I want to say here again that the negotiation is now in the homestretch --- and the smell of success is reinforced every day. We all know this, because we are the ones involved in this negotiation. We also know that the unsettled issues are not insurmountable; they are well within our grasps. If we persevere and remain reasonable, we will have it soon, God willing!
However, this impending success will not be reason for complacency. Nothing is in the basket yet, so to say. Besides, the dangers of success are harder to notice. By the time, you come face to face with it, you will feel as if the whole world has fallen on you. This is simply because you are not prepared and could not get out of the way in time. Remember that negotiation, contrary to what many believe, is a risky business. If we cannot conclude it soon successfully now that we are at the brink of the exercise, we will be in trouble. The greatest source of risk comes from spoilers – leaders and parties who believe that peace emerging from negotiations threatens their power, worldview, and interests, and use violence to undermine attempts to achieve it. There is no need for me to be very specific on this. I know the government and the military are fully aware of what I am saying here. Suffice to say, one need to check on You Tube in order to have a glimpse of these emerging groups in Mindanao, although their motives are varied, in pursuit of ideology, money, and limelight. The pertinent question is, why put themselves and their activities in the You Tube? Besides, the BIFM/BIFF is not completely down. They will always attempt to come back; and worse, some groups disgruntled with alleged government ill-treatment and thirsty for more power, after tasting it, have entered into an unholy alliance with the BIFM/BIFF, although they are not really one, except their common goal to see the MILF and the government fail in this negotiation. This is not an old development; it is fresh from the field. While we are here in Kuala Lumpur, we continue to receive reports from the ground pointing to this direction. The onset of the elections next year complicates this further. Expect switching of party affiliations and complex alliances.
Sad to say, however, that this positive picture of the peace process is not all positive for us. It has the dark side of it. The far-reaching expectation that it creates amongst the people is what we are worried of. The higher the expectation, the higher also the frustrations if they are not met. We therefore need to manage this expectation.
Worse, the negative impact is more felt in the MILF rather on the government. First, the MILF cannot fully deliver, especially basic services to the people, during the two succeeding interim periods. It can only start to deliver if in the regular government it wins in the election, in case it decides to convert itself into a political party and wins and forms the government of the new political entity. And second, our access to media is very limited. The media cannot only make heroes or villains, but can also unmake good governance.
Therefore, we need to put up an effective communication strategy, the main emphasis of which are five-fold: (1) the absence of war in our midst is in itself a gain for everybody; (2) the rules of engagement under a choking unitary government arrangement has been remedied by the agreement to make the playing field level; (3) the people at large are freer in the determination of their political life than any time in the past; (4), there is more access to international aid packages than ever. With good partnership of the parties and the international donor countries and agencies and correct assessments of people’s needs, these development projects will not only uplift people’s lives, but more importantly make communities safer to live in; and (5) the people should be reminded that real deliverance must come from within or amongst themselves, and not from elsewhere. The Holy Qur’an says: “Allah does not change the condition of a people unless they change it themselves.”
Finally, let me sincerely thank the two heads of states, President Benigno Aquino III and Prime Minister Dato' Sri Haji Mohd Najib bin Tun Haji Abdul Razak, for making that very encouraging statements made at the sideline of the APEC Summit in Vladivostok in Russia last September 7, that a peace pact is forthcoming in Mindanao. We know that the two leaders have a full grasp of what is taking place in the negotiation and they know what they are talking and where we are all going to.
On this note, let me thank all of you also for lending me your ears in listening to my opening statement.
Syukran and wassalam.
Speech of Mohagher Iqbal, Chairman of the MILF Peace Panel, during the 32nd GPH-MILF Exploratory Talks in Kuala Lumpur on October 2-5, 2012