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.
U.S. pressure led to incremental progress in peace process, raising prospect of long-awaited intra-Afghan talks starting in July, while violence persisted as new govt appointments stalled. Amid U.S. Special Representative Zalmay Khalilzad’s continued diplomatic efforts – including 7 June meetings with Taliban’s deputy leader in Doha and Pakistan's chief of army staff in Islamabad – Taliban refrained from major attacks on govt forces or large cities while govt continued to release prisoners, reportedly bringing total Taliban fighters released to date to 4,000; moves on both sides raised hopes for intra-Afghan talks to begin in July. Following Taliban-govt ceasefire late May, Taliban militants rejected ceasefire extension but reportedly communicated to U.S. their willingness to continue period of “reduced violence”; decrease in Taliban violence uneven across country: provinces of Balkh (north) and Faryab (north east) recorded reduced violence throughout month, while several provinces saw unchanging or increasing levels of conflict, including Kapisa (north east), Khost (east), Zabul (south) and Wardak and Ghazni (centre); govt late month released casualty figures showing several hundred security forces killed per week, controversially claiming these to be a record high. Taliban appeared to shift tactics with uptick in roadside bombs, targeted killings and ambush shootings, while continuing abductions and running of checkpoints. Market bombing in Sangin district, Helmand province (south), 29 June killed at least 23 civilians; Taliban and govt blaming each other. Despite May agreement between President Ghani and main opponent Abdullah Abdullah to form inclusive govt, domestic political stasis continued; new govt yet to appoint half of cabinet, Abdullah and allies did not submit list of preferred candidates while Ghani has already filled his share of posts with acting appointees. Pakistan 6 June appointed diplomat Muhammad Sadiq as special envoy on Afghanistan (see Pakistan). Amid concerns over conflict hindering COVID-19 response, UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan 21 June released report detailing 12 deliberate attacks affecting healthcare personnel and facilities 11 March-23 May; report attributed responsibility of eight targeted attacks to Taliban and three attacks to govt forces, while May attack on Kabul hospital remained unattributed; local media reported severe mismanagement of foreign aid for tackling pandemic.
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