Afghanistan has entered a pivotal but highly uncertain time. As all parties recognize that a military solution is not achievable, increased war fatigue has shifted Afghan and international attention toward a possible political settlement to the ongoing 18-year war. Grassroots peace movements and a three-day cease-fire between the Afghan government and the Taliban in June 2018 demonstrate Afghans’ widespread desire for sustainable peace. Despite some promising developments, many issues lay ahead that must be resolved before a sustainable peace process can be undertaken, and numerous spoilers could possibly derail this process. 

President Trump’s appointment of Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad as the special representative for Afghanistan reconciliation in September 2018, and a series of negotiations between U.S. and Taliban representatives, have heightened anticipation that a breakthrough could be at hand, though vital negotiations among Afghans on ending the war and mapping the country’s political future have not yet begun. Concern is also spreading about what sacrifices peace might entail.

The security situation has worsened in recent years, with rates of civilian casualties reaching record highs in 2018. A flawed and contested parliamentary election in October 2018 and uncertainty around the presidential election in September 2019 have furthered political instability. The humanitarian situation also remains dire, as the possibility of a prolonged drought and other resource scarcity issues threaten greater levels of displacement and human suffering.

USIP’S Work

USIP supports the U.S. and Afghan governments’ current efforts to establish a sustainable peace agreement and reduce drivers of violent conflict. Through our field office in Kabul, USIP works with institutions across Afghanistan to strengthen the rule of law, promote good governance and credible electoral practices, and reduce violent extremism. Our pathbreaking peace education program provides Afghan youth with the peacebuilding and conflict resolution skills needed to resolve everyday conflicts in their communities. The Institute’s efforts in Afghanistan include:

Support to the Afghan Peace Process

Supporting a successful and sustainable Afghan peace process is a top priority for USIP. The Institute helps key parties define and determine the potential substance of a political settlement. This includes high-level consultations with a range of top Afghan and international stakeholders. USIP also promotes grassroots peacebuilding to engage all levels of Afghan society, using district-level projects to discover what local leaders, women, and youth groups want from a peace process and then training them to assist and empower stakeholders to negotiate effectively to advance their interests. USIP is also facilitating regional dialogues on how Afghanistan’s neighbors can engage in supporting Afghan stability.

Teaching Peace and Conflict Resolution in Afghan Universities

In Afghanistan, violence that makes national and international headlines often begins with small, community-level disputes. USIP has partnered with universities in Kabul, Herat, Nagarhar, Khost, Kapisa, and Kandahar provinces to teach peacebuilding and conflict resolution. In early 2019, the Afghanistan Ministry of Higher Education announced that the peace education curriculum would be offered as a for-credit course in all Afghan Universities during the next school year. In addition, USIP is developing an extended online course in peacebuilding and conflict resolution in Dari and Pashto, which will be made available in the fall of 2019 to key Afghan stakeholders. A micro-version of the course will also be made available as a free resource.

Informing Policymakers and the Public through Research and Discussion

Through our in-house expertise and broad network of international and Afghan partners, USIP publishes research—including field studies—to inform policymakers and peacebuilding practitioners on the key topics related to peace and conflict in Afghanistan, including the underlying drivers of conflict, peace negotiations, security, the economy, and politics. In Washington, USIP convenes Afghan and U.S. officials, scholars, and practitioners for high-level meetings, dialogues, and public discussions.

Consolidating the Rule of Law and Access to Justice

USIP has been working since 2002 to strengthen the rule of law in Afghanistan by identifying peaceful means of dispute resolution, developing partnerships between state and community actors, and improving access to justice. We’ve conducted rule of law research and pilot projects across all regions of Afghanistan, with past and current projects spanning 18 provinces. Thematic areas include community court observation, women’s access to justice, legislative monitoring, and constitutional analysis.

Related Publications

Legislature and Legislative Elections in Afghanistan: An Analysis

Legislature and Legislative Elections in Afghanistan: An Analysis

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

By: A. Farid Tookhy

Afghanistan’s newest Wolesi Jirga—the lower house of the National Assembly—boasts a younger and more educated membership than those elected in either 2005 or 2010. Its representativeness, however, is uneven and problematic. This report offers a comparative profile of the Wolesi Jirgas elected in 2005, 2010, and 2018, highlighting issues salient to the reforms Afghanistan needs to undertake if it is to hold credible national elections that yield truly representative elected institutions.

Type: Special Report

Democracy & Governance

U.S., Russian interests overlap in Afghanistan. So, why offer bounties to the Taliban?

U.S., Russian interests overlap in Afghanistan. So, why offer bounties to the Taliban?

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

By: Andrew Wilder

Recent intelligence reports indicating that Russian bounties paid to the Taliban to kill U.S. troops have bolstered American and Afghan officials long-held allegations that Moscow has been engaged in clandestine operations to undermine the U.S. mission in Afghanistan. Russia’s support for the Taliban, however, has largely been tactical in nature. Both Washington and Moscow ultimately have a converging strategic interest in a relatively stable Afghanistan without a long-term U.S. presence that will not be a haven for transnational terrorists. USIP’s Andrew Wilder looks at what this means for the decades-long Afghan conflict.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Conflict Analysis & Prevention; Global Policy

Negotiations Are the Only Way to End Afghan Conflict, Says Abdullah

Negotiations Are the Only Way to End Afghan Conflict, Says Abdullah

Thursday, June 25, 2020

By: Adam Gallagher

The head of Afghanistan’s new peace council said yesterday that he is optimistic that intra-Afghan talks can start in the coming weeks, but increased levels of violence and details of prisoner releases may slow the start of talks. Chairman Abdullah added that the government’s negotiating team will be inclusive and represent common values in talks with the Taliban. The team “will be diverse and represent all walks of life,” Abdullah said. Afghans and analysts have expressed concern that without an inclusive negotiating team, the country’s hard-won, democratic gains could be compromised for the sake of a deal with the Taliban.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Democracy & Governance; Peace Processes

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