This week on Hold Your Fire!, Richard Atwood talks to Crisis Group experts Laurel Miller and Andrew Watkins about the Taliban’s recent gains across Afghanistan as U.S. and NATO forces withdraw, what this means for the war’s trajectory and prospects for peace talks.
Taliban sustained major offensive, gaining additional district centres and killing over 500 Afghan security forces; deadly terror attacks targeted minority Hazara community. Taliban forced govt troops, police and militia to retreat from more than 50 districts, most in north and north east, throughout month; while Taliban often declined to occupy space, gains constitute significant loss in govt’s territorial standing, revealing structural weaknesses in Afghan security forces. Taliban 21 June also seized control of main border crossing with Tajikistan. In series of attacks, Taliban 2 June killed 40 govt forces in border area of Nangarhar (east); 4 June killed 11 security forces in Herat province (west); 5 June killed 26 security forces in Badakhshan (north east) and Badghis (north west); 9 June killed 21 soldiers in Badakhshan and Nimroz provinces (south west); 12 June killed 20 security forces in Ghor province (centre). Taliban 6 June also killed 17 security forces in truck bombing in Balkh province (north), and same day killed 28 security forces in another car bombing in Faryab province (north). In coming months, potential for Taliban to overrun provincial capitals is high. Meanwhile, a more organic form of popular resistance to Taliban emerged in several provinces, including Baghlan, Takhar and Badakhshan. Deadly terror attacks targeting ethnic Hazara minority persisted. In capital Kabul, bombings against civilians 1 and 3 June killed at least 14 and wounded 17 more in Hazara neighbourhoods. Unknown armed men 8 June attacked staff of international charity clearing land mines and attempted to single out Hazara employees, killing ten and injuring 16 in Baghlan Province (north). Additional attack on humanitarians 15 June killed at least five polio vaccinators in Nangarhar province (east). President Ghani 20 June announced replacement of army chief of staff, defence minister and interior minister amid rising casualties in Afghan security forces. Ghani, Vice President Saleh, top advisers and chief rival Abdullah 24-25 June visited U.S. capital Washington, met with U.S. President Biden and top U.S. officials to reaffirm commitments to fund and support Afghan govt and security forces.
Pakistan’s stakes in Afghanistan are rising as U.S. and NATO troops prepare to leave. All-out war after the withdrawal could push more Afghan refugees across the border and strengthen Pakistani militants. Islamabad should ratchet up pressure on the Taliban to engage in peace talks.
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.
There was this idea that if you put a lot of resources into [Afghanistan] and a lot of willpower very quickly, that you can make what we otherwise know are long-term generational developments happen on some kind of speedy timeline that fits American policy priorities. And the world doesn't work that way.
My sense is that the Taliban [in Afghanistan] still prefer a political path, albeit one that for all purposes would be a capitulation.
You see a sense of surprise and alarmed reaction from regional powers to the speed of the Taliban advance, but the counterpoint is a lot them saw the writing on the wall as early as [Barack] Obama’s announcement that the US was going to draw down and withdraw nearly a decade ago.
The Taliban are strengthening their chokeholds around major cities [...] The fall of Kabul is not imminent. The Taliban is not an unstoppable military juggernaut.
The counterterrorism mission in Afghanistan had for years now become one of prevention, not one of identifying an imminent threat that must be countered.
It's a tragedy that the U.S. didn't get serious about trying to stitch together a peace process in Afghanistan much earlier, before the thread ran out.
Washington’s latest idea of a transitional government would be worse than the dysfunctional status quo.
Originally published in Foreign Policy
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