Pablo Emilio Escobar Gaviria was a Columbian drug lord and the founder of Medellin Cartel. He was a street criminal, who dropped out of the university and engaged in the activities like car theft, selling illegal cigarettes, and bogus lottery tickets. He got prominence when he worked with the drug smugglers and founded a Medellin Cartel in 1976. Escobar is considered among the wealthiest criminals in history whose net worth was over 30 billion US dollars. During the 70s, he created cocaine smuggling routes to the US and by the 80s he was smuggling over 100 metric tons of cocaine to the US.
Because of his wealth and influence over the political parties, he became a candidate for an alternate member of the Chamber of Representative and got elected. As a representative, he completed some infrastructure projects, built houses and playgrounds, which further made him popular among the people of Medellin. However, the Columbian government, because of the US pressure, forced him to resign. When the minister, who was a strong critic of Escobar, was assassinated, allegedly on his order, Escobar’s political carrier ended.
The presidential elections were scheduled for 1990. Louis Galen was a presidential candidate and leading in the polls. Galen openly supported the extradition treaty with the US, which was strongly opposed by the cartels. He was assassinated during his campaign meeting, allegedly by the hitman hired by Escobar and other cartels. Escobar tried to make a deal with the new candidate Ceaser Gaviria, who was leading in the poll, that if he let the cartels work without interruption, he will not have any trouble. Gaviria refused.
On November 27, 1989, Avianca flight 203, which was going to Cali from Bogota, exploded in the air. The candidate Gaviria was scheduled to be on the plane, but he changed his plan and did not embark on the plane. Investigations revealed that Escobar’s Medellin Cartel conducted the bombing to settle the scores with the Columbian government, which thwarted his political carrier, and to remove Gaviria, who was also supportive of fighting against the cartels and the extradition treaty. The assassination attempts further increased the popularity of Gaviria and made Escobar a pariah in the eyes of the common people.
The Columbian drug king’s story teaches some lessons. The most important is that the state must neutralize the terror groups instead of making peace deals with them
Gaviria won the elections and became the 28th president of Columbia. He began to crack down on the cartels but because of Escobar’s potent influence and social network, his government could not achieve any significant success. Escobar launched a bomb blasts campaign in the government buildings, busy streets, and other sensitive places, and when the government did not agree with his proposals, he kidnapped high-profile people and broadcast the mercy appeals on the media. When the war became too intense, and the president became under pressure from his political allies and the media, the president had to accept the “peace proposal” offered by the Medellin Cartel. According to the proposal, the jail was built at the place and specifications of Escobar’s choice, with no police within four miles of the jail. Escobar surrendered ceremoniously and moved there with his cartel to complete his five-year sentence.
The jail, La Catedral, was in reality Escobar’s operations headquarter with offices, swimming pool, football field, pool tables, recreation games, and cafeteria. Escobar ran his narco-empire and even brought his opponents, killed them, and burned their corpses in the special furnace inside La Catedral. The government was handicapped to do anything. However, there was an uneasy calm and peace on the streets, but everyone could sense the fear among the masses.
When the news of killings came out of La Catedral, the government sent a special force to arrest Escobar. The cartel retaliated fiercely to the special force attack and helped Escobar escape from the jail. The government announced that they will use full state power to fight against him and the president ordered the Search Block — a joint police and army unit headed by the army colonel, which was specifically created to track down Medellín leaders — to kill Escobar. The Cali Cartel — a rival of Escobar — saw the opportunity and helped the government destroy Medellin Cartel and monopolize the entire business. They assassinated top members of the Medellin Cartel with secret help from the government.
The negotiated settlement must be the second step, not the first. The core of terror must be neutralized first, and that cannot be achieved without military force. It’s proven repeatedly in Pakistan
By 1993, the Medellin Cartel was wiped out and Escobar had to hide inside the city with one of his loyalists. The Search Block found his whereabouts and surrounded him. He tried to escape but got shot and badly wounded. That time, one of the young operatives of Search Block came closer and shot him in the head and chanted “long live Columbia” and one era of terror ended. Once taking care of Medellin Cartel and Pablo Escobar, the government, with the help of the US, slowly neutralized the other cartels as well and in June 1995, the founder and the CEO of Cali Cartel, and other associates, were arrested. They were extradited to the US in 2006.
The Columbian drug king’s story teaches some lessons. The most important lesson is that the state must neutralize the terror groups instead of making peace deals with them. As long as they carry weapons and have the will and the bandwidth to harm the country, they will take millions hostage as their stooges. The negotiated settlement must be the second step, not the first. The core of terror must be neutralized first, and that cannot be achieved without military force. It’s proven repeatedly in Pakistan.
After PM Imran Khan’s revelation on Turkish TV about secret negotiations with the Tahreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), some retired generals, media persons, and former diplomats are praising PM Khan for demonstrating the “gestures of peace” with the Taliban and calling it an incentive for the TTP to begin a dialogue with Pakistan and then abandon their terrorist activities.
Some sections of media and so-called “defense analysts” (who are never seen analyzing defense-related issues other than delivering lectures about politics) are building up a narrative, that the day, negotiations with TTP will begin, an era of peace and tranquility will emerge.
All agreements bore no fruit because the Taliban refused to banish or even help register the foreign militants and refused to cease their cross-border activities of attacking NATO troops
Let’s look at the previous peace agreements to understand the complexities of the situation and let’s find what brought peace in Pakistan—negotiations with terrorists or the decisive military actions against them.
The most discussed peace agreements were a) the verbal Shakai Peace Agreement with Taliban leader Nek Mohammed and tribal elders of Ahmadzai Wazir tribe in South Waziristan on April 24, 2004, b) the Sararogha Agreement — again verbal — with militant commander Baitullah Mehsud and tribal elders of the Mehsud tribe in South Waziristan on Feb. 7, 2005, and c) the North Waziristan (written) Agreement with Taliban commander, Hafiz Gul Bahadur and tribal elders of the Uthmanzai Wazir in Sep. 2006.
From Oct. 2003 until April 2004, Pakistan security forces launched operations, but those operations faced stiff resistance from the Nek Mohammed-led Taliban. During this time, Al-Qaeda slowly moved to the North Waziristan Agency while the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) stayed with Nek and fought alongside him against Pakistan Army.
On April 24, 2004, a verbal agreement, popularly known as Shakai Peace Agreement, was reached between the Pakistan Army and Nek Mohammed, leader of Taliban and Ahmedzai Wazir tribe. Because of its verbal nature, this agreement fell through. Just after the agreement, Nek Mohammed reiterated his ties with Al-Qaeda. Within days, both sides — Nek Mohammed and Pakistan security forces — start blaming each other for violating the agreement. In June, the US predator drone strike killed Nek Mohammed and his comrades ran away. The same year in October, Nek’s truant associates revived the Shakai agreement after fresh negotiations between them and the government.
In Feb 2005, the Pakistan government reached another agreement in Sararogha with the tribal elders of the Mehsud tribe and the Mehsud Taliban militants led by Baitullah Mehsud. Foreign militants like Tahir Yuldashev, leader of IMU, were taking refuge in the Mehsud tribe of South Waziristan after the military operations against the Ahmedzai Wazir tribe. Military action was launched against the Mehsud faction before the agreement was reached. In the agreement, the Pakistan government refused to grant amnesty to Abdullah Mehsud because he abducted two Chinese engineers who were working on the Gomalzam Dam project. The engineer was killed when the military launched a rescue operation, while the other engineer was recovered unharmed. Abdullah Mehsud refused to agree with the Sararogha Agreement and he escaped to Afghanistan’s Zabul province to fight NATO troops. Later, in 2007, he killed himself with a hand grenade when the Pakistan security forces raided his house in the Zhob district of Baluchistan.
Does PM Khan not see that peace in Pakistan was achieved after the fierce military actions, not after “negotiated settlements”? Or does his statement reflect the attempt by the “hybrid regime” to build the credibility of the Afghan Taliban?
The North Waziristan Agency assumes tremendous significance in former FATA because most of the Al-Qaeda and other foreign militant groups were based in NWA and operated from there. Miranshah was the headquarter where the Taliban Shura, which comprises practically all the “active” militant factions, used to meet. Most of the cross-border infiltrations to Khost Province of Afghanistan used to take place from the NWA. Daur and Uthmanzai Wazir tribes were hosting Al-Qaeda and other foreign militants. In 2005, Pakistani security forces launched an operation against Al-Qaeda and other terrorist organizations linked to Al Qaeda. The operation initially started in the Shawal Valley and then it was extended to Saidgai Wazir, Dattakhel, Miranshah, and Mirali. The security forces successfully eliminated some Al-Qaida commanders, however, the local tribal elders, parliamentarian, and clerics, with the help of Ali Mohammed Jan Orakzai — a retired Lt. Gen. and the former Governor of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (then NWFP) — got involved and a ceasefire was observed. This ceasefire eventually led to the written agreement known as the North Waziristan Agreement.
All the peace agreements bore no fruit because after reaching the peace agreements, the Taliban refused to banish or even help register the foreign militants and frustrated the security agencies by totally denying foreigners’ presence in the tribal areas. Taliban also refused to cease their cross-border activities of attacking NATO troops. They continued targeting the local pro-government tribal elders, and as per the media reports, in less than two years — between 2004 to 2006 — around 200 tribal elders were murdered by the Taliban and foreign militants. The Taliban — contrary to what they agreed with the government — openly repudiated the agreements and kept on establishing parallel government; the so-called Islamic Emirates — in the SWA. They started pouring in the settled areas like Swat and tried to gain control of those areas, even after the 2006 peace agreement.
After the signing of the NW Agreement, the US, Afghanistan, and NATO commanders criticized the accord. When Gen. Musharraf visited the US days after this agreement was signed, he was questioned by the US officials and the media. General Musharraf dispatched Gen. Orakzai to the US to remove the “misunderstandings” about this agreement. Although Gen. Orakzai tried his best, this agreement could not be maintained, and it became void after one year. Taliban took this opportunity — provided to them with the so-called NW Agreement — to increase their strength and to reorganize not only in the North and South Waziristan but also in the Bajaur and Mohmand agencies. They emerged as a formidable and lethal force in the region. Analysts believe that Gen. Orakzai, as governor, failed miserably in controlling the tribal areas even after having the tribal family background. He resigned in September 2008 from the position of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (then NWFP) governor.
When Prime Minister Imran Khan says that he is for an “nonmilitary solution” he is unaware or deliberately ignoring the fact that Pakistan, after losing thousands of civilians and military personals, saw a long era of peace only after a decisive military action in the tribal belt and Swat. He is completely ignorant of the fact that several negotiated settlements with the Taliban did not deliver peace in the region. After the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, the TTP has become more encouraged and is slowly unleashing its terror reign because now they see the opportunity to achieve their ambitious goals, which were thwarted by military actions like Zarb-Azb and Radd-ul-Fasaad in Pakistan. Now for them, another window of opportunity has opened and Imran Khan is further strengthening their position by unnecessary media talks and ignorant statements.
So the question: after all the facts on the ground, is PM Khan that ignorant that he does not see that peace in Pakistan was achieved after the fierce military actions, not after “negotiated settlements”? Or does his statement reflect the attempt by the “hybrid regime” to build the credibility of the Afghan Taliban in the eyes of Pakistani masses before recognizing Taliban as Afghanistan’s legitimate government?