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What makes us human?

Alan Smith
Negotiation Afghanistan War Converted
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A series on the BBC Radio 2 programme hosted by Jeremy Vine explores what makes us human. In this innovative series, guests are asked to deliver their thoughts on the essence of human existence, reflecting on their own lives. 

There have been some wonderful guests including Stephen Fry, Brian Cox, Yuval Noah Harari and the perhaps less intellectual but hugely entertaining Richard Madley. Well worth a listen. 

Certainly makes you think, at least it did me. 

I was particularly intrigued by one of the above, Yuval Norah Harari, who posits that what makes us human is our ability to tell each other stories, and to convince others that our stories are true both on a macro and micro scale. 

Think of nations or corporations. A nation is a philosophical construct that binds people together to further it (or struggle against it) and for the nation's story to have validity it has to be believed to be true. A piece of green paper that we can use to buy bananas only works because people believe the piece of paper (or money) has value.    

Humans are particularly good at working together through such tales and using them to create collective visions. 

Some of these visions are helpful. Many are not. I am utterly perplexed, confused and somewhat depressed that a vision such as that purported by the Taliban for example has created such traction in Afghanistan. I recognise that I am a western, privileged white middle-class male, and as such have a deck so loaded in my favour that any other game is unfathomable. Any faction that adheres so strictly to Sharia Law is almost impossible for me to grasp. 

That said we must recognise that these exist, and humanity has to deal with such differences in ideology.  

Which brings me to the current situation in Afghanistan. The scramble to leave the country particularly by those who have been involved in helping the west as translators and their families has been widely and upsettingly reported. The Taliban have said that they will not extend the right to leave deadline as it would violate the US agreement. 

What could The West do to extend this deadline, are there any circumstances under which an extension may be possible? These are the kind of questions as a negotiator I would be asking right now both of the Taliban and indeed my fellow G7 leaders to avoid the possible crisis that will occur if the evacuations are not allowed to happen. 

As I write this the possibility of extension has effectively been removed. So what now? 

How do we ensure that our countrymen and women are protected, that those who have supported the work of NATO are not killed or punished? 

We need to work on how to protect the rights of the women of Afghanistan, and how the many advancements of the last years can remain in place and built upon to make a just society. 

What makes us human is how we take care of others and how we stand up for the rights of our sisters and brothers, no matter how far away they are. We should negotiate as hard as we can to do that. 

The consequences of not getting a deal done are too hard to contemplate. 

What story will we tell ourselves of what we did to protect others? I hope it is one of extreme effort.

Alan Smith
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