After 10 months of negotiations, the United States and the Taliban have reached an agreement to end their conflict in Afghanistan. That was the easy part.
The discussions that come next, a proposed intra-Afghan dialogue involving the Taliban, Afghan officials and other political actors, will be much tougher. They will determine how Afghans deal with the legacy of 41 years of war, and ultimately determine the fate of Afghanistan’s democratic system and its constitution, notably guarantees on human rights and women’s equality. Participants will need to agree on a government in Afghanistan that prevents the repetition of atrocities that fomented civil war in the past.
Facing US elections in 2020, Washington accelerated talks to reach an agreement that includes just a timetable for the withdrawal of US forces and Taliban assurances that no groups will be permitted to use Afghanistan to launch attacks on the US or its allies. Everything else is to be decided in the intra-Afghan talks.
Afghanistan’s international allies and donors should use their leverage and assistance to support measures to protect the rights of all Afghans in the difficult months ahead. The US and others should act to ensure in the talks full participation by women, a broad range of Afghans including civil society members, and those experienced in difficult negotiations over Afghanistan’s constitution and other legal reforms in the past.
Many of Afghanistan’s donors are frustrated by their 18-year involvement in the Afghan conflict and may be eager to close the books on Afghanistan. But a short-sighted focus on getting Afghanistan’s dominant political figures to agree to a deal without doing the hard work of bolstering an independent judiciary, safeguarding women’s rights, protecting media freedom, and determining how to disarm irregular militias would be a catastrophic mistake.
Navigating these key issues will take time and committed engagement. Failing to do so will put Afghanistan’s transition to peace at risk.