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Peace, but at what cost?

EDITORIAL : Peace, but at what cost?

Jamiat-e-Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman held an All Parties Conference (APC) in Islamabad on Thursday. The conference adopted a five-point agenda underlining the importance of peace talks with the Taliban. Every party attending the conference, except PTI that chose to stay away, has agreed to join hands and support the idea of a Grand Jirga to initiate peace talks with the Taliban. The APC declaration considers restoration of the rule of law and enforcement of the writ of the government important steps towards bringing peace back to the country. The APC has agreed to set up a trust for the rehabilitation of those who had been orphaned, widowed or disabled because of terrorism. Last month, the Taliban had shown a willingness to hold dialogue with the government, but only if Maulana Fazlur Rehman, PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif and Jamaat-i-Islami chief Munawar Hassan would act as guarantors for the implementation of any agreement. The three senior politicians of the country have since reiterated their willingness to enter into a dialogue with the militants for restoring peace. The government has been asked to provide support and an enabling environment to the Jirga to start a dialogue with the Taliban. The PPP has promised to facilitate the APC’s proposal as far as it is constitutionally doable. Reiterating the resolve of the PPP to fight terrorism to the end, Amin Fahim assured the APC that his party would do everything possible to make the peace process successful. The APC also took a decision to bind the caretaker setup and the next government to follow the APC proposals. All the political parties and other stakeholders, including the military and the Taliban, would be part of the Jirga in order to reach an all-encompassing agreement on the nature of the dialogue, the demands of the militants and the implementation of any agreements reached.

Peace no doubt is necessary as has been reiterated in every APC held so far, but peace at what cost has never been adequately answered by any of the APCs. How would the irrational demands of the Taliban such as enforcement of Sharia according to their own narrow and literalist interpretation, revamping of the constitution accordingly, and renouncing democracy be dealt with? Is there any room for compromises here? Have the participating parties developed any strategy to counter these irresponsible and anti-state demands? It would have served the purpose had these queries been answered for the sake of clarity. Dialogue, not force, is indeed an idea worth pursuing, but what about the party on the other side of the table? Going by the track record, the militants had broken every agreement brokered with them in the past. Therefore, it is good to be positive, talk about dialogue, develop a traditional base for talks such as the Grand Jirga, bringing in all stakeholders on board, but considering this enough would be naive. In any circumstance, in the wake of the failure to achieve the desired result from this APC and through the Grand Jirga idea, the only option left would be military operations to save the country from the recurring torture of terrorism and broken promises of peace. We cannot possibly rule out the option of the use of force against recalcitrant elements. This is a fit case therefore for exploring the space for peace, but keeping our powder dry. *

SECOND EDITORIAL : Death for a war criminal

A war crimes tribunal in Bangladesh has finally closed one of the chapters in the country’s long, hard journey from the atrocities of 1971. Sentencing Delwar Hossain Sayedee, the 73-year-old vice president of the Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) to death, the tribunal has shown just how far Bangladesh has come when bringing to justice those who really deserve it. Delwar Hossain has been found guilty of heinous war crimes such as looting, kidnapping, rape and murder. He is guilty of leading a militia — Al Badar — consisting of JI recruits, on a mass campaign of murder and rape in 1971. This man has been held accountable for two murders, 100 forced conversions of Hindus to Islam and the rape of three Hindu girls over a period of one week. Militias such as this were the non-state arms of the Pakistan army doing with wanton abandon what our national army could not. Supported and endorsed by Pakistan, the amount of suffering and misery we inflicted on our brothers and sisters in what was then East Pakistan is only now being brought to light and justice by the war crimes tribunal in Bangladesh.

Bangladesh has had its own tormented history full of military intervention and struggles for democracy. Now that the country has found a stable democratic footing, it is looking to bring to book those who are suspected of war crimes most foul. Delwar Hossain’s sentencing has brought his JI loyalists out onto the streets in protests that have killed more than 50 people. This is nothing but further testament to the pain and suffering this one man inflicted. Bangladesh is, meanwhile, considering a complete ban on the JI, which is a statement in itself. The wounds of 1971 are finally beginning to heal for a country that was once a part of us. Pakistan is still far from this space of accountability as it has yet to reconcile itself to the truth. We have brushed the atrocities of 1971 under the carpet — the reign of terror and outright murder has been suppressed by our power brass so much so that our collective memory has been wiped clean of the fact that the war of 1971 ever happened. Even our school curriculums and textbooks have erased all references to East Pakistan, leaving our coming generations clueless as to what actually happened. While Bangladesh is taking hard but determined decisions to open old wounds, Pakistan is still ignoring its role in these war crimes. It would do us a world of good to open our eyes to the truth the whole world has seen for too long now. *

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