Double-edged sword of 'surrendered' Taliban in Waziristan
Fear has engulfed South and North Waziristan tribal districts with a rampant influx of militants in the area in recent months. Packs of Taliban fighters have been sneaking into Pakistan’s northwestern region from hideouts just across the Afghan border. Pakistani officials and local residents worry that the American withdrawal from Afghanistan following a peace deal signed by the US and Taliban in February will further embolden the Pakistani Taliban's return to the region.
Upon the successful culmination of the Pakistani army's operation Zarb-e-Azb in 2016 to eradicate the last vestiges of Taliban-led militancy in North Waziristan, an opaque amnesty scheme was launched that sought surrender of militants in a bid to reintegrate and rehabilitate them.
Hundreds of militants have so far reportedly turned themselves in to security forces under the amnesty scheme. However, the policy has received immense criticism from local residents. One of the senior Taliban commanders even roams around freely in Islamabad after availing the amnesty offer. It seems that the "good Taliban" and "bad Taliban" narrative is no longer valid. The "good" ones were replaced by the "surrendered."
Peace in tribal areas is very hard-earned. To prevent the resurgence of militancy in the region, a comprehensive national policy incorporating security, social, political and economic factors, needs to be devised with the consent of Parliament, local tribal jirgas and civil society.
Ihsanullah Tipu Mehsud
The term "good Taliban" was used for those militants, mainly active in Afghanistan, who posed little threat to Pakistan. The clandestine nature of their surrender scheme reinforces the fear that it may open another can of worms, inadvertently complicating the already fragile law and order situation in the region, which has been experiencing a surge in attacks against security forces and local residents. Dozens of civilians and personnel have been killed in the assaults.
The escalation has triggered massive protests with locals blaming the security forces for failing to prevent the attacks despite their stifling presence in the region. Residents link the assaults with the return of the "surrendered" Taliban — the people because of whom they were forced to flee their homes during military operations in the region.
For conflict resolution and peace-building efforts, partaking of local stakeholders is necessary for durable peace, but ironically the government’s "surrender” policy, which sidelines the indigenous Pashtun institution of jirga, only causes deep alienation and fear of a possible return of organized militancy.
The amnesty policy also lacks due legal standing. It can be challenged by a victim in any court of law. It applies to and treats equally all militants, no matter if they are young brainwashed fighters or dreaded commanders involved in acts of terrorism.
Many precedents exist both regionally and globally where countries have granted amnesty to armed actors on condition of renouncing violence. But all these schemes were made public before implementation, subjected to public debate and transparently included in national security policies.
An amnesty process initiated five years ago by the Balochistan government for Baloch separatists offered financial incentives. The scheme has been successful and contributed significantly to curbing ethno-national militancy in the province.
Many senior military officials, who have served in Pakistan's regions bordering Afghanistan argue that the amnesty approach seeking to mainstream the Pakistani Taliban will lure the militants who are currently based in Afghanistan, into eschewing arms and violence. But peace in tribal areas is very hard-earned. To prevent the resurgence of militancy in the region, a comprehensive national policy incorporating security, social, political and economic factors, needs to be devised with the consent of Parliament, local tribal jirgas and civil society.
Return of former militants without their public oath of allegiance and loyalty to Pakistan's Constitution can worsen the state of affairs in the region.
- Ihsanullah Tipu Mehsud is an Islamabad-based journalist who extensively covers security issues in Afghanistan and Pakistan for international media. Twitter: @Ihsantipu