The peace negotiations between the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and the Taliban that began in September in Doha, Qatar, will almost certainly include revisiting the country’s constitution. Both sides claim to abide by Islamic law, but they interpret it in very different ways. This report examines some of the constitutional issues that divide the two sides, placing them within the context of decades of turmoil in Afghanistan and suggesting ideas for how the peace process might begin to resolve them.

Members of the Taliban negotiation delegation during the opening session of peace talks with the Afghan government in Doha, Qatar, on September 12, 2020. (Photo by Hussein Sayed/AP)
Members of the Taliban negotiation delegation during the opening session of peace talks with the Afghan government in Doha, Qatar, on September 12, 2020. (Hussein Sayed/AP)

Summary

  • Afghanistan has been at war since 1978, with ample participation by external actors. Current negotiations in Doha between the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and the Taliban’s self-styled Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan aim to end the war by agreeing on a future political road map after the withdrawal of U.S. troops.
  • The constitution, rejected in its current form by the Taliban, will be a major subject of negotiation. 
  • The Islamic Republic derives its sovereignty from the multiethnic nation of Afghanistan, which governs itself in accordance with Islam as defined by state institutions. The Islamic Republic chooses its government through periodic general elections.
  • The Taliban’s Islamic Emirate claims to implement the sovereignty of God through sharia law, as interpreted and applied by qualified Islamic scholars. The Taliban have not proposed any specific alternative to the Islamic Republic’s method of governing, but in the past they ruled through an amir al-mu’minin, to whom absolute obedience was owed. 
  • Both sides claim to abide by Islamic law, but they interpret it in different ways. They share a common need to find a way to live as one nation with a stable government that will serve the beliefs and aspirations of the Afghan people.

About the Report

Afghanistan’s constitution will almost certainly be a major subject of the peace negotiations underway in Doha, Qatar, between the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and the Taliban. This report represents an attempt to think through the constitutional issues that the peace process may confront. The report was supported with funding from the United States Institute of Peace and is published in partnership with New York University’s Center on International Cooperation.

About the Author

Barnett R. Rubin is a senior fellow at New York University’s Center on International Cooperation. During 2009–13, he was senior adviser to the Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan at the U.S. Department of State. He previously served as senior adviser to the U.N. Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Afghanistan during the negotiations that produced the Bonn Agreement.
 

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