Last weekend, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and rival Abdullah Abdullah signed a power-sharing deal to end a months-long dispute over the 2019 presidential election. The deal comes amid a spate of high-profile violence, including a recent attack on a Kabul maternity ward by suspected ISIS perpetrators. Meanwhile, the Afghan peace process has stalled since the U.S.-Taliban deal signed at the end of February. The power-sharing agreement could address one of the key challenges to getting that process back on track. USIP’s Scott Worden and Johnny Walsh look at what the agreement entails and what it means for the peace process.
A political deal to resolve the disputed 2019 presidential election was finally reached over the weekend. USIP’s Scott Worden says the agreement “is quite significant” because it will give the Afghan side “more political coherence to negotiate with the Taliban and, if implemented, it will show the Taliban they can’t divide Afghans.”
In 2018 and 2019, USIP partnered with the Afghanistan Analysts Network (AAN), a Kabul-based research and policy organization, in an effort to understand how the Taliban provide education, health, and other services to people who live in areas where they are the dominant power. Based on a series of studies conducted by AAN in five districts across the country, the report also examines the Taliban's motivations as a governing entity and their implications for a potential peace settlement.
As the COVID pandemic complicates Afghanistan’s embryonic peace process, government-appointed negotiators urged the Taliban to begin talks without preconditions and stressed that a peace accord must make governments accountability to Afghan citizens. A day after the government announced the release of 71 more Taliban prisoners—a process central to starting talks—the head of the government negotiating team said direct discussions with the Taliban are important to accelerate releases. Analysts have voiced fear that deaths from COVID of prisoners held by the government and the Taliban could stall or scuttle the current peace efforts.
After February’s landmark U.S.-Taliban framework agreement, Afghanistan is still trying to initiate the next steps of their peace process, including intra-Afghan talks and prisoner exchanges. The country’s regional neighbors will be critical to the success or failure of the proposed talks. And while most attention naturally goes to Pakistan, with some focus also given to Iran and China, U.S. Special Representative Zalmay Khalilzad has made clear that India also has a vital role to play.
The COVID-19 crisis comes at a critical juncture for Afghanistan. The disputed 2019 presidential election has led to a stalemate between incumbent President Ghani and the chief executive of the last government, Abdullah Abdullah, both of whom claim the right to govern. At a time when the Afghan government should be focused on the best chance to bring peace in years, it’s distracted by a political crisis. Meanwhile, progress in the peace process has slowed since the U.S. and Taliban signed a deal in late February.
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.
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.
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.
Since 2001, Afghan women have assumed larger roles in society—becoming teachers, doctors and government officials. With intra-Afghan talks expected to begin this month, USIP’s Belquis Ahmadi says it’s important the Taliban “accept the reality that today’s Afghanistan is very different from the country they ruled” when it comes to women’s rights.