Who is he?
Mohagher Iqbal is the chief negotiator for the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), an Islamist group on the southern Philippine island of Mindanao that has waged a decades-long insurgency seeking independence. Iqbal negotiated with nine successive government peace panels over the last 11 years.
His involvement in the conflict began following the 1968 Jebidah Massacre, in which Philippine armed forces slaughtered upwards of 60 Muslim recruits who refused to carry out an attack on Muslims in Sabah. He participated in student protests following the massacre, and subsequently joined the armed struggle for Moro independence. He has written several books on the conflict and emerged as one of the independence movement’s principal ideologues.
Why is he in the news?
Iqbal and his Philippine government counterpart, Marvic Leonen, engineered a groundbreaking roadmap to peace following negotiations October 2-6 in Malaysia. The Framework Agreement on Bangsamoro is the most promising step toward peace on Mindanao since a 1996 agreement ended conflict between the government and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF).
Both men watched from Kuala Lumpur as President Benigno Aquino announced the peace framework at the presidential palace of Malacañang. Leonen afterwards described an emotional scene during which Iqbal, the “battle-scarred revolutionary,” broke down in tears and applauded the president.
What can we expect from him?
Iqbal has said the MILF will not disarm until the framework agreement is implemented in 2016. A number of the agreement’s more sensitive details remain vague, which could impede progress. Iqbal will play a key role in further negotiations, especially on equitable power and revenue sharing arrangements between the newly-autonomous Bangsamoro and the central government.
Iqbal has laid the foundations for genuine progress. He helped moderate hardline voices within the MILF, opening the possibility of ending one of Southeast Asia’s most devastating conflicts and ushering in a new era of peace and economic development for the millions of people on Mindanao. If that goal is realized, Iqbal will play a central role in its achievement.
For more information on the agreement, see Critical Questions: Manila and Moro Rebels Strike a Deal, by Greg Poling and Liam Hanlon.