Today I got to listen to some NPR in my car on my way home (Hey, it’s a lot better than most of what’s on the radio, ok?). The report I overheard was about a “shadow summit” going on in Chicago to ape the real NATO summit now in session. The whole thing was set up by some women from Amnesty International who claim the US and her allies aren’t doing enough to protect females’ rights in the Middle East.
At the conference, reported NPR, many of the Amnesty activists declared that the US should be more willing to negotiate with the Taliban to keep women who want to participate in their communities safe. One of the feminists present even went as far as to say “If we aren’t at the [negotiating] table, we may end up on the menu.”
But would negotiating with terrorists really improve anything?
Our best guide to answering this question is a country who’s already tried to talk it out with the Taliban. Pakistan, our once staunch and now unstable ally, had tried to negotiate with the Pakistani Taliban (the TTP) and its affiliated al-Qaeda several times in its past. After the US-led invasion of Afghanistan, Pakistan took a diplomatic approach to dealing with the anti-Western elements spilling over its borders. In return for relative autonomy, the TTP and al-Qaeda promised to respect a woman’s right to participate in her community and get an education.
Several acid attacks and girls’ school bombings later, it became clear that would not be the case. The Pakistan-militant pact wasn’t worth the paper it was printed on. As a result, the Pakistani military had to launch a long offensive to regain control over the Taliban-dominated tribal regions. While the Waziristan offensive put the Taliban on the back foot, it also underlined the high costs of negotiating with a group that has little to lose.
Now I’m no expert on foreign affairs, but playing diplomacy with the Taliban seems like a classic case of “fool me once, fool me twice.” If we can learn anything from experience, it’s that military competence, not diplomatic acquiescence, is the best way to defeating an enemy who refuses to play by the rules.