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.
At the advent of President Joe Biden’s tenure, the U.S. confronts numerous foreign policy problems old and new. His administration should discard failed approaches, such as over-reliance on coercion, as it works to craft policies in service of a more peaceful world.
Taliban stepped up deadly attacks on Afghan security forces, killing dozens; intra-Afghan peace talks resumed after short hiatus. Taliban conducted attacks at high intensity despite winter weather that typically ushers in period of reduced violence; while there was no strategic shift in conflict dynamics, sustained high tempo of conflict could strain intra-Afghan peace process. Taliban infiltrators inside security forces perpetrated numerous attacks involving shootings and poisoning, including: 4 Jan killed nine forces in Kandahar province (south); next day killed seven soldiers in Ghazni province (centre); 8 Jan killed five soldiers in Herat province (west); and 15 Jan killed 13 police officers. Taliban 14 Jan also attacked security outposts in Baghlan (north), killing nine security personnel; repeat attack 18 Jan killed another nine. Taliban attacks on military bases and security posts in Kunduz province (north) 7, 15 and 19 Jan killed 49 security personnel. Meanwhile, Afghan forces backed by U.S. air support repelled Taliban advances around Kandahar city throughout month. Afghan air force bombing 9 Jan killed 18 civilians, mostly children, in Nimroz province (south west); govt allegedly attempted to cover up number of casualties prompting local protests in provincial capital Zarange. Targeted killings by unidentified assailants continued: gunmen 1 Jan killed prominent local journalist Bismillah Adil Aimaq in Ghor province (centre); gunmen 17 Jan killed two female Supreme Court judges in capital Kabul. As violence surged, First VP Amrullah Saleh 18 Jan declared “capital punishment is needed to stop the wave of terror”, referring to imprisoned Taliban fighters. Following three-week break, intra-Afghan negotiations resumed without making significant progress: U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad 4-5 Jan returned to Qatar’s capital Doha to meet Taliban, then flew to Kabul to meet Afghan officials. President Ghani declined to meet with Khalilzad after reports he discussed possible interim govt with opposition political leaders. Following call between new U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan and Afghan counterpart Hamdullah Mohib 22 Jan, White House same day said Biden administration will review Feb 2020 agreement “to assess whether the Taliban was living up to its commitments”.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
After months of delay, the Afghan government and the Taliban are finally set to commence peace talks in the Qatari capital. In this Q&A, Crisis Group expert Andrew Watkins explains what to expect as the discussions proceed.
In this podcast series, Crisis Group President Rob Malley and Board Member Naz Modirzadeh, a Harvard professor of international law and armed conflict, dive deep into the conflicts that rage around the globe, along with Crisis Group field analysts and special guests. This week, they discuss French President Emmanuel Macron's plunge into the murky waters of Lebanese politics and the Trump administration's stunning decision to impose sanctions on the staff of the International Criminal Court. They also speak with Andrew Watkins, Crisis Group's senior analyst for Afghanistan, about what to expect from the country's pending peace talks.