There is some commotion in the Netherlands following a report in The [London] Times (6 January) that Dutch troops in Afghanistan have found a new way of beating the Taliban. They invite them round to tea. The Dutch blog Het Vrije Volk points out that the Taliban are guilty of mass murders, gang rapes and other hideous crimes. As U.S. President George W. Bush said: “If you harbor a terrorist, if you support a terrorist, if you feed a terrorist, you’re just as guilty as the terrorists.” That, however, is not how the Dutch government sees it.
The Dutch are acting in accordance with the policy of Ben Bot, their minister of Foreign Affairs. Last November 3rd, while visiting Afghanistan, Bot said the Western nations had to cooperate with “moderate Taliban.” According to Bot not all Taliban are extremists and the moderates have to be won over instead of fought. Taliban are Sunni Islamic extremists who ruled Afghanistan as a theocratic totalitarian dictatorship from 1996 until 2001.
The Times reports how the Dutch military HQ in Uruzgan province, on the fringes of Taliban country, is run as an open house where locals, including Taliban sympathizers and fighters, are encouraged to air their grievances and talk politics, whilst munching nuts and dried fruit and sipping tea. The reaction to the “Dutch model” is mixed. Some locals say the Dutch act “with great respect for local culture, traditions and tribal leaders – that has had a positive impact.” Others accuse the Dutch of surrendering most of Uruzgan to the Taliban.
Last December 2nd, the Canadian Globe and Mail also reported on the Dutch model. According to the Dutch officers their tactic works. The Canadian paper reported that
Listening to the radio frequencies often used by [Taliban] insurgents, the Dutch interpreters heard locals discussing the new type of foreigner that was replacing the U.S. troops. “They said, ‘Those Dutch aren’t here to fight, they’re here to talk,’” Lt.-Col. Van der Sar said.
The Dutch, however, are reluctant to discuss their method in detail, since the idea of negotiating with terrorists remains a subject of debate among NATO allies. The Globe and Mail noticed that in a PowerPoint briefing for a visiting reporter a Dutch Lt.-Col. quickly moved past a slide titled “Talking to the Dark Side.”
The Dutch blog Het Vrije Volk wonders how the Dutch would have reacted if the Allies, instead of fighting the Germans in the 1940s, had decided “to have tea with moderate Nazis. There were many of them as well.” Methinks the Dutch might have preferred it that way, as would undoubtedly the French and the Belgians.