History teaches us that every insurgency ends, eventually, with dialogue, negotiation and political compromise a lesson we British relearned the hard way during the Troubles in Northern Ireland. Why is Afghanistan different? Even the Pentagon acknowledges that there can be no purely military solution to the impasse. The Taliban, for whom the ejection of the infidel invader is a religious obligation, have made it clear that they will not stop fighting until our troops leave.
There are those who believe the Taliban will never renounce al-Qaeda, which is the West's real enemy in the region and the only justification for our continued military presence there. Yet Abdul Salam Zaeef, the former Taliban ambassador to Pakistan and ex-Guantánamo inmate told me Mullah Omar would "set in stone" a promise to keep al-Qaeda out of Afghanistan should the Taliban return to the political fold. It must be in our interests to at least explore this possibility.
We often forget that the Taliban leadership incorporates a wide spectrum of opinions, from hard-liners to relative moderates. Our task is to reach out and engage with the latter and do all we can to ensure they win their internal debate about Afghanistan's future. Many moderate Taliban acknowledge the mistakes of the past. In particular, they may be readier now to share power with the non-Pashtun minorities essential if the postwar peace is to be sustained. In the end, the only alternative to dialogue is ever more violence and you cannot put out a fire with gasoline.
Fergusson is the author of Taliban: The Unknown Enemy