Boko Haram offers to exchange Nigerian schoolgirls for jailed militants

Boko Haram standoff: Is negotiating with terrorists the best option? 

Muhammadu Buhari/AP
People take part in a march that is part of the 'Bring Back Our Girls' campaign, in memory of the Nigerian girls abducted by Boko Haram, outside the presidential residence in Abuja, Nigeria, Wednesday, July 8, 2015.

Nigeria's Islamic militant group, Boko Haram, has proposed the exchange of kidnapped schoolgirls for jailed militant leaders as part of a deal, according to information obtained by The Associated Press.

A human rights activist told the AP extremists are willing to free more than 200 young women and girls kidnapped from a boarding school in Chibok.

“If Boko Haram opts for negotiation, the government will not be averse to it,” said Nigerian presidential adviser Femi Adesina in a public statement issued last weekend. “Government will, however, not be negotiating from a position of weakness, but that of strength.”

The AP noted that Boko Haram, who has now killed more than 13,000 people in six years, made a similar deal to the government of former President Goodluck Jonathan last year but it fell through.

The Nigerian extremist group, which is fighting to overthrow the government and create an Islamic state, has killed about 350 people in the past nine days.

Is negotiating with terrorists really the best option?

According to a Foreign Affairs academic article, there are several factors to consider.

Author Peter R. Neumann argues it’s essential to distinguish between groups with “apocalyptic goals (often religiously inspired) for whom violence is a perverted form of self-realization and more traditional terrorists who are believed to be more political in aspirations,” and as a result can be “constructive interlocutors.”

According to the BBC, Boko Haram promotes a version of Islam which prohibits Muslims from participating in “any political or social activity associated with Western society.”

Vox explains that Boko Haram “condemns democracy as religiously forbidden.”

Neumann argues it is also crucial to assess the level of internal cohesion and subsequent ability of leadership to execute commands.

But the Foreign Affairs article acknowledges these characterizations can be difficult to gauge.

It may also be important to consider the Nigerian Army has suffered defeats at the hands of Boko Haram in the northeast of the country and even deserted several bases, according to the BBC.

The Guardian predicts a likely outcome would result in government negotiations that will see the girls released in installments.

Countries around the world differ in how they handle negotiations with terrorists.

The US typically employs a strict no-ransom policy, which forbids trading prisoners for hostages or paying ransom.

Last year, Diane Foley – mother of James Foley, an American journalist killed by ISIS – told The Times, “ The F.B.I. didn’t help us much — let’s face it […] It was horrible — and continues to be horrible. You are between a rock and a hard place.”

The New York Times reported the government told the Foleys it was a crime for private citizens to pay off terrorists, though a policy change in late June means that the government will no longer prosecute families who make ransom payments to foreign groups.

The Times noted other European countries, not including Britain, were often quick to negotiate the release of their citizens in exchange for cash.

In a 2014 investigation, they found Al Qaeda and its direct affiliates have taken in at least $125 million in revenue from kidnappings since 2008 – with 47 percent paid by France. 

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