The Taliban in Afghanistan

The Taliban And Mujahideen: Comparisons And Lessons Learned

At the time of the Soviet invasion, those fleeing from Afghanistan to Pakistan were one of the largest refugee populations in the world. They flooded border towns like Peshawar and Quetta. These locations aided mujahideen leaders in recruitment efforts from growing refugee camps, for their militias. Hundreds of madrassas indoctrinated these refugees to justify their holy war against Soviet forces. Twenty years later, the Taliban utilised the same infrastructure to radicalise their followers against the Americans. 

Lessons To Learn

Parallels can be drawn between the anti-Soviet resistance in the 1980s and the mujahideen and Taliban. The ideas that advanced American policies in Afghanistan during the 1980s can provide useful lessons concerning counterinsurgency and counterterrorism operations. Although the Taliban and mujahideen have different adversaries, their origins and ideology remain rooted in Islamic teachings.

The same actors of the 1980s are still actively influencing local politics today. For this analysis, mujahideen will refer to the Afghans who drove the Red Army out of Afghanistan in 1989. The refugee crisis served to fuel both groups’ objectives and many of the poor conditions from the 1980s remain today. Policy makers can learn valuable lessons from the Taliban and mujahideen’s resistance and address the conditions that lead to violent extremism.

The same names from the Soviet resistance appear frequently in current Afghan politics and in the Taliban’s leadership. Abdullah Abdullah, Abd Rasul Sayyaf, and Amrullah Saleh, were vital in military successes against Soviet forces. They also currently hold senior political or governmental positions. Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who was one of the most effective rebel commanders during the resistance, also leads the Jamaat-Islami party. Although much about senior Taliban leaders like Haibatullah Akhundzada and Abdul Ghani Baradar are unknown, their estimated birthdays put them in their teens or early twenties during the Soviet occupation. This would have made them impressionable to years of anti-Soviet, anti-occupation ideology.

Indoctrination in Pakistan

Afghan asylum seekers in Pakistan have bleak prospects because there is no path to Pakistani citizenship. Persistent, dismal conditions during the 1980s and 2000s were prime recruitment opportunities for armed groups, providing religious purpose and money. According to Ahmad Shah Mohibi, many young Taliban fighters are children of former mujahideen and refugees indoctrinated in Pakistan. Additionally, disenfranchised Islamist leaders in the current government could inspire their relatives to join the Taliban or other militant groups.

Radical mujahideen-era commanders like Hekmatyar and Jalaladdin Haqqani did not achieve their political visions for Afghanistan and may retain motives to undermine the government. After the 1996 fall of Kabul, many in Hekmatyar’s circle joined the Taliban after he was exiled to Iran. After two decades of foreign occupation, why would Hekmatyar change his 1980s-era anti-American sentiment? Some in his party support the Taliban and call their victories against NATO forces, “the pride of Afghans.”

Pakistan was and remains the most important actor for the mujahideen and Taliban. During conflict, Islamabad covertly supplied both groups with weapons and money to increase costs for their respective adversaries. As conflict subsided, Pakistan manipulated aid to favour proxies and increase the prospects of a Pashtun government, friendly to Islamabad. It seeks the same goals with the Taliban. Its madrassas and training camps in the semi-autonomous regions prepare fighters spiritually and physically, using decades of experience fighting Soviet and American forces. Its territory also provides both movements sanctuary to recruit and direct combat operations without fear of assassination. To understand how issues from the Cold War impact the current peace process, leaders must familiarise themselves with Afghanistan’s past.

Comparisons And Future Recommendations

Policy makers must simultaneously address the plight of refugees and work to limit Pakistan’s influence. The conditions and corruption of today, that force refugees to join terror groups, were also present after the Soviet withdrawal. They actually facilitated early support for the Taliban, who provided long-absent social and civil services after the civil war. Leaders in the region must facilitate refugees’ return to Afghanistan because they will continue to deteriorate in Pakistan with poor education and job insecurity.

Violent spoilers will complicate their return but relying on kinetic strikes only treats the symptoms of poor living conditions. More funds must be utilised to solve issues for counterterrorism methods like reforming children’s education, de-radicalising and integrating former Taliban. Other methods include creating a more inclusive political systems, and providing stable employment. With improved standards of life, Afghans are less likely to be less radicalised or resort to the Taliban to make ends meet or fulfil “religious” duties.

Pakistan’s role in covertly assisting armed groups and indoctrinating fighters must be also curbed. Solving only one of these issues would allow people to continue crossing the Pakistani border to fight or continue suffering in conditions that motivate extremism. In Islamabad’s constant rivalry with Delhi and its closer relations to China, how U.S. leaders can achieve cooperation after years of attempts is unclear. Islamabad’s security apparatus must reform internally for optimal results but this is unlikely because it uses religion to justify violence in Kashmir. Critics would argue that these steps are unrealistic, however, in a conflict with diverse actors and regional rivalries like Afghanistan’s, there are no easy steps. In addressing the underlying factors contributing to the Taliban’s growth can the U.S. help the Afghan people achieve peace.

Ending American Involvement

The United States learned the consequences for disengaging with Afghanistan too quickly in 1992. The environment that they left caused a civil war and an emerging Islamist movement. These circumstances provided sanctuary to terror groups. American presence in Afghanistan is a complex topic but the costs of their disengagement are far greater. America should not  back out after more 2-decades of investing in partners, aid, and losing thousands of lives. Our leaders must know Afghanistan’s history and what conditions created and destroyed peace. Many are recurring themes throughout the world’s conflicts. It is the only way to invest resources effectively to stop terrorism.

Refugees on the Greek islands awaiting asylum

Political Crisis For Refugees Seeking Asylum In Greece

There are currently 119,700 refugees in Greece, while another 19,100 refugees remain on the Greek Islands, seeking asylum. Despite many of these refugees fleeing war torn countries including Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan – it has developed from a humanitarian crisis to a political one. Greece is going through some significant financial issues which makes the economic impact of Greece’s incoming refugees more complicated. This has led to many refugees living in inadequate conditions.

Refugees entering Greece have traveled from war-torn nations and often need counselling for psychological trauma and require medical aid. In February 2019, Dimitris Vitsas, a Syriza member of Hellenic Parliament stated that Greece can not process 20,000 asylum applications each year. Greece is also unable to integrate the twelve thousand refugees currently on the Greek mainland. The irregularity in immigration into Greece has been a significant burden for the nation. 

Refugee ‘Hotspots’

To identify, register, and fingerprint incoming migrants the Greek government created temporary refugee processing centres. These ‘hotspots’ would allow immigrants to then travel to the Greek mainland. These locations include Lesvos refugee camp which was opened in October 2015 with a capacity of 3,100 people, but is now called ‘home’ by more than 20,000 refugees. The same issue was found in other Greek refugee hotspots like Chios and Samos. Both opened in March 2016 and had a limited capacity. However, investigations into the refugee hotspot at Samos, with an official capacity of 650, reported a population of over 3,000.

Refugee Camp Overcrowding

The overcrowding of these refugee camps has been blamed on the deal agreed between the European Union and Turkey in March 2016. The deal asserts Turkey as a safe zone for refugees escaping violence from neighbouring countries like Syria. Before entering the European mainland refugees must apply and receive a decision on their asylum case.

The overcrowding is also a result of Greece’s geographical location. As the closest entrance into Europe from the Middle East, Greece has seen an overwhelming influx of refugees. Of the 65 million people officially classified as displaced persons globally, an increasing number of refugees have been travelling through Greece. Furthermore, in 2016 Greece saw an unprecedented number of refugees travelling to its shores. It has been reported that more than 4 million Syrians have been driven from their country, and in 2016 alone 26,000 of them applied for asylum in Greece. This is up from 3,000 in 2015.

This overcrowding in the refugee camps can lead to poor living conditions and often impacts the processing of refugees’ cases. More refugees than ever are displaced from their home country and Greece is unable to manage. With their own economic crisis and rising unemployment, many of the Greek refugee processing centres and camps are run by volunteers and charities like Lighthouse Relief. With millions of refugees already displaced and hundreds more arriving into Europe each day, it is important for the European Union and surrounding nations to implement a road-map to better manage. 

Ongoing Recommendations

The migration issues faced by Greece are important but the driver of this mass migration is ongoing conflict. The focus for many reports is how to better manage, we must highlight the impact on refugees’ home nations. With millions displaced, implementing peace and rebuilding a country is much more difficult. Especially as many skilled workers and young people important to a nation’s rebuilding will begin to integrate into new countries.

Current Afghan peace talks taking place in Moscow, Russia.

What To Expect From The Moscow Peace Conference On Afghanistan

The Moscow conference peace talks are being attended by the Troika group, which includes; Pakistan, Iran, China, Russia, and the United States. And it may provide a preview for what could take place in Istanbul. The current Moscow summit and the upcoming conference in Turkey are the result of the ongoing stalemate in the Doha peace talks that began last September. 

The upcoming Turkey peace conference has the potential to determine the future of the Afghanistan peace process. The conference signifies a collective and international interest in creating a peaceful Afghan nation. The head of the High Council for National Reconciliation, Abdullah Abdullah seems to regard the Moscow conference in this way. Abdulla’s office has gone on to state that “We strongly believe that the Moscow conference will boost the Doha peace talks, and the upcoming Turkey conference on Afghanistan”. The Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that the aim of the Moscow conference is to help move forward the peace talks in Doha. 

The Bonn Agreement

In order to understand the potential future Afghanistan peace agreement, we can look to previous agreements like the Bonn Agreement. The proposals established by the Bonn Agreement can give us a clue as to what we can expect from current discussions. It resulted in the creation of an interim government which was the foundation for a new constitution and political system. Otherwise known as the Agreement on Provisional Arrangements in Afghanistan Pending the Re-establishment of Permanent Government Institutions (S/2001/1154), the Bonn Agreement sought to build lasting peace and stability in Afghanistan.

What is important to note is that the creation of the interim government was left to the decision of the Afghan people, through the creation of an emergency Loya Jirga, and not by international actors.  The expectation of an interim government was for a new constitutional government to emerge and for key institutions to reemerge. The Agreement also proposed the creation of a Human Rights Commission as well as equal representation of women, ethnic, and religious groups.

International Influence During Peace Talks

For example, Russia supports the creation of an interim government and the inclusion of the Taliban. According to the statement given by the Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova “the formation of an interim inclusive administration would need a logical solution to the problem of integrating the Taliban into the peaceful political life in Afghanistan”.

On the other hand, the current Afghan government is not in agreement with the dissolution of the current administration. Ashraf Ghani, Afghanistan’s President, has gone on to say that: “if the Taliban are ready for elections tomorrow, we are also ready to participate in the elections, but I am not ready to transfer the power to my successor without elections”. 

Ghani has stated that he does not want a future peace settlement to be made outside of Afghanistan. Secretary of Defence Antony Blinken’s recent letter outlines the Biden administration’s expectations for the Afghan peace process. Even though the main political actors involved in the Afghan peace process may have differing views on certain issues, they all have one thing in common: they want to create a peaceful Afghan nation. The question is how that peace will look like and how it will manifest. After all, the Bonn agreement did not turn out like the participants expected. 

What Does This Mean For The Future Agreement?

Two important elements to consider are first, what a future peace agreement may mean for Afghanistan’s administration? And second, what role the players involved in the peace process will place in the event of a peace agreement? Furthermore, will peace talks result in an interim government? And will the current Afghan administration be willing to give up their power? The Taliban’s involvement in Afghanistan’s future peace agreement is critical to both its inception and its success. The impact of these separate groups will also affect the peace agreement’s nature. It will affect whether the new administration will follow a secular route or become an Islamic Republic.

Inclusion will also be paramount to the success of the Afghan peace agreement. The equal participation of women, ethnic, and religious groups is as important as the creation of a new political system. This is also true for the reintegration of the Taliban into Afghan society and its potential future political system. It is crucial that peace talks continue to finally end the violence being perpetuated by the Taliban. These conferences and peace talks may allow the international community to come to an inclusive and successful peace agreement. The most important thing is to continue to build on the momentum that is currently taking place. 

Boko Haram in Nigeria

Are Nigeria’s Counterterrorism Operations Boko Haram’s Biggest Ally?

For the last decade, Nigeria’s deadliest threat has undoubtedly and consistently been Islamic group Boko Haram. The terror group would see the Nigerian government overthrown to allow Islamic law to replace it. Although established in Northeast Nigeria, Boko Haram’s operations have spread beyond Nigeria’s borders. Its occupancy has overflowed into neighbouring countries like Cameroon, Chad and Niger. Despite countless counterterrorism initiatives and overwhelming expenditure, the Nigerian government has been largely unsuccessful in its attempts to control Boko Haram’s spread and malicious actions. As Boko Haram continues to threaten national security, it is important to evaluate the efforts of the Nigerian government’s counterterrorism measures in their attempt to counteract the group.

Boko Haram’s Violent Actions

Since the beginning of their insurgency in 2009, the group has killed more than 30,000 people and 2 million others have been displaced from their homes across Nigeria. However, Boko Haram is not the only terrorist group operating in Nigeria, the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) is the regional affiliate of the Islamic State. ISWAP have claimed credit for the killing of 30 soldiers in northeast Nigeria this week.

Boko Haram’s name, translated from Hausa, means ‘Western education is forbidden’. And this message has been no more true than in April 2015 when members of the terrorist group executed one of their most shocking attacks. Despite authorities being alerted to the possibility of the threat, Boko Haram were able to abduct 276 young girls from a secondary school in Chibok in the State of Borno. Ill-equipped to manage and respond to threats of this nature, Nigeria’s military were acting on the back foot. The kidnapping caught global attention and sparked outrage not only in Nigeria but worldwide, with the campaign #BringBackOurGirls trending. Since then, Boko Haram have executed a number of kidnappings, bombings and massacres, resulting in Nigeria being ranked third for the impact of terrorism. 

Nigeria’s State Of Emergency

Since Boko Haram’s inception, the Nigerian government has used a range of techniques in an attempt to combat the terrorist group. During Boko Haram’s most lethal period, the Nigerian government attempted to implement a range of operations focusing on Boko Haram bases. However, this only led to the group retaliating by launching attacks on vulnerable communities across the country. In January 2012, President Goodluck Jonathan declared a state of emergency against Islamic insurgency. He made the decision to temporarily close borders with Cameroon, Chad and Niger, all areas of Boko Haram operations. This temporary measure was put in place to address the security challenges that Nigeria was facing, which consequently led to the establishment of a special counter terrorism force.

By 2013, Jonathan made the decision to clamp down on military excesses and launched an offensive on Boko Haram’s insurgency. The result was Boko Haram’s loss of control in Maiduguri. However, soon after this operation Boko Haram stormed military barracks and government buildings killing 55 people and freeing 105 prisoners. The failure of these operations was clear in Boko Haram’s continued spread to the south of the country, creating a feeling of anxiety and panic throughout Nigeria.

In 2014 the Nigerian government shifted their tactics to a soft approach through their National Counter Terrorism Strategy (NACTEST). It was established to counter the Boko Haram’s operations and target the roots of terrorism. In this regard, elements such as radicalisation prevention, stronger community integration and economic development were imperative. The initiatives were somewhat effective but their success did not survive long term. To this day, Boko Haram continues to enact terror, causing a divide between civilians and the government.

Nigeria’s Counter-Terrorism Failings

A consistent theme of Nigeria’s failing efforts against Boko Haram has been a lack of communication. On various occasions poor inter-border communication has led to many challenges. These include: the loss of resources, uncertainty across troops and ineffective and untimely information sharing. This has resulted in generally a poor response to Boko Haram’s operations. The lack of effective communication has inevitably inflated regional tensions across Nigeria’s borders where military bases meet.

Research into the counterterrorism institutions in Nigeria has uncovered that they are generally counter-productive in their work. This due to poor funding, staffing and poor managerial methods. Despite these challenges, the Nigerian military has been successful in some of its operations. For instance, the rescue of 26 humanitarian aid workers, who had been abducted by Boko Haram in recent weeks. The government has also worked to return and reintegrate 5,000 civilians that had fled the country due to ongoing violence. With Nigeria and Cameroon working together to ensure safety in some parts of the State of Borno. This has enabled some communities to return.

Future Recommendations

Moving forward, it is crucial for the Nigerian government, and their counterterrorism team to understand the importance of effective communication. This communication must take place between the government, the military, national institutions and counterterrorist organisations. It is also important that communication is consistent on both a national level and on a regional level. The Nigerian government is strict in enforcing the law and punishments for any form of terrorist behaviour. The integration of these laws and investigations must also remain consistent. The brutal attacks from Boko Haram will not end if nothing changes.

Blinken delivers a speech at the State Department on the priorities of the Biden administration.

An Introspective Outlook Of The U.S Letter To Afghanistan

Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s letter to President Ghani and Chairman Abdulla Abdulla addressing the Afghan peace process highlights its complexity and challenges. It has come at a crucial time in the process, as it states and establishes the proposals of the new American Administration under President Joe Biden. This introspective outlook helps dissect Blinken’s letter and its recommendations for policy and the need for diplomatic efforts in the Afghan peace process.

Blinken’s letter highlights the importance of diplomatic efforts, suggesting that diplomatic efforts should include all parties involved in the conflict, as well as the regional counties, and the United Nations. Blinken’s reference to the United Nations is important due to the United States’ (US) high regard for the power and functions of the UN. Particularly as he intends to ask the UN to “convene Foreign Ministers and envoys from Russia, China, Pakistan, Iran, India, and the U.S to discuss a unified approach to supporting peace in Afghanistan”.

The U.S also intends to ask Turkey to host a meeting between both sides, as a mediating actor that will facilitate the negotiation process. The remaining sections of Blinken’s letter focuses on reiterating the importance of collaboration to build on the goals and objectives that have been previously stipulated. However, the recommendations have to extend far beyond its current scope. 

Policy Recommendations 

We know that there are no universal plan for a successful peace agreement the process is complicated. From previous negotiations we know that certain principles implemented by the U.S. have been previously shown not to work in Afghanistan. Moreover, the U.S needs to carefully assess the historical aspects that have shaped Afghanistan and the reshaping of Afghan borders throughout its history.

The U.S needs to take an approach to better understand why past Afghan leaders have had great difficulty in uniting the country and in building a strong central government. The role of different tribes also needs to be taken into consideration, with their plethora of tribes each with their own traditions, policy needs to encompass this. Without this understanding a unified country and government may not be adequately achieved.

Afghan citizens are just as important to the peace process as the military forces and the Taliban, if left out of the process, Afghanistan’s people will follow those who speak to their needs. There must be a common goal and understanding throughout the region, particularly between Afghanistan and Pakistan. 

What should the Afghan government do?

The Afghan government should keep working closely with the United States because a link has been created that cannot be easily broken.

However, Afghanistan should work more with the region, particularly with Pakistan. With help from Pakistan, the Afghan government will be able to better communicate with the Taliban. This might even prevent the Taliban from regaining their strength and power in Pakistan, which occurred when the Taliban was ousted by the Americans. The Afghan government, the current and future administrations, should take into account the different political needs of the tribes within the country as well as those of the opposition parties. Who is involved in the creation of Afghanistan’s new constitution and the formation of new democratic institutions is critical. It is also important to determine who democratically participates, in other words, who is included or excluded. 

What can the Taliban do? 

By having national dialogues and more meetings with the Afghan government to get a sense of what the Afghan government wishes to do without the influence of external forces, like the United States. 

The Taliban need to reduce their scale of violence to show their willingness to compromise and to show that they will uphold the demands set forth by the U.S and the Afghan government. Especially as the U.S plans to uphold the Taliban request to withdraw U.S troops by May 1st. These recommendations are superficial given the difficulty in getting the Taliban to not only agree with them but also to implement them. However, one thing is clear: they cannot be excluded from the peace process. A common ground must be met, whether that be through compromise or through power-sharing.

What Can Afghanistan Learn from Rwanda?

When the war in Afghanistan finally ends, an estimated 50,000 to 60,000 Taliban fighters will have to be reintegrated into Afghan society. The current generation of Taliban fighters has known little besides war for the majority of their lives. For many, their opposition to the Afghan government and life as an insurgent has formed a key element of their identity. While this might at first cause anxiety about the possibility of reintegrating these fighters into civilian life, the example of reintegration in Rwanda provides a reason for optimism.


The Rwandan genocide was one of the bloodiest events of the twentieth century. Beginning in April of 1994, Hutu militias, indoctrinated into a genocidal ideology by demagogic politicians and “hate radio,” murdered their fellow Tutsi citizens without mercy. Within a mere hundred days, 800,000 people were murdered.

Over 300,000 Rwandans have spent time in prison for their crimes during the genocide. While Rwanda Correctional Services’ main responsibility was overseeing these incarcerated Rwandans, they also provided services useful to the reintegration process. Prisoners were advised to be honest with their loved ones about the crimes they committed, to be understanding if their partner had entered a new relationship, and to work to embrace their identity as a citizen of Rwanda. Some prisoners were provided preparation for employment while incarcerated.

Other participants in the genocide who admitted their guilt and expressed remorse for their crimes chose to participate in TIG (a French acronym for “works of general service”). In exchange for staying out of prison, these citizens have agreed to complete unpaid work to repay their debt to society. TIG participants have been involved in building roads, constructing houses, agriculture, mining, and manufacturing.

Many former genocidaires have only recently been released from prison and allowed to return to their communities. Many have received a warm welcome. They are greeted by neighbors who are eager to reconnect and given small gifts like soda pop and beer. Some former genocidaires even manage to have meaningful relationships with the families of their victims.

Rwandan society has chosen to move forward. Recently released Rwandans often comment on the nation’s economic development since their incarceration. Government investment has provided livestock to farmers and helped boost Rwanda’s growth rate to an average of 8% over the last two decades. It is now the second-best place to do business in all of Africa. While powerful commemorations are held every April 7 to remember the genocide’s victims, daily life in Rwanda is now concerned with more simple economic issues: home construction, the agricultural season, and employment.

While reintegration in Rwanda may at first appear to be a niche issue, it makes apparent the possibility of reintegration and forgiveness after even the most extreme instances of violence. Rwanda’s example can provide lessons that are applicable to the case of Afghanistan.


Reintegration is a difficult and painful process but it is far less costly than continued fighting. The Afghan government and the foreign powers financing both sides of the war will have to make a serious investment in the reintegration process. This process must be pragmatic and not just symbolic. While truth and reconciliation processes can be psychologically beneficial for ex-combatants, they will not deter another outbreak of violence. Given the influence of money in driving the Afghan war and Afghanistan’s general culture of impunity, it must be in the self interest of Afghanistan’s ex-combatants to accept peace.

Like Rwanda, Afghanistan must successfully foster a spirit of citizenship among participants on all sides of the conflict. While Afghanistan’s long history of decentralized governance makes this difficult, it is a necessity if there is to be a long-lasting peace. A commitment to reconstruction, economic development, and small business projects would be a significant start.

However, these projects must steer clear of the corruption and connections to poppy cultivation and trafficking that plagued previous development initiatives. Pursuing simple programs consisting of only small transfers of cash —like the Rwandan government’s “one cow” program— could help avoid these problems. These programs must not discriminate against ex-combatants. The Taliban must have a stake in Afghanistan’s future if they are to be reintegrated into society.

When a peace agreement is signed between the government of Afghanistan and the Taliban, the Taliban will be free men. Compelling them to take part in the sort of reintegration programs and commemorations that Rwandans do will be near impossible. Instead, they must voluntarily rejoin their communities. Through the construction of economic, social, and religious interdependence, Taliban fighters could find peace to be in their self interest. While reintegration will prove a difficult task, it will certainly be far less difficult —and less costly— than another outbreak of war in Afghanistan.

— Connor Bulgrin

Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad Visits Kabul For Afghan Peace Talks

Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, the US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation, has left Washington DC for a trip to Kabul. His trip aims to resolve the stalemate on the Afghan Peace Process and resume the discussion with the afghan technocrats, the afghan warlords, the Mujaheddin and the Taliban representatives. 

The trip comes just a few days after the anniversary of the Afghan Peace Process, which in the last year has experienced some back and forth. Many factors have affected the process including, a lack of interest from the Taliban in the process overall, a domestic rivalry to the government, and the call from the opposition parties for the current government to be dissolved and replaced by an interim government. All of these factors have posed challenges with compliance to the Afghan Peace Process. 

Amid the looming deadline for the US troops to withdraw from the area, the US government has organised this trip intending to create the conditions necessary not to leave Afghanistan in chaos as it has happened with the cessation of Soviet foreign aid in 1991. All due to the concerns about the increasing violence, the uncertainty, and the stalemate between the negotiation parties.

In fact, as the US State Department has announced, the aim of Khalilzad’s trip was to resume the discussions with all parties in order to achieve “a just and durable political settlement and permanent and comprehensive cease-fire.”

The result of the trip was the request from the US envoy for an UN-hosted conference on Afghanistan in order to have a regional and international debate on the establishment of peace in the area. Eleven major international conferences concerning Afghanistan have already taken place since the insurgence of instability in the area, with the last one held in November 2020 in Geneva and the first being the one held in Bonn in 2001. 

The Bonn conference took place with the aim of re-creating the State of Afghanistan and defining a plan for governing the country following the U.S. invasion in response to 9/11 terrorist attacks. The agreement sought to establish a government with a strong, centralised power, a new constitution and an independent judiciary. But also to hold free and fair elections, a centralised security sector, and the protection of rights of women and also minorities, such as religious and ethnic groups. 

One common critique on the Bonn conference is the exclusion of the Taliban from the negotiations, to which Brahimi refers as Bonn’s “original sin,”. The next conference would be a Bonn-style meeting, where to discuss at the international level the prospect of a participatory government, but that this time it would include the Taliban in the debate. 

As Shahzada Massoud, a close aide to former president Hamid Karzai, has said: “A grand international conference that will be similar to the Bonn Conference will be held, in which the Taliban and the republic side will participate at the leadership level. At the same time, the international community, including the United States and the regional countries, will reach a political agreement that will take its legitimacy from the international community,”.

The strength of setting up international conferences lies in the ability to involve international actors and regional actors, like Pakistan and Iran. The conference lays the groundwork for multilateral discussions and negotiations between parties, encouraging Afghanistan’s neighbours and international actors to support the end of violence and to create stability in the area. The involvement of international and regional actors is pivotal for the creation of peace in Afghanistan. Pressure from the US on the Taliban to cease violence and on state response to terrorism, as well as Pakistan cooperation, are determinants of the future of Afghanistan. 



Photo Credit: Afghan foreign ministry

Domestic Terrorism Discussion with Michael Sherwin, Acting U.S. Attorney for D.C.

On Thursday 25th February, Mr. Sherwin joined Ahmad Mohibi, President of Rise to Peace, for an insightful discussion concerning domestic terrorism and explored the legal repercussions for the January 6th rioters, who stormed the U.S. Capitol. 

The discussion centered around what steps The Attorney’s Office for D.C. can take to prosecute these individuals, while also highlighting the structural limitations given U.S. laws. As of February 25th, over 330 people have been charged for their actions during the riot, with 290 of those cases being federal. Sherwin repeatedly addressed that regardless of who is President, a “crime is a crime” within his office and those who can be charged, will be.

The important factor in play is that there are no domestic terrorism laws within the U.S. Despite there being no specific law relating to domestic terrorism, there is a full arsenal of criminal charges including: trespassing, obstruction of justice, and destruction of Government property to name a few. Sherwin reassured the audience that “despite what label you want to put on these people… if there is a crime they will be charged”. His faith in the Justice System to uphold the equal application of justice regardless of race, gender, or sexuality was refreshing, particularly during these trying times in American history. 

Due to the rising levels of hatred and discontent in the U.S., the Biden administration has made it the top priority to fight domestic terrorism. Despite domestic terrorism becoming a growing concern across the U.S., there is no one clear consensus on how to properly approach what has become a new societal norm. Sherwin argued that we need to revaluate how we look at these cases and “remove the walls of domestic or international terrorism but focus on extremism” which is the root cause of these ills. Terrorism has no boundaries and is grounded in extremist ideology. This is where the United States needs to start in order to dismantle the growing extremist ideology on all sides and spectrums. 

This is where Rise to Peace comes in. We are looking around the U.S., using the information provided to us by Sherwin, and planning the best route to tackle the issue of extremism in the U.S. within a digital realm. Our upcoming project hopes to look at what we can do concerning this rising concern and how we can digitally counter extremists across the U.S. before further damage can be done.

Image Credit: Tampa Bay Times

Biden Administration Resumes Taliban Peace Talks

After weeks of increased violence, uncertainty, and a stalemate between the negotiating parties, talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban resumed earlier this week in Doha, amid a looming deadline for US troops to fully withdraw from the country by May of this year. Despite the flurry of historic developments that have taken place in Afghanistan over the past year, the next couple of months will be a critical test for both the momentum of the peace process and the patience of the major players involved.

For the Biden Administration, the outcome of the dialogue in Doha will be the first major foreign policy challenge, one that will either culminate in a historic agreement or continued entrenchment for what has already been America’s longest war. Public opinion polls conducted amongst a diverse group of American voters suggest that while most have experienced fatigue with the conflict, very few support a complete withdrawal of US troops, even when accounting for partisan differences.

Nevertheless, a full drawdown would likely strengthen the Taliban’s position, and encourage a repeat of the chaos that ensued in the aftermath of the withdrawal of Soviet troops in 1989, and the cessation of Soviet foreign aid in 1991, which quickly brought down the government of Mohammad Najibullah a year later.

The Taliban’s current fighting force (estimated between 40,000-60,000 fighters) would take complete control of Afghan territory, highly unlikely. However, a potential breakdown of the current unity government, buttressed by the Taliban’s enduring connection to both Al-Qaeda, and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant-Khorasan Province (ISIL-Khorasan), would whet the Taliban’s risk appetite for sustained engagement with the Afghan armed forces as seen in the past months.

Given the fragility of the Ghani government, and waning enthusiasm from the American side, the Biden Administration’s best option is to pursue a compromise that would postpone their scheduled withdrawal in May and buy more time for the negotiators. Dr. Amin Ahmadi, who is a member of the Afghan government’s negotiating team, notes the importance of a clear American policy. “I think they can pursue a multi-pressure strategy. First, the US exit from Afghanistan should be condition-based on peace in Afghanistan. The Americans should make it clear to the Taliban that if they don’t want peace, they will stay in Afghanistan.”

At present, US policy toward Afghanistan remains vague, and although President Biden’s approach is expected to be a marked departure from that of his predecessor, it appears unlikely that he will undo either of two signature moves made by the Trump Administration, including the existing withdrawal agreement, and the recent drawdown of American troop levels to their present level of 2,500. Key personnel tied to the current deliberations, most notably US Special Envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, are also expected to be retained in the Biden Administration’s foreign policy team.

Ahmadi adds that the “Taliban have the upper hand at negotiations, not because of the US-Taliban deal, but because they can simply walk away from the talks and go back fighting. The Doha agreement has defined the US troops withdrawal condition-based so there is no pressure on Taliban at the moment.” The Taliban has also benefited from the successful release of imprisoned fighters, and the international legitimacy that the US peace deal conferred to its organization and its external relations with foreign powers.

The recent recess in peace talks saw the Taliban appeal to Iran, Russia, and Turkey in a bid to cultivate support and obstruct US efforts to put pressure on regional actors. In the event that calls for an interim government (one that would presumably replace Ghani) go unheeded, the opportunity would be ripe for the Taliban to exploit factionalism between Ghani’s supporters and political rivals.

Khalid Noor, the youngest member of the Afghan government’s negotiating team, notes that the “interim government is preferred by a majority of the political community, however, there should be some sort of guarantee by the Taliban, along with the support of regional actors before such a thing could happen.” Yet, Ghani and his supporters have been steadfast in their opposition to such a plan, suggesting that a premature conclusion of his term would be a rebuke of Afghanistan’s republic system. Nevertheless, even if Ghani agrees to a transfer of power, Dr. Ahmadi suggests that “the question of an interim government should be part of the solution, not the solution.”

In order to reach the ideal scenario of a postponed withdrawal, the United States will likely have to lean on its existing relationship with state actors in lieu of a direct appeal to the Taliban. While generating strong buy-in from the likes of Russia, Iran, and Turkey is unlikely in the next 2 months, the Biden Administration does possess leverage over the Taliban’s main source of financial support (member-states of the Gulf Cooperation Council) and political support (Pakistan).

Ahmadi agrees, noting that “the most important country for the Taliban in Pakistan, and when Pakistan is under American pressure, it will help the peace process.” By wielding the threat of sanctions, the United States could fulfill Pakistan’s long-standing demand to be removed from the Financial Action Task Force (FATF)’s “grey list”, which would provide relief for Pakistan’s access to global capital markets and encourage foreign direct investment. 

The economic argument for peace in Afghanistan has only grown stronger given the presence of lucrative natural resources, particularly mineral wealth, and the favorable location that could help the country generate transit fees from energy projects and improved infrastructure to facilitate trade between East and West Asia.

Dr. Adib Farhadi, an Assistant Professor of Peace & Conflict at the University of South Florida, believes the economic case could be compelling to win support from regional players like Russia, China, Pakistan, and Iran. “You counter violent extremism by winning hearts and minds, which includes giving Afghans jobs. Afghanistan is a rich country, but the economics only works if everyone is included.” The recent commodity boom bodes well for the resources found in Afghanistan, with technology-critical elements like Lithium and Rare Earth Elements in a large abundance.

With little more than 60 days remaining before US troops are scheduled to withdraw, the next set of developments will be a harbinger for the trajectory of the peace process. Sustaining the momentum of the milestones achieved in the past year will require difficult political compromises from a long list of state and non-state actors.

What Is Next for Afghanistan’s Sikhs and Hindus?

Before it earned its moniker as the ‘Graveyard of Empires’, the Durrani Empire of Afghanistan ceded a significant amount of its territory to the neighboring Sikh Empire throughout the late 18th and early 19th centuries, an event remembered today for being the last successful foreign invasion of Afghanistan. Nevertheless, the gains made by the Sikh Empire would prove short-lived, following their defeat at the hands of the British East India Company, which would go on to consolidate similar empires scattered across the Indian subcontinent.

Beyond its relevance to Afghan history, the legacy of the Afghan-Sikh Wars, and the colonial period that followed, helps explain the presence of both Sikhs and Hindus in Afghanistan today. The country’s strategic location as a trading hub, its independence from colonial powers, and its secularist orientation, encouraged hundreds of thousands of Sikhs and Hindus to emigrate from British India to bustling commercial hubs like Kabul, Jalalabad, Ghazni, and Kandahar. Though most Sikh and Hindu arrivals worked as merchants, these families would go on to lay multi-generational roots, taking citizenship and serving in the civil service, the armed forces, and even in political positions as advisors to the Afghan monarchy.

Yet, like most Afghans, the prospects for Sikhs and Hindus swiftly changed amid the deposition of King Zahir Shah in 1973, and the Communist-led Saur Revolution against Mohammed Daoud Khan in 1979. The insecurity that ensued would have a remarkable and disproportionate impact on Afghanistan’s religious minorities, with informal censuses suggesting the Sikh and Hindu population went from over 700,000 in the 1970s to just 15,000 in the first years of Mujahideen rule in the early 1990s. Since then, decades of instability and religious persecution have exacerbated the exodus of Afghan Hindus and Sikhs, leaving their combined population with under 1,500 members today.

The setbacks incurred by the Afghan Sikh and Hindu communities has encouraged them to cluster geographically, lobby collectively, and even share places of worship. For those that remain, the present obstacles to integration have seldom been greater than under the incumbent Afghan republic. During the brief rule of the Taliban, Sikhs and Hindus were considered a tolerated minority, albeit with the expectation of paying the jizya tax for non-Muslims. But the American invasion and the subsequent installation of the Afghan republic saw a sizable spike in the reported grievances of Hindus and Sikhs. These grievances include targeted attacks, asset seizures, and systemic discrimination by the Afghan state and society.

From the security side, the proliferation of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), which has successfully recruited fighters from hardline elements of the Taliban, has targeted Sikhs and Hindus on multiple occasions over the past 3 years. These incidents include a 2018 suicide bombing that targeted a Sikh and Hindu neighborhood in Jalalabad, and last year’s deadly massacre of Sikh worshipers at a gurdwara (Sikh temple) in Kabul, both attacks were claimed by ISIL.

In addition to the incessant security threat posed by non-state armed groups, the woes of the Afghan Sikh and Hindu communities are acutely felt in day-to-day life. Reports of seized assets, including businesses and property, have largely gone unanswered despite persistent calls for an inquiry into the matter. Sikhs and Hindus have also reported discrimination in obtaining and using government services, including in judicial recourse, and even in sending their children to government-run schools, where they face chronic taunting and bullying. Finally, endemic religious persecution has nott abated much since the fall of the Taliban, with the major sticking point revolving around cremation practices, which are considered standard in the Sikh and Hindu faiths, but heretical to Islamic beliefs.

Such conditions have forced Hindus and Sikhs to insulate themselves, by establishing their own schools, and using temples to house those who have been forces to forfeit their property. The Afghan government’s efforts to redress these grievances has done little to dissuade the community from leaving. A presidential decree reserving one seat in the Wolesi Jirga to represent the Sikh/Hindu community was finally passed by President Ashraf Ghani, after similar measures floundered under his predecessor Hamid Karzai.

But with its members still fleeing in droves, parliamentary representation is unlikely to alleviate the impediments to religious freedom and protection of property. One longstanding demand from Afghan Sikh and Hindu refugees in India has focused on their path to citizenship. Known as the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), the legislation crafts a fast-track route for minority religious groups who emigrated from Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Bangladesh before 2015. Though controversial for leaving out Muslims from its criteria, the CAA was well-received by Afghan Sikhs and Hindus and even supplemented with additional Indian initiatives to extend visas to those still residing in Afghanistan. A similar resolution was floated in the United States House of Representatives last year, and aimed to resettle some Afghan Sikhs and Hindus in the US, describing the groups as ‘endangered minorities.’

In the absence of formidable protections of minority religious groups from the current or a future Afghan government, the barriers faced by Afghan Sikhs and Hindus are likely to endure and encourage more to permanently leave, despite familial ties and the strength of their Afghan-influenced culture and identity. Like the Buddhists, Zoroastrians, and Jains that preceded them, the rich history of Sikh and Hindu contributions to Afghan society is all but certain to only be visible in books and museums within the next decade.

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