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More on Negotiations

More on Negotiations

Former Canadian Ambassador for Disarmament and current Rideau Institute ‘senior advisor’ Peggy Mason continues, a recent letter to the Globe and Mail, to press her case for negotiations, now, in Afghanistan. This time she uses the example of the ‘Good Friday’ agreement which has, so far, made and kept the peace in Ireland.

As The Ruxted Group has recently noted , negotiations – limited negotiations with limited aims and with local leaders, not the Taliban’s core leadership – are possible, perhaps even desirable, maybe necessary. But, we argue, there is no useful or sensible analog between Afghanistan in 2007 and Ireland in 1998.
The IRA devolved into the Provisional IRA Óglaigh na hÉireann and other splinter groups, and like the Taliban and its allies, the IRA evolved from being ‘freedom fighter’ to being plain, simple terrorists. At the depth of their evolution they made common cause with the PLO and FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia), amongst others, in a vain attempt to extend their ‘war’ elsewhere. It was never clear how ‘freedom’ for Irish people was tied to murdering Israeli school children or selling drugs to impose communism on poor, abused Colombians.

It is equally unclear how the Taliban will bring anything like ‘freedom’ to Afghanistan; if ‘Responsibility to Protect’ means anything at all it must mean that a rich, powerful country like Canada is willing to help a poor, war-ravaged country like Afghanistan. Turning our back on the Afghan people, leaving them to the tender mercies of the Taliban would be to toss Canada's cherished responsibility and reputation on to the international political trash heap.

Like the current situation in Afghanistan, negotiations in Ireland were not always an option. The IRA lacked a ‘respectable’ public, political voice until the establishment of Sinn Féin in 1970; by that time, the tactical situation had evolved to the point where the British were willing to talk - with moderate factions that wanted peace. Ceasefires in that conflict thus go back to 1975, but it still took nearly 25 years for the IRA to conclude that, despite support and money from Americans1, and despite support from global terrorists, victory as envisaged by the extremists was impossible. Only then did ‘equal’ negotiations become possible – equal meaning that both sides were negotiating for the same thing: a future in which the people of the six counties of Ulster could decide, for themselves, in their own (liberal democratic) manner how to live their own political lives.

The British – who do not fear negotiation – have already experimented with low level, local negotiations with some insurgent factions in Afghanistan. All the attempts have, thus far, failed but it is almost certain that they will try again. Ruxted has agreed that some negotiations, now, with some elements - not, we repeat, the Taliban's core leadership - might be useful; to some degree negotiations are always useful, if only to keep links open.

Ruxted, however, does not agree that it is time to negotiate with the Taliban for the future of Afghanistan. The Taliban in 2007 are rather like the IRA in 1967 – full of spirit, money, public support and support from important outside actors. The problem, for the legitimate government of Afghanistan and its supporters in ISAF, is to reduce the Taliban to the state of the IRA in 1997 – convinced that it cannot hope to accomplish its goal by any means except through the will of the Afghan people – a ‘will’ arrived at freely and fairly by the Afghan people’s own methods. That is likely to be the work of years, even decades because the Taliban is part of a large, loose coalition of ‘movements’ which often enjoys varying degrees of public support where they operate and are well funded – sometimes by nation-states.

This long term commitment is, Ruxted believes, something which Prime Minister Harper and Defence Minister O’Connor are starting to understand. Both have explained, publicly, that the current ‘end of mission’ date (Feb 09) is just a ‘marker’ which might well need to be extended as the Government of Canada assesses its progress in accomplishing its aims in Afghanistan. (Ruxted has dealt with those aims.)

There is room, now, for some military commanders to attempt some level of negotiations with some local insurgent commanders in an effort to bring some respite to some of the poor citizens of war torn regions. There is some room for the elected Government of Afghanistan to open some negotiations with some factions in an effort to bring some cease fires to some regions and to keep channels open. But, we equate negotiating with the Taliban to trying to negotiate with a hydra. There is no one head to which one can talk. If some are willing to talk, then there is the possibility of an agreed solution to keep them out of the fight. However, one has to keep chopping off the heads that want to press the fight. When one head is willing to talk one can be sure that the others will bite, in fact the one which is talking may only be pretending – trying to distract us while the others attack.

Before the sorts of negotiations Peggy Mason appears to advocate can begin it will be necessary to inflict many military defeats on the Taliban and its allies – that's what Canada's army is doing in Kandahar right now – Peggy Mason and her colleagues at the Rideau Institute need to join with Canada's fighting soldiers in the real search for real peace negotiations. There will be room for the “a new political strategy based on … negotiation of a comprehensive peace agreement” – after the necessary conditions have been established. Until then Ambassador Mason risks being swept up with a ‘peace movement’ which has devolved into terrorist apologists and even accomplices.


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