Negotiating with the enemy

Published: February 2, 2013
The writer is a PhD in conflict studies and an independent security analyst. He has also taught at the University of Central Lancashire, UK

The writer is a PhD in conflict studies and an independent security analyst. He has also taught at the University of Central Lancashire, UK

The recent spate of news about negotiating with Taliban militants after the US pullout from Afghanistan, and also in the context of Pakistan, raises several issues to be tackled, not the least within the paradigm of negotiations with insurgents. This comes under the ambit of counter-insurgency or COIN, which first needs to be understood. Counter-insurgency (COIN) is the coordinated set of civilian and military activities that tackle insurgency, with non-military means often being a primary element of COIN regimes. COIN requires broad understanding and experience of several disciplines, along with a minute comprehension of the specific situation on the ground. COIN regimes should have the ability to ‘push’ the insurgency away from the contested area, simultaneously ‘pulling’ the target populations towards the state in terms of loyalty, nationalism or patriotism.

It needs to be remembered that, historically, COIN campaigns have almost always been more costly, more protracted and more difficult than initially anticipated at the planning stage. Taking the case of Pakistan, for instance, this probably prompted the Pakistani state to opt for negotiated settlements instead of going for an outright military solution. It must be said that military operations in Pakistani terrorism-ridden areas are not easy due to the ideological and physical proximity with Afghanistan, entrenched kinship, tribal bonds and hostile terrain. The Pakistani Taliban also use a combination of territorial control and flexible guerrilla tactics, which means that while holding a swathe of territory, they can also send roving groups of guerrillas to secure areas further afield. On the other hand, the garrisoned Pakistani security forces have to fight for every inch of ground gained and cannot emulate the Taliban’s terror tactics.

It does seem from previous trend lines though, that just negotiation and peace with the militants will not produce a coherent counter-insurgency policy in Pakistan in the long term, although it will bring relief to a beleaguered local population in the short term. From a strategic perspective, the militants have obtained quite a lot of advantages from the many ‘agreements’ between the militants and government forces. Such agreements tended to occur when the military, after initial difficulties, began to regain lost ground. Talks, usually brokered by third parties, such as jirgas, tended to be proposed when operations were reaching their peak offensive capabilities. They seemed to be a way to break the impasse since the government needed to address the huge difficulties faced by local populations as a result of operations.

The government, pressurised by the refugees created in the wake of operations, sought solace in the many peace deals conducted. However, many ‘agreements’ that seemed to be heading toward success were interrupted midway along their trend lines. It is more advisable for the state to engage in divide and rule tactics between the insurgents and their host communities rather than among the insurgents themselves as has hitherto been attempted. The Taliban insurgency gets its strength from the cementing bond of anti-Americanism and alienation from mainstream society. According to the American Small Wars Manual: ‘‘every means should be employed to convince such people of the altruistic intention of (the) government.” This implies that effective counter-insurgency also requires the delivery of essential services, economic development and improved governance. This requires unflinching resolve, which is sometimes easier said than done. In the long run, a quick fix would be cheaper than attempting socio-economic reforms on a large scale; perhaps, that approach explains Pakistan’s tendency to attempt trade-offs.

However, a concrete socio-economic uplift of the affected areas will pay greater dividends in the long term even if trade-offs are pertinent in the short to medium term. It remains to be seen how Pakistan, with its spiralling inflation and economic crunch, will attempt to handle this dimension of COIN.

Published in The Express Tribune, February 3rd, 2013.

Facebook Conversations

Reader Comments (5)

  • Feb 2, 2013 - 11:17PM

    Another brilliant essay from M. Zaidi. Following line sums up the focus of the op-ed: “It is more advisable for the state to engage in divide and rule tactics between the insurgents and their host communities rather than among the insurgents themselves as has hitherto been attempted.”

    If I remember it correctly, that is what IK has been saying as well, and that is: let’s get locals on our side and isolate militant groups and only then, we will be able to win the war.


  • Insaan
    Feb 3, 2013 - 6:54AM

    There are good and bad talibans. Pakistan will go back to playing Taliban to gain stretgic depth in Afghanistan. Negotiating is not going to work. If Afghanistan wants to survive it will need to strike back at Pakistan with its non-State actors.


  • Eddie dex
    Feb 3, 2013 - 1:25PM

    The TTP have announced they will only negotiate if narwaz, Hassan and others are involved…I guess we now know who the TTP sympathizers are and who the enemy within Pakistan really is …


  • polwala
    Feb 3, 2013 - 1:35PM

    The author’s line of thinking is flawed. You negotiate in a political situation like the “long March” situation and improve things.
    When you ask for negotiations with an illegal armed group that is wreaking havoc on society then you are proposing to them that ” we recognise you as a power to be reckoned with and are prepared to give concessions in return for a promise to behave differently. We will do nothing to weaken your real strength”.
    This will bring a very short term peace. They will be back to their old bad ways under one pretext or the other making escalatory demands. It is no different to blackmail.
    The state must hit them hard and first break their back like Sri Lanka did to LTTE. May be then, they will ask for negotiations to be let off lightly.
    These armed groups have one ultimate aim; to capture the state and run it according to their ‘No Constitution’. People’s lives will become a few individuals’ whim. These groups will not relent, they have to be defeated at any cost else Pakistan will metamophose into a Somali like country with a map to match.


  • Enlightened
    Feb 3, 2013 - 8:40PM

    The author has spoken of COIN but Pak military strangely follow out of box tactics of evacuating civil population before mounting operation in any region and its full advantage is taken by the militants who along with civil population leave the area to fight another day. Military enters the area of operation which is already cleared of militants as they had already left for the safe havens. Military occupies the area, declares victory leaving the area to be defended by weak local defence militia and asks population to come back who do and so does the militants as well continuing their killing spree. Such faulty operations have not served any useful purpose since Taliban fighting infrastructure has always remained intact and they are attacking both civilian and military targets with vengeance killing thousands so far. Pakistan can hold negotiations with Taliban at the position of strength but this is not the right time till military eliminate their top leadership and their cadre.


More in Opinion