Elizabeth Nash: The blueprint for ending a terrorist war

Share

How do you end a terrorist war? For anyone thinking of writing a user's handbook, here are some suggestions. First, you must want to. The most positive aspect of the permanent ceasefire announced this week by Eta Basque separatists is that there's a widely shared political will for the peace process to succeed.

This is new. It's essential, because in the long, difficult process that lies ahead, there are bound to be setbacks: Basque radicals may lurch out of control of an organisation suddenly committed to talks. Others may baulk at sitting down with those responsible for sowing death and fear among their friends and family. So you've got to want to keep trying.

Previous attempts to negotiate Eta ceasefires, in the 1980s under Felipe Gonzalez's socialists and in the 1990s during the conservative government of Jose Maria Aznar, foundered on the twin reefs of mistrust and clumsiness. That was because neither side trusted the other's good faith. They hadn't prepared the ground.

But how can you prepare the ground for something which is supposed to launch a new process? Well, you have to open doors, and you have to involve everyone, not just parties closest to those who until yesterday were your enemy. Eta's last ceasefire, in 1998, which lasted 14 months, was pacted with the region's ruling Basque Nationalist Party, a majority within the Basque country, but only just. A large minority of Basque parties, and most Spaniards, were never convinced. Many believed Eta took advantage of the reprieve to rearm.

It helps if your terrorists are weakened. That's achieved partly by good intelligence and fierce policing. Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero has been as implacable in his anti-terror campaign since he came to power two years ago as Mr Aznar was. Scores of Eta leaders have been detained, weakening and demoralising the untried youngsters who stepped into their shoes. Numerous terror attacks were foiled.

But this government recognised - without shouting it to the rooftops - that Eta could never be destroyed by police or military means. Mr Zapatero's socialists absorbed the lesson that the Basque conflict, like most terrorist wars, is political, not just military, and requires a political solution. Eta still has a social support that can produce up to 20 per cent of the popular vote. You cannot crush an organisation that enjoys unconditional support from the families and friends of hundreds of political prisoners dispersed in far corners of Spain, and from entire towns who for decades have returned councillors pledged to independence and self-determination.

From the moment Zapatero came to power, he started preparing the political ground. He opened the door, without making concessions, with a clear intention of bringing Eta in from the cold and solving the conflict for good. He said he would talk if Eta laid down arms, but only on that condition. Aznar had said substantially the same thing, but he made it sound a threat ("stop shooting and bombing or we will never talk"). Zapatero, by contrast, made his offer sound more like a promise: we are prepared to talk, if we can get the bombs and bullets put to one side.

Tone is very important in ending a terror war. Zapatero's words are softer than Aznar's, but he has conceded nothing. Batasuna has constantly asked for the government to make a move, making it possible for the armed men and women to emerge from the trenches. Zapatero hasn't budged.

He's been preparing. He's deployed his sappers and intermediaries to sound out the enemy and establish what terms might lead to a cessation of hostilities. Even before Zapatero came to power, Basque socialists and parties close to the nationalist cause were making contacts with priests, trade unionists and even Basque businessmen who might have the ear of Eta. His government consolidated the process, but with infinite caution, so he was never directly involved: "The government has no contact with terrorists."

So when beady journalists asked the relevant minister whether, off the record, he could confirm that members of his party in the Basque country had contacted those close to Eta, he could say, "You know I have to say no, even if they were, so the answer is no." The pre-ceasefire has to be deniable.

Finally, it helps to have a cruel example close to home. After the 11 March Madrid bombings that killed 192, no one in their right mind could imagine that acts of terror could advance the cause of Basque independence. Eta recognised that the public would spurn them unless they presented a peaceful alternative. And Zapatero is ready to listen.

e.nash@independent.co.uk

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Tradewind Recruitment: PMLD Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: PMLD Teacher A specialist primary school i...

Recruitment Genius: Online Media Sales Trainee

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Now our rapidly expanding and A...

Recruitment Genius: Public House Manager / Management Couples

£15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about great ...

Recruitment Genius: Production Planner

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Day In a Page

 

Political satire is funny, but it also causes cynicism and apathy

Yasmin Alibhai Brown
The super-rich now live in their own Elysium - they breathe better air, and eat better food, when they're not making beans on toast for their kids

The super-rich now live in their own Elysium

They breathe better air, eat better food, take better medicine
A generation of dropouts failed by colleges

Dropout generation failed by colleges

£800m a year wasted on students who quit courses before they graduate
Entering civilian life 'can be like going into the jungle' for returning soldiers

Homeless Veterans appeal

Entering civilian life can be like going into the jungle
Sam Taylor-Johnson: Woman on top

Sam Taylor-Johnson: Woman on top

Fifty Shades of Grey director on bringing the hit to the screen
Shazam! Story of the $1bn 'what's that song?' app

Shazam: Story of the $1bn 'what's that song?' app

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

Homeless Veterans appeal

The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

How books can defeat Isis

Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

Young carers to make dance debut

What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

Design Council's 70th anniversary

Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch