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President Obama must negotiate with the Taliban about Afghan self-determination and in order to capture Osama bin Laden

By       Message William Barth     Permalink
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"Let us never negotiate out of fear, but let us never fear to negotiate."

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- John Fitzgerald Kennedy, Inaugural Address, 20 January 1961

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Americans oppose insurgency -- so much so that President Obama's Defense Secretary, Robert Gates, has testified before Congress that the administration plans to send 33,000 more American troops and spend an additional $100 billion in Afghanistan. All this to continue a war against insurgent Taliban forces battling the regime of President Hamid Karzai, which is not only widely regarded as being extremely corrupt, but has also been implicated in heroin-trafficking. This should give us pause to re-examine our opposition to the Taliban, as well as to insurgency broadly defined.

Our anti-insurgency bias is not consistent with our history. The United States was established, in large part, through the actions of insurgent minutemen against King George III's British troops. Even though European colonialism has long since ended, insurgents still continue their battles to eradicate colonialism's legacy. Insurgency is also used by indigenous populations in order to gain self-governance in regions still controlled by states unsympathetic to local political aspirations. It is difficult to understand why Americans should oppose such movements in principle, given that self-determination is jus cogens (universally recognized)as a tenet of international law. Indeed, this principle was first established by President Woodrow Wilson, and the League of Nations, at the conclusion of WWI, in hope of ending the use of war as a tool to achieve national aspirations.

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Whilst insurgencies generally act in the name of self-determination, this does not, naturally, in any way excuse their use of terror-tactics; that is, crimes of violence against civilians. What is the case, though, is that terrorism would very likely be reduced were remedies to be created within international organizations, such as the United Nations (UN), as well as other regional bodies, that do not currently recognize insurgent claims. Insurgent groups have no international forum where they can present a claim for self-determination, or statehood. The UN Human Rights Committee, or other international treaty monitoring bodies, might be suitable for this purpose. In the absence of any international remedy, however, the only alternatives these groups believe that they have to prosecute their grievances are civil protest, or violence.

Since the end of WWII, the United States has consistently opposed insurgent movements throughout formerly European-held colonies in Asia, Africa and India. The most notable instance of this was opposition to the African National Congress (ANC), which battled South African apartheid for several decades but was for a long time considered to be a terrorist organization (Nelson Mandela, former chair of the ANC, has since been awarded the Noble Peace Prize). Still another illustration is that of Vietnamese insurgents (the Viet-Cong) who battled first against French colonization, and later, against American troops. We once dismissed Vietnamese insurgents as communist-puppets controlled by Beijing and Moscow; but these same communists today demonstrate Vietnam's independence by having established a partnership with the United States.

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Dr. William K. Barth's book is entitled, On Cultural Rights: The Equality of Nations and the Minority Legal Tradition (Boston, Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, 2008). He received his doctorate from the Univeristy of Oxford.

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