Conflict, peace, diplomacy, and counter insurgency are not new to Pakistan’s political and security elite. Pakistan has managed to muddle through many crises. The complex opportunities offered to Pakistan in a post- ‘War on Terror’, and a ‘post-COVID’ scenario have given us a new chance to address conflict.
Currently, we have many options to tackle complex challenges such as the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) insurgency.
The political and security leadership must attempt to benefit from this unique opportunity. In light of the dialogue between Pakistan and the TTP leadership, facilitated by the interim government of Afghanistan, the onus of responsibility now rests with our political leadership: the Prime Minister, and the parliament.
The security leadership has conveyed that there is no military solution to TTP. The above-mentioned talks indicate that Pakistan’s security leadership has intentions of consolidating internal security. They have prepared the ground for a genuine political process. Pakistan’s security leadership has listened to people affected by conflict, reflected on the loss of lives at all sides, and understood ground realities.
The political elite must respond with a long-term vision to demonstrate and provide a guarantee of non-recurrence through genuine steps.
The announcement of cessation of hostilities is not an end. It is merely a confidence-building measure to prepare for more serious negotiations. Pakistan should reach a politically negotiated settlement and develop a solution to long-standing problems.
Since the TTP began gaining control, a traditional counterinsurgency strategy was the first response to manage violence. This was done through force, followed by signing an agreement, followed by a collapse of the process within a few days. This practice continued from 2004 until the adoption of the counter-terrorism National Action Plan in 2018.
Monetary incentives were the major motivation to calm hostility, no attention was paid to long-standing grievances or victims of violence and their loved ones. A review of publicly available agreements, the media coverage of projects to win hearts and minds, strategic communication campaigns, and the enrollment of former combatants in rehabilitation centers, appears to be a textbook case of a Weberian counterinsurgency response.
The success of a military strategy is contingent upon the implementation of legitimate and inclusive non-military initiatives, followed by processes to ensure victim-centric approaches to rehabilitation. Unfortunately, we didn’t see much evidence of military and non-military strategies working together.
This gap in the state’s response contributed to the continuation of violence and the further strengthening of TTP between 2020-2021. The absence of a coherent non-military response has strengthened the narrative presented by TTP. We have reached a stage where there are no more military solutions to TTP. Leaders must plan for a strategy where violence is no longer the preferred modality of expression.
Counterinsurgency or counter-terrorism is only one characteristic of the state’s approach to managing hostilities. It mustn’t be interpreted as a peace-building process. A genuine peace-building process is transformative in nature. It is anchored in broad-based peace constituency with rehabilitation of victims.
Even with a peace strategy in place, sometimes, force might be needed but only to the extent necessary to revert back to a non-violent track. The focus has already moved from a counterinsurgency strategy to a negotiated political settlement through a facilitated process.
Pakistan’s political elite needs to provide a unanimous strategic framework for peace. They must conduct negotiations, while grabbing low hanging fruits to improve trust, and develop a conducive environment for peaceful conflict resolution. The legitimate grievances of people must be addressed.
The strategy must reflect the evolution of peace practice since the pursuit of peace is no longer in the formal domain of a country’s political and security elite. In fact, contemporary peace processes are founded on comprehensive peace agreements. They are strengthened by multi-track negotiations and multilevel implementation processes where various stakeholders and actors, formal and informal channels, state, and non-state thought leaders play an equal and important role.
For our political elite, it is essential to consider that there is no shortcut to our national healing process after losing between 70,000 to 150,000 lives. Genuine peace-building processes demand inclusive and transparent steps for public ownership and long lasting success. A holistic peace strategy identifies political goals and a set of security objectives which indicate the desired outcome.
What traditionally was considered the role of the highest level of the political elite has turned into a complex peace-building process where community is considered essential to end violence.
Security, traditionally a primary responsibility of the state, has transformed into human security, centered around people. Security is no more limited to one state but a complex framework where a variety of actors play a significant role in supporting the society to reduce a state of insecurity.
Similarly, the approach of conflict containment has transformed into a culture of peace where reduction of violence is sought at all levels of society by developing strategic peace strategies. With an evolution in concepts and debates, the approach to resolve conflict is no longer single-pronged. Pakistan must take this opportunity and manage its internal affairs.
The prime minister and the parliamentarians must work for a unanimous national peace strategy for the first time. They have a moral obligation to demonstrate that the interim government of Afghanistan is a viable peace partner in regional peace.
The early indication that soon after cessation of hostilities, both the government and the TTP would begin negotiations to find a comprehensive solution is encouraging. However, the appointment of peace negotiators without a unanimous national peace strategy and a formal process would be a wasted opportunity.