Failure to plan realistically for needed changes in Afghanistan’s security sector following a peace settlement—and failure to start phasing in changes now—will lead to post-settlement instability. This report examines the particular challenges Afghanistan will face, with examples from the climate following peace settlements in other parts of the world offering insight into what may occur and possibilities for response. An Afghan-owned and Afghan-led strategy that incorporates some of this report’s recommendations can help create a lasting foundation for Afghan and regional stability.

People take a picture with a soldier at the Afghan Security Forces Exhibition in Kabul, Afghanistan, on March 3, 2021. (Rahmat Gul/AP)
People take a picture with a soldier at the Afghan Security Forces Exhibition in Kabul, Afghanistan, on March 3, 2021. (Rahmat Gul/AP)

Summary

Serious conflict risks will exist in Afghanistan even after a peace agreement is finalized. After so much suffering and expense, expectations will be high for a brighter future, with peace taking hold and reduced international involvement. Past experiences in Afghanistan and elsewhere in the world, however, underscore both the fragility and the possibilities of this moment. Planning to meet the likely post-settlement security challenges must start long before hostilities have concluded and a formal peace agreement is reached.

In particular, expectations for a peace agreement should be adjusted now to accommodate both positive and negative security perceptions. All parties should understand that a peace accord will not mean an immediate end to violence and will not result in the immediate assertion of any entity’s complete authority across the country. Though the rule of law may have a firmer grip, it will not necessarily be in ways recognizable to the international community or to more metropolitan Afghans. A strategy for achieving a sustainable peace in Afghanistan must include planning for the likely enduring, expanding, and emerging security challenges after a political settlement.

This report explores some of the specific security issues Afghanistan is likely to face once the Taliban insurgency ends, drawing on the experiences of other conflict-prone nations in managing similar dilemmas. Post-settlement security challenges and diminishing international resources will require a reconfiguring of the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) to focus on increased capabilities for policing and intelligence coordination, fewer kinetic counterinsurgency operations, and continued counterterrorism cooperation, both among the ANDSF services and with Afghanistan’s international partners. The report additionally outlines what international donors can do to maximize the capacity and preparedness of the Afghan security sector to meet these challenges.

About the Report

Drawing on Afghan capabilities and international best practices, this report considers post–peace agreement security requirements in Afghanistan and suggests what kind of security forces will be necessary. The research was supported by the Afghanistan program at the United States Institute of Peace.

About the Authors

Annie Pforzheimer, a retired diplomat, was DCM in Kabul and acting deputy assistant secretary for Afghanistan. She focused on post-conflict and security issues, also serving in Colombia, South Africa, El Salvador, and Mexico. Andrew Hyde was NATO’s deputy senior civilian in Kabul. His diplomatic career also focused on conflict prevention, stabilization, and post-conflict reconstruction with service in Washington and overseas. Jason Criss Howk, a retired U.S. Army Afghanistan specialist, has worked with the Afghan government since 2002 building the ANDSF, conducting DDR and SSR, and assisting Afghan peace efforts.

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