Afghanistan Peace Talks
Books on Afghanistan
The Afghan War - at least from a U.S. perspective - has been going on since the fall of 2001 when a small force (less than 300) of U.S. Army Special Forces, Air Force JTACs, and CIA operatives infiltrated Afghanistan and assisted the Northern Alliance and other groups in toppling the Taliban regime. The situtation in Afghanistan was quiet for a few years and, as we entered 2002, the United States shifted its attention to the upcoming invasion of Iraq. While we were focused on invading and consolidating our occupation of Iraq the Taliban were slowly building their insurgency. This insurgency has gained strength through the years - especially since 2006 - and currently numbers over 30,000 personnel and controls large parts of Afghanistan. The U.S. and other International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) have ended the ISAF mission as of December 2014. The force left behind under the Resolute Support mission numbers less than 13,000; of which just a small amount are there to do combat missions under the umbrella of 'counter-terrorism'.
However . . . the Taliban are not defeated (as of early 2016) and are not likely to go away soon due to the inability of the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) to defeat them. For this reason many observers feel that negotiations with the Taliban and other insurgent groups are necessary. Throughout history it has been noted that many insurgencies actually end with a political settlement and not a military solution. Therefore, over the past few years, we have been seeing a big push for a reconciliation with the insurgents.
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The Historical Example of the Soviet Withdrawal from Afghanistan. Surprisingly, the Afghan government the Soviets left behind in Kabul after their withdrawal remained in power for about four years. The government continued to function and the security forces managed to hold their own against the many mujahadeen groups. It was only after the Soviet Union fell apart - and the equipment, money, supplies, weapons, advisors, and more stopped flowing from the Soviet Union to the Afghan government - that the Afghan government fell.
History Lesson of Vietnam. Peace talks helped us disengage from the Vietnam conflict (with a little help from Operation Linebacker II). We withdrew (most of our combat forces) in 1973; keeping advisors and some supporting units in country until 1975. Even though the peace talks allowed the North Vietnamese to keep 140,000 troops in South Vietnam the South Vietnamese government manage to survive two more years. It was only after the U.S. Congress cut off all funding and aid (weapons, ammunition, and supplies) in early 1975 that the South Vietnamese Army fell apart and the government fell to the North Vietnam conventional forces. What the Paris Peace Talks did give the United States was a Decent Interval between our departure and the fall of the South Vietnam government. 1.
Some Pararels with Vietnam and Afghanistan. We find two things in common with Vietnam and Afghanistan. The South Vietnam government was and the Afghan government is corrupt and ineffective. Both Thieu (the leader of the South Vietnam government) and Karzai can be called inept and corrupt. The new National Unity Government (NUG) comprised of President Ghani and CEO Abdullah seems to just as inept and possibly just as corrupt. Neither the Vietnam or Afghan governments enjoyed strong support of the general population.
Negotiating with the Taliban Pre-9/11. Once the Taliban took power after the Soviet invasion and subsequent civil war the Clinton administration attempted over several years to open a dialogue with the Taliban. However, most attempts at negotiations resulted in little gains. 3.
Are the Taliban Serious about Peace Talks? Many critics claimed that the Taliban merely engaged in peace talks so they could run out the clock to the end of 2014 when the coalition departed Afghanistan . . . then move to topple the Karzai or successor regime. Observers of past Taliban negotiations believe the Taliban will renege on any promises made during negotiations. 2.
What Does the U.S. Hope to Gain from the Peace Talks? The U.S. recognizes that the Taliban will not be defeated by 2016 and realizes that the Afghan security forces will not have matured to the extent needed to defend the country from insurgents. It is hoped that some sort of political solution can be negotiated that will keep the Taliban from taking power and leave a government behind that will not allow sanctuary to al-Qaeda. Perhaps the most likely scenario is that the U.S. is provided another Decent Interval. 1.
Peace Process Roadmap to 2015. In November 2012 the High Peace Council of Afghanistan released a document entitled the "Peace Process Roadmap to 2015". It provides a vision of what 2015 looks like, outlines a five step process toward obtaining that vision, and lists some principles governing the peace process.
Death of Mullah Omar. The July 2015 announcement of the death of long-time Taliban leader Omar in 2013 abruptly halted efforts in mid-2015 to reinvigorate the peace talks. The Taliban movement split for a time being and experience a leadership crisis until Mullah Mansour managed to consolidate the movement behind his leadership.
Taliban Success on Battlefield in Late 2015. During the second half of 2015, the Taliban scored several battlefield successes against government forces which provides them with a position of strength in any peace talks that may occur. The resulting bargaining strength of the Taliban combined with the reluctance of hard-line factions (old Northern Alliance members) of the Afghan government probably will result an peace talks that will not provide any concrete results.
Pakistan Track. President Ghani has attempted to rebuild a positive relationship with Pakistan in an effort to get the Pakistani's to put pressue on the Tabiban to enter negotiations (and also to reduce Pakistani support and sanctuary to the Taliban). This has not worked out very well. Ghani lost internal support within Afghanistan with his shift to Pakistan.
China Track. Afghanistan is seeking the assistance of China to have a dialogue with the Taliban in an effort to get them to the peace table. In addition, Afghanistan hopes that China will apply pressue on Pakistan to do the same. China is offering Pakistan and to a lesser degree Afghanistan infrastructure funding to develop trade and the economy; but it needs peace in the region to go forward with these massive economic projects.
Who has the Strong Hand at the Peace Talk Table? It is not the U.S. and its allies. They are burdened with a non-cooperative, ineffective, inefficient and corrupt Afghan government that has little popular support. The U.S and its allies are also worn down by the decade long war that has been costly in lives and money. The lead nation in the coalition (U.S.) has a President determined to disengage from Afghanistan. The Ghani regime doesn't hold the cards - without the coalition combat support and massive amounts of dollars provided by international donors his government will likely fold. So that would leave the Taliban with the strongest bargaining position. The Taliban have taken some losses over the past several years; but they are not beaten. They have sanctuaries in Pakistan, receive aid and support from Pakistan, and they continue to be funded through the drug trade and international donors. They can use the peace negotiations to extract concessions and strengthen their position politically and militarily. However, they will most likely use the negotiations as a stalling tactic and bide their time until post 2016. Pakistan is an another matter - do we really know where they stand in the entire process?
Afghanistan. United States Institute of Peace.
Mashal, Mujib, "How Peace Between Afghanistan and the Taliban Foundered",
The New York Times, December 26, 2016.
Ruttig, Thomas, In Search of a Peace Process: A 'new' HPC and an
ultimatum for the Taleban, Afghanistan Analysts Network, February 26,
SOFREP, The Key to Successful Afghan Peace Talks, January 14,
AAN, Thematic Dossier X: Peace talks and reconciliation, August
4, 2015. The Afghanistan Analysts Network (AAN) provides a comprehensive
listing of their writings over time on the Afghan peace talks.
Semple, Michael. Rhetoric, Ideology and Organizational Structure of theTaliban Movement, United States Institute of Peace (USIP), January 5, 2015. Examines the Taliban movement in the wake of the ISAF change of mission, Afghan presidential elections, and withdrawal of Coalition combat troops. Accessed here on USIP website.
RAND Corporation. Lessons for a Negotiated Settlement in Afghanistan -
If History Serves as a Guide, by Colin P. Clarke and Christopher
Paul, February 2014.
RAND Corporation. From Stalemate to Settlement: Lessons for
Afghanistan from Historical Insurgencies That Have Been Resolved Through
Negotiations, by Colin P. Clarke and Christopher Paul, February 2014.
Talking to the Taliban: Hope Over History? By the International
Centre for the Study of Radicalisation, June 19, 2013. This report
suggests that interested parties in talks with the Taliban look the
history of previous talks with the Taliban and learn.
International Crisis Group (ICG). Talking About Talks: Toward a Political Settlement in Afghanistan. Asia Report No 221. March 26, 2012. Accessed here on March 26, 2012.
Afghanistan - Negotiating Peace. The Report of The Century Foundation International Task Force on Afghanistan in Its Regional and Mulilateral Dimensions. By Lakhdar Brahimi and Thomas R. Pickering, The Century Foundation Press, New York, 2011. Accessed here on February 3, 2012.
Afghan Peace Talks - A Primer. By James Shinn and James Dobbins. RAND Corporation, 2011. Accessed here on February 3, 2012.
Designing a Comprehensive Peace Process for Afghanistan. By Lisa Schirch, United States Institute of Peace, September 2011. Accessed here on February 3, 2012.
Beyond Power-sharing: Institutional Options for an Afghan Peace Process. By Hamish Nixon and Caroline Hartzell, United States Institute of Peace, December 2011. Accessed here on February 3, 2012.
Recalibrating the Afghan Reconciliation Program. By Amin Tarzi, The Prism, 1, No. 4, 2010. Accessed here on on NDU Press on February 3, 2012.
Thwarting Afghanistan's Insurgency: A Pragmatic Approach toward Peace and Reconciliation. Special Report by Mohammad Masoom Stanekzai. United States Institute of Peace. September 2008. Accessed here on February 3, 2012.
1. For a detailed read on the two-year span between the Paris Peace Talks of 1973 and the collapse of the Saigon regime in May 1975 read "Decent Interval". This book was wrote by Frank Snepp, a CIA operative who spent five years in Vietnam and was one of the last to evacuate the embassy on April 29, 1975. A description of the book is available at Amazon.com at the link below:
2. For an early example of the Taliban's record of not keeping their word or telling the truth read an account of the U.S. diplomatic talks with the Taliban during the 1996 - 1997 time frame. See The Taliban on al Qaeda, 1996-97, Threat Matrix, February 5, 2012. Accessed here February 6, 2012.
3. For a history of the Clinton administrations attempts to chat up the Taliban see "Taking Tea with the Taliban", Commentary Magazine, by Michael Rubin. accessed here January 20, 2014.
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