Baroness Eliza Manningham-Buller, the former head of the Security Service (also known as MI5), has suggested that the British government should be talking to al-Qaeda:
The baroness said she hoped people were trying to talk to “people on the edges of al-Qaeda”. “There won’t be a Waterloo or an El-Alamein,” she added.
Critics of the “war on terror” have argued that the torture of terror suspects and the continuing use of Guantanamo Bay for detainees has led to a propaganda victory for al-Qaeda. Baroness Manningham-Buller says hearts and minds are critical in combating terrorism.
“I think making sure we hold to our values, our ethical standards, our laws, and are not tempted to go down a route which others, in my view have made the profound mistake of going down, means in the longer run we’ll have a chance from that moral authority of addressing some of the underlying causes of these problems,” she said.
There are some reasonable arguments against this. Some see talking to an enemy as akin to surrendering (thanks to events like Neville Chamberlain’s disastrous attempt to negotiate with Nazi Germany). Other might feel that treating with al-Qaeda legitimises a gang of criminals and murders. There is also the question of whether a group of people willing to blow themselves up can be reasoned with, or that what they want can or should be granted. Even if negotiations were successful, would the cells around the world listen to a leadership who many believe have limited control over them?
Yet it is still worth a try. Al-Qaeda is not a monolithic block; clearly the commanders (including Bin Laden) aren’t too keen to join their suicidal followers in the afterlife. Nor has Al-Qaeda been crushed by military force, and, as the Baroness says, it is very unlikely that there will a decisive battle. Negotiation should just be one more weapon in the arsenal in the fight against al-Qaeda and affiliates. Detaching some of them with acceptable promises (whatever they may be) weakens the organisation.
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Filed in: Current affairs,Terrorism