Diplomacy in militancy

Print edition : March 12, 2021

Martin McGuinness and Gerry Adams, Sinn Fein leaders, in London. A January 2002 picture. Among the most riveting and instructive accounts in the book are those of the negotiations on the Irish Treaty of 1921 and the Good Friday Agreement of 1998. Photo: REUTERS

The images of Zalmay Khalilzad, U.S. envoy for peace in Afghanistan, and Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the leader of the Taliban delegation for talks, painted on a wall, in Kabul on April 13, 2020. There are no hard and fast rules on ceasefire. The Americans are talking to the Taliban in Doha while the Taliban kills Americans in Afghanistan. Photo: REUTERS

The book, about the need for negotiations and talks, abounds with an astonishing number of case studies in Asia, Africa, Europe and Latin America.

India has faced political militancy ever since Independence and what the British called terrorism for nearly a century before it. The Intelligence Bureau, run by the British, produced some good studies of the communist movement written by successive Directors of the I.B.—Cecil Kaye, David Petrie and Horace Williamson. Their volumes were entitled Communism in India.

P.C. Bamford, Deputy Director, I.B., produced an able study on the Ali brothers’ Khilafat and Gandhi’s Non-Cooperation Movements; severely factual and well documented. The British set up a committee to inquire into terrorist movements in India headed by Justice S.A.T. Rowlatt of the King’s Bench Division of the High Court in England and with four other members. The other members were Sir Basil Scott, Chief Justice of the Bombay High Court, C.V. Kumaraswami, Judge of the Madras High Court, and two English members.

Their report, the infamous Rowlatt Report, was produced in record time. Appointed on December 10, 1917, it gave its report on April 15, 1918. Fifty years later a scholar found in the archives that their survey of facts was not the product of a judicial inquiry but plagiarism of the I.B.’s report. Mahadevaprasad Saha’s Foreword to James Campbell Ker’s Political Trouble in India 1907-1917 has exposed this. The book was published in 1973.

Mohammed Ali Jinnah, a fastidious constitutional lawyer, rejected violent methods as well as Gandhi’s satyagraha. But he defended Bhagat Singh in the Central Assembly on September 12, 1929. His statements bear recalling. Was Bhagat Singh a “terrorist”? Was Nelson Mandela a “terrorist”? Jinnah provided the answer on September 18, 1929, in the Central Assembly. “You know perfectly well that these men are determined to die. It is not a joke. I ask the Honourable Law Member to realise that it is not everybody who can go on starving himself to death. Try it for a little while and you will see. Sir, have you heard anywhere in the world, except the American case, which my Honourable friend Mr. Jamnadas Mehta pointed out, an accused person going on hunger-strike? The man who goes on hunger-strike has a soul. He is moved by that soul and he believes in the justice of his cause; he is not an ordinary criminal who is guilty of cold-blooded, sordid, wicked crime.

“Mind you, Sir, I do not approve of the action of Bhagat Singh, and I say this on the floor of this House. I regret that rightly or wrongly youth today in India is stirred up, and you cannot, when you have three hundred and odd millions of people, you cannot prevent such crimes being committed, however much you may deplore them and however much you may say that they are misguided. It is the system, this damnable system of government, which is resented by the people. You may be a cold-blooded logician: I am a patient cool-headed man and can calmly go on making speeches here, persuading and influencing the Treasury Bench. But remember, there are thousands of young men outside. This is not the only country, not youths, but grey-bearded men have committed serious offences moved by patriotic impulses.”

Stand on terrorism

India’s stand on terrorism is disgracefully inconsistent. The Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW), its external intelligence agency, has interfered in every neighbouring country—Nepal chiefly; Bangladesh, especially after Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s murder; Pakistan; and Sri Lanka. With Indira Gandhi’s approval, R&AW trained some 15,000 Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) militants in jungle warfare. All this, only to drag Sri Lanka to the negotiating table to accept India’s terms.

Zia-ul-Haq’s venture was a copy of this example. In 1964-67 he conceived of the idea of supporting a covert action in Kashmir to force India to talk. The first blow was struck in 1998 in Srinagar.

There were two attempts at negotiation with Pakistan. On July 24, 2000, Abdul Majid Dar, Commander-in-Chief of the Hizbul Mujahideen, declared a unilateral ceasefire. On August 3, Union Home Ministry officials met the Hizb’s men in Srinagar—to uncover them. Every one of them was killed. Indian negotiators were petty bureaucrats not politicians. They presented surrender terms. On August 8, the Hizb called off the talks.

The Hizb leader Syed Salahuddin told Outlook: “Let India and Pakistan start. They can involve Kashmiris later. Alternatively, Kashmiris and Delhi can start the dialogue”, with all three meeting at the “decisive stage”. India was opposed to Pakistanis’ participation. It was a Pakistan-sponsored move by the Hizb. Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee knew that. He spurned it as he did the Agra Declaration on July 16, 2001.

President Pervez Musharraf and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh brought the Kashmir dispute to the gates of a settlement—no secession from India, nor a partition of Kashmir. Small minds on both sides scuttled it. Vajpayee wrote to Manmohan Singh protesting against the talks with Pakistan. Soon thereafter he asked the Foreign Minister of Pakistan Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri to wait; Pakistan would get better terms from him than from Manmohan Singh.

The Good Friday Agreement

A peace effort requires bipartisan support at home; for example, John Major supported Prime Minister Tony Blair’s efforts to reach the Good Friday Agreement on Northern Ireland in 1998.

This is one of the multitudes of lessons in Jonathan Powell’s encyclopedia on the subject. He has spent half a lifetime talking to people and organisations labelled as terrorists. He runs Inter Mediate, a London-based NGO for negotiation and mediation that focusses on the most difficult, complex and dangerous conflicts, where other organisations are unable to operate.

In 1997 he met Northern Ireland’s Catholic leaders Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness and became instrumental in negotiating peace in Northern Ireland. In 2008 he suggested publicly that Western governments should open talks with the Taliban, Hamas and Al Qaeda. Today, he works on different armed conflicts around the world and was the U.K. Prime Minister’s special envoy to Libya.

The book deserves a wide reading in India which disdains to negotiate. Had Nehru accepted Zhou Enlai’s terms in New Delhi in April 1960 there would have been no war in 1962 and their relations would have taken a different course. But intoxicated with legalese and hair-splitting, Nehru drew a false distinction between “talks” and “negotiations”—talk always; negotiation is a different matter. They necessitate concessions. If this be the attitude towards States it is not difficult to understand its clumsy approach to negotiate with militants inside India. The country has paid a heavy price for this. Hence the relevance of this instructive work.

There is the good British tradition. “‘All terrorists, at the invitation of the government, end up with drinks in the Dorchester,’ said Hugh Gaitskell, the former leader of the Labour Party. ‘What he meant was that governments of all political colours and in all countries repeatedly say they will never talk to terrorist groups and yet they nearly always do so eventually, and in the end usually treat their leaders as statesmen. The British government called Menachem Begin a terrorist and tried to kill him, they described Jomo Kenyatta as a terrorist and imprisoned him, and they labelled Archbishop Makarios a terrorist and exiled him to the Seychelles—and yet later welcomed all three to London as distinguished leaders of their countries.’”

The book abounds with an astonishing number of case studies in Asia, Africa, Europe and Latin America. No two cases are alike. But the lessons each yield helps a lot.

Not an easy road

It is not an easy road to travel. The alternative is mindless violence which yields nothing. The risks are enormous. After he signed the Irish Treaty in 1921, Lord Birkenhead exclaimed: “I have signed my political death warrant.” He survived but not before his formidable mentor Lord Carson hauled him over the coals in the House of Lords as an unprincipled turncoat.

The Irish leader Michael Collins was more prescient: “I have signed my actual death warrant.” He was shot by Irish extremists.

Among the most riveting and instructive accounts are those of the negotiations on the Irish Treaty, 1921, and the Good Friday Agreement of 1998; especially the accounts of Lloyd George’s tactics and tantrums before the Treaty was signed.

Circumstances alter cases. There are no hard and fast rules on ceasefire, or more disarming before the talks. The Americans are talking to the Taliban in Doha while the Talibans kill Americans in Afghanistan. It all depends on the balance of power. How much power and following sdo the militants command?

Pursuit of peace

In their pursuit of peace, leaders tell lies—for a noble cause. When Charles de Gaulle told the colons in Algeria “Je vous ai compris” (I have understood you) they thought he agreed with them as he was certain they did. A sniper took his finger off the trigger. De Gaulle’s life was saved. So was peace in Algeria—for the good of France.

Jonathan Powell wrote an article in The International New York Times on June 1, 2017. It was entitled “When lying is O.K., and when it’s not.” He is perfectly ethical. Hypocrites and idiots alone deny the moral dilemmas in man’s personal and, more so, political life. “The British government had a secret back channel to the Irish Republican Army from 1972 onward, even though Britain was fighting the I.R.A. throughout the quarter-century that followed. This secret channel played a crucial role in bringing about a ceasefire in 1975, the end of the first hunger strike in 1980 and, crucially, the 1994 ceasefire and peace talks under Prime Minister John Major.” (The brave Catholic businessman who was the channel’s key conduit, Brendan Duddy, died about three years ago.)

“Democratic governments use such secret channels because it is very hard to be seen talking to people who are murdering your citizens. Unless you talk to the men with guns and offer them a political way forward, however, they are unlikely to stop fighting.

“Governments go to great lengths to disguise what they are doing. Mr. Major stood up in the House of Commons and said he would never talk to the I.R.A., that it would turn his stomach to do so. At the same time, he was corresponding secretly with the I.R.A. leader Martin McGuinness—and thank goodness he was, or there would have been no peace. When the I.R.A. leaked the correspondence in 1993 after that interaction, the Northern Ireland Secretary at the time, Patrick Mayhew, was terrified that he would have to resign for lying to Parliament. Instead, he won support from both government and opposition benches for what he had done.” India’s opposition leaders have feet of clay, Vajpayee included.

Wise men and patriots negotiate. Small men, hypocrites and fanatics do not. We have plenty of men who have brought suffering on the hapless Kashmiris, aided by Kashmiri politicians in New Delhi’s pocket and fanatics and others in the grip of Pakistan.

Some idealists sacrifice what is good and discernible in an insane quest for the best—some of them line their own pockets meanwhile.

Not one aspect of the problem is ignored by the author. To wit, What We Must Talk to Terrorists, Making Contact with the Enemy, Building a Channel, How Governments Engage with Terrorists, The Third Party, Starting a Negotiation, and so on.

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