Negotiations with The Taliban: A Moral and Political No Go Zone

The Taliban opened an office in Doha, Qatar, and claims to want to negotiate with the US over a peaceful future for Afghanistan and an end to years of bloody conflict.  The liberal Left in particular seems to regard it as a legitimate strategy and alternative to staying in Afghanistan beyond 2014.

However, defeating the Taliban is a moral imperative; conversely, to appease them would be against everything we believe in, stand for, fight for and died for. It would be the ultimate betrayal of our values.

People need to be reminded of the deeply reactionary ideology the Taliban represents and the horrid atrocities they are responsible for.

“We don’t negotiate with terrorists”, the infamous political mantra is, of course, deeply flawed. Many times in the past politicians have reached out to terrorist groups, sometimes with considerable success. The most prominent example is the peace process in Northern Ireland where the British and Irish governments negotiated with Republican and Unionist paramilitary groups.

The Taliban and their fellow Islamic extremists, however, are in a league of their own.  Not because the crimes committed by the IRA or the UDA were any less morally reprehensible. The killing of innocents is never justified. But at least their political demands, however absurd, were worldly and could be addressed and even, to some extent, solved by people.

The Taliban’s goals, on the other hand, are anything but worldly. They constitute the worst expression of religious fanaticism – an ideology which is on par with a death cult. Osama bin Laden’s quote captured that sentiment exactly: “We love death. The US loves life. That is the difference between us two.”

Islamic extremists’ contempt for human life is absolute. Human dignity is an alien concept to them. Their time on earth is merely a cleansing phase with jihad as the ultimate act of virtue. Their only goal on their way to paradise is to take as many innocent men, women and children with them as possible.

We are talking about a group which is responsible for 76 percent of civilian casualties in Afghanistan. Just over the last year, the number increased by 23 percent. The Taliban shoots girls in their head for seeking education or dancing in the rain; they burn down schools (preferably with children inside); they behead boys for collecting food out of garbage bins; and they recruit starving and kidnap disabled children to use them as remote suicide bombs. Their appetite for bloodshed knows no boundaries.

“What is the alternative to negotiations with the Taliban”, you may ask?

Americans and many in the West are wary of war and the sacrifice of men and treasure in foreign conflicts which they do not regard as in their country’s interests.

However, negotiating with the Taliban is an affront to all the brave men and women – Westerners and Afghans alike – who have given the ultimate sacrifice to defeat the death-worshippers. How are we ever going to justify to those who have lost loved ones that we are, in a moment of misguided appeasement policy and desperate capitulation, ending up at the negotiation table with the very same people responsible for their demise? It makes an unforgivable mockery of their death.

The fact of their bravery should give us the courage to stand the cause and not walk away from it. If the Obama administration were serious about leadership, they would make the case for facing up to the challenge, instead of giving in to populist demands.

And let us think for a moment about the people of Afghanistan we are about to abandon. Despite morbid threats to their life, they have repeatedly gone to the polls in large numbers and voted against a Taliban regime; ordinary villagers have taken up arms against the Taliban; and 14 million women are once more at risk of being enslaved (the suicide rate is already very high and on the rise).

The truth is that negotiating with the Taliban is not going to work. The Russians tried it in the 80s, the Pakistanis in the 90s, even the Americans under the Clinton administration. They were all played at the expense of their own integrity.

The Taliban is not a legitimate partner, they are terrorists. Under international law, we are at war with them in an act of self-defence. The war in Afghanistan is a NATO operation, backed by serious UN Security Council Resolutions. Now, imagine what message it would send around the world, if the NATO-led coalition were to be defeated by medieval Islamofascist thugs. The damage to our reputation would be irreversible. It is a battle we simply cannot afford to lose.

No matter how you look at it, it is a self-defeating policy and, at best, a short-term solution at the expense of our long-term security and moral interests. The US administration is about to make peace not only with the enemy of the Afghan people but also humanity.

About the Author
Julie Lenarz is Director of the London-based Human Security Centre and speaks widely across the media on terror and radicalisation.
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