Talking to the Taliban: Afghanistan’s only Option for Peace

The late PM Lester Bowles Pearson, whose successful diplomacy earned Canada a well-deserved Nobel peace prize, tirelessly advocated the mantra — negotiate instead of fighting.

And if negotiations are at first unsuccessful, then negotiate again … and again.

Pearson proved over and over again that talking to your enemy is far superior to American-style militancy in resolving political conflicts; gone forever are the days when one could shoot first and talk later.

Today, well-documented evidence proves that the Canadian mission in Southern Afghanistan is not working; not as it was and not as it is. America has already acknowledged the fact that their involvement has been similarly unsuccessful.

Canada must rethink its approach and become truly constructive, rather than contributing to the problem. Our initial strategy (as I understand it) was to seek solutions in Afghanistan; instead, we were caught up in a bloody shooting-and-killing war, which continues at this very moment.

One way we could help turn the tide of militarism would be to call on the international community to support a move to talk to the Taliban –” a concept finally acknowledged by PM Steven Harper. Better late than never!

Constructive dialogue is after all the Canadian way; not sending our soldiers to their deaths in a country where no one is really in control.

Even though, I fundamentally disagree with the Taliban approach to government and social structure, I do not see an end to this protracted conflict without multilateral negotiations that include the Taliban at the table.

Difficult to grasp? Yes, of course it is! But the earlier such inclusive dialogue is attempted and achieved, the earlier ordinary Afghans and their children will again have warm meals to eat, basic medical and educational services, and the security of walking and farming their own soil without fear of being blown up by Americans, the Taliban, or whomever.

The earlier Canada puts feet to this initiative, the less our soldiers will be at risk. Back in 2007, the Canadian Islamic Congress suggested to Canada’s Minister of Defense that the time had come to start talking to the Taliban. If our government had listened then to the CIC and numerous individual Canadians who took up the cause of constructive negotiation at that time, the number of our soldiers killed in Afghanistan would certainly not have doubled since 2007.

Various governments – among them India, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, the Philippines, Mozambique, Uganda, Sudan, and Ireland – have in fact sat down and held negotiations with their "insurgents" (or rebels, criminals, terrorists, militias, Taliban, whatever you choose to call them). Many governments continue to persevere in such negotiations.

The going is often very slow and discouraging, but progress is gradually achieved. Talking always suppresses or minimizes the severity of fighting and the resultant risks to human life on both sides of any conflict.

The Canadian Islamic Congress asks (again): If diplomatic strategy has proven itself as workable, then why not apply it in Afghanistan? Do insurgents and their kind differ that much from place to place?

They all take up arms for their "causes," yet most of the international community chooses to sit down at the peace table with them — except in the case of Afghanistan’s Taliban.

How strange! It seems we are caught in a double standard and we have been there before – in Lebanon, Bosnia and Chechnya, to name only a few.

Canada’s mission in Afghanistan is rightly about the Afghan people themselves – people who have suffered under the Russians, the Taliban, the Americans, the British. Who knows what other oppressive "liberators" will be added to the list before this is all over, if there is no change in our approach?

If our mission in Afghanistan is not about Canada and its various international partnerships, then how is it about the Afghans?

In a word, it is about their very future; about finding "lasting" solutions to a conflict that cannot be resolved simply by sending over more and more soldiers, with bigger and more expensive tanks. Believe me; Afghans have seen it all before.

So what should our government do, instead of behaving like an American client? Here are a few reasonable suggestions:

1. Ignore the pressure of warmongers and place top priority on the lives of Canadians bravely serving in Afghanistan. As of this writing, we have lost 112 brave soldiers; many are injured for life and many families are left in shock and despair.

2. Include all sides of the conflict – yes, the Taliban as well! –” in peace talks.

It is a safe prediction that on the basis of recent Afghan history, the conflict in this tortured country will not end without negotiations in which all sides involved can take part. This is "reality on the ground" in Afghanistan.

So far, Canada has managed not to lose the entire trust of the Afghan people, but that could happen all too soon. We have very little time to turn this around; but if Canada does not try now, who will?