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					Negotiation is a well-accepted way for two reasonable parties to reach an agreement. In the case
of terrorists, this becomes debatable mainly because of the moral revulsion that the very label
'terrorist' evokes in most people. The very idea of negotiating with terrorists has been described
by its opponents as 'dining with devil,' 'tipping a rapist,' etc.

Arguments against negotiation :

      Confers legitimacy on terrorism which, as a consequence, may attract more followers.
      Projects a weak, helpless image of government.
      Terrorists are usually wanted criminals and sitting at the same table with them and
       negotiating would be embarrassing to government.
      It is unfair to other groups who may be pressing their grievances through peaceful,
       constitutional channels and sends wrong signals to them.
      It would confuse and demoralise the security forces about the real intentions of the
       government and its expectations from the former.
      It would set bad precedents and unsettle established administrative norms and procedures.
      Diplomacy and negotiation may solve most other problems but terrorism is different as
       terrorists want to 'take,' but not 'give.'
      Terrorists are not serious about negotiation and would use it only to regroup and reinforce
      There is no common ground between terrorism and democracy. Before a terrorist is
       brought to the table, he should be brought to his knees." (K.P.S.Gill )

Arguments in favour of negotiation

      It may de-escalate the level of violence even if it is only temporarily.
      May provide a face-saving exit for the moderates among the terrorists.
      It would help us to understand the mindset of the terrorists better even if the negotiation
      It would project an open-minded image of government.
      If the demands are legitimate, the government has in any case to understand and consider
       them even if the means used to press them are unlawful.
      It would justify subsequent harsh measures if negotiation failed.
      Negotiation need not be appeasement. " Never negotiate out of fear, but never fear to
       negotiate ." (John F Kennedy )
      ' Never negotiate ' may be too rigid a policy in a changing world. Even in the USA, there
       are people who feel that the US government ought to have taken up Al Qaeda's offer of a
       truce in 2004. Most governments at one time or the other have negotiated with terrorists
       in spite of their avowed 'never negotiate' policy.
      Non-negotiation may mean prolonged violence and war between the government and the
       terrorist groups.
      Prolonged, drastic counter-measures against terrorists may involve infringement of civil
       rights and human rights and result in a public outcry.

Profiling the terrorists : There are situations in which governments have been called terrorists
and the terrorists good guys or freedom fighters. "The US government is the greatest terrorist in
the world," charged a Leftist spokesman. "The LTTE are freedom fighters and it is the Sri
Lankan government , which kills hundreds of Tamils is the real terrorist " ( Vaiko ). Pakistan
calls the Kashmir terrorists freedom fighters.

However, the following broad, graded approach could be considered for dealing with terrorists :

      As terrorists are criminals in the eyes of law, if they are known and apprehendable, they
       should be dealt with according to law. The question of negotiation would not arise.
      After apprehension, depending on the legitimacy of their demands if any and the gravity
       of their offences, a view could be taken about extenuation / condonation.
      Till the terrorists are known and identifiable, the question of negotiation does not arise.
      If the terrorists are not easily apprehendable or neutralisable even if known, the
       possibility of negotiation arises.
      lIf, in the above case, the terrorists' demands are not made known, negotiation is not
      It is only when the terrorists and their demands are known that negotiation becomes a
      'Traditional' terrorists with openly stated, socially and legally legitimate demands are
      Even if the demands are not legitimate, if they are openly stated, there is still a possibility
       of negotiation without any prior commitment.
      'Nihilistic' or 'absolute' terrorists for whom violence is a form of self-realisation and who
       believe that "in a jehad, there can be no truce with the enemies of Allah " are
       not 'negotiable.'

Intelligence - the key :
Intelligence, and not mere armed might, is the backbone of counter-terrorism management.
Intelligence should not be merely vaguely informative or speculative, but also help in pragmatic
profiling of terrorists and have preventive and pre-emptive value. The recent blasts in Jaipur,
Bangalore and Ahmedabad are colossal failures of intelligence . As against the rock-like
solidarity of the terrorists, we behave like a divided polity bent upon partisan point-scoring and
intelligence mechanisms without adequate coordination and unified command and action. (Some
time ago when the Security Adviser to the Government of India stated in a press interview that
the LTTE were infiltrating Tamil Nadu, at the instance of the Tamil Nadu chief minister this
statement was withdrawn!). At present, the Central intelligence agencies send a vague warning to
the state government that a ' terrorist strike is likely in your state ' and sit back feeling that they
have done a good job and that it is then for the state governments to take necessary action. They
have also not succeeded in penetrating any terrorist organisation nor are there any criteria of
accountability for their performance.

The approach :

      If ' actionable intelligence 'exists, the government should first substantially neutralise
       terrorism and then, if necessary, offer negotiation as an honourable way out subject to the
       law taking its course in the case of major offences.
      Agreeing to negotiate too early and too eagerly before demonstrating government's power
       to strike back may project an image of weakness and put the terrorists' tail up.
      Before deciding to negotiate, government has to form a judgment about the terrorists'
       sincerity and seriousness.
      In order to avoid conferring a perceived legitimacy on terrorism, initial negotiation could
       be through mediators and behind the scenes so that the government does not formally get
       committed to any stand and retains the option to act on its own.
      The possibility of the terrorists reneging on the agreement, if one is reached, should be
       kept in mind and contingent action plans kept ready.       lSpeak softly but carry a stick!"
      Government can at no time concede a ceasefire on its basic duty to maintain law and
       order merely because negotiations are going on.
      Even if the demands are legitimate and are partly the result of government's inaction or
       inefficiency and government accepts the responsibility to set things right, it should be
       made clear that seeking remedies through unlawful, much less terrorist, means will not be
       condoned though modalities of implementation could be discussed.
      Hostage situations are difficult and may compel governments to negotiate as human lives
       are involved and public pressure will build up to rescue the hostages even if unjustified
       demands have to be conceded. "Entebbe cannot be repeated every time though the skills
       thereof have to be acquired. "
      While a democratic government should take into account the views of other political
       parties, at least during negotiation there should be some agreement among all parties on
       some basics like not lionizing the terrorists or glorifying their motives or blaming the
       government with hindsight.

There are many who feel that the Indian government's hypersensitivity to the minority angle and
its over-anxiety to keep up the façade of good relationship with Pakistan is making it difficult for
it to be objective in reacting to terrorism, This is to some extent unavoidable in a multi-cultural,
secular society like ours.

There are some , including terrorism specialists, who feel that instead of evolving and
announcing a formal anti-terrorism policy, it is better to shoot from the hip and keep the
terrorists guessing . But in an open society with a democratic government, there will be a
persistent demand for a formal policy though, behind an announced broad policy, the
government could resort to secret, surprise measures if the circumstances warrant.

Terrorists are often unseen, unrelatable, ununderstandable enemies. Negotiation with them is
bound to be an informed play-by-the-ear exercise and never a precisely targeted or assuredly
successful one. But it is an option which should not be ruled out off-hand but tried out whenever
possible without prejudicing other harder options or compromising on the basic values and
obligations of a sovereign government. If one has to label it, it can only be called 'principled
While it may seem that those of us in the field of conflict resolution have had little to say since
September 11, 2001, professional negotiators have not been silent on the subject of terrorism.
Roger Fisher addressed this very question in the second edition of Getting To Yes, and in
January of 1992, the Negotiation Journal published a special issue called Reflections on the War
in the Persian Gulf. The insights found in these publications are just as valid in the aftermath of
the World Trade Center attack as they were for the terrorism of the 1980s and early 90s.

In answer to the question, should we negotiate with terrorists, Roger Fisher replies with a
resounding yes, because the better our communication, the better our chances of exerting
influence. But doesn’t negotiating with someone whose behavior you abhor grant them
legitimacy that they didn’t have before, and therefore reward criminal activity? Won’t this
encourage further bad behavior because it means we have given into pressure? According to
Fisher, it may confer a little legitimacy, but this effect can be minimized by involving relatively
low level or non-governmental personnel in the initial talks. The effect could actually be
eliminated if we had a policy of negotiating with anyone. With such a policy, no one could attain
special status just because negotiations were opened.

What is much more certain and important is that a refusal to negotiate indicates rejection of the
other side, and rejection creates serious physical and psychological obstacles to problem solving,
because it prevents clear communication from taking place, and it guarantees defensiveness and
resistance to change. We simply need to make it clear that a decision to negotiate does not mean
acceptance of the other side’s behavior. We can in fact love our enemies and hate what they do,
but to prove it we need to act in loving ways by accepting their humanity enough to negotiate for
mutual gains. Each side need get no more than that to which they are entitled. And we need to
remember that regardless of how we respond, there are no guaranteed results, except that forced
agreements are always very unstable.

We need not accept their values or their conduct. What we do accept is the humanity underneath
as deserving of due process with the realization that we could be at least partially wrong in our
perceptions and conclusions (because of stereotyping, attribution bias, projection,
misinformation, inadequate data, etc.). According to Fisher and Brown in their 1988 book
Getting Together, we should consider all others as equals, that is “equally human, equally caught
up in the situation, equally entitled to have rights, and equally entitled to have any interests and
views taken into account” (Fisher & Brown, p. 160). In reality, that is a fairly minimal level of
acceptance. But shouldn’t the enemy have to give something for this kind of acceptance? No,
bargaining over acceptance is like bargaining over apology: acceptance is only effective when
freely given, not when it’s withheld. It is coercive to use acceptance as a bargaining chip; it
creates distrust and it helps further entrench a defensive, adversarial relationship.

What did we do right in the Gulf War according to Fisher? We strengthened our BATNA (best
alternative to a negotiated agreement) and weakened Iraq’s BATNA by moving our military into
Saudi Arabia. We also increased our negotiating power by building an international coalition.
Where did we fail? Fisher said: “We failed to maintain effective communication with Iraq, the
very actor we were trying to influence. We did not try to understand Iraq’s interests and
perceptions. We did not accept the government of Iraq as the one with which to deal. We failed
to explore fully options other than war. And, while holding aloft the mantle of the United
Nations, we coerced it in ways that undercut its legitimacy and effectiveness” (Negotiation
Journal, 8(1), p.17). The same could be said for our current refusal to negotiate with the Taliban
government of Afghanistan. There are most always opportunities to negotiate with governments
who harbor criminals, and to squander those opportunities, as we have done with Afghanistan,
sets a very poor precedent.

One person’s “terrorist” is another person’s “freedom fighter.” Different perceptions and world
views abound throughout the history of our small planet, and just as it is impossible to win a
marriage, it is impossible to win peace and justice. Neither can be achieved in a competitive
battle, and despite our “toughness” neither have been achieved in the Persian Gulf. Because we
need to obtain and preserve both peace and justice, we owe it to ourselves and to everyone else
to do the hard work of integrative negotiation whenever we possibly can. Getting past the
posturing and rhetoric and involving all stakeholders requires skill and patience, so a respected
mediator with knowledge of both Western and Islamic culture is probably essential. As a last
resort, if power moves must be made (whether to raise consciousness, deliver punishment, or
demonstrate our resolve), the goal should always be getting the other side to the negotiating
table, not killing or beating them into submission.

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