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.
This week on Hold Your Fire!, Richard Atwood and Naz Modirzadeh talk to Crisis Group’s Afghanistan expert Andrew Watkins about the looming withdrawal of U.S. troops from the country, how Afghan leaders are preparing and the challenges ahead.
Originally published in Foreign Policy
Deadly attacks targeted women and Hazara community as Taliban continued assaults and clashes erupted between security forces and Hazara militia; U.S. proposed new peace plan. Following brief lull in violence late Feb, attacks – particularly targeting women, children and Hazara community – rose during first half of month. In Nangarhar (east), three separate attacks claimed by Islamic State’s Khorasan Province branch 2-3 March killed three female journalists and one female doctor, and armed gunmen 3 March killed seven Hazara civilians. Two IEDs in Hazara-majority neighbourhoods in capital Kabul 13 March killed four women and one child. Taliban attacks continued at high intensity in Nimroz, Kunduz, Daikundi, Sar-e-Pul provinces and elsewhere; notably, attacks targeting security outposts 19 and 22 March killed 11 and wounded ten in Baghlan province, and attack by Taliban infiltrator 13 March killed eight soldiers in Balkh province. In Wardak province (centre), tensions rose between security forces and Hazara militia after helicopter 18 March shot down by likely advanced weaponry, killing at least ten govt soldiers; govt forces responded by retaking Behsud district centre, under control of Hazara militia leader Abdul Ghani Alipur, raising prospect of clashes in coming month. Meanwhile, in Khost province (east), U.S. Central Intelligence Agency-backed paramilitary group Khost Provincial Force (KPF) 8 March killed 15 civilians during military operation against Taliban in Spera district. On diplomatic front, U.S. early month outlined multi-part peace plan in letter to Afghan leaders, proposing UN-led regional conference, interim power-sharing govt between Taliban and Afghan leaders, and high-level meeting hosted by Turkey to finalise agreement; U.S. Envoy Zalmay Khalizad shared plan with Taliban and Pakistan during visits to Qatari capital Doha and Pakistani capital Islamabad 4-9 March; letter also noted U.S. yet to make decision on whether to completely withdraw forces by 1 May deadline; uncertainty over U.S. decision raises prospect of Taliban dropping self-imposed restrictions on attacks on provincial capitals and large-scale urban attacks, potentially escalating violence in run up to 1 May – or at least thereafter. Moscow 18 March hosted dialogue attended by China, Pakistan, Iran, India, Afghan political leaders and Taliban; President Ghani did not attend.
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.
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 legitimacy the Taliban want is] never going to come without engaging with the outside world and the international community.
The [Afghan] peace process is the best option for a decent outcome, even though it’s the least likely to succeed. You need a six-month extension to have any possibility of getting it back on track.
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.
In testimony to the European Parliament about efforts to end the war in Afghanistan, Crisis Group expert Andrew Watkins describes the current scale of fighting, Taliban policies and how outside actors can support the peace process.
Afghanistan’s fate hinges in large part on how the Biden team decides to approach the country’s conflict and its tenuous, still-nascent peace process.
Originally published in World Politics Review
This week on Hold Your Fire!, Rob Malley and guest host Richard Atwood talk with Crisis Group’s Asia Program Director Laurel Miller about the U.S. plans to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan and reflect on the expulsion of Crisis Group Senior Analyst Will Davison from Ethiopia.
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.