Down memory lane: Peace talks have never been 'peaceful'

All peace deals with the Taliban have further strengthened them without achieving any long-term end to the violence.

Javed Hassan February 09, 2014
“The Romans never allowed a trouble spot to remain simply to avoid going to war over it, because they knew that wars don’t just go away, they are only postponed to someone else’s advantage.”

These wise words were spoken by Niccolò Machiavelli – the Italian historian, politician, diplomat, philosopher, humanist and writer based in Florence during the Renaissance.

According to historical documents, when the Jews revolted against the Roman Empire inspired by ‘religious fervour’, the Romans responded with an intensity rarely witnessed in ancient history. The campaign against the uprising reached its final stage in AD72 in the province of Judaea with the Romans advancing on Masada, the last bastion of resistance of the insurgency.

Against a fanatical band of 962 terrorists, the Romans deployed a crack army numbering 15,000. Army engineers assembled a giant ramp of earth and timber that rose hundreds of feet into the air. As the ramp became visible to the Jewish defenders, their zeal dampened and Masada’s walls began to crumble before the Roman siege engines. All but seven of the Jewish zealots committed ritual suicide.

And thus, the Romans, through this single act of overwhelming might, effectively subdued Jewish terrorist insurrection forever. A theatre of indomitable might was put on show for any and all who threatened Pax Romana (Latin for Roman Peace).

On the other hand, in contrast to the Roman response of disproportionate and overpowering force, the Pakistani government’s counter-insurgency strategy against the Taliban revolves around various attempts to placate the militants by entering into peace deals.

Shakai Peace Agreement – Fail

In April 2004, the Pakistani government concluded the Shakai Peace Agreement with Nek Muhammad Wazir, agreeing to release Taliban prisoners, pay compensation to Taliban families and provide money to the militants so that they could repay their debt to al Qaeda.

In exchange, Nek Muhammad agreed to surrender an assortment of Arabs, Chechens and Uzbek terrorists to the government. But before the ink could even dry on the treaty, Nek Muhammad went on an assassination spree of tribal elders who had helped negotiate the agreement. He also refused to honour the commitment to handover the foreign militants. Consequently, the government was forced to revoke the amnesty deal and the overall agreement fell apart by June of the same year.

Sararogha Peace Agreement – Fail

The same pattern was repeated in the Sararogha Peace Agreement, concluded with Baitullah Mehsud in February 2005. This one-sided deal stipulated that the government compensates militants for homes razed or damaged during military operations. In return, the militants were neither required to surrender weapons nor handover foreign militants. The agreement only required them to terminate attacks on Pakistani targets.

However, once the deal was in place and the militants had extracted funds from the government, the Taliban not only continued their attacks on the army units in South Waziristan, they also increased the frequency and intensity of the attacks.

Swat Agreement – Fail

The Swat Agreement in May 2008 followed almost the same ritual, where within days of signing the peace deal, the Taliban refused to surrender their arms as required by the agreement. Instead, they demanded the release of Taliban prisoners held by Pakistan and soon after, they started attacking government officials and installations. Moreover, the deal established their primacy over traditional tribal leaders in the Swat Valley.

Then, Fazlullah’s group of Taliban militants expanded their ambitions beyond the Swat Valley and pushed into neighbouring Buner and Shangla districts. Their advance towards Islamabad forced the government to launch a decisive military operation against Fazlullah and his terrorist band. The Swat agreement again proved counterproductive and merely allowed the Taliban to grow in strength during ‘peace’ times.

However, within a couple of months of the first full-fledged military operation against them, the Taliban and Maulana Fazlullah scampered from the Swat Valley, leaving his terrorist band in disarray, after which most of them were either arrested or killed.

Hence, peace deals with the Taliban have inevitably proven to be unsuccessful. The government has entered all such agreements from a position of weakness, thereby allowing the militants’ to extract significant concessions from the state without offering anything in return. Most such deals not only enhanced the stature of the militants but the financial compensation given to them further helped fund their operations. Peace deals, in effect, have inevitably resulted in further strengthening the terrorists without achieving any long-term cessation of violence.

This explains Rome’s eschewing any peace talks with insurgents and their determination to capture Masada, a fortress of questionable strategic value. The Roman Empire chose to direct disproportionate resources even against the most marginal of targets, not simply to get rid of the insignificant religious fanatics camped there but as a theatre of the awesome war machine to deter future insurgencies.

Here was an operation that stressed and established governmental legitimacy and the absolute writ of the empire at any cost.

It remains to be seen if the Pakistani state can learn something from the Romans.
Javed Hassan A graduate of Imperial College London and an MBA from London Business School, he is an investment banker who has worked in London, Hong Kong and Karachi. His last assignment was as CEO Institute of Capital Markets and he tweets as @javedhassan (
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necassarily reflect the views and policies of the Express Tribune.

Facebook Conversations


Anoop | 6 years ago | Reply | Recommend @Javed: Last time I checked it was the Pakistani Govt which was requesting the Taliban to sit for talks. FATA is already lost. Do you think I'm a newbie on Pakistan to not to know this? India is very poor, I have never said no. Any country which has 1/6th of the Humanity within its borders is bound to face problems. But, as your own experts concede, it is decades ahead of Pakistan. A Sikh is currently the Prime Minister, appointed by a Catholic woman, and you still stuck on the 40s record of Hindu Congress/Hindu India. Can you show me anywhere in the world where a member of a minority Religious group can become the Prime Minister or President? I challenge you. Even Gandhi and Nehru were deemed Hindu Right by your Muslim League. If such great men did not meet your satisfaction, nobody ever will. Fortunately, India is not in the business to please Pakistanis. The more things change, the more they stay the same in Pakistan.
Javed | 6 years ago | Reply | Recommend @Anoop, neither will FATA or any part of Pakistan, despite your malevolent wishes. thank God we got separated from India. And india is not that special. Its still a miserably poor country with rapist running rampant. The most unsafe place for woman in the world. Pathetically behind China. And despite making loud boasts of being secular and democratic, don't have the tolerance to allow the publication of Wendy Doniger's 'The Hindus'. India - a country full of pretensions it can never live up
Replying to X

Comments are moderated and generally will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive.

For more information, please see our Comments FAQ