Irish Parallels

I'm finally getting round to finishing a book I blogged about a while back, Talking to Terrorists. In the conclusion, I keep getting struck with a sense of deja vu. No, Afghanistan is not Northern Ireland, nor are the Taliban the IRA. But there's definitely something to be learned here:

"It was this absence of a long-term strategy which was to be one of the key contributory factors to the sharp increase in violence from 1969 to 1975-6. The rapid oscillation of policy in these years proved particularly damaging: from an 'ostrich-like' policy of neglect as the province spiralled towards collapse, to full-blown intervention and 'Direct Rule', to negotiations with the IRA in 1972, to an abortive attempt at power-sharing with moderate parties in 1973-4, only to return to more exploratory talks with terrorists in 1975. What characterised this era was the inability of the state to recognise how its own behaviour could exacerbate the situation. The lack of a consistent approach or over-arching vision -- not to mention periodic flirtations with the possibility of a complete withdrawal from Northern Ireland -- heightened suspicion of British intentions and undermined those moderate voices who were the most likely partners for peace (including the Irish government). […]

"From the mid-1970s, as violence spiralled out of control, the British government -- with some reluctance -- came to the decision that it needed to establish a 'long haul' commitment to Northern Ireland, in order to end the instability upon which the terrorist campaigns (both loyalist and republican), had thrived. By focusing their energies on 'normalising' the security situation and prioritising economic regeneration over constitutional experiments, the British effectively abandoned the hope that they might reach a peaceful settlement in the near future. Yet in taking this new path, they also wrested the initiative away from those violent groups that were prepared to use spectacular attacks to influence political events at important junctures. It was this change of tactics that forced the IRA to adopt its own 'long war' strategy -- effectively an admission of weakness on the part of the republicans and a marked departure from the 'one last push' philosophy which had prevailed in their ranks until that point." (p.243)