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Mainstreaming terrorist organisations.

The Mili Muslim League recent electoral charge has been a source of much anxiety for many Pakistanis and foreigners alike. More than the mere contesting of elections is the alarmingly large number of votes the party was able to poll, higher than the combined tally of established mainstream parties such as the Pakistan People's Party and Jamaat-i-Islami.

The MML bagging nearly 5,500 votes in the by-elections has added momentum to the debate regarding mainstreaming of terrorist organisations.That the MML is in effect the political arm of a terrorist organisation banned on major international fora greatly amplifies anxieties associated with their operations.

Questions regarding the wisdom of permitting a globally designated terrorist organisation continue to dog the state's decision of allowing the MML to contest the NA-120 by-elections.Taken at face value, the arguments for mainstreaming terrorist organisations are anchored in sound theory.

Mainstreaming is seen as primarily a process of weaning away terrorist organisations from militant, anti-state activities to non-violent, political ones. The argument being that once terrorist organisations enter the political mainstream, they will tone down their rhetoric and become more moderate in order to appeal to a greater cross-section of society.

The mainstreaming process also allows such organisations to legitimise themselves.The process, while sounding neat on paper is anything but.

Mainstreaming is an extremely delicate balancing act by the state. The danger in mainstreaming organisations such as the Jamaat-ud-Dawa and Laskar-e-Jhangvi lay in such organisations legitimising themselves through the political process and then using that legitimacy and contingent political power to cover for their militant activities and violence.

In such a scenario, it would be expected of other parties to also up the ante by using political violence as a means of keeping the mainstreamed parties' political advance at bay.The other argument against mainstreaming is a moral one primarily being that organisations and the people who run them are responsible for thousands of deaths and thus should not be allowed to operate freely without first a legal reckoning for their crimes.

Terrorist organisations have been successfully mainstreamed in other countries. FARC in Colombia, ETA in Spain and IRA in Ireland are a few of the recent mainstreaming success stories.

As an illustrative example, the Colombian peace process finally found success in the recent agreement between FARC and the Colombian government, effectively ending a conflict that has placed a staggering toll on Colombian society. Five decades of conflict that resulted in 220,000 people killed and another 7 million people displaced finally came to an end in 2016. The peace deal gave an amnesty to FARC leaders, giving them protection from any prosecution related to crimes committed during the conflict.

The deal also guarantees FARC 5 seats in each house of the bi-cameral Colombian legislature for a total of 2 terms, allowing FARC ample time to transition from a militant to a political organisation. In return, FARC has renounced all forms of violence and handed over their weapons to the Colombian government.

The last point is especially important in Pakistan's context. The mainstreaming of terrorist groups needs to be a negotiated settlement.

Allowing terrorist groups to maintain their militant capacities whilst bestowing them with political power has the potential to backfire. Ideally, a commitment from militant groups to cease all violent activities and a reduction in their capacity for violence should form a pre-requisite for mainstreaming.

If that sounds fanciful, and maybe it is, the State then ought to exhibit greater sensitivity to violence or even the threat of it emanating from mainstreamed militant groups.Colombia's peace deal, while rejected by a wafer thin margin in an official referendum, had the backing of the country's legislature.

While nowhere near as monumental in scale, Pakistan's attempt at mainstreaming terrorist organisations is not moored in debate or democratic procedure. Mainstreaming is an inherently political move and as such should be subject to thorough intellectual dissection before militant organisations are allowed to canvass for votes in a political arena.

The existence of militant organisations is a reality that needs to be confronted and reconciled. Militant organisations in Pakistan have an infrastructure that is entrenched within society and government.

How does the state then deal with these organisations? Does the state let such groups operate within the gray zone, officially banned but allowed some manner of operational freedom, as in the case of Jamaat-ud-Dawa and its subsidiary charity, Falahi Insaaniat Foundation (FIF)? Hoping that the organisation will slowly whittle away?A more extreme approach would propose a swift and decisive crackdown by the state. An unlikely and difficult proposition given that such militant organisations in Pakistan tend to derive their power from their capacity for armed violence.

Such a move would likely result in increased violence and instability in urban areas, especially in the Punjab with potential spillover in to other provinces. A less drastic approach might attempt to keep the organisations squeezed for space, create hurdles for operations, and jam financing channels.

Tighten the screws around the organisation and squeeze it for space. Such an approach might have greater synergy with attempts at mainstreaming.

Allowing known terrorist organisations into the mainstream is a hard moral bargain. Mainstreaming is in effect a carte blanche for leaders of terrorist organisations.

As a policy issue, it has the potential to backfire in a number of ways. Any attempt at mainstreaming needs to be a negotiated settlement, with the state allowing political space in exchange for a renunciation of violence from the mainstreamed group.

A one-sided bargain, as seems to be the case in Pakistan, is likely to become a source of future conflict.
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Publication:Pakistan Today (Lahore, Pakistan)
Geographic Code:9PAKI
Date:Oct 19, 2017
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