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Keywords:

  • Afghanistan;
  • Taliban;
  • Islam;
  • illiberalism;
  • democracy;
  • right to life

The terms on which the US will agree to settle the conflict in Afghanistan reflect a much greater issue that the US faces in the Middle East: will it support only those who seek to establish democratic regimes that also respect individual, or ally itself with the often much more powerful groups that may be democratic, but are likely to foster regimes based on Shari'a law? At the very least, the West should urge all to respect the right to life, call on regimes to negotiate with protesters rather than machine-gunning them, and insist that protesters follow the Egyptian and Tunisian model of peaceful uprising. Beyond such liberal basics, it is best to let each nation work out its own regime. As a matter of policy, in order to support democratic groups and evolving democratic regimes in the Middle East, western governments had best be prepared to ally themselves with political forces whose liberal credentials, one must recognise, are evolving but not yet particularly high.