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.
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.
Amid ongoing domestic political crisis, violence in the north, north east and central provinces bordering Kabul continued at high levels. Clashes between Afghan forces and the Taliban in Balkh (north) and Takhar (north east) provinces 19 April killed over 25 security forces, while Taliban early April recaptured Yamgan district in Badakhshan Province (north east). Govt offensive advanced in Khamab district, Jawzjan province (north). In many other areas, Afghan forces remained in defensive posture, notably in Maidan Wardak province (centre) where small-scale Taliban attacks continued and focused on blocking govt access to Kabul-Ghazni highway. Levels of violence dropped in south due to labour-intensive cultivation of poppy harvest and in west due to seasonal flooding, and outbreak of COVID-19 in Herat province. Taliban yet to announce traditional spring offensive, often broadcast late-April; lack of announcement suspected to be part of non-public terms of Feb U.S.-Taliban agreement. Intra-Afghan negotiations remained stalled; Taliban and govt made limited progress on prisoner release, with totals yet to reach 5000 Taliban members and 1000 govt officials as stipulated in Feb agreement as pre-condition for intra-Afghan talks. U.S. military action such as airstrikes and night raids reportedly continued to decrease in volume. Intelligence service 4 April announced arrest of emir of Islamic State-Khorasan Province and other top members, though details of operations inconsistent. Following govt measures to contain COVID-19 spread, including restriction of intra-provincial travel, lockdown of urban centres and public health measures, unemployment rose and remittance wages fell, with scarcity of food and other basic commodities driving up market prices dramatically. Domestic political crisis continued following President Ghani and main opponent Abdullah Abdullah March standoff over establishment of new government; both sides yet to reach comprise despite reports of progress toward a deal that would see Abdullah play leadership role in peace process and preside over consultative council of political figures.
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.
This report examines President Trump’s emerging counter-terrorism policies, the dilemmas his administration faces in battling ISIS and al-Qaeda across the Middle East and South Asia, and how to avoid deepening the disorder both groups exploit.
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].
[The U.S. air strike against the Taliban] is significant. I don’t think it signals the collapse of the whole U.S.-Taliban agreement...[but] you can easily see how things could spiral.
[The prisoner swap requirement has the] potential to bloom into a real obstacle before intra-Afghan talks even get off the ground.
The negotiations among the Afghan parties... will have to tackle much more difficult issues of who gets to wield power in the country and how the government is going to be organized.
Crisis Group talks with Shaharzad Akbar, Head of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission.
Graeme Smith tells about his travels to Afghanistan as a Crisis Group's expert and about the efforts to get the Taliban to elaborate on their demands for the peace process.
This is the first in a series of three Briefing Notes that discuss and analyse the nascent peace process in Afghanistan while focusing on frequently raised questions.
Graeme Smith, Crisis Group’s former Afghanistan Senior Analyst, underscores in this film from the main morgue in the city of Kandahar the continuing and shocking rise of the human toll in what is one of the world’s most-deadly conflicts.
In this testimony delivered to the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs, Crisis Group's Asia Program Director Laurel Miller analyses the 29 February U.S.-Taliban agreement, assessing its implications for both the U.S. military presence and the larger peace process in Afghanistan.
Originally published in U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs