Project: Afghanistan: Opportunity in Crisis

Associate Fellow, International Security

Matthew Wright, International Analyst, Gatehouse Advisory Partners

The principal parties directly or indirectly involved in the Afghanistan conflict, whether Afghan or foreign, have a range of political, geo-strategic, economic, social-cultural, reputational and other interests in Afghanistan. An understanding of these interests, especially their relative importance to the parties, and whether they converge or diverge, should inform any future efforts to resolve or mitigate the conflict.

Image by Massoud Hossanini/AFP/Getty Images.Image by Massoud Hossanini/AFP/Getty Images.
  • There is sufficient convergence of the parties’ interests to suggest that some form of political accommodation is possible, yet ample divergence and distrust between them to make this difficult to accomplish. Considering this, and the complex web of the parties’ interests and objectives, any peace process will require effective mediation or facilitation.
     
  • There is apparent convergence of interests between most of the parties, including, to some extent, the Taliban, in terms of avoiding full-scale civil war or state collapse, preserving Afghanistan’s territorial integrity, and, over the longer term, maintaining effective national security forces, containing extremists and securing continued international assistance for the country.
     
  • There is at least some convergence between the parties in other areas, such as in preserving Afghanistan’s sovereignty and political independence. To different degrees, a number of the parties share an interest in achieving medium- to long-term stability, promoting the rule of law and de-concentrating power. In due course, recognition and political inclusion of the Taliban may prove to be a convergent interest.
     
  • However, there are interests that diverge, such as those relating to the exercise of power and the presence of foreign forces, a divisive issue but one that will decline in salience. There is divergence, too, in the Taliban’s strong interest in the application of Sharia, and the interest of the Afghan government and northern groups in preserving democracy and civil liberties.
     
  • There are certain interests that the parties’ leaders do not regard as fundamental but that are important to the Afghan population. These include interests where there is divergence between the parties, such as ensuring respect for human rights and women’s rights, or those where there is convergence, such as promoting development or strengthening trade and investment. Thus a peace process must involve representatives of Afghan society, and any future mediator should develop strategies not only to overcome differences between the parties but also to protect the interests of the Afghan population.

Co-author Matt Waldman discusses the research behind the paper