaeda’s headquarters. Unfortunately, the state did not play its role of protecting its citizens, and in due course of time the tribals had no choice but to accept the rule of the Taliban.
However, raids against al Qaeda and the Taliban continued in other agencies and settled districts, and more than 400 terrorists and their facilitators were detained from Fata and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. Pakistan was hence thrust into a situation that it had never experienced before. Dialogue was chosen as the preferred option. A number of IMU foot-soldiers were inclined to surrender as long as their security was guaranteed and the Shakai Agreement of 2004 had a clause which allowed them to be registered so that they could be accommodated as refugees and given shelter and food. However, at the last moment, under pressure from the Afghan Taliban, al Qaeda and the IMU leadership, Nek Muhammad refused to sign the agreement.
The next agreement was with Baitullah Mehsud, in Febuary 2005.The agreement lasted for a few months and was used by Baitullah to consolidate his ruthless rule. Yet another agreement was signed in September 2006 with the militants of North Waziristan. One clause, about not crossing the border and conducting terrorist activities against coalitions forces, was common in all such deals. The militants were also asked to expel foreigners from the Agency, and in case they were not expelled, they would have to live as peaceful citizens. The terrorists of al Qaeda took full advantage of this clause. They came out of hiding and started roaming around openly in Mir Ali Bazar. And instead of crossing the border from North Waziristan, they would continue their cross-border incursions from the adjacent Kurram Agency. In 2008, another agreement was signed with the Mehsud tribe, again for the expulsion of foreigners from their area, but it failed because Baitullah had become too powerful by then. In Bajaur too there were peace negotiations and these only ended in strengthening the Taliban of that agency so much that they took control of most of it.
What needs to be done now is that a jirga of the Wazir, Dawar, Saigi and Kharseen tribes of North Waziristan should be convened by the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa governor. The tribe should be given a reasonable period of time to expel all foreign and local militants from their territory. In case they fail, targeted operations, based on reliable intelligence should be conducted in the agency. This is more in the interest of Pakistan than America — for the simple reason that securing North Waziristan will deny space to terrorists, dilute their capabilities, and is likely to weaken the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan, and its allied jihadi and sectarian outfits.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 7th, 2011.