When negotiating with terrorists call it what it is

Did you know that there is actually a post-punk indie rock band from the UK (but which later moved to Sweden) called “We Do Not Negotiate With Terrorists“? Is that not the most original name you have ever heard for a musical group? It may even top ‘Five For Fighting’ for me! (NB I use that band’s hit song ‘Superman’ for my fortnightly podcast on terrorism.

It has long been a motto by government leaders that their states do not ‘negotiate with terrorists’ although it is clear that this claim is frequently dishonest. How many times have those held hostage by terrorist groups been freed after mysterious ransom payments? And who can forget the infamous Iran-Contra scandal in Nicaragua during the Reagan years? So despite their reluctance to be seen as benefiting terrorists they often do.

What we are witnessing unfolding in Afghanistan is another example of negotiating with terrorists. The US is in the midst of talks with the Taliban under the guise of a ‘peace deal’ for the much-maligned country, with much of the action taking place in Qatar.

Before going any further on this issue I’d like to point out that one would probably expect those involved in peace negotiations not to actively remain engaged in violence. What then to make of the fact that Taliban fighters killed or captured an entire Afghan National Army company of more than 50 soldiers on March 11 (i.e. two days ago)? Doesn’t sound very peaceful does it?

Over all this is the reality that there is no question that Americans have had enough of the war in Afghanistan. The US has been sending soldiers there since 9/11 and over 2,000 have died over the past two decades. In addition, President Trump has made it clear that he wants to end these foreign military excursions and most recently vowed to quit Syria. I will leave the debate on the wisdom of US withdrawals from these conflict zones to others.

What is important to underscore, however, is that any decision to sit at the table with the Taliban cannot be painted as anything more or less than negotiating with terrorists – again. For that is what the Taliban are – a terrorist group. How else to describe them? The most basic definition of terrorism is the use of serious violence against civilians for ideological, political or religious reasons and the Taliban check all these boxes. In addition we have to include their antediluvian attitudes towards women, girls’ education and democracy in general. How is this not the activity of a terrorist organisation?

I am not here to tell the US what to do or to demand that the US military stay in Afghanistan indefinitely, even if a total retreat will inevitably lead to a renewed base for terrorist groups. I certainly understand the desire of the American people to get out of Dodge. But let’s not put lipstick on this pig. Talking with the Taliban is talking with terrorists. End of story.

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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