A central issue for Afghanistan in achieving stability is making long-lasting peace with the Taliban. The success of any such agreement will depend in large part on whether Taliban commanders and fighters can assume new roles in Afghan politics, the security forces, or civilian life. This report explores that question, drawing on lessons from how similar situations unfolded in Burundi, Tajikistan, and Nepal.

A group of former Taliban members and Islamic State militants laid down their arms in Jalalabad and joined the peace process in February 2019. (Photo by Ghulamullah Habibi/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock)
A group of former Taliban members and Islamic State militants laid down their arms in Jalalabad and joined the peace process in February 2019. (Photo by Ghulamullah Habibi/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock)

Summary

  • The success of any peace agreement with the Taliban will depend in large part on whether its commanders and fighters can assume roles in Afghan politics, the security forces, or civilian life.
  • Among the lessons from earlier reintegration processes are that patronage is the primary vehicle, pointing to the importance of political reintegration; that special attention should be paid to low- to mid-level commanders, who could lose out from peace; and that international support is critical.
  • Taliban leaders are likely to ask for jobs and influence in the security sector, and other factions will seek to retain their influence in that sector, likely making the division of power in the security forces especially fraught.
  • Experiences with military integration elsewhere suggest that options include merging the Taliban into a reconstituted security force, integrating entire insurgent units into the existing security forces without breaking their command structures (factional integration), and reintegrating insurgents as individuals into the existing forces.
  • Leaving the Taliban outside the security forces would probably not lead to peace, given that the movement would continue to vie with those forces for territory and associated profit.
  • Any interim security arrangement, presumably involving some form of military coexistence or cooperation, could affect long-term military integration as commanders entrench themselves in whatever temporary arrangements are established.
  • The socioeconomic reintegration of Taliban in civilian life will depend not only on an effective reintegration program—management of which would need to involve Taliban representatives—but also on addressing underlying issues such as land disputes, Afghanistan’s economic prospects, and disarming other factions.
  • Many commanders may envisage turning to politics. How they could do so as civilians would depend in large part on what agreement their leaders reach with other factions regarding Afghanistan’s political and electoral systems.

About the Report

Based on an analysis undertaken by the author in 2018, this report reviews options for how Taliban commanders and fighters might be reintegrated into Afghan politics, security forces, and civilian life after a peace agreement with the government. The report draws on the author’s previous research and publications on reintegration, as well as interviews conducted on demobilization and reintegration efforts in Burundi, Nepal, Tajikistan, and elsewhere.

About the Author

Deedee Derksen has written extensively on the impact of programs to demobilize and reintegrate nonstate armed groups in Afghanistan. She was a visiting scholar at Columbia University and a doctoral fellow at the Geneva Centre for Security Policy and has worked on Afghanistan at the United Nations Department for Political Affairs.

Related Publications

Dismembering Afghanistan’s Ministry of Finance

Dismembering Afghanistan’s Ministry of Finance

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

By: William Byrd

In Afghanistan, where corruption and ineffective government have hampered efforts to build a functioning state, the Ministry of Finance has been a standout performer. Competently run since as early as 2002, the ministry collects substantial revenue, manages aid inflows, pays public employees, funds key public services and has won the confidence of donors. Now, all that is threatened. The Afghan government is eviscerating the ministry—carving out key constituent parts, putting them directly under the presidential palace, and gravely weakening one of the country’s most effective institutions. It’s a move that’s bad for Afghanistan’s governance and financial viability. It will harm the country’s development and jeopardizes the sustainability of peace if an agreement is reached with the Taliban.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Economics & Environment

Coronavirus Poses Yet Another Challenge to the Afghan Peace Process

Coronavirus Poses Yet Another Challenge to the Afghan Peace Process

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

By: Scott Smith

The Afghan peace process has been at a stalemate for weeks, as President Ashraf Ghani and the Taliban remain far apart on the logistics of prisoner releases. Intra-Afghan talks that were tentatively scheduled for March 10 have not got off the ground. Meanwhile, the disputed presidential election has led to two rival camps claiming the legitimacy to govern. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s effort this week to bring the parties together failed and led the U.S. to reduce aid to Afghanistan. Amid all this uncertainty, Afghanistan is beginning to see the signs of a coronavirus outbreak, which could devastate the country given its poor health infrastructure and pollution problems. USIP’s Scott Smith explains how the coronavirus could further exacerbates an already complex situation.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Peace Processes

Taliban Fragmentation: Fact, Fiction, and Future

Taliban Fragmentation: Fact, Fiction, and Future

Monday, March 23, 2020

By: Andrew Watkins

For years, the U.S. military pursued a "divide and defeat" strategy against the Afghan Taliban, attempting to exploit the supposedly fragmented nature of the group. Drawing on the academic literature on insurgency, civil war, and negotiated peace, this report finds that the Taliban is a far more cohesive organization than a fragmented one. Moreover, Taliban cohesion may bode well for enforcing the terms of its February 29 agreement with the United States, and any eventual settlement arising from intra-Afghan negotiations.

Type: Peaceworks

Peace Processes

Afghanistan: Can This Be a Real Peace Process?

Afghanistan: Can This Be a Real Peace Process?

Monday, March 23, 2020

By: Sharif Shah Safi

Like every Afghan, I’m watching with fear and hope to see what will emerge from last month’s agreement between the United States and the Taliban. My hope is that it can help end more than 40 years of war. My fear is that the current process may not result in a just and dignified peace where all Afghans are considered equal citizens, regardless of gender, race or ethnicity. I fear that the Taliban’s rigid interpretations of Islamic laws will undermine our country’s gains of the past 18 years: an open media, women’s presence in public spheres, and more.

Type: Blog

Gender; Peace Processes; Youth

View All Publications