Regardless of what the Taliban are – misguided elements, insurgents, or terrorists – the government of Pakistan has elevated their status from non-state actors to a recognized entity engaging in a dialogue with the state of Pakistan. And when the Taliban offered to host the talks and ensure protection to the negotiators, their claim to the territory they control was reinforced.
Insurgencies end in three possible outcomes – i) political autonomy, like in East Timor, South Sudan and Palestine, ii) partial or complete failure, such as in the case of the LTTE in Sri Lanka and the insurgencies in Indian Punjab and Kashmir, and iii) the insurgents are incorporated into the political system of the government, such as in El Salvador, Nepal and Chechnya. While dialogue can lead to all three outcomes, successful talks should lead to the third outcome. Insurgencies succeed in achieving territorial political autonomy by militarily means when the state they are fighting against can no longer rein them in. However, their success essentially comes by either a legal-moral claim or a political justification seen in the examples of East Timor, Palestine and South Sudan.
Terrorists may control some territories, but making a territorial claim is only a strategic move for them, because they prefer using guerilla tactics. Nihilist and anarchist by characteristic, terrorism cannot be negotiated with because dialogue in the wake of continuing violence legitimizes and prolongs that violence.
If a dialogue seeks to alienate non-state actors, it must include credible interlocutors and entail new political arrangements, such as in Northern Ireland. In the case of South Africa as well, negotiations resulted in a remarkable peace agreement. The moral worth of the African National Congress in the 1990s at least equaled the legal authority of the South African government.
[quote]The moral worth of the African National Congress at least equaled the legal authority of the South African government[/quote]
In Pakistan, the groups affiliated with Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) continue to exercise lethal violence against the citizens of Pakistan despite the ongoing dialogue. Before the May 2013 elections, the TTP carried out attacks only against specific political parties, while allowing others to campaign freely. They continued to kill innocent civilians, members of minority communities, and soldiers even after the new government assumed power. After successful drone strikes last year including the one that killed their leader Hakimullah Mehsud left the TTP fragmented and desperate, the government only needed to be a little stronger in its resolve to re-establish its writ and restore law and order in the areas controlled by the Taliban.
Instead, it opted for an unconditional dialogue with the groups. In principle, this is tantamount to assuming that a moral or legal equation exists between the TTP and the government of Pakistan – a position that would be hard to defend because the state is assigned to protect the life and liberty of the citizens, whereas the TTP has credentials that start and end with human rights violations spanning over several years and thousands of deaths.
The Taliban’s choice of representatives to negotiate on their behalf shows that they are reading Pakistani politics very well and can make political moves to maneuver support for themselves and marginalize political forces that oppose them. The government must review its stance by looking at what they might lose and what has already been sacrificed.
If the political cost of the dialogue surpasses any gains for the state of Pakistan, and the TTP gains credibility and manages to make logistic advances, the negotiations may cost us the time and opportunity that we may not have after 2014.
Peter Jacob is a human rights activist studying international human rights, law and public policy at the University of Notre Dame, Indiana.