Monday, March 17, 2008
Talking Peace with the Enemy
Can you really? Apparently, if you’re the British prime minister and the issue is Northern Ireland, the answer is ‘yes’. Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair's chief of staff, Jonathan Powell, gave a rare interview to The Guardian newspaper this weekend. Powell’s new book documents the behind the scenes Northern Ireland peace process and how talking to your enemies may be the only way to get rid of them.
However, Powell’s Northern Ireland experience gave him enough confidence to venture into another peace-making business that isn’t going so well. Powell argues, "if I was in government now, I would want to have been talking to Hamas, I would be wanting to communicate with the Taliban and I would want to find a channel to al-Qaeda".
Can talking to your enemies really destroy them?
Back in November I asked Afghan Prime Minister Hamid Karzai if he were willing to talk to the Taliban. Surprisingly, he answered in the most candid of ways, “we are willing to talk to those of the Taliban who are not part of Al Qaeda or the terrorist networks,” said Karzai. A qualified maybe?
Before this he sounded even more conciliatory pointing out that he and his staff had ‘increasing’ contacts with the Taliban, as many as five points of contact in the last week alone. He went on to say, “If we are talking of such contacts, they are there, if we are speaking of a centralized authority in the Taliban with whom we can talk for peace that is not there.” But he made it seem as if, when there is that centralized authority, sure, we'll talk.
I and others took this as a qualified ‘yes’, it’s acceptable, even desirable to open a channel of communication to your enemy, if only to continually assess any opportunity for peace.
Just weeks later, Karzai’s government expelled two diplomats for, essentially, talking to the Taliban.
Confused? I still am. The only lesson I can take from this: If you are talking to the enemy, keep it a secret. It seems Tony Blair and his advisors took that to heart.
ABOUT THIS BLOGNews and observations on the threats to international security and the challenges posed by terrorism to societies around the world. From breaking news to background stories, from serious analysis to casual asides, if we think it's interesting we'll post it here.