Thursday, January 12, 2012

Basque prisoners and Irish ex-prisoners in the news

A few stories from the last week or so:

  • The demonstrations in favor of transferring ETA prisoners to the Basque Country last Sunday went off rather successfully. Here's some footage:
  • The Basque newspaper, Deia, obtained a communique from EPPK, the collective of ETA prisoners. In the document, ETA leaders ordered that their imprisoned member not seek individual pardons, but rather work as a collective to achieve transference to the Basque Country and other goals. Continuing the representational struggle over victimhood, ETA accuses the Spanish government of using the victims of ETA as "sherpas of repression," in contrast to ETA's own approach to victimhood to "foster a democratic solution." Debatable.
  • Gara reports that last December each member of the EPPK (around 665 individuals) personally requested to be transferred to the Basque Country. 
  • The abertzale party Amaiur is also engaged in efforts to affect the transfer these prisoners. 
  • In Bilbao, police seized photos of prisoners displayed in a bar ("herriko taberna"), claiming that such a display is "glorification of terrorism." 
  • Finally, the website Basque Peace Process published an interview with former IRA prisoner Pat Sheehan detailing the process of individualized prisoner release that took place during the Irish Peace Process. 

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Will there be talks with the Haqqani network?

According to The Tribune Express, maybe:
A senior Pakistani official stated that the Obama administration not only sought Pakistan’s consent over the Taliban office but had also given a ‘green light’ to allow the deadliest Afghan insurgent group, the Haqqani network, to be a part of the reconciliation process. 
The move by Washington was a clear deflection from its previous policy of keeping Islamabad at bay over its peace overtures with the Afghan Taliban. 
“Yes, we were onboard,” said the senior Pakistani official referring to the latest push by Washington to seek a political settlement of the Afghan conflict. 
The US has long resisted talks with the Haqqani network, believed to be based in the North Waziristan Agency.
The Haqqani network has been in the news since the fall of last year when the group was accused of assassinating Burhanuddin Rabbani, the head of the Afghan Peace Commission. Until now, I suspected that the Administration’s singling out of the network was part of a divide-and-conquer strategy aimed at getting Mullah Omar’s Taliban to the negotiating table. Good thing I’m not on record having said this. 

A Fracturing Taliban in Pakistan?

The Express Tribune reported last week on a feud simmering within the Pakistani Tehreek-i-Taliban (TTP). As often happens within insurgent groups (and political coalitions) personality conflicts at the elite level appears to be at the root of the divisions, pitting TTP leader Hakimullah Mehsud against one of his deputies, Waliur Rehman:
Taliban sources said Rehman had ordered his fighters to kill Mehsud because of his increasing closeness with al Qaeda and its Arab contingent. 
Mehsud’s former deputy has also alleged the TTP chief received money from Pakistan’s arch-rival, India, to kill a former Pakistan spy agency official acting as a mediator between the Pakistani Taliban, Afghan insurgents and the Pakistani government. 
The reported enmity between Mehsud and Rehman is not the only conflict within the TTP ranks. 
Mehsud has a long-standing feud with militant commanders Maulvi Nazeer in South Waziristan and Hafiz Gul Bahadur in North Waziristan, both of whom have non-aggression agreements with the Pakistani military. 
Mehsud’s men have also fought with the militia under the control of Fazal Saeed Haqqani, the former TTP head in the Kurram tribal region. He has accused Mehsud of killing his commanders and innocent people and kidnapping for ransom.
The Tribune also reports that the Afghan Taliban and what’s left of al Qaeda are concerned that internal feuding among their Pakistani allies will hamper the war effort in Afghanistan. The Afghan Taliban is apparently working to establish a commission within the TTP – the Shura Muraqba – that will oversee relations between jihadist forces and prevent the outbreak of factional violence.

Fractionalization among insurgents can actually benefit conflict resolution. As the story indicates, the Pakistani military have established ceasefires with local components of the TTP in North and South Waziristan. The short term problem with making deals with individual, local components of the insurgency is that it may alienate and radicalize hardliners, who often respond with increased violence. Meshud’s connections with al Qaeda – which he inherited from his late cousin and former TTP leader, Baitullah Mehsud – makes such “spoiler violence” all the more likely.

(Photo source:

Monday, January 9, 2012

Social Research and Criminal Investigation

An article from TheWall Street Journal today provides some insight into the legal perils of studying political violence:
A U.S. appeals court is weighing whether Boston College must turn over to criminal investigators recordings from an oral history project about Northern Ireland that could expose embarrassing secrets of the Irish Republican Army's past. 
The case suggests new legal hurdles and costs for universities that gather historical records of conflicts around the world. 
At the heart of the legal dispute is the unsolved, nearly 40-year-old killing of Jean McConville, a widowed mother abducted in front of her children and murdered by the IRA as a suspected spy for the British government. The IRA has admitted to the murder though the killers never were identified.
The peculiarities of the Irish peace settlement lend to the legal problems faced by Boston College. As Brian Rowan notes in The Belfast Telegraph, conflict resolution in Northern Ireland included “no amnesty, no agreed truth and reconciliation process, and, so, there is still the possibility of arrest and prosecution.” In fact, the Police Service of Northern Ireland have established the Historical Enquires Team charged with reexamining “all deaths which can be attributed to the security situation here between 1968 and 1998.” It is not clear at this point whether these investigations will lead to prosecutions in the future.

The U.S. Appeal Court’s ruling may have significant repercussions for social scientific research into conflict and political violence. If researchers cannot guarantee confidentiality and anonymity, few former insurgents will talk about their experiences and motivations.

(Of course, few who study political violence rely on such individual-level data, few terrorism experts ever bother to talk to terrorists. This explains, in part, the dominance of rational choice theory in the study of political violence. Assumptions are easier than interviewing.)

Incidentally, this article brought to mind the 2005 arrest of Father Juan José Agirre Begiristain for having “links” to ETA – or rather for maintaining an archive in Lazkao, Guipuzcoa that includes considerable documentation from ETA and various abertzale groups. The monk was released after 4 hours of detention. I guess even the Spanish find repressing historian monks distasteful.