By Fareed Zakaria
A meeting this past Tuesday near Pakistan’s capital city of Islamabad could possibly mark the beginning of the end of the United States’ longest war — the conflict in Afghanistan, which will enter its 15th year this fall. A delegation from the Afghan government met with members of the Taliban — with Pakistani, Chinese and U.S. officials present as observers. Previous efforts like this one have foundered, and this might go nowhere as well. But the war in Afghanistan is going to end in a forum like this and not on the battlefield.
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Talking to the Taliban is tough for many Americans to accept. Dick Cheney was speaking for many when he said, “We don’t negotiate with evil; we defeat it.” And yet, says Jonathan Powell, Tony Blair’s former chief of staff, he’s dead wrong. In a new book, “Terrorists at the Table: Why Negotiating is the Only Way to Peace,” Powell argues forcefully that historically, conflicts like the one in Afghanistan have ended only through negotiations and not military victory. Powell is no peacenik, having been an architect of Britain’s support for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Nor is he soft on terrorism. His father, a military man, was wounded by the Irish Republican Army. His brother was on that group’s death list for eight years . When he first met Gerry Adams of Sinn Féin, Powell refused to shake his hand.
But over the course of his decade as Blair’s most important aide, Powell came to recognize that terrorism cannot be solved exclusively or largely by military means. He quotes Hugh Orde, the former chief constable in Northern Ireland, who rightly says: There is “no example that I know of, of terrorism being policed out” or eliminated through the use of force.