Incremental Peace in Afghanistan
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This contribution draws on a commentary by Professor Rubin published by War on the Rocks in spring 2018:
What are the possibilities for negotiating a mutually acceptable end-state in Afghanistan among the multiplicity of domestic and foreign interests involved?
Challenges to stability in Afghanistan start from disagreement over delineation of the territory’s boundaries. The Afghan state is reliant on external revenue to survive, but conflicting foreign interests mean that the provision of assistance is not seen as an objective public good but rather as partial and destabilising. While the withdrawal of foreign troops brings with it the threat of state collapse, at the same time the possibility of permanent foreign military presence risks provoking regional backlash.
Within Afghanistan, political legitimacy is contested: Pashtuns see themselves as a dispossessed majority; tribal legitimacy is dwindling; and Islamic legitimacy is overlaid with identity politics linked to different solidarity groups.
Combatants have largely rejected possibilities for peacemaking to deliver mutual gains through a win-win outcome, and so have sought to establish their military ascendancy in order to strengthen their bargaining positions. However, no party has been able to establish a sufficiently strong and sustainable status to guarantee success in negotiation, so the temptation to postpone talks indefinitely has prevailed.