A growing preoccupation with U.S. and then NATO troop withdrawal, a militarily ascendant Taliban and the possibilities of impending civil war seem to have clouded the possibility of other alternative outcomes. In addition, there seems to be a somewhat limited desire for the international community to take stock of its own role in fueling the situation and taking an inflexible and linear perspective for mitigation and resolution.
The circular response of those watching from the political sidelines range from a constant protest and outcry at Taliban gains and civilian casualties at one end, and with aspirational mantras of “a negotiated and inclusive political settlement through an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned process” at the other end.
Meanwhile, within the country, it is clear that the peace process itself will not progress while there is space and opportunity for negotiation elsewhere. Both the Taliban and the Afghan government lack cohesion and remain fragmented and divided in terms of loyalties and some from both sides desire to consolidate or even expand existing powerbases.
The various Taliban Shuras and foreign-supported criminal networks have diverse agendas and regularly challenge announcements made during the Doha peace process. Even the so-called ‘mainstream’ Taliban representatives have been emboldened by the increased legitimacy of the U.S. peace agreement, making greater demands prior to the Istanbul meetings which resulted in its postponement. On the Afghan republic side, individual meetings between Taliban representatives and Afghan powerbrokers who have little faith in the government has never stopped.
There seem to be a number of alternatives currently being explored, with the most active being an agreement struck between the Taliban and Afghan powerbrokers, ensuring geographical division of the country similar to the Mujahidin period with fiefdoms being demarcated from the settling dust of a western-designed statebuilding exercise.
Another possibility seems to be a formal process advocated by the President and a small section of the elected government in which the Taliban would be drawn into an interim and subsequent formal governance structure based on a combination of traditional and more modern strictures. The role of the Taliban in terms of functional, geographical control and military integration would be an ongoing discourse that may or may not end well. Although this possibility has been discarded by many Afghans due to the poor performance of the ANDSF, the raising of local militias to repel the Taliban seems to be growing and may compensate for Taliban gains and the security shortcomings of the Afghan government. If such an uprising was to achieve a critical mass, the Taliban may want to negotiate after all.