The pitfalls of negotiating ‘peace’ with terrorists

War is draining. Whether we are talking about the men and women whom we send to war on our behalf, and who to be honest are the greatest at risk and hence usually the last ones who want to go and fight, or societies in general, I think we can all agree that war should be the last resort. It wears us down: economically, financially, morally. We should not make the decision to engage in armed combat lightly.

As an aside, I remember seeing an anti-war commercial when I was a kid in which the leaders of two nations, both older white men, were in a boxing ring duking it out. The narrator said something to the effect that if those who govern us were the ones putting their lives on the line in wartime maybe we would have fewer wars. Amen to that!

When it comes to terrorism we have adopted the ill-begotten ‘war on terror’ moniker since 9/11, one I have argued against for decades. Not only is this phrase inaccurate and unhelpful but it has engendered other equally useless terms such as ‘the long war’ and ‘the forever war’. Forever suggests a very long time: do you want to be at ‘war’ with terrorism that long?

Not surprisingly, being at war with terrorism has led some to advocate just getting it over with. This can be achieved I suppose (not!) by massive air strikes and bombings to kill everyone remotely near the terrorists you are fighting (although it actually leads to more terrorism as victims seek retribution). Then there is the option of sitting down and negotiating peace with terrorist groups.

This is exactly what is happening in Qatar between the US and its allies and the Afghan Taliban. The two sides have been ‘talking’ since at least last October and just held their seventh round of negotiations. I would think that in the spirit of such exchanges both sides would agree to scale back operations as a show of good faith. Then again, why would you trust a terrorist group to stop terrorising?

While the talks have been going on the Taliban has been continuing its reign of violence. Taliban fighters rammed four armoured vehicles packed with explosives into a government compound in Maruf district late on Saturday, killing at least 19. Two days later the Taliban detonated a powerful car bomb in an area of Kabul housing military and government buildings, killing at least 16 people and wounding 105, including 51 children.

And we are engaged in peace talks with these terrorists??

I know what some will say. The oft-repeated “we will never talk with terrorists” has been subverted on many occasions. The 1998 Good Friday peace accord in Northern Ireland may not have had the IRA at the table but their actions over decades certainly affected the talks. More recently, the former Colombian government of Juan Manuel Santos entered into a peace deal with the FARC, ‘ending’ 50 years of terrorism. But how have either worked out? Well we now have the ‘New IRA’ and there are signs the FARC is rising again. So much for peace.

In Afghanistan there is a complicating factor as that country’s Islamic State affiliate, IS in Khurasan (ISK), appears to be gaining in strength (btw ISK just renewed its allegiance to IS leader Abu Bakr al Baghdadi). The Taliban and ISK have fought each other and perhaps a ‘deal’ with the former allows the Afghans and the US (and their allies) to focus on the latter. Maybe.

I don’t know what to suggest here. If there is a damned if you do damned if you don’t scenario this is it. How can anyone negotiate with a terrorist group that maintains its primeval way of thinking (killing women and targeting girls who go to school)? Is there a better way to both defeat these monsters and yet get out of Afghanistan, known for good reasons as the ‘graveyard of empires’? Any ideas?

Negotiating with terrorists should never be entertained. If only there was another option.

By Phil Gurski

Phil Gurski is the President and CEO of Borealis Threat and Risk Consulting Ltd. Phil is a 32-year veteran of CSE and CSIS and the author of six books on terrorism.

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