Monday, January 6, 2014

Mediator or Ally

THERE is a difference between mediation and intercession. The government seems to have forgotten this major difference in nuance between the two when it asked Maulana Samiul Haq to act as honest broker between it and the Taliban. At the same time, Maulana Haq’s choice as a mediator and the way the maulana went public with it go against some of the fundamental principles of peacemaking or attempts at rapprochement.
First, the mediation process is kept secret. We have the example of the Oslo peace process when Norway acted as mediator between Israel and the Palestinian leadership in 1992. To avoid media glare, the talks were held not in Oslo but on the woody outskirts of the Norwegian capital. Secrecy was needed because a breakdown in mediation would have led to disillusionment on both sides, heightened tensions and hardened Israeli and Palestinian positions in a future attempt at seeking a peaceful end to the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza.
Second, the mediator must be a neutral country, organisation or individual. If it is an individual who is already committed to either side, then it is unlikely that he can enjoy the other side’s confidence, make the two sides soften their stance and advance the cause of peace. America and Russia were, of course, in the picture, for they were “sponsors” of the Oslo peace process, but neither was truly neutral. America’s commitment to Israel was total, while Russia’s support for the Palestinian aspirations has been typical of Moscow’s traditional policy of keeping all sides guessing. Norway was truly neutral and thus a perfect host and mediator.
In case the talks broke down, the Norwegian government would not have blamed any particular side. Tensions would not have increased because the entire process and the crucial negotiations that took place between Israeli and Palestinian delegations had remained unknown to the world. On the whole they held 14 secret sessions, they slept under the same roof and frequently had walks in the woods to talk and understand each other’s point of view in a more relaxed atmosphere
Here the situation is the very opposite of the cool-headed diplomacy displayed by the parties at Oslo. Maulana Samiul Haq is far from being a neutral and non-controversial personality. He is not only an ardent Taliban supporter, he has been a harsh critic of the counterinsurgency policies of this as well as the PPP-led government. The two governments, in the maulana’s opinion, have been America’s puppets; and his madressahs have been a nursery for jihadis, some of whom are now in the mainstream of the Taliban’s leadership and rank and file.
We do not know whether the chief of his faction of the JUI will be able to break the ice and effect peace between the state of Pakistan and the rebels. If he succeeds, then what will follow needs debate at an altogether different plane. But if he fails, of which there is every possibility, we shouldn’t be surprised if the chief of the Defae Pakistan Council wastes no time in blaming the government interlocutors alone for torpedoing the peace process.
The other consequences of a failure will be … what next? Will the Taliban rebels intensify attacks on the citizens and the armed forces of Pakistan and be more vicious than before? Will the government then still sit with folded arms or will it choose to finally have a go or perhaps wait it out till the end of 2014?
Finally the difference between mediation and intercession: According to the Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary, to intercede means “to speak to somebody in order to persuade him to show pity on somebody else or to help settle an argument”.
Is the government asking Maulana Samiul Haq to mediate or intercede on its behalf with Mullah Fazlullah, the former conqueror of Swat who has vowed to reclaim what he considers to be his fief?The writer is a member of staff.

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