Incremental Peace in Afghanistan
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What lessons can be learned from the Afghan National Reconciliation Policy (NRP) in the 1980s and 90s – about how to negotiate with armed groups, and how to balance local, national and international interests to sustain focus on building an inclusive political settlement?
President Najibullah’s government launched the NRP in the mid-1980s as the Soviet Union was looking to draw down its presence in Afghanistan. The NRP sought to negotiate an end to conflict with the mujahidin and to establish terms for a comprehensive political settlement. It combined traditional Afghan socio-political practices for consultation and decision-making with a pragmatic political strategy designed to build both domestic support and international legitimacy.
The NRP had a multilayered approach to negotiating with opposition groups. Dialogue looked to establish local non-aggression or peace protocol pacts. These would be discussed at district level, and then village and tribal elders would be brought in to facilitate implementation. Talks took place directly and through the United Nations.
The biggest obstacle faced by the NPC was time. As the Cold War wound down, Afghanistan’s reliance on external assistance meant that the collapse of geopolitical strategic interest to support the Afghan government’s NRP programme fatally undermined its chances of success. Today Kabul has international support – although this is dwindling. But it lacks the internal political will to take a reconciliation process forward.