By Jonathan Wynne-Jones and Duncan Gardham
13 Dec 2009
The Taliban can be admired for their conviction to their faith and their sense of loyalty to one another, the new bishop for the Armed Forces has claimed.
The Rt Rev Stephen Venner called for a more sympathetic approach to the Islamic fundamentalists that recognises their humanity.
The Church of England’s Bishop to the Forces warned that it will be harder to reach a peaceful solution to the war if the Afghan insurgents are portrayed too negatively.
His comments came as the Prime Minister visited Afghanistan and warned that the Taliban was fighting a "guerrilla war" aimed at causing "maximum damage". Gordon Brown said soldiers were discovering improvised explosive devices every two hours.
Mr Brown stayed overnight in the Allied base in the southern city of Kandahar, the first British Prime Minister to spend the night in a war zone since Winston Churchill. His visit came days after the death of Lance Corporal Adam Drane, the 100th member of the British forces to die in Afghanistan this year. His death brought the total number of British service personnel who have died since the start of operations in 2001 to 237.
Bishop Venner stressed his admiration for the sacrifices made by the British forces fighting in Afghanistan but also urged the need for a reassessment of how the Taliban are viewed.
“We’ve been too simplistic in our attitude towards the Taliban,” said Bishop Venner, who was recently commissioned in his new role by Dr Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury.
“There’s a large number of things that the Taliban say and stand for which none of us in the west could approve, but simply to say therefore that everything they do is bad is not helping the situation because it’s not honest really.
“The Taliban can perhaps be admired for their conviction to their faith and their sense of loyalty to each other.”
Besides their attacks on the armed forces, the Taliban have also been responsible for public beatings, amputations and executions and have launched bomb attacks on the civilian population in Afghanistan.
They often refer to foreign forces as “Crusaders” in an echo of the religious wars of the Middle Ages.
The bishop said that some of their methods of combat are not honourable or acceptable, but argued that it was unhelpful to demonise them.
“We must remember that there are a lot of people who are under their influence for a whole range of reasons, and we simply can’t lump all of those together.
“To blanket them all as evil and paint them as black is not helpful in a very complex situation.”
Bishop Venner said that everyone in Afghanistan, including the Taliban, would have to be included in discussions to find a solution to the conflict.
“Afghanistan is going we hope in the end to find a way to live together with justice and prosperity for all. In order to do that we have to involve all the people of Afghanistan to find it.
“It is that lasting and just peace that will in the end justify the sacrifices our servicemen and women have made."
In the meantime, he said, the Government has “a moral duty” to ensure that the army is properly equipped.
Colonel Richard Kemp, a former commander in Afghanistan who has written about the insurgency, said the bishop was being naïve.
“We clearly need to understand our enemy but that is more of a military issue rather than a religious one," he said.
“There are elements in the Taliban who do not act from a religious perspective and it is important to understand and turn them around.
“But there are many others who will not be persuaded. Their central creed and ethos is about violent oppression which comes from a politics of extreme religion that has very little to commend it in terms that we would recognise or appreciate.
“In many ways it is a mistake to compare their faith of extreme holy war with the kind of religion of peace and understanding that the bishop follows. They certainly wouldn’t show understanding of his faith.”
Earlier this year, Peter Davies, the mayor of Doncaster, claimed that British society could learn from Taliban family values. He said that under the Taliban, Afghanistan had an “ordered system of family life”.
Last month David Miliband, the Foreign Secretary, offered parts of the Taliban "an alternative to fighting'' and said men now fighting against British forces should be encouraged to sit in the Afghan parliament.
His comments came a day after a new military strategy was unveiled that talked of the need to negotiate with the Taliban, offering them money or immunity from prosecution in order to secure peace.
Source: © Copyright of Telegraph Media Group Limited 2009
Armed Forces Bishop apologises for Taliban comments
14 Dec 2009
The new Bishop for the Armed Forces said he was ''deeply grieved'' to have caused offence by suggesting the Taliban could be admired for their religious conviction and loyalty.
The Rt Rev Stephen Venner acknowledged that his comments in a Daily Telegraph interview appeared ''incredibly insensitive'' and stressed his support for British troops in Afghanistan.
In the interview the bishop warned against demonising the Taliban and argued that the attitude towards insurgents in the conflict-ravaged country had been ''too simplistic''.
He told The Daily Telegraph: ''There's a large number of things that the Taliban say and stand for which none of us in the West could approve, but simply to say therefore that everything they do is bad is not helping the situation.
''The Taliban can perhaps be admired for their conviction to their faith and their sense of loyalty to each other.''
One MP accused him of offering ''comfort and succour to our enemies'' with his remarks.
Bob Russell, Liberal Democrat member for the garrison town of Colchester in Essex, said: ''Why did he not talk about the loyalty of our troops?
''The bishop would have been well advised to concentrate on boosting the morale of our armed forces rather than boosting the morale of our enemy.''
Bishop Venner later apologised for his comment, saying it was ''one small phrase in quite a long interview'' intended to suggest that not all members of the Taliban were ''equally evil''.
He told the BBC: ''If that has caused offence, I am deeply grieved by it because that's the very last thing that I would want to do.''
The bishop also issued a statement condemning the Taliban's tactics and expressing his backing for UK forces.
He said: ''The way that the Taliban are waging war in Afghanistan is evil, both in their use of indiscriminate killing and their terrorising of the civilian population. No religion could condone their actions.
''I give my full support to the British and allied troops who are engaged in the country, seeking to work with the Afghan government to bring stability, democracy and an enduring peace.
''I acknowledge that long-lasting peace will not be achieved without both defeating the Taliban militants and, over time, by encouraging them to forsake the path of war and to be involved in the future of Afghanistan.
''Senior military and civilian leaders have expressed similar views and I support their position.
''We have also to distinguish between the militant Taliban and those of their number who are fighting because they have been coerced into doing so and who fear for their lives if they do not. Clearly, it is only those who reject military action with whom we could talk.''
Bishop Venner was recently commissioned in his new role by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams.
Source: © Copyright of Telegraph Media Group Limited 2009