Despite trillions of dollars invested in the Afghanistan war and reconstruction effort, the U.S. government failed to achieve an inclusive and durable political settlement to the conflict. Why were negotiations among the three main parties to the conflict — the United States, the Taliban and the Afghan government — ultimately unsuccessful? Why did the United States not prioritize a peace process until it was too late?

On October 25, USIP hosted a conference that brought together former senior officials and top experts to explore these critical questions and identify lessons to inform U.S. policy in the future. The conference featured two public panels that looked at why no meaningful intra-Afghan peace talks took place from 2001 to 2021, as well as the missed opportunities and missteps that derailed efforts to reach a political settlement to the conflict.

Drawing on U.S., Afghan, regional, civilian and military perspectives, these discussions explored how the various parties viewed their interests, incentives and leverage over time, and what key assumptions constrained these actors. The conference probed the extent to which the United States had a political strategy to guide its military strategy, the various parties’ goals and strategy during talks in Doha, and why Afghan government leaders failed to achieve a unified position in negotiations when the Afghan Republic had the most to lose from a failed peace process. 

Given the enormous costs of the failure to achieve a political settlement and the dire conditions in Taliban-run Afghanistan today, the goal of these conversations was not only to advance our collective understanding of why the peace process failed but to inform future U.S. policy in Afghanistan and other conflict-affected countries.

Continue the conversation on Twitter using #AfghanistanUSIP.

Speakers

Learning from Missed Opportunities and Mistakes by the U.S. Government

  • Christopher Kolenda
    Retired U.S. Army Colonel; Adjunct Senior Fellow, Center for a New American Security
  • Dipali Mukhopadhyay
    Associate Professor, Humphrey School of Public Affairs, University of Minnesota; Senior Expert, U.S. Institute of Peace
  • Tamanna Salikuddin
    Director, South Asia Programs, U.S. Institute of Peace
  • Kate Bateman, moderator
    Senior Expert, Afghanistan, U.S. Institute of Peace

Afghan, Regional and International Perspectives on the Failed Peace Process

  • Masoom Stanekzai
    Former Chief Negotiator, Intelligence Chief, and Defense Minister, Islamic Republic of Afghanistan 
  • Habiba Sarabi
    Former Negotiator, Provincial Governor, and Minister of Women’s Affairs, Islamic Republic of Afghanistan 
  • Steve J. Brooking
    Former Special Advisor on Peace and Reconciliation, U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan
  • Kristian Berg Harpviken
    Research Professor, Peace Research Institute Oslo
  • Scott Worden, moderator
    Director, Afghanistan and Central Asia, U.S. Institute of Peace

Related Publications

Wrestling with a Humanitarian Dilemma in Afghanistan

Wrestling with a Humanitarian Dilemma in Afghanistan

Wednesday, January 25, 2023

By: William Byrd, Ph.D.

Recent decrees by the Taliban barring Afghan women from attending university or working in NGOs are severely damaging the country both socially and economically, especially coming atop a ban on girls’ secondary education last year. The marginalization of half the population also highlights the “humanitarian dilemma” that aid donors and international agencies face: Afghanistan is highly dependent on humanitarian assistance, not only for saving lives and easing deprivation but also to stabilize its economy. The quandary for international donors is what to do when alleviating suffering benefits the Afghan economy and thereby the Taliban regime, even when that regime is harming its own people?

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Economics

Can the Taliban’s Brazen Assault on Afghan Women Be Stopped?

Can the Taliban’s Brazen Assault on Afghan Women Be Stopped?

Thursday, January 12, 2023

By: Belquis Ahmadi;  Kate Bateman;  Andrew Watkins;  Scott Worden

The Taliban marked the New Year by doubling down on their severe, ever-growing restrictions on women’s rights. On December 20, they banned women from all universities — adding to their prior ban on girls attending middle and high school. Then the Taliban announced on December 24 that women cannot work for NGOs, including humanitarian organizations that are providing vital food and basic health services to the population that is now projected at 90 percent below the poverty rate. Western and regional governments have responded with uncommonly unified outrage and many humanitarian organizations have suspended their operations until women are allowed to return to their jobs.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

GenderHuman Rights

The Taliban Continue to Tighten Their Grip on Afghan Women and Girls

The Taliban Continue to Tighten Their Grip on Afghan Women and Girls

Thursday, December 8, 2022

By: Belquis Ahmadi;  Scott Worden

Since the Taliban’s August 2021 takeover of Afghanistan, they have ratcheted up restrictions on women and girls as the group consolidates power. These restrictions include limitations on employment, education, public interactions and other fundamental rights such as access to justice. These restrictions have only tightened over time with increasingly draconian enforcement — the latest being public floggings that harken back to the Taliban’s 1990s rule. Amid the U.N.’s 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence, USIP has compiled a comprehensive archive of Taliban decrees and public statements on the treatment of women and girls. While leaders and activists around the globe strategize and develop plans to address gender-based violence in their respective countries, Afghanistan stands out as a worst-case example, with two decades of hard-won progress rapidly unwinding.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

GenderHuman Rights

View All Publications