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Negotiating with terrorists grants them too much authority

This week, Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf learned exactly what’s meant by the phrase “biting the hand that feeds you” – as his government was “bit” after “feeding” terrorists since last September with a truce negotiated between militant extremists and the Pakistani government.

The truce – which, according to AP, was credited with giving Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters a base near Afghanistan – was publicly called off Sunday morning, followed by the terrorists’ press release of choice: suicide bombings. A total of 49 people were killed in separate attacks against prospective police recruits in South Warzistan and a Pakistani army convoy in the Northern Border Province.

The reason the truce was called off – aside from the obvious fact that Kalashnikov-toting yahoos might not respect contracts and treaties like law-abiding folk – was twofold.

First, militants weren’t paid on time by the Pakistani government. (Apparently, one of the loony provisions of the truce required that militants be paid some sort of compensation). Also, militants were angered by the Pakistani police arrests of some of their ranks.

So, in essence, this so-called peace treaty really just allowed terrorists to gain power by blackmailing the Pakistani government for money and preventing the government from enforcing law.

And – surprise, surprise – it didn’t even save an emasculated Pakistan any bloodshed in the end!

The lesson is clear enough: Negotiating with terrorists is not only morally questionable but is also silly policy, as it creates more security problems than it fixes – because it justifies terrorists’ actions.

Typically, signing a treaty or a truce implies that the signatories are valid political entities with the power to comply with the truce by making and enforcing laws.

This implication isn’t entirely far-fetched – signatories have to recognize each other as valid decision-makers if they want the treaty to hold water.

Therefore, it’s dangerous for a government to negotiate a truce with a terrorist group, because doing so suggests that the government recognizes the terrorist group as politically valid – with the right to negotiate and rule.

So what happens when a terrorist group is treated like a real government in a truce? In this example, the said terrorist group can consider itself legally justified in retaliating against the government should it advantageously interpret the truce as having been violated.

In a nutshell, that’s a compelling reason not to give – via negotiation – legal power to terrorists. Legal power grants legal protections that are dangerous when used perversely.

Admittedly, as summarized by BBC correspondent Barbara Plett, Musharraf’s government may be of questionable validity as well. Plett writes of Musharraf, “The weakness of his argument is that he seized power by force, in a military coup.”

But considering the likely alternatives – which could range from theocratic mob rule to a theocratic oligarchy to the tune of Afghanistan’s old Taliban – the freedom of Pakistanis, however watered down under Musharraf, could be severely diminished by a reckless change, suggesting that Musharraf’s government should not be too quickly dismissed.

The cause of this week’s eight-day Red Mosque siege – the culmination of which threatens to embroil all of Pakistan in religious war – serves as proof of this point.

Before Musharraf’s July 10-11 raid of the mosque, clerics had been violently advocating the institution of strict Islamic Sharia law – laws based on the teachings of the Qur’an – in Pakistan.

Not only did the mosque put together “vice squads” to round up “prostitutes,” they also kidnapped police officers who arrested seminary students, harassed a female politician and, according to the Washington Post, music store owners as well.

Although the threat of uprisings loomed in retaliation for the raid, Musharraf did right in refusing to grant cleric Abdur Rashid Ghazi and other ringleaders of the uprising amnesty and forcibly disarming the mosque.

However firm his stance appears to be, Musharraf cannot entirely rectify the errors of holding serious negotiations and signing truces with terrorists.

But if he is sincere in pledging that “Wherever there is fundamentalism and extremism, we have to finish that, destroy that,” he is far less likely to repeat them.

Victoria Bekiempis is a junior majoring in history and French.