Almost 20 years after the United States ousted the Taliban regime, the first direct peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government began in Doha, Qatar in September 2020. The Taliban, Afghan government, and international forces have fought to a deadly stalemate, with both battle deaths and civilian casualties near record highs in recent years. The United States agreed to remove combat forces by May 2021 in exchange for Taliban guarantees on counterterrorism and the opening of formal negotiations with the Afghan government and other political stakeholders about a peace agreement and a path toward a ceasefire. After many delays, these negotiations opened this fall.

Afghanistan

This nascent peace process could be an inflection point in more than 40 years of conflict that started with a communist coup in 1978. Diverse Afghan factions will try to negotiate a political agreement that balances power among different ethnic groups, religious visions, and economic and social outlooks that span a rural-urban divide.

The last time Afghans sat down to renegotiate a structure for governance was the 2001 Bonn Agreement, which established the current democratic political order but excluded the Taliban. This time, the Taliban are part of the negotiation, but Afghanistan has changed dramatically since the Taliban were in power in the late 1990s. It is now a sovereign nation with a citizenry whose expectations have evolved over the past 20 years of development, fledgling democratic politics, and engagement with the international community.

Supporting an inclusive and sustainable peace process is a key priority of the USIP Afghanistan program. USIP is directly engaged in top-down, bottom-up, and international efforts to help Afghans achieve a political settlement that brings an end to over four decades of violent conflict. USIP has supported Afghan leaders with comparative lessons learned and negotiation tools that can help identify and overcome the main sticking points in talks. At the same time, USIP has worked to empower local peacebuilders and activists across Afghanistan to engage in direct action for peace. USIP also provides research and recommendations to U.S officials and other key international stakeholders on ways to address the main drivers of conflict and reduce threats to national security.  

A sustainable peace will need to address at least five key categories of issues that have been heavily contested over the past decades of conflict:  

Many of these are common to other peace processes, and some comparative lessons can be drawn, but each has unique attributes in the Afghan context. USIP has conducted research in each of these issue areas, drawing on top subject matter experts and consultations with diverse Afghan stakeholders. The resources on each page are offered to negotiators and others with an interest in Afghanistan to help facilitate a political agreement and a peaceful future.

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By: Scott Smith; Johnny Walsh; Belquis Ahmadi; Ambassador Richard Olson

With intra-Afghan talks gridlocked and the U.S. troop withdrawal deadline looming, Secretary of State Antony Blinken proposed new plans to advance the peace process in a letter to Afghan President Ashraf Ghani. The letter recommends several efforts to “move matters more fundamentally and quickly” toward peace, including a U.N.-convened conference of key regional actors, a senior-level meeting between the Afghan government and the Taliban hosted by Turkey and a 90-day reduction in violence to head off the Taliban’s annual spring offensive. Blinken also recommended an interim power-sharing government composed of Taliban and other Afghan leaders.

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Tuesday, May 4, 2021

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