The conclusion of the US-Taliban agreement in February 2020 and the ongoing withdrawal of US-Forces remain a watershed moment for Afghanistan’s international relations. While it hardly came as a surprise to observers, there is still tremendous uncertainty about the nature of the disengagement, its repercussions on the ground, implications for the engagement of other allies as well as regional security. To maintain and expand the current momentum in favor of a political settlement, credible regional buy-in is key but should not be taken for granted or understood as a linear or uniform process.
For the last forty years, Afghanistan has been entrapped by one of the world’s most violent conflicts. And yet, it was never Afghanistan’s war alone. On the one hand, international interventions, from UN resolutions to troops from dozens of countries on the ground, foreign assistance to conflict parties or cross border humanitarian aid, have always played a significant role – at times, mitigating, at times, increasing the suffering of the Afghans.
On the other hand, the conflict crossed borders, and its spillover effects are felt throughout its neighborhood and beyond. There is hardly a more abundant and broader dispersed Diaspora worldwide than the Afghan one. Millions of people have fled the country into neighboring countries, and the country’s ongoing economic and governance fragility continues to place it at the center of South and Central Asian drug trafficking.
Reducing violence in Afghanistan and finding a path towards a negotiated settlement between the conflict parties is expected to improve the lives of Afghans and neighbors alike, as it is seen as the number one impediment for economic development and growth. Presumably, only an Afghan state at peace could finally turn to essential issues like demographic and environmental pressures – and contribute in a meaningful way to sub-regional initiatives addressing transborder challenges.
While it is widely acknowledged that the US withdrawal is a crucial factor in a shifting security environment in Asia, the direction, outcome, and implications for regional security are not so clear yet. Which are the scenarios that Afghanistan’s neighbors are bracing themselves for? Or the opportunities they seek to benefit from? How will a US withdrawal influence current dynamics of alignment and conflict between Afghanistan’s neighbors? What would various scenarios imply for European interests and policymaking in the region?
The project identifies perceptions, attitudes, and uncertainties among Afghanistan’s neighbors and key regional and international players about the anticipated outcome of the intra-Afghan talks and current as well as future conflict dynamics. What are the scenarios regional players bracing themselves for and how is this influencing their policies? Assuming that the road to stability and peace will be rocky and in large parts untraveled, that Europe will be in no way able to isolate itself from regional developments, and that Afghan elites continue to have a high interest in positive engagement with European actors, a trilateral approach to the abovementioned questions helped:
In ten virtual events convening more than 150 active and former officials, experts and civil society representatives, project participants were encouraged to compartmentalize and mitigate conflicts with a negative spill over effect into the Afghan theatre and beyond, while at the same time addressing interdependencies and external factors. Several phases of the project aim at increasing particularly Afghan agency in these discussions, establish and strengthen durable networks and understanding between those seeking sustainable peace and stability as a precondition for development and wellbeing for all Afghans.
A series of policy briefs authored by Andrew Watkins and Dr. Timor Sharan discusses the implications of the US withdrawal and the ongoing Afghan Peace Negotiations on existing policy tools, strategic interests, and challenges for key stakeholders in- and outside of Afghanistan.
Andrew Watkins is a researcher and analyst of Afghanistan’s conflict and prospects for peace, and is deeply engaged in conflict prevention. He has previously worked in Afghanistan for the United Nations, the humanitarian community, the U.S. government and as an independent researcher.
Dr Timor Sharan is the Director of the Afghanistan Policy Lab, an Adjunct Professor of Public Policy at the American University of Afghanistan, and was formerly the International Crisis Group’s senior analyst for Afghanistan.
On February 12, the Delegation for relations with Afghanistan (D-AF) held an ordinary meeting, inviting inter alia Andrew Watkins and Dr. Timor Sharan for an exchange of views on the security situation and the peace talks in Afghanistan, including regional dynamics and possible policy options for the European Union in Afghanistan and its neighborhood.