Should we negotiate with ‘terrorists’ or not?

»So the first problem starts with the terminology and the definition of terrorism as idea and action as well. ‘Terrorism’ or ‘terrorists’ are labels used to define the government...


With the latest case of exchange of prisoners of the US Government and release of Bowe Bergdahl from the Taliban, we still saw a big dilemma among policymakers and those who plan development and post-conflict recovery phases regarding negotiations with so-called terrorists.

We also saw that negotiation was not done for the principles but for solutions, an approach that should be adapted for longer term strategy in Afghanistan and elsewhere. Also, lately there are initiatives to a joint response to the developments in Iraq but not only. There is more fear among international community from the ISIS and there are initiatives to joint responses against ISIS. Interventions from the air just achieve to do whatever ISIS wants the west to do because it does not involve them in the process at all. Despite the fact that ISIS refuses to negotiate anything with anyone, airstrikes against targets will just qualify ISIS for negotiation in future similar to air strikes in Afghanistan throughout 2000s that qualified the Taliban for negotiations later. With the horrific actions of the ISIS and decapitation of their hostages, does the situation change drastically in “negotiations” between US, European states and others in one side and the ISIS and other organisations in the other? In principle, no. Despite its horrific past and support for violence, Hammas, Hesbollah, Taliban and other type of such political movements seem to be good negotiating partners in comparison with the ISIS.

Despite the successful ‘negotiation’ there is still doubt among decision makers and academics on the power of negotiations. One of the arguments also among the academics against negotiating is that they get motivated and recognised to do what they do-terrorize civilians to reach their goals and not fulfil parts of agreements out of negotiations. As Harmonie Toros argues ‘such a course of action would legitimize the terrorists and terrorism more broadly (Toros, 2008: 408) and the other question that Toros raises implicitly is that whether legitimising ‘terrorists is a bad thing?!’ when it comes to dealing with violence and finding solutions on transforming conflicts in possibly smaller scale violence conflict instead of ignoring them totally. The ‘widening’ the scope of study and therefore widening also the scope of thought out of ‘state view’ enables a different approach to this problem. This is also argued by Maskaliunaite ‘the very fact that the subject of terrorism is studied from so many different angles may well be an advantage and not a shortcoming of the field’ (Maskaliunaite quoted on Jackson, 2009:13). Practically this enables different understanding of insurgencies and ‘terrorist’ organisations and therefore different approach to negotiating with them.

Critical Study is crucial approach also in other work of other scholars that even Toros uses in her argumentation (Jackson, 2011; Gunning, 2007; Richardson, 2006) and others that generally argue that labeling entire organisations as ‘terrorist’ does not contribute to finding solutions and decreasing intensity of conflict and violence. Similarly also the United Nations Security Council Resolution on Terrorism reinforces the fact that ‘terrorism cannot and should not be associated with any religion, nationality, civilization or ethnic group (UNSC, 2006)’. Also this is supported also by Ranstrop where he identifies problems with terrorism studies as lacking evidence based research (Ranstrop, 2009: 17) similarly also Silke discusses that ‘much of the writing in the crucial areas of terrorism research…is impressionistic, superficial and at the same time often also pretentious, venturing far -reaching generalizations on the basis of episodic evidence’ (Silke, 2009: 36). According to these interpretations, the states leave no open solutions but to militarily confront ‘terrorism’ and not negotiate.

Labelling of groups as terrorist is the first division where the question of negotiation comes into surface as ‘once one act carried out by a group is categorized as ‘terrorist’, the group’s subsequent actions will often also be categorized as such even though they may be very different from the former and may not correspond to ‘terrorist’ actions (Toros, 2008: 409)’ and also practically this has been policy of the United States for many decades. Since Ronald Reagan framed the debate over whether to talk to terrorists in terms that still dominate the debate today. ‘America will never make concessions to terrorists. To do so would only invite more terrorism, once we head down that path there would be no end to it, no end to the suffering of innocent people, no end to the bloody ransom all civilized nations must pay (Cambanis, 2010)’ and to be continued in 2000’s by President George W. Bush who said ‘You’ve got to be strong, not weak’. The only way to deal with these people is to bring them to justice. You can’t talk to them. You can’t negotiate with them (Bush, 2003)’. And this tradition of ‘state approach’ towards these problems is explained earlier than 9/11 events by the Director of Defence and Policy Studies of Cato Institute where he says that ‘most attention has been focused on combating terrorism by deterring and disrupting it beforehand and retaliating against it after the fact. Less attention has been paid to what motivates terrorists to launch attacks (Eland, 1998)’.

So the first problem starts with the terminology and the definition of terrorism as idea and action as well. ‘Terrorism’ or ‘terrorists’ are labels used to define the government perspective on ‘war on terror’ more than it is used to describe actions or ideas of the movements that are violent and do such actions that are considered terrorist.

Tores’ argument that ‘terrorism can be understood as a violent means aimed at triggering political change by affecting a larger audience than its immediate target that is to be examined using both problem-solving and critical theory and focusing on its socio-historical context in an analysis embedded in broader social and political theory that acknowledges a normative role to theory ’ is valid and of a crucial importance in setting the grounds for negotiation with so called ‘terrorists’ as their actions are not aiming at their primary victims or primary targets but instead they have larger goals and want to make a point with their actions.

Governments are in a very difficult position with this framework. On one hand the  debate that legitimising terrorists will increase and intensify their actions is based on government discourse in a way and after de-legitimising and demonising them (UN, 2002: 6) puts government into a very difficult position to negotiate afterwards with such groups which brings another problem in the field of study. Legitimisation of the groups is normally done by the governments’ side and in a way governments control with the legitimisation. Toros’ argument about this is that ‘that talks legitimize terrorists and therefore weaken the norm of nonviolence appears to be based on a two-dimensional understanding of legitimacy, in which states have legitimacy and simply grant or deny it to insurgents (Toros, 2008: 413).

The traditional method of not negotiating with ‘terrorists’ has led to inability to address the problems and gave states limited access to such groups. The Afghan Government understood this earlier than International community and created Reconciliation Council which aims to ‘end inter-group armed hostilities, resolve unsettled national issues, facilitate healing of the wounds caused by past injustices, and take necessary measures to prevent the repeat of the civil war and its destruction (2005)’.

»In next piece, author Abit Hoxha argues further into the Middle Eastern issues, focusing on ‘The case of Afghan Taliban vs ISIS’«

Abit Hoxha është hulumtues dhe doktorant në Universitetin Ludwig Maximilian në Mynih të Gjermanisë, ku është përqendruar në krahasim të prodhimit të lajmeve në konflikte. Ai është autor i disa publikimeve shkencore në revista akademike dhe një libri për raportimin e mediave gjatë dhe pas luftës në Kosovë. Ka përfunduar studimet në Shkencë Politike, Gazetari dhe Politika të Mbrojtjes, Zhvillimit dhe Diplomaci në Kosovë dhe Angli. Abiti është aktiv në fushën e hulumtimeve të gazetarisë, medias, sigurisë, konfliktit dhe lëvizjeve sociale, është hulumtues i jashtëm në Qendrën Kosovare për Studime të Sigurisë dhe kontribuon për media ndërkombëtare.

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