After almost four decades of battling the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, an Islamist insurgent group best known in the West for beheading captives, the government of the Philippines has reached a peace accord which will grant the Muslim and ethnic Bangsamoro people an autonomous Islamic entity on Mindanao Island in the southern Philippines.
While diplomats and academics will always applaud deals purporting to end bloodshed, this agreement both legitimizes the terrorists’ often bloody tactics and signals to Islamists in other states that they should not accept living as a minority but rather should always push to succeed. Manila’s concession strikes a blow at the notion of multi-confessional democracy in Asia. Should Islamist insurgents in southern Thailand now get their own autonomous state? Should Burmese Muslims secede? Is there space for a healthy Muslim minority in India?
Nor will the deal bring peace to the Philippines. Not only is the Abu Sayyaf Group (a related Islamist organization) not party to the agreement, but precedent also shows that Islamist terrorists will simply interpret treaties as truces during which they can regroup or expand their ambitions. The Moro partisans can pursue politics on one hand, while using Abu Sayyaf terrorism to pressure for greater concessions.
When the Pakistani government famously signed the Malakand Accords, the result was a doubling of the Taliban in nearby Swat and a renewed Islamist offensive deep into Pakistani territory, catching Islamabad off guard. Diplomats can applaud today, but they are condemning not only Philippine citizens, but others around the world to renewed insurgency and terrorism down the road.