Friday, September 23, 2005

Negotiating with al-Qaeda...

In an excellent article in the Los Angeles Times, Allen J. Zerkin asks perhaps for the first time the legitimate question: should we open negotiations with al-Qaeda?

Most people's gut reaction to this issue will be a clear: "you can't negotiate with terrorists, period" and this has been the official party line and mantra of most governments all over the world. But has it really?

Successful cases where governments have been brought to the negotiating table by consistent and irrepressible militias are a plenty. Perhaps the most striking case is Northern Ireland where after some thirty years of IRA violence and counter loyalist hostility, negotiations between the IRA and the British Government started through backchannels, ultimately resulting in the Good Friday agreement and a complete ceasefire on the part of the republicans. Verification of the total decommissioning of their arsenal is due to be reported on any time soon.

And it's important to note that the "terrorists" didn't exactly leave the table having all of their demands met: instead a typical compromise solution was reached.

We have to accept that even with some successes in the "war on terror", it's likely that al-Qaeda and affiliated groups haven't really begun their campaign in earnest yet and that attacks to come could make even 9/11 pale into insignificance.

And our societies remain ill-equipped to defend against the kind of guerrilla and urban warfare in which terrorist groups specialise. Our complex infrastructure of oil production and refining, massive chemical manufacturing, transport and communications infrastructure actually makes us rather an ideal target for any determined group of individuals.

No doubt the security services will get more savvy at intercepting possible threats, but the terrorists will also become ever more versed in using stealth and deception. In the long run this is a war which neither they nor we can win and that's where negotiating can provide a way out of the stalemate...

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