In many peace processes now it would be unrealistic to think that one track could work without the others, or that you can totally separate the track roles to the extent that each level can work autonomously, ignoring the others. There are several ways in which track one and track two contributions complement each other:
Track two can assist the process of understanding armed groups
Like most organisations, armed groups do not appear spontaneously and remain stable until the end of their existence. Because armed groups are highly volatile organisations, building up an understanding of them can take many years. Track two actors can help build this gradual understanding. One of the essential tasks of any mediator interested in an armed group is to watch and measure the phases within an armed group's life, so as to understand its intentions, reasoning, strategy and evolution in such as way as to be in a position to help prevent the situation from deteriorating, or occasionally to help set the venue and agenda within pre-negotiations. This has been the case in Burundi, for example, where a number of NGOs sustained contact with the Forces for the Defence of Democracy–National Council for the Defence of Democracy (FDD-CNDD), while discussing issues with them, organising seminars and trying to help them build a political agenda solid enough to deal with the Burundian government. The FDD-CNDD eventually decided to negotiate in 2000.
Track two can help build the willingness and ability of armed groups to participate successfully in a peace process
There is a sort of myth that in negotiations – especially between armed groups – militarily-trained leaders are apt to be pragmatic, and can simply start talking to each other if seated at a table. Rather, parties are likely to sit down and continue fighting across the table, as if the battlefield had simply been replaced by a meeting room. To avoid this, a lot of background preparatory work needs to be done over months or years at different track levels. 'Shadow diplomats' or professional intermediaries regularly engage in informal meetings where delegates or friends of an armed group will participate, often anonymously, to learn about experiences elsewhere, or sound out ideas. Where sides participate together, the process of drawing on experiences from elsewhere and studying alternative practice is a way of sounding out what the other is thinking, or gauging reactions. These meetings can become a sort of testing ground for what the leaders might discuss at a latter date in track one negotiations. In this way a track two process helps prepare for a track one process, and different projects at different levels can inter-connect.
Keeping lines of communication open
Track two actors might be employed by formal mediators to make informal contact with armed groups with the aim of following events within the movement, grasping its logic, and letting them know that when they want to sit down and talk there are organisations willing to assist. Messages may be carried across lines with the hope of sharing and cross-fertilising each side's perception of events, or to negotiate an exchange of prisoners or the liberation of hostages. In this process of 'putting one's foot in the door,' track two mediators do not try to impose themselves, but just follow events and, if required, try to find some alternative paths towards peace. Another reason for the need to constantly keep channels open is to prevent armed groups from falling into total isolation, to the extent that they bury themselves in their own logic, making any form of contact more difficult. It is slow but essential work: an armed group's confidence in a political dialogue cannot be built overnight. It demands a significant investment of time and energy and constant follow-up. It is also complicated, especially as changes in leadership can be relatively common due to internal struggles or military defeats. The best known example of this kind of activity remains discussions with Sinn Féin in Northern Ireland before the Belfast Agreement, but it is also commonly practised in Europe, the former Soviet Union, South America and elsewhere.
Support from above
An effective track two actor may have a high level of technical and process expertise, and acquired knowledge of the armed group, but without track one political pressure, help and backing, professional mediators or facilitators would be lost. Armed groups are in need of reassurance that the international community and its official representatives will back the peace process and help implement and guarantee the results. This was clearly the case in Sudan's Machakos negotiations, where the close and steady watch of the international community and its reassurances on assistance with implementation made the agreement reached in January 2005 feasible.