Amidst an intensifying Taliban insurgency and emerging Islamic State threat, Afghanistan's path to peace and stability looks ever more perilous. Taliban militants now control more territory than at any time since its ouster by a U.S.-led coalition in 2001. Crisis Group is one of the few analytical organisations with a presence in Afghanistan. We help local and international stakeholders to comprehend the context and drivers of conflict, militant extremism, political-economic fragility, and its implications for the world and the region. Crisis Group helps local authorities and the international community formulate effective policies to improve governance and security in the country and stop violent extremism.
Talks with the Taliban in the Qatari capital Doha have raised hopes that the U.S. could end its involvement in Afghanistan’s war. Our Asia Program Director Laurel Miller and Afghanistan analysts Borhan Osman and Graeme Smith break down what was achieved and what remains unresolved.
Amid major Taliban attacks on security forces and continued political tensions, negotiations between U.S. and Taliban saw some progress, but Taliban’s rejection of govt involvement remains major sticking point. U.S. and Taliban negotiations in Doha 25 Feb-12 March concluded with U.S. envoy Khalilzad and Taliban representatives agreeing “in draft” on U.S. military withdrawal and Taliban assurances to prevent country from becoming platform for international terrorism. U.S. said key obstacle was Taliban demand of three-to-six month withdrawal window, with U.S. suggesting three years. Taliban continued to reject engagement with Kabul, while govt also rejected negotiation formats not controlled by itself. President Ghani 8 March refused to participate in talks not led by govt, including “Moscow track” involving former President Karzai, and 11 March delayed national consultative meeting to 29 April. “Moscow track” meeting remains scheduled for mid-April, involving Taliban and major anti-Taliban factions. Tensions between Kabul and Washington increased with Afghan National Security Advisor Mohib 14 March accusing Khalilzad of delegitimising govt. Hostilities continued, with major Taliban attacks including on Afghan Army HQ in Washir district, Helmand province, killing 50 soldiers 1 March; and in Badghis province 11-16 March, killing twenty and capturing over 100 govt forces. Afghan and U.S. night raids and airstrikes reportedly killed at least 24 civilians in Nangarhar and Ghazni provinces 8-12 March; Ghani 13 March issued orders to abort or wait out operations in case of civilian presence; U.S. airstrike 23 March killed fourteen civilians after insider attack in Kunduz province. UN 24 Feb reported 3,804 conflict-related civilian deaths in 2018. Islamic State-Khorasan Province launched two attacks on urban centres, killing sixteen civilians near Jalalabad 6 March, and eleven Shiite Hazaras gathering in Kabul 7 March. Political tensions continued: Ghani 3 March appointed new commissioners and secretaries for Independent Election Commission and Electoral Complaints Commission; authorities 20 March announced another delay to presidential and provincial elections to 28 Sept, despite govt mandate ending late May. In Mazar-i-Sharif, clashes over appointment of new police chief killed at least one 14 March.
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.
Too often, the Afghan Local Police (ALP) has preyed on those it is meant to guard. Some members are outright bandits, exacerbating conflict. Rogue units should be disbanded, and better ones integrated into the armed forces. This must be done carefully and slowly, or else insurgents will win a new military edge.
As Pakistan seeks to consolidate its fragile democracy, it should seize the moment to improve relations with its Afghan neighbour. Its biggest challenge comes from within. The civilian government has to regain control over national security and foreign policy from the military.
Afghanistan’s new president, Ashraf Ghani, inherits a government that is running out of money and losing ground to the insurgency. As foreign troops withdraw, the new government must stay united and move quickly on reforms.
I don’t believe that Pakistan has the capability to straight out make peace happen in Afghanistan, but they definitely have the capability to make peace not [happen].
[Without a solid plan for the US to leave Afghanistan] the inferno of violence that follows might be much worse.
The most fundamental shift in Kabul politics recently has been the muddying of the waters during the presidential candidate nominations.
While the news of a potential U.S. drawdown may be a reason for cautious optimism in the region, [Afghanistan's neighbours] don’t want an abrupt withdrawal.
Attacking lightly defended targets has been part of [the Islamic State's] modus operandi from the outset.
This mutual [Afghan] ceasefire, if successful, can possibly inspire or encourage future, more substantial steps towards peacemaking. Fighting has been the integral feature that has characterized the Taliban since the movement was born. A break from it, although very brief, represents an important departure from its modus operandi.
International Crisis Group welcomes pledges by the Afghan government and the Taliban insurgency that both sides will respect a ceasefire over the Eid al Fitr holiday. If implemented, such a truce would be unprecedented and could represent a concrete step toward peace talks.
Originally published in The New York Times
Taliban attacks in Kabul in late January 2018 are part of an escalation in violence in Afghanistan, where the civilian population is bearing the brunt of a particularly intense winter of fighting.
The Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan is likely to continue unabated in 2018, despite the U.S. effort to step up its military campaign. In this excerpt from our Watch List 2018, Crisis Group urges the EU and its member states to utilise its influence with Afghan political actors to help rebuild trust and increase prospects for mediation.