Pep Montserrat for The National
Pep Montserrat for The National

Sitting down with terrorists

Images of war and terror are not difficult to conjure. The components are all so familiar. Across the decades, across the centuries, there will be dust and confusion and pain.

There will be loss and brutality and fire and smoke. There will be warriors and victims, rebels, insurgents, resistance, terrorists, enemies of the state … the labels may differ from conflict to conflict. There will be blood all the same.

But however varied the causes or distant the battlefields, however advanced or meagre the weapons in any side's armoury, or apparently intractable the causes, there is really only one image that shows any conflict's end. And it isn't an image of victory or defeat. It is one of agreement - reluctant perhaps, imperfect almost certainly, but agreement nevertheless.

There will be representatives, a table and a deal. Peace will be signed off with the flourish of a fountain pen, ultimately brokered not by guns but by days, maybe weeks, even years, of talks.

This means at some point before every resolution the unthinkable has to be thought. At some point the enemy has to be engaged, not in violence, but in dialogue.

As unpalatable as it remains to many, this is a truth borne out across history. Many factors may complicate it and conspire to thwart its attempt but none can negate it.

If reports are to be believed, then it is a truth the US government quietly acknowledged last week with its unofficial endorsement of plans to open a Taliban political office in Qatar. The proposed office would be the first internationally recognised representation for the Taliban since it was ousted from power by the US-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001.

For many reasons its prospective establishment carries symbolic as well as real significance, marking America's first clear step on a path that can only lead to the Taliban's inclusion in open political dialogue.

It is a prospect that will make many recoil. Some will view the very notion as tantamount to a betrayal of the lives lost in the conflict that has raged in Afghanistan and been felt far more widely in acts of terrorism in the US, Britain and beyond.

The inevitable questions bubble up. How can any civilised government countenance contact with an organisation so inextricably linked to acts of terror and violence? How can any communication be sought when the Taliban's rule was defined by such intransigent interpretation of Islamic law, by public executions, by the banning of education of women and by offering a safe haven for Al Qaeda terrorists? How can we ever talk to those once cast out as the enemies of everything worth defending?

Generations in the West have been raised to accept unthinkingly that the one thing their governments never do with terrorists, or with any political body affiliated to terrorist acts, is talk.

But that simply isn't true. They have, they do and they must.

Too often critics confuse talking and listening with negotiating. Hard-liners on any side of an argument tend to read an openness to communication as a sign of weakness. But the truth is no position of power can be maintained from one of ignorance.

During the depths of the Troubles in Northern Ireland in the 1970s and 1980s, successive British governments publicly denied all contact with the IRA. But "a line of communication" was held between the British state and Irish republicans.

Margaret Thatcher's administration drew on it, as did that of her successor, John Major. Publicly, he said the thought of talking to representatives of the IRA "turned his stomach". Behind the scenes, meetings between such representatives and civil servants of the British government did take place.

The real question worth asking and worth struggling to answer is not whether to talk to terrorists; it is which ones to talk to and when?

Because it is not always good to talk. Negotiating with terrorists who are on the crest of a wave of propaganda, confidence and momentum is a very different prospect to engaging with them, or those who represent them, once they have come to realise their aims are unattainable by violent means.

In 1972, IRA operatives were flown to London to meet senior British politicians. The meeting was a disaster, with the IRA simply reading a prepared statement of demands and rejecting any negotiation that did not agree to British withdrawal.

The Republicans concluded their violence had brought the British government to the table. As a strategy it had yielded results but had not gone far enough. Two days after the talks the IRA detonated 22 bombs across Belfast in what became known as Bloody Friday.

Valuable lessons were learnt, according to the Northern Ireland secretary of the day. But crucially, the end game remained unchanged: resolution through dialogue.

Arguably the success of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998 - albeit brokered in very different circumstances and at a very different time - owed something to all the failures that had gone before.

According to Tony Blair, it also owed much to the "personal relationships", fraught and flawed and strained as they may have been, established between him and the key players Martin McGuinness and Gerry Adams from the Nationalist side, and Ian Paisley from the Unionists. It allowed Blair to occupy the role of "good faith go-between" for parties who had lost all sense of good faith in each other.

Such relationships cannot be summoned on a whim. They take time. And they take talk.

A glance across the debating chambers of the world shows just how fluid the most seemingly intractable situations can be, given time. Many groups once on the US state department's official list of terrorist organisations have since become partners in pursuing peace and furthering democracy.

The African National Congress is now the democratically elected ruling party in South Africa; the provisional IRA preaches non-violence and its long-time leader McGuinness is Northern Ireland's deputy first minister; Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestine Liberation Organisation have become players in the Middle East peace negotiations.

But just as this shift is possible, might the opposite also be true? The very term terrorist is problematic and emotive, based not simply on an objective assessment of behaviour but wrapped up in political judgement. It is a truism, but one that bears repetition, that one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter.

Britain, France and America have all been swift to support the rebel forces in Libya. But with the dust yet to settle on the fall of Col Muammar Qaddafi, it is far from clear quite who these forces truly are.

So-called "climbers" from the old regime have made their way into the new. The National Transitionary Council must navigate a line between moderate Islamist and liberal secular views. And there, in the already heady mix, are fight-hardened rebels - citizens - with guns and an unclear agenda. Will yesterday's freedom fighters become tomorrow's terrorists if that agenda flies against the prevailing wind?

Only last week the former head of MI5, Eliza Manningham-Buller, stated that talking to terrorists "is necessary". Speaking in London as part of the BBC's series of Reith Lectures, she said: "Talking doesn't mean approval. It is a way of exploring peaceful options; what compromises, if any, can be reached."

She did not exclude the prospect of talking to components of Al Qaeda and voiced her belief that talks between the West and Hamas were continuing.

Opponents to engaging in dialogue with those associated with terror argue that it legitimises strategies of violence. But this is a self-absorbed misunderstanding of the roots of militancy and how its proponents define themselves. It is also self-defeating.

Fighters in the back alleys of Gaza, or the jungles of Sri Lanka, or the foothills and mountains of Kashmir, wage war for their own reasons, not to gain the approval of any political elite.

Ignoring them will not reduce their sense of "legitimacy", although it may increase their hold. Killing them will not address the issues for which they fight or the circumstances from which they rise up. Ultimately there must be dialogue.

High among the problems to be addressed with regards to the Taliban's prospective office in Qatar will be with whom that dialogue is made. Finding a single leader in such a disparate body will be a challenge even before effort is spent seeking common ground.

The office will not be an embassy or consulate, but a residence where the Taliban have a political office. After years of violence it might be a start of sorts.

Because whoever the players, and whatever the prize at stake, every conflict is only ever resolved by dialogue. Talking and listening are the only ultimate arbiters.

Laura Collins is a senior features writer with The National.

England ODI squad

Eoin Morgan (captain), Moeen Ali, Jonny Bairstow, Jake Ball, Sam Billings, Jos Buttler, Tom Curran, Alex Hales, Liam Plunkett, Adil Rashid, Joe Root, Jason Roy, Ben Stokes, David Willey, Chris Woakes, Mark Wood.

Manchester United v Liverpool

Premier League, kick off 7.30pm (UAE)


South Africa:
Faf du Plessis (capt), Hashim Amla, Temba Bavuma, Farhaan Behardien, Quinton de Kock (wkt), AB de Villiers, JP Duminy, Imran Tahir, David Miller, Wayne Parnell, Dane Paterson, Andile Phehlukwayo, Dwaine Pretorius, Kagiso Rabada
Coach: Ottis Gibson

Mashrafe Mortaza (capt), Imrul Kayes, Liton Das (wkt), Mahmudullah, Mehidy Hasan, Mohammad Saifuddin, Mominul Haque, Mushfiqur Rahim (wkt), Mustafizur Rahman, Nasir Hossain, Rubel Hossain, Sabbir Rahman, Shakib Al Hasan, Soumya Sarkar, Tamim Iqbal, Taskin Ahmed.
Coach: Chandika Hathurusingha

Company profile

Company name:+Dharma

Date started:+2018

Founders:+Charaf El Mansouri, Nisma Benani, Leah Howe

Based:+Abu Dhabi


Funding stage:+Pre-series A 

Investors:+Convivialite Ventures, BY Partners, Shorooq Partners, L& Ventures, Flat6Labs

Day 1 results:

Open Men (bonus points in brackets)
New Zealand 125 (1) beat UAE 111 (3)
India 111 (4) beat Singapore 75 (0)
South Africa 66 (2) beat Sri Lanka 57 (2)
Australia 126 (4) beat Malaysia -16 (0)

Open Women
New Zealand 64 (2) beat South Africa 57 (2)
England 69 (3) beat UAE 63 (1)
Australia 124 (4) beat UAE 23 (0)
New Zealand 74 (2) beat England 55 (2)

UAE athletes heading to Paris 2024


Abdullah Humaid Al Muhairi, Abdullah Al Marri, Omar Al Marzooqi, Salem Al Suwaidi, and Ali Al Karbi (four to be selected).

Men: Narmandakh Bayanmunkh (66kg), Nugzari Tatalashvili (81kg), Aram Grigorian (90kg), Dzhafar Kostoev (100kg), Magomedomar Magomedomarov (+100kg); women's Khorloodoi Bishrelt (52kg).

Safia Al Sayegh (women's road race).


Men: Yousef Rashid Al Matroushi (100m freestyle); women: Maha Abdullah Al Shehi (200m freestyle).


Maryam Mohammed Al Farsi (women's 100 metres).

Law 41.9.4 of men’s T20I playing conditions

The fielding side shall be ready to start each over within 60 seconds of the previous over being completed.
An electronic clock will be displayed at the ground that counts down seconds from 60 to zero.
The clock is not required or, if already started, can be cancelled if:
• A new batter comes to the wicket between overs.
• An official drinks interval has been called.
• The umpires have approved the on field treatment of an injury to a batter or fielder.
• The time lost is for any circumstances beyond the control of the fielding side.
• The third umpire starts the clock either when the ball has become dead at the end of the previous over, or a review has been completed.
• The team gets two warnings if they are not ready to start overs after the clock reaches zero.
• On the third and any subsequent occasion in an innings, the bowler’s end umpire awards five runs.


Saturday, May 16 (kick-offs UAE time)

Borussia Dortmund v Schalke (4.30pm) 
RB Leipzig v Freiburg (4.30pm) 
Hoffenheim v Hertha Berlin (4.30pm) 
Fortuna Dusseldorf v Paderborn  (4.30pm) 
Augsburg v Wolfsburg (4.30pm) 
Eintracht Frankfurt v Borussia Monchengladbach (7.30pm)

Sunday, May 17

Cologne v Mainz (4.30pm),
Union Berlin v Bayern Munich (7pm)

Monday, May 18

Werder Bremen v Bayer Leverkusen (9.30pm)


Company name: Almouneer
Started: 2017
Founders: Dr Noha Khater and Rania Kadry
Based: Egypt
Number of staff: 120
Investment: Bootstrapped, with support from Insead and Egyptian government, seed round of
$3.6 million led by Global Ventures

Sweet Tooth

Creator: Jim Mickle
Starring: Christian Convery, Nonso Anozie, Adeel Akhtar, Stefania LaVie Owen
Rating: 2.5/5

Company Profile

Company name: Namara
Started: June 2022
Founder: Mohammed Alnamara
Based: Dubai
Sector: Microfinance
Current number of staff: 16
Investment stage: Series A
Investors: Family offices

Company Profile 

Founder: Omar Onsi

Launched: 2018

Employees: 35

Financing stage: Seed round ($12 million)

Investors: B&Y, Phoenician Funds, M1 Group, Shorooq Partners

Petrarch: Everywhere a Wanderer
Christopher Celenza,
Reaktion Books

Mercer, the investment consulting arm of US services company Marsh & McLennan, expects its wealth division to at least double its assets under management (AUM) in the Middle East as wealth in the region continues to grow despite economic headwinds, a company official said.

Mercer Wealth, which globally has $160 billion in AUM, plans to boost its AUM in the region to $2-$3bn in the next 2-3 years from the present $1bn, said Yasir AbuShaban, a Dubai-based principal with Mercer Wealth.

Within the next two to three years, we are looking at reaching $2 to $3 billion as a conservative estimate and we do see an opportunity to do so,” said Mr AbuShaban.

Mercer does not directly make investments, but allocates clients’ money they have discretion to, to professional asset managers. They also provide advice to clients.

“We have buying power. We can negotiate on their (client’s) behalf with asset managers to provide them lower fees than they otherwise would have to get on their own,” he added.

Mercer Wealth’s clients include sovereign wealth funds, family offices, and insurance companies among others.

From its office in Dubai, Mercer also looks after Africa, India and Turkey, where they also see opportunity for growth.

Wealth creation in Middle East and Africa (MEA) grew 8.5 per cent to $8.1 trillion last year from $7.5tn in 2015, higher than last year’s global average of 6 per cent and the second-highest growth in a region after Asia-Pacific which grew 9.9 per cent, according to consultancy Boston Consulting Group (BCG). In the region, where wealth grew just 1.9 per cent in 2015 compared with 2014, a pickup in oil prices has helped in wealth generation.

BCG is forecasting MEA wealth will rise to $12tn by 2021, growing at an annual average of 8 per cent.

Drivers of wealth generation in the region will be split evenly between new wealth creation and growth of performance of existing assets, according to BCG.

Another general trend in the region is clients’ looking for a comprehensive approach to investing, according to Mr AbuShaban.

“Institutional investors or some of the families are seeing a slowdown in the available capital they have to invest and in that sense they are looking at optimizing the way they manage their portfolios and making sure they are not investing haphazardly and different parts of their investment are working together,” said Mr AbuShaban.

Some clients also have a higher appetite for risk, given the low interest-rate environment that does not provide enough yield for some institutional investors. These clients are keen to invest in illiquid assets, such as private equity and infrastructure.

“What we have seen is a desire for higher returns in what has been a low-return environment specifically in various fixed income or bonds,” he said.

“In this environment, we have seen a de facto increase in the risk that clients are taking in things like illiquid investments, private equity investments, infrastructure and private debt, those kind of investments were higher illiquidity results in incrementally higher returns.”

The Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, one of the largest sovereign wealth funds, said in its 2016 report that has gradually increased its exposure in direct private equity and private credit transactions, mainly in Asian markets and especially in China and India. The authority’s private equity department focused on structured equities owing to “their defensive characteristics.”