Incremental Peace in Afghanistan
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What do experiences from the 2001 Bonn process reveal about priorities for peace talks today – for example relating to ownership, participation, power- sharing and the sequencing of inclusion?
The Bonn Agreement has set the tone and trajectory for much of Afghanistan’s political transition since 2001. The parameters of the Bonn talks were largely determined by the US’ overriding post-9/11 concern of denying Afghan territory to terrorists – al-Qaeda and their Taliban hosts. The political logic of the Bonn process, to negotiate a stable polity, was subordinate to the military, to remove the terrorist threat. A key condition was the exclusion of the Taliban, assuming (wrongly) the movement’s categorical battlefield defeat.
Demilitarising Northern Alliance militias, justice or human rights were not priorities. Bonn’s iterative transitional framework included steps to broaden inclusion over time – from an interim authority, through a constitutional assembly to popular elections. But post- Bonn opportunities to accommodate amenable Taliban were rejected, and factions that were represented in Bonn have entrenched themselves in power.
Future peace talks with the Taliban will need to decide between narrow power-sharing like Bonn or incorporating wider rights and principles. Bonn’s incremental approach to broadening inclusion could work but could also again leave the door open to factional elite capture. A central lesson from Bonn is that prioritising Afghan over external interests is key to a peaceful and sustainable future.