The war in Afghanistan is the world’s most lethal conflict. Taliban militants now control more territory than at any time since the U.S.-led coalition drove the group out of Kabul in 2001. At the same time, an unprecedented ceasefire in 2018 and subsequent negotiation efforts have illuminated the possibility of peace. Crisis Group is one of the few organisations conducting research on the ground in Afghanistan. We seek to help the conflict parties comprehend their adversaries’ motives and political constraints, while encouraging them to pursue talks. We also help Afghan and international leaders formulate policies to improve governance and security.
The peace talks between the Afghan government and Taliban offer a genuine opportunity for peace although obstacles abound. In this excerpt from our Watch List 2020 – Autumn Update, Crisis Group urges the EU and its member states to continue pushing for a more inclusive peace process, specifically in terms of women’s representation in the negotiations, avoid singling out the Taliban as responsible for obstacles for peace, and reassure the Afghan government by continuing aid into the future.
Afghan govt and Taliban began long-awaited peace talks, while violence steadily increased across country. Taliban and govt 12 Sept began intra-Afghan negotiations in Doha, Qatar’s capital, in ceremony attended by High Council for National Reconciliation chief Abdullah Abdullah, FM Hanif Atmar and international figures including U.S. Sec State Pompeo; despite some progress in establishing format and procedure of talks, issues emerged over role of religious minorities, such as Hazara community, and govt’s desire not to acknowledge Feb U.S.-Taliban agreement. Other contentious issues included Taliban’s opposition to govt’s open communication with national media, Taliban negotiators being more senior than their govt counterparts and domestic expectation that levels of violence would quickly fall. Meanwhile, Taliban resumed attacks on district centres with at least seven large-scale assaults on urban areas and several on outskirts of provincial capitals; including 20 Sept attack on Afghan security forces convoy outside Maidan Shar, Wardak province (centre) that killed 31 soldiers and 22 Sept raid on Maruf district centre, Kandahar province (south) that killed at least 20 soldiers and wounded 20 others. Fighting intensified in northern regions and southern provinces of Kandahar and Uruzgan, including series of attacks in latter’s Gizab district 17-22 Sept, while clashes continued on Shibergan to Mazar highway in Jawzjan province (north). Govt claimed its forces remained in “active defence” posture but deployed troops to contested areas and continued to conduct airstrikes that caused civilian casualties, including killing dozens of militants and at least ten civilians in Kunduz province (north west) 19 Sept. Govt made progress with political appointments after Abdullah did not object to President Ghani’s 31 Aug decree nomination of several cabinet members; however, concerns continued over underlying Ghani-Abdullah tensions and role that Ghani-controlled state ministry for peace, ostensibly under purview of Abdullah’s High Council, would play in peace process.
For Afghanistan's peace talks to work, the Taliban will need to shift focus to what they want, not what they oppose. They should develop clear negotiating positions on key issues and work to convince their members that peace requires compromise.
Eighteen years after the U.S. war with Afghanistan’s Taliban began, all sides are taking the first formal steps toward a political settlement. From designating a neutral mediator to agreeing on “rules of the road”, Crisis Group lays out twelve prerequisites for keeping the talks going.
Talks between the U.S. and the Taliban insurgency are suspended, though an agreement is reportedly ready for signature. The U.S. should resume negotiations and seal the deal, so that a broader peace process in Afghanistan can go forward.
The UN General Assembly kicks off on 17 September amid general scepticism about the world body’s effectiveness in an era of rising great-power competition. But the UN is far from paralysed. Here are seven crisis spots where it can make a positive difference for peace.
The end-of-Ramadan truce in Afghanistan was brief but encouraging, demonstrating that both Afghan government soldiers and the Taliban rank and file will respect ceasefire orders from above. Both sides, alongside the U.S., should now seize the opportunity to edge closer to meaningful talks about peace.
The power dispute between President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Officer Abdullah Abdullah is imperilling Afghanistan’s fragile security and recent economic progress. To avoid the collapse of the U.S.-brokered National Unity Government, both actors must end political partisanship and prioritise the public interest.
Posturing from the Taliban... suggests they perceive their current position to be one of great strength.
A U.S. departure from Afghanistan without a peace deal would likely result in a protracted and intensified civil war, in which many Afghans will suffer.
In order to establish greater trust during intra-Afghan negotiations, both sides should quickly discuss practical measures that can be taken to combat the violence of spoiler groups.
Huge slashes of aid would mean the U.S. is no longer seeing the [Afghan] government’s survival as necessary to protect U.S. interests.
Attacks like [in Qalat] were precisely why the US has attempted to fast-track intra-Afghan talks: the faster both sides reach the table, the faster conditions can be laid for lasting reductions in violence.
Not only will this almost certainly delay the intra-Afghan talks, but complications are very likely to follow from this political standoff [between Ghani and Abdullah].
On 17 May, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and his chief political rival Abdullah Abdullah signed a power-sharing agreement intended to resolve a dispute over last September’s election. In this Q&A, Crisis Group expert Andrew Watkins examines the deal and its portent for stalled peace talks.
COVID-19 appears on course to sweep through Afghanistan, yet the public health crisis may pale compared to resultant severe food insecurity. Engaged actors should press for initiation of Afghan peace talks, recognise the potential scope of food shortages and commit to unhindered flow of aid.
This is the third in a series of three briefing notes that discuss and analyse the nascent peace process in Afghanistan while focusing on frequently raised questions.
Crisis Group talks with Shaharzad Akbar, Head of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission.