A Primer for Afghan Peace Talks

An inside view of the old Afghan parliament bu...

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It seems likely that the focus in Afghanistan is going to shift away from eliminating the Taliban to finding a negotiated solution for coexistence between the tribes and factions that have found themselves on one side or another of the current conflict. The concern of all is that history has a tendency to echo, and nobody really wants to return to a state of constant, unmediated civil war.

Part of that challenge is ensuring that those negotiating on behalf of the world’s great powers are well-briefed: an abiding danger in any mediated negotiation is that the mediators are badly informed. Against that challenge, James Shinn and James Dobbins have written Afghan Peace Talks: A Primer. In the book they not only introduce the parties to the talks and the challenges those talks will face, but also a pathway to an agreement, and a draft framework for the agreement itself.

Whether peace can be brought to a region fraught by conflict for the better part of two centuries, where the wounds between tribes remain fresh and deep, is a matter whose answer lies far beyond the tactics of negotiation and whether the outsiders are prepared to engage effectively. Each of the Afghan tribes and the Taliban must believe that their best interests like in cooperation rather than conflict, a matter that speaks to their respective visions of the future and Nashian game-theory more than great power politics.

Yet great power unity is essential for success, and the authors lay out a thoughtful framework of international influence and interests in the process. They recognize that if the U.S., Russia, India, China, or Iran decide that a negotiated peace in Afghanistan is not in their best interests, the conflict will continue. Thus there are really two layers of peace talks: the one in which Kabul and the Taliban agree to peace, and one in which the rest of the world agrees to stand together to preserve the delicate balance.

In breaking these challenges down to their fundamentals, Shinn and Dobbins have done much more than create a briefing book for negotiators: they have given all of us a program and a scorecard that will make the otherwise byzantine maze of Afghan politics much more comprehensible.

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