David Ignatius writes:
In a rapidly changing Islamic world, the Obama administration is weighing how best to talk with adversaries such as the Taliban and, perhaps, Hezbollah.
One model for the administration, as it thinks about engagement of enemies, is the British process of dialogue during the 1990s with Sinn Fein, the legal political wing of the terrorist Irish Republican Army. That outreach led to breakthrough peace talks and settlement of a conflict that had been raging for more than a century.
In the case of the Taliban, the administration has repeatedly stated that it is seeking a political settlement of the war in Afghanistan rather than a military one. That formula sometimes seems hollow when more than 100,000 U.S. troops are in combat. But it got more definition last month from Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who opened the doors wider for dialogue.
Clinton, in a Feb. 18 speech to the Asia Society, subtly altered the terms for Taliban participation in peace talks. She repeated the administration’s “red lines for reconciliation” — that Taliban representatives must renounce violence, reject al-Qaeda and abide by the Afghan constitution. But rather than making these preconditions for talks, as before, she said they were “necessary outcomes of any negotiation.”
As an Irish person (who in fact voted Sinn Fein in the elections here a 3 weeks ago) I certainly agree with both the idea of talking with Hezbollah and the Taliban and also with the comparison since it is valid.
Ignatius however misses one point “is the British process of dialogue during the 1990s with Sinn Fein”. It would be more correct to state that it was the US that opened up the process of dialogue not the British themselves. While the British certainly had “back channels” to the IRA during the late stages of the 80’s and into the 90’s. It was Washington that finally stepped in with dialogue and mediated the conflict.
In this respect it may be an idea that instead of the US and Taliban negotiating the situation might require a third party to help mediate as was done in Northern Ireland. Hard to see who could pick up that role and be impartial (maybe Uzbekistan which likely has links and lines of communication with both the Taliban and the US). Pakistan maybe even though their interests might overpower their impartiality.