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 is the second in a series of three Briefing Notes that discuss and analyse the nascent peace process in Afghanistan, focused on frequently raised questions.
Originally published in U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs
Levels of violence in rural areas peaked again after Feb “reduction in violence” period did not extend into March, while intra-Afghan negotiations that could lead to a ceasefire were delayed. Following Feb U.S.-Taliban deal and end of reduced violence period, Taliban resumed intense military pressure on Afghan security forces in rural areas, including 19 March attack in Zabul province (south) that left over twenty Afghan security forces killed; Taliban carried out series of attacks in Balkh province (north), leading to repeated shut down and impact on northern highway; levels of violence in country highest in Kandahar province (south) in first part of March. Insurgents continued to refrain from major attacks in urban areas. Mass abductions reported in Maidan Wardak, Uruzgan, Kunduz and elsewhere. Islamic State-Khorasan Province (IS-KP) resumed large-scale attacks in capital Kabul including 6 March attack on Shia mosque, targeting Hazara community, with gunmen killing at least 32 people; IS-KP claimed responsibility for five rockets fired 9 March at Presidential Palace during President Ghani’s inauguration ceremony, no major casualties reported, and 25 March attack on Sikh religious complex, killing 25. Domestic political crisis continued with establishment of parallel govts; following controversial 2019 presidential elections, Ghani (whom official results declared as winner in Feb) and his main opponent Abdullah Abdullah (who continued to claim results were fraudulent) 9 March held concurrent inauguration ceremonies in adjacent wings of Presidential Palace complex in Kabul; representatives of international community mostly attended Ghani’s inauguration, while northern and western Afghan powerbrokers joined Abdullah’s ceremony; both figures refrained from action that might escalate political crisis into armed conflict. Amid delay, U.S. Special Representative Zalmay Khalilzad conducted diplomatic efforts in attempt to broker compromise between Ghani and Abdullah; Sec State Pompeo 23 March visited Kabul, announcing US$1bn cut to aid amid deadlock and saying U.S. “deeply regrets” both sides inability to “agree on an inclusive govt”; days after, govt formation of an inclusive negotiating team and govt-Taliban dialogue on prisoners progressed, albeit still limited.
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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.
On 21 February, U.S. and Taliban representatives announced a deal paving the way for withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan and talks among Afghan parties to the conflict. In this Q&A, Crisis Group expert Andrew Watkins explains what the agreement entails and what comes next.
Negotiations between the U.S. and the Taliban collapsed in September, but there have been signs that they could soon resume, paving the way for crucial intra-Afghan talks. In this excerpt from our Watch List 2019 - Third Update for European policymakers, Crisis Group urges the EU to encourage the resumption of these talks and to establish a regular channel to the Taliban.
Watch List Updates complement International Crisis Group’s annual Watch List, most recently published in January 2019. These early-warning publications identify major conflict situations in which prompt action, driven or supported by the European Union and its member states, would generate stronger prospects for peace. The third update to the Watch List 2019 includes entries on Afghanistan, Nicaragua, Sudan and Yemen.