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.
Peace talks in Afghanistan have only inched forward even as the pace of conflict has picked up. As the Afghan government and Taliban await clearer policy signals from the incoming U.S. administration, their primary goal should be to keep the vital negotiations going.
High-intensity violence persisted and intra-Afghan peace talks remained delayed ahead of planned U.S. military drawdown in Jan. Taliban continued to attack district centres in Kunduz, Farah, Uruzgan, Baghlan and elsewhere despite previous self-imposed restrictions regarding reprisals in urban areas. Unclaimed killings and smaller explosions continued to target activists, journalists and other non-combatants around capital Kabul; unknown gunmen 22 Dec attacked vehicle of govt-employed doctors who treat prisoners (including Taliban and Islamic State fighters) at Pul-e Charkhi prison. In Ghazni province, attack 18 Dec killed at least 15 civilians, mostly children, and wounded 20 others; car bomb in Kabul targeting Afghan parliament member Khan Mohammad Wardak 20 Dec killed at least ten civilians and wounded 52 others. Islamic State’s Khorasan Province branch (IS-KP) claimed responsibility for several attacks, including shooting of journalist Malala Maiwand in Jalalabad city on 10 Dec. IS-KP also claimed multiple attacks in Kabul, notably rocket attacks 12 Dec that killed one and injured two, and additional rockets 10 Dec that targeted U.S. Bagram Airfield. Meanwhile, in positive step, govt finalised formation of High Council of National Reconciliation, which 5 Dec convened for first time. Despite initial progress in intra-Afghan talks, U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad 14 Dec announced both negotiating teams would take 20 days to “consult on the agenda items”, delaying intra-Afghan negotiations until 5 Jan. Agendas leaked 20-21 Dec illustrated stark differences between govt and Taliban regarding fundamental purpose of talks; notably, govt reportedly proposed ceasefire as first topic, while Taliban proposed it as final topic. Acting U.S. Defense Secretary Christopher Miller 22 Dec arrived in Kabul in unannounced visit and met with President Ghani, as U.S. military proceeded to reduce its forces from 4,500 to 2,500 in Jan in line with announcement made in Nov.
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.
If the Taliban want to become a legitimate power in an Afghan state, then they’re going to need to show the world that they take global counterterrorism concerns seriously.
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.
After months of delay, the Afghan government and the Taliban are finally set to commence peace talks in the Qatari capital. In this Q&A, Crisis Group expert Andrew Watkins explains what to expect as the discussions proceed.
In this podcast series, Crisis Group President Rob Malley and Board Member Naz Modirzadeh, a Harvard professor of international law and armed conflict, dive deep into the conflicts that rage around the globe, along with Crisis Group field analysts and special guests. This week, they discuss French President Emmanuel Macron's plunge into the murky waters of Lebanese politics and the Trump administration's stunning decision to impose sanctions on the staff of the International Criminal Court. They also speak with Andrew Watkins, Crisis Group's senior analyst for Afghanistan, about what to expect from the country's pending peace talks.
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.