Afghanistan: A test bed for negotiations

Note on how to cite this journal:

Author, Date of the post, WMO Conflict Insight, Title of the post,  ISSN: 2628-6998, https://worldmediation.org/conflict-insight 

Presently the most destabilizing threat the world is plagued with is the Civil War. It produces critical human suffering, subverts prosperity, leads to huge civilian displacements, and lays the groundwork for conflict in the future even after they end. Nevertheless, civil wars also carry a strong threat of both spreading across borders and drawing in neighboring states. These threats of civil wars create a cogent need for devising mechanisms that lead to the transition of civil conflicts towards peace. Unfortunately, civil wars are the most fractious types of conflicts to manage in the international system. The identity crisis over which most civil wars are fought tends to be pivotal for warring sides, making peace agreements hard for belligerents to accomplish. The trouble gets intensified when the warring sides have to live with each other in the aftermath of a civil war, which escalates the commitment issues that are endemic to civil wars. These commitment issues serve to develop fears among even those players persuaded to arrive at a settlement with each other of the risks that the opposite side will swindle.

One of the biggest examples of this is the longest-standing civil war in Afghanistan that America has been trying to end for the past two decades. Even after the lengthy negotiations that have led to the signing of the U.S.-Taliban agreement and the U.S.-Afghan government joint declaration in February 2020, there is still no guarantee that the intra-Afghan negotiations will be successful. Many challenges still stand in the way of a successful outcome to these negotiations.

A suggested strategy to tackle the challenges faced in the Afghan crisis is as follows:

  • Developing a politically negotiated settlement.
  • Increasing legitimacy for the Afghan government by way of participation by referendum. Ensuring that the public has a vote in the peace deal is the best way of increasing public trust in the Afghan Government.
  • Helping all stakeholders create mechanisms to hear the interests and concerns of all groups, even those deemed irrelevant or extremist to address the root causes and underlying interests of each group—economic, security, political, and identity-based—so that agreements are more likely to be sustainable over the long term.
  • Deploying more diplomatic staff to find a political solution to the conflict in Afghanistan since Afghans desire a diplomatic surge. There is a need for U.S. policymakers to listen directly to Afghan government ministers, parliamentarians, and civil society leaders.
  • Developing a team of well-trained mediators and technical support teams that have specialist knowledge, experiences, and skills in working on comprehensive peace processes and can advise and leverage the support from other sectors of government on behalf of developing a sustainable outcome. Deploying such mediators and diplomats on a long-term basis to work on complex regional diplomatic initiatives and ensuring that diplomats are trained in principled negotiation and mediation to help support a comprehensive Afghan peace process. Mediation is the most effective form of peaceful third-party intervention in violent international conflicts. Though, such mediators and technical support teams should remain available during the implementation phase of peace agreements since most peace agreements fail because stakeholders are unable or unwilling to put agreements into practice.
  • Cutting off funding from states like Kuwait that are sponsoring Afghanistan’s terrorism. This can be done by identifying and fulfilling the interests of those states through a peaceful diplomatic scheme.
  • Fulfilling the interests of Taliban through a scheme of National Security that gives them power and autonomy in a region regulated by the Afghan Government and Afghan Civil Society.
  • Developing the economy of Afghanistan as a whole so that people have real jobs to go to and are not drawn towards the illusory future they see by signing up as suicide bombers.

Current negotiations focus on a narrow agenda on conditions for the Taliban to lay down their arms and for the United States to leave Afghanistan. This agenda does not address significant root causes of the current conflict, such as government corruption, ethnic tensions, and the interest of the states that sponsor terrorism in Afghanistan. Thus, an exhaustive peace process in Afghanistan requires a much more deliberate design than that currently exists. The hope of a hurried and tight negotiation process is as delusional as the fantasy that the use of military solutions will achieve victory for either side in Afghanistan.

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