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Talking to the Taliban

29 December, 2007

I bought my husband this year’s book of Matt cartoons as a stocking filler, silently acknowledging that I really wanted it for myself. I spent a pleasant half hour on Christmas Day, sitting on the sofa (ignoring the inner voice telling me to start packing the bags for our trip to Granny’s), revisiting all of my favourite cartoons from the past year.

One that struck me anew was that of the Devil skating, behind him a newspaper, bearing witness to the new power-sharing government in Northern Ireland.

I admit that, had you asked me three years ago whether Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness would ever be in the same building together, let alone office, I would have suggested that Hell would indeed freeze over first.

And yet, it came to pass (couldn’t resist it – influence of the season).

The situation in Northern Ireland once seemed as intractable as any other on Earth, yet proved not to be, in the end, after years of work. That that work included low-level, behind-the-scenes talks with the IRA from the outset should not surprise us.

Ultimately, the situation in Afghanistan requires a political solution, and we won’t ever achieve that unless we are prepared to talk to people we would rather avoid. History teaches us to be wary in Afghanistan, I agree, but refusing to establish lines of communication will lead us nowhere.

I can assure you, as a Service wife, that I hope we are talking to elements of the Taliban: we want a resolution to the apparently intractable problems of the region as soon as possible. We owe it to our hard-pressed Service personnel, not to expect them to stay in Helmand a moment longer than is necessary.

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