Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Talking about negotiations

Politaholic thinks the story about MI6 holding talks with Taliban leaders is a bit rum. Cameron questioned Brown about this on December 12th, and now the Telegraph somehow has this story.

In any case it is nonsense.

In his statement on December 12 Brown said the aim was “isolating and eliminating” the Taliban “not negotiating with them”. He then later repeated that he would not "negotiate" with them. As we all know, in diplomatic-speak "talking" and "negotiating" are not the same thing (I seem to remember John Major adopting a similar ploy (and of course it is a disingenuous ploy, but a necessary one) vis-a-vis the Irish Republican Movement; he would not "negotiate" before they renounced the armed struggle, but it turned out they were "talking"). (Of course when "talking" one can always say: "Now you and I are are just "talking", not "negotiating", I have no authority to negotiate, but hypothetically speaking, if we proposed such-and-such what would your response be?" Of course that's not negotiating, absolutely not, perish the thought).

The Telegaph says: "The Prime Minister had denied reports of talks with the Taliban under questioning from David Cameron, the Tory leader, in Parliament. Liam Fox, the shadow defence secretary said: "If this turns out to be untrue the Prime Minister will have some explaining to do to the British public." So far as I can see it is not true Brown denied "talks"; he denied (like Major before him) "negotiations". Fox knows this, unless he is a retard. He sees an opportunity to exploit this - shall we call it a "diplomatic finesse" - against Brown. I don't think it will work. I remember before the war in Iraq the mood was ugly. It was common to hear (especially from young men) talk of going over there are "taking Saddam out". The problem is that no one should ever contemplate war unless they are prepared to take causalties, not just inflict them. After several years of this the public mood is different. I suspect the public will be more tolerant of "talking" than the Tories suspect.

And who are the people being "talked" to? I know very little about this but my guess is that the Taliban is less (or only in part) a centrally-organised hierarchically-led Islamistic "vanguard", and at least as much an alliance or grouping of tribal groups and influencial families. Brown has already said those who lay down their arms are "talkable to" (his December statement referred to the "search for political reconciliation". With whom? Doesn't this involve "talking"? What did Fox think it meant?). On the BBC even as I write this someone is saying: "Tribal leaders can quite easily be Taliban one day and supporters of the Kabul regime the next". And: "Taliban is a shorthand phrase for a whole variety of anti-occupation forces". Talking to some at least seems to make sense in this context.

The truth is that it is always - or should always - be part of the job of the security services to keep open a back-door to all kinds of deeply unpleasant people (and the Taliban are most certainly deeply unpleasant).

It seems the reason for all this is that the Kabul regime are complaining that they were cut out of the loop. They are, so they say, the sovereign power (don't laugh) and the two negotiators did not respect this. I think this translates like this: the Americans are peeved (since the Kabul regime wouldn't fart without US say-so).


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