Despite Afghanistan’s persistent warfare, Afghans have made significant progress in laying the foundations for a more representative state that can meet its people’s needs. Among the achievements, accomplished with international support since the Taliban’s overthrow in 2001, the country has held five national elections, enrolled millions of children in school, established a robust environment for the media and civil society, and drastically increased women’s participation in public life and government. Still, as the international presence in Afghanistan wanes, the state remains fragile and heavily reliant on outside technical and financial support to sustain basic functions.
The United States Institute of Peace (USIP) has worked to promote peace and stability in Afghanistan since 2002, and in 2008 opened an office in Kabul to manage an expanding program of conflict-resolution and peacebuilding activities. USIP’s research suggests that a major cause of instability and conflict in Afghanistan has been the failure of state institutions to respect and promote the rule of law and operate accountably and effectively. USIP informs U.S., Afghan and international policies and programs and builds the state’s capacity to govern competently and legitimately. It strengthens the abilities of civil society organizations and civil servants to resolve conflict and advocate for better governance. USIP will remain committed to Afghanistan throughout the transition and beyond. USIP’s recent work includes:
Countering Violent Extremism Through Non-Violent Civic Mobilization: After decades of violent conflict, many Afghans lack knowledge of peaceful methods to press for solutions to their grievances. Extremist groups fill this gap with appeals to youth to commit violence and crime that they often cast as religious jihad for justice. Building on its research and pilot projects, USIP works with Afghan civil society groups to counter extremist narratives. These joint projects engage religious leaders at the community level. They develop indigenous anti-extremist messages that resonate with specific communities, disseminating them through local outreach and media initiatives. And they propose peaceful alternatives to violence. In summer 2015, USIP published two research papers (below) on the narratives of extremism and their effects on Afghan youth.
Partnership With Afghan Universities: With unprecedented numbers of Afghans now attending universities, USIP joined with Kabul’s Gawharshad Institute of Higher Education, a private university, to create a peacebuilding and conflict resolution curriculum for eventual use nationwide. The Ministry of Higher Education approved the curriculum for general use in May 2015. Herat University and Nangarhar University, public institutions in western and eastern Afghanistan, respectively, are working with USIP and Gawarshad toward adopting peace studies in their programs.
Land Conflict Resolution: USIP’s research has identified disputes over land ownership as a major source of conflict. So the Institute is partnering with ARAZI, the government’s newly independent land authority, to work with local communities on documenting disputes that have been resolved through traditional methods. The goals are to prevent future conflicts arising from settled disputes, to support ARAZI’s capacity to document land issues around the country and to help develop legislation for the formal registration and deeding of land. ARAZI’s current priorities are fighting corruption, preventing land grabs, and arranging restitution for usurped land. USIP and ARAZI also supported the creation of the High Council on Land and Water, chaired by President Ashraf Ghani. The High Council includes Chief Executive Officer Abdullah Abdullah and 10 ministers and heads of agencies. Its creation signals that land issues, an area in which USIP has worked for several years, are receiving top-level political attention in the government.
USIP’s work in the field informs policymakers, practitioners and scholars in the international community. Institute staff and experts publish in-depth reports, as well as short, timely policy briefs, that distill expert research, lessons learned and problem-solving solutions to advance peacebuilding in Afghanistan.
- Special Report: Understanding and Countering Violent Extremism in Afghanistan (September 2015)
- Peace Brief: Building a Sustainable Afghanistan (September 2015)
- Peace Brief: Afghanistan’s Fourth Estate: Independent Media (August 2015)
- Peace Brief: Afghan Youth and Extremists: Why Are Extremist Narratives So Appealing? (August 2015)
- Special Report: Ashraf Ghani’s Pakistan Outreach (June 2015)
- Peace Works: The Politics of Disarmament and Rearmament in Afghanistan (May 2015)
- Peace Brief: Afghanistan’s Continuing Fiscal Crisis: No End in Sight (May 2015)
- Special Report: Addressing Land Conflict in Afghanistan (May 2015)
USIP frequently hosts events, bringing together thought leaders, scholars, experts, policymakers and elected officials. To date, USIP convened more than 20 on- and off-the-record panel discussions, roundtables and conferences in 2015. Recent events include:
A Conversation with H.E. Mohammad Ashraf Ghani, President of Afghanistan : In coordination with the Atlantic Council, USIP welcomed President Ghani in March 2015 during his first official visit to Washington since taking office. In his public address, President Ghani focused largely on his plans to improve relations with Pakistan in order to further peace in Afghanistan. He answered questions asked from the audience and via Twitter.
Can Afghanistan Stabilize as U.S. Forces Plan Their Exit? USIP Experts Examine Afghan Crisis and Next Steps: In June 2015, five USIP Afghanistan experts joined a discussion of the United States policy that plans a “responsible withdrawal” of its forces from Afghanistan by January 2017 while Taliban attacks in the country are up 65 percent over the previous year. Speakers suggested policies that might stabilize the country amid the increasing violence, a weakening economy, and a fragile national unity government that has failed to instill confidence in the country’s future.
Beyond Afghanistan’s Dangerous Summer: A Discussion with Ambassador Dan Feldman, U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan: USIP hosted Ambassador Feldman in August 2015 for a “valedictory address” after six years in his post. Ambassador Feldman said the national unity government headed by President Ghani and CEO Abdullah is the linchpin for making progress on every front, from the battlefield to the economy. The discussion, which was joined for comments by USIP Chairman of the Board Stephen J. Hadley and USIP Vice President for South & Central Asia Andrew Wilder, came days after the announcement of Taliban leader Mullah Omar’s death two years earlier.