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Dr Martin Parsons: Obama's folly - why the west cannot negotiate with the Taliban

Martin Parsons has a PhD in Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations and has written a major academic book on this subject.

Screen shot 2013-06-20 at 05.22.42Fifteen years ago, I had to negotiate with senior members of the Taliban. I was an aid worker in Afghanistan and needed their permission to set up a development project in a remote area they controlled the access to. What was clear to me then is still clear to me now - namely, that their whole way of thinking is so radically different from western assumptions that to think one can negotiate with the Taliban in any way that would be beneficial to either the people of Afghanistan or to the west is extraordinarily naive. Yet President Obama has now announced that the US will shortly open direct talks with the Taliban.

In brief summary here are just some of the main reasons that one cannot negotiate with the Taliban:

1. The aims of the Taliban: In common with other Islamist groups the Taliban aim to achieve an Islamic government with strict Islamic law (sharia) imposed on Muslim and non-muslim alike. They aim to see this happen not just in Afghanistan, theirs is an expansionist ideology that divides the world into Dar al Islam (the world subject to Islamic government and law) and Dar al Harb (the world of war – where jihad must be waged until all peoples submit willingly or otherwise to Islamic law and government).  They base this on amongst other Qur’anic texts Q9:29:

Fight those who do not believe in Allah nor the Last Day, nor hold that forbidden which hath been forbidden by Allah and His Messenger, nor acknowledge the religion of Truth, of the People of the Book (i.e. Jews and Christians) , until they pay the Jizya (special tax imposed on non Muslims by Islamic government) with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued."

Liberal Muslims in the west may wish to interpret the relevance of this today somewhat differently, but the Taliban in common with other radical islamists take it quite literally.

I have written before on this site of my personal experience of living in Afghanistan during the time of Taliban rule, it has not insignificant comparisons with life in Germany under Nazi rule. This is the type of government the Taliban believe should be spread to the rest of the world, if necessary by means of violent jihad.

2. A superpower negotiating gives the Taliban a massive psychological victory: In warfare, psychological victories can be as important as battlefield gains. Radical Islamists, including the Taliban, already view themselves as having gained a massive tactical victory over the west by luring a superpower into Iraq and Afghanistan, where they could be seen by other Muslims around the world to successfully launch attacks against western forces.

Failure to recognise this by the west may mean that the perceived solution – troop withdrawal and now direct negotiation with the Taliban may actually make matters worse.  To put it bluntly, the message that radical Islamists will quite literally be shouting from the rooftops and loud speakers on mosque minarets is that not only have the Taliban succeeded in luring a superpower into a long running ambush, they have now also forced their withdrawal and the great superpower, or, in their language, 'the Great Satan' - the USA is now having to seek terms of surrender from the Taliban. The effect will not only be a massive morale boost to islamists worldwide, but an incredibly effective recruiting sergeant  for violent Islamists around the world. To open direct talks with the Taliban is like paying ransoms to kidnappers, far from stopping kidnapping, it actually encourages the kidnappers to do it again, either in the same place or elsewhere.

3. There is no concept of a peace treaty in Islamic law. There is merely that of a truce (hudna), a ceasefire which allows one to regather one’s strength before seeking to effect a final military victory. It is based on the sunna (example) of Muhammad who agreed a peace treaty known as 'the treaty of Hudabiya' with the pagan Quraish tribe who then controlled Mecca. Muhammad then dispensed with the 'treaty' a year later when he had become strong enough to take Mecca by force.

The concept of Hudabiya is so widely known in the Islamic world that even a predominately nationalist leader like Yasser Arafat is reported to have silenced the criticisms of the Arab press when he signed the peace accord with Israel by simply saying 'well brothers, let's just say this is Hudabiya'. Similarly, in late 2008 Hamas felt quite at liberty simply to dispense with the ‘truce’ they had earlier agreed with Israel. When one considers that the ideology the Taliban and other Isalmist groups follow is one of global Islamic government and enforcement of sharia on Muslim and non-Muslim alike it is clear that any negotiation with the Taliban is extremely unlikely to lead to even medium term peace.

I have argued before on ConservativeHome that there are wars that can be ended by negotiation and there are wars that must be fought because there is a threat to our own security from an evil expansionist ideology. Unfortunately, the indications are that the Obama adminsitration does not accept that Islamist ideology falls into this category, and even appears to have sought to ban all outside experts who hold views to the contrary from advising and training US government agencies including the Military and CIA.

During world war two, there were those who urged that Britain should seek a negotiated peace with the Nazis. How long such a truce would have lasted is debateable, but who today seriously thinks it would have prevented an eventual Nazi attempt to takeover Britain?

Today, we stand at a similar crossroads and the leaders of the free world must similarly decide. The battle with the Taliban may just possibly be one that Afghan army we have trained may with continuing help perhaps be able to hold its own in. However, it is no more a war that where we can negotiate peace with the enemy than World War two was. President Obama’s liberal naivety in seeking to negotiate with the Taliban potentially threatens the security not just of Afghanistan, but of the whole free world.


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