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
Amid significant drop in violence, U.S. and Taliban signed historic agreement to end long-running conflict, paving way for future intra-Afghan talks. U.S. and Taliban representatives 21 Feb said they had reached deal on gradual U.S. military withdrawal in exchange for Taliban’s assurances to cut links with al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups and join intra-Afghan negotiations; agreement contingent on successful completion of seven-day period of “reduction in violence”, which started 22 Feb. Agreement signed 29 Feb in Doha presaging expected mass prisoner exchange, and start of intra-Afghan negotiations, although basic aspects of talks including date, location and facilitator remained undecided while neither govt nor Taliban announced representatives. Conflict activity significantly dropped countrywide during reduction in violence period. Taliban-related violence continued up to 22 Feb especially in northern rural areas: govt blamed Taliban for 11 Feb suicide attack in Charah-e-Qambar area of capital Kabul, which left four members of security forces and two civilians dead, insurgents denied responsibility; Taliban 3 Feb ambushed pro-govt militia in provincial capital Sar-i-Pul (north), killing its commander and five others; Taliban 10 Feb ambushed convoy of security forces travelling north from Kabul, killing three police officers and wounding 33 members of security forces in twelve-hour clash; Taliban abducted and then killed a govt employee and a former jihadi commander in Kunduz province (north) 2 Feb and a police officer in Faryab province (north) 7 Feb. Member of govt security forces 9 Feb killed two U.S. special forces soldiers in Nangarhar province (east). Prior to reduction in violence, U.S. airstrikes continued to cause numerous civilian casualties including 14 Feb airstrike on moving vehicle in Nangarhar, reportedly killing eight. Independent Election Commission 18 Feb announced final results of contested Sept 2019 presidential election, declaring President Ghani winner with 50.64% of vote, thereby avoiding run-off; same day, main opponent Abdullah Abdullah – officially declared runner-up with 39.52% – rejected result and vowed to form parallel govt, publicly encouraged by VP Rashid Dostum; opposition supporters end-Feb carried out protests in provincial capitals in north while govt deployed increased security forces in Kabul.
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.
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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.