Talking while fighting…

23 June, 2011

 

Richard Burge, Chief Executive writes:

…; fragile complicated, and oh-so-difficult!

A BBC interviewer talking to the Foreign Secretary this morning, naively suggested that the moment the talking starts, the guns should go quiet.

The process of trying to talk to your enemy while people die on the battlefield is not new.  It has become even more important and common in a world of insurgency, terrorism, and asymmetric warfare.   A few months ago, Wilton Park addressed the subject that is now headline news with the announcement  by President Karzai;  exactly these discussions are proceeding with the Taliban or their interlocutors –  in Afghanistan.

From Nepal to Tajikistan to Darfur to El Salvador, reaching out to the enemy is essential.  Only in exceptional circumstances will it be possible to conceive of peace arriving solely by the total annihilation of most of your enemy and then permanent capitulation by the few that survived the onslaught.  In truth, most conflict ends through reconciliation and reintegration.

Talking while fighting can  involve a huge range of disparate participants.  Some may have influence over the politics of the conflict and some over the armed men.  In an insurgency, those that are fighting may have fragile connections with the ideologues who drive them.  Civil society and local leadership has varying levels of contact with both sides.  And, while one might be fairly (but not always) certain that the emissary of a conventional state is who he says he is, that is not so with the intermediaries that come forward on behalf of insurgents or terrorists.

Wilton Parks work brings together people with hard experiences from past and current conflicts to learn from each other.  The process continues this year not just in the UK but elsewhere in the world.  Our dialogues, the accompanying short podcasts and blogs are work in progress.

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