This paper is based on the author's participation in and involvement with the preparations for many of the high-profile international meetings on Afghanistan over the past 10-plus years and reflects his concerns about their shortcomings and the excessive expectations typically associated with them.

Peace Brief: Avoiding Meeting Fatigue

Summary

  • The numerous high-profile international meetings on Afghanistan since 2001 have helped keep attention focused on Afghanistan, elicit financial support, give a “seat at the table” to all partners, generate good strategic documents, and provide a forum for the Afghan government.
  • However, the meetings often have raised excessive expectations; lacked meaningful follow-up; undermined their own objectives; prioritized diplomacy over substance; focused more on donors’ issues than Afghan problems; oriented the Afghan government toward donors; diverted resources toward meetings; resulted in meeting fatigue; and sometimes seemingly substituted for action.
  • These meetings can be made more effective by: (1) keeping to realistic expectations; (2) not expecting meetings to substitute for difficult decisions and actions; (3) having substantive, disciplined agendas and avoiding co-optation by diplomatic priorities; (4) matching objectives with the issue(s) the meeting is supposed to address; (5) ensuring quality background work; (6) focusing follow-up on key areas and a few simple, monitorable benchmarks; and (7) keep­ing the number and frequency of meetings manageable.

About this Brief

William Byrd is a development economist and has worked on Afghanistan in various capacities over the past decade. During 2002–2006, he was stationed in Kabul, Afghanistan, where he served as the World Bank’s country manager for Afghanistan and then as economic adviser. He is currently a visiting senior expert at the U.S. Institute of Peace. He participated in and was involved in the preparations for many of the high-profile international meetings on Afghanistan over the past 10-plus years. This paper is based on his experience with such meetings and reflects his concerns about their shortcomings and the excessive expectations typically associated with them.

Related Publications

Afghanistan’s Economic and Humanitarian Crises Turn Dire

Afghanistan’s Economic and Humanitarian Crises Turn Dire

Thursday, October 14, 2021

By: William Byrd, Ph.D.

Two months after the Taliban took control of Afghanistan, the country is grappling with twin economic and humanitarian crises the response to which has been complicated by international aid cutoffs, the freezing of Afghanistan’s foreign exchange reserves and sanctions on the militants. USIP’s William Byrd discusses the implications of these crises and the challenges to alleviating them.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Fragility & Resilience; Economics & Environment

Taliban Seek Recognition, But Offer Few Concessions to International Concerns

Taliban Seek Recognition, But Offer Few Concessions to International Concerns

Tuesday, September 28, 2021

By: Andrew Watkins; Ambassador Richard Olson; Asfandyar Mir, Ph.D.; Kate Bateman

Since taking power in August, the Taliban have repeatedly expressed the expectation that the international community will recognize their authority as the new government of Afghanistan and have taken several procedural steps to pursue recognition. But the group has done very little to demonstrate a willingness to meet the conditions put forward by Western powers and some regional states. USIP’s Andrew Watkins, Richard Olson, Asfandyar Mir and Kate Bateman assess the latest Taliban efforts to win international recognition, the position of Pakistan and other key regional players and options for U.S. policy to shape Taliban behavior and the engagement decisions of other international partners.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Global Policy; Reconciliation

China and the U.S. Exit from Afghanistan: Not a Zero-Sum Outcome

China and the U.S. Exit from Afghanistan: Not a Zero-Sum Outcome

Wednesday, September 22, 2021

By: Andrew Scobell, Ph.D.

It has become fashionable to characterize recent events in Afghanistan as a loss for the United States and a win for China. This zero-sum interpretation framed in the narrow context of U.S.-China relations is too simplistic and off the mark. The reality is far more complex and nuanced. The end of the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan and the collapse of that country’s pro-Western government do not automatically translate into significant Chinese gains, nor do they trigger a swift Beijing swoop to fill the vacuum in Kabul left by Washington.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Global Policy

What Does IS-K’s Resurgence Mean for Afghanistan and Beyond?

What Does IS-K’s Resurgence Mean for Afghanistan and Beyond?

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

By: Asfandyar Mir, Ph.D.

Last month’s bombing outside the Kabul airport was a devastating sign of the Islamic State of Khorasan Province’s (IS-K) recent resurgence. The group had already launched 77 attacks in the first four months of 2021 — an increase from 21 in the same period last year. This renewed capacity for mass-casualty attacks could further destabilize Afghanistan’s already precarious security situation, leaving both the new Taliban government and the United States with a vested interest in mounting an effective campaign to undercut IS-K’s presence in the region. 

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Violent Extremism

View All Publications