The NRP had a multilayered approach to negotiating with the opposition. Within Afghanistan, the effectiveness of the government apparatus was key in negotiating with local commanders and fighters. Talks were aimed at establishing non-aggression or peace protocol pacts with the government. The conditions of the pacts would then be discussed with the NRC at district level. At this point, village and tribal elders would be involved to support local fighters’ integration back into the community, giving consent to local commanders to take charge of the security of their communities where requested and supporting ex-fighters to find alternative livelihoods.
The government approached opposition leaders both directly and through the UN. Political negotiations with opposition leaders based in Pakistan or Iran took place clandestinely in third countries. These were undertaken by the government independently through its own network and not through the UN. By contrast, the Afghan government pursued regional and international dialogue with countries involved in the Afghan conflict rigorously through the UN. Such negotiations had led to the Geneva Accords and the UN 5PPP.
Objectives for the negotiations leading to the Geneva Accords were determined by the superpowers, which were guarantors of the agreement. They were focused exclusively on facilitating the withdrawal of Soviet troops with international legal approval and political endorsement. The Geneva Accords did not put in place an internationally binding framework for a long-term political solution in Afghanistan. Once the Soviet Union withdrew, both Afghanistan and Pakistan reported breach of the agreement to the UN but the guarantors were no longer focused on Af-Pak issues. This led the Secretary-General to propose the UN 5PPP, to engage regional states that had not been involved in the Geneva process and to expand the terms of the dialogue to include modalities for a political settlement.
By 1991, however, the world had witnessed fall of the Berlin wall and the collapse of the Soviet bloc. As a result, for the US as the only remaining superpower and its allies on the Security Council the success of the UN 5PPP was no longer relevant. Rather, the priority was to change the communist regime in Kabul. At the time, the Afghan government was making progress with negotiations domestically through the NRP. But it was unable to gain international support for the domestic momentum it had built up, and the internal process remained vulnerable to the conflicting interests of the external players that were active in the Afghan conflict.
There were two parallel processes at the onset of the UN 5PPP: one overt, comprising the UN’s efforts to find a political solution in Afghanistan; and one covert, comprising national intelligence agencies involved in pursuing their interests and making deals behind the scenes. These clandestine negotiations effectively provided a back channel for the conflicting interests of different stakeholders to undermine the Afghan peace process. This reflects Barnett Rubin’s observation in his book The Search for Peace in Afghanistan, that the inability to find a durable solution in Afghanistan is as much a failure of the international system as of the Afghan state. The former Head of National Directorate of Security in Afghanistan (2004–10), Amrullah Saleh, confirmed in an interview with the author that understanding how to build regional and global consensus is the missing piece that Afghans have been searching for to achieve sustainable peace.
President Najibullah stressed in a letter to his family in 1995 the importance of reaching a common denominator among all stakeholders to the Afghan conflict in order to end violence:
Afghanistan has multiple governments now, each created by different regional powers. Even Kabul is divided into little kingdoms ... unless and until all the actors [regional and global powers] agree to sit at one table, leave their differences aside to reach a genuine consensus on non-interference in Afghanistan and abide to their agreement, the conflict will go on.