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Talking to terrorists

This sixth-form assembly looks at the ethics of talking to the Taliban in Afghanistan.

by James Lamont

Suitable for Key Stage 4/5


This sixth-form assembly looks at the ethics of talking to the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Preparation and materials

  • Download pictures of the war. There are many sites offering pictures, and you will need to use discretion.
  • Music for the reflection: ‘Imagine’ by John Lennon.


  1. Afghanistan has known war, sporadically, since 1978 when an insurgency broke out against the communist rulers. It was against this backdrop that the Taliban rose to power in 1996 and gained control over key areas of the country, although never establishing complete control. The war took a new direction in 2001, following the September 11 attacks on the United States and the entry of NATO into the war. The Taliban were quickly routed and their militant allies crushed. A new president, Hamid Karzai, was installed as interim leader and NATO and Afghan forces began the slow process of gaining complete control of the enormous country.
  2. Despite the easy initial victories, however, since 2001 the war has not gone so well. The Taliban has regained dominance in areas of southern Afghanistan, at times challenging British and American forces in open battle, and capturing significant towns from NATO. With their armies being stretched by increasing involvement in Iraq, Britain and America began to neglect the reconstruction of Afghanistan. The forced eradication of the opium crop, a major employer in southern Afghanistan, combined with overuse of air bombings, turned large numbers of the population against NATO and in favour of the resurgent Taliban.
  3. There have been many attempts to drive back the Taliban. Though NATO often achieves tactical victories, the Taliban are constantly recruiting new members, and every battle increases the risk of civilian casualties and of turning more Afghans against the new government. It is in this climate that some have suggested a negotiated peace with the Taliban.

    This raises many ethical problems. Traditionally, governments have refused to negotiate with terrorists, since this would be to treat them as equals. However, the Taliban do have the power of government in some regions of Afghanistan, even though they are not legitimate. They are in control, and mete out their conception of justice on those they regard as criminals.
  4. Another objection is that even if the Taliban have the power of a state, they do not deserve it. News stories emerge of brutal punishments for minor crimes, especially for women. Although the main object of the war was the capture of Osama Bin Laden, the toppling of the Taliban was held to be a benevolent action, and to negotiate a peace with them now would undermine what moral authority NATO still has.

    Some see a peace as ‘cutting and running’, abandoning the problems when they get too hard. However, it would reduce the number of civilian deaths. The burden of casualties will always fall on the civilian population. Between one and a half and two million Afghan civilians have died since 1978. But peace would be at the price of greater oppression for the survivors. That said, the current phase of the war was begun by NATO forces: if they stop fighting now, the leaders of the USA and Britain in particular will be at least partially responsible for the consequences.

Time for reflection

Show pictures of the war and play the song ‘Imagine’ by John Lennon.

What price peace?

As soldiers and airmen and women die, what price peace?

But what price inaction?

When will swords be beaten into ploughshares?

When will justice and peace come to the Afghan people?

How can I bring peace?

How can I bring peace to my school, to my family, to my life?

How can I help bring peace?


We think of all those caught up in warfare,

and we remember all those working for peace:

diplomats, politicians, community leaders.

May we act as peacemakers in our lives.

May we bring peace wherever we are,

whatever we do.

Publication date: October 2009   (Vol.11 No.10)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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