In the wake of announcements by President Obama and Prime Minister Cameron that substantial troop withdrawals are to be made from Afghanistan in the coming months, the prospect of engaging the Taliban in political talks has been raised by politicians on both sides of the Atlantic.
Now, while it is true that there are no ultimate military solutions to the problems in Afghanistan and a political resolution need to be found, I find it hard to believe that the Taliban can be engaged in this way. Even if the rhetoric from the west is true and the recent military surge has weakened the Taliban to the point where they could be persuaded to negotiate, what will they negotiate about?
The Taliban are not the Afghan equivalent of the IRA, their aims are not political or territorial they are cultural and religious.
The Taliban want an Islamist state and sharia law. They want to rule a country that forbids women an education and the right to work. It wants to force them to wear the burqa and be subject to male dominance. It wants to stone rape victims to death. It wants a theocracy with no god but Allah, where apostates and blasphemers can be killed with impunity.
These people do not have a middle ground, you cannot negotiate with Allah and whatever they appear to concede will quickly evaporate once they have the power and the west has gone away.
I have yet to hear any politician make this point, but I can’t believe they are not aware of it. Either they are afraid of insulting “moderate” Muslims by pointing out that it is their religion that is at the root of the problem or just a desire to seem reasonable in their engagement with the enemy. But whatever the reason it will do no good to pretend that the Taliban will, or even can negotiate in good faith.
"Religion is a hypothesis about the world: the hypothesis that things are the way they are, at least in part, because of supernatural entities or forces acting on the natural world. And there's no good reason to treat it any differently from any other hypothesis. Which includes pointing out its flaws and inconsistencies, asking its adherents to back it up with solid evidence, making jokes about it when it's just being silly, offering arguments and evidence for our own competing hypotheses...and trying to persuade people out of it if we think it's mistaken. It's persuasion. It's the marketplace of ideas. Why should religion get a free ride"