engaging afghanistan – revisited

by Campaign ~ June 25th, 2013. Filed under: News.

The recent diplomatic U-turn in Afghanistan, away from the pursuit of continued military engagement towards round table talks with the Taliban, signifies nothing short of a total failure of military means and the exercise of violence as a tool of foreign policy. In 2010 conscience published the report Engaging Afghanistan that detailed the potential for non-violent solutions to the ongoing conflict, applying lessons from the Northern Ireland peace process to Afghanistan.

Speaking from the G8 Summit in Northern Ireland, David Cameron himself drew parallels between Northern Ireland and Afghanistan.1 It remains crucial that policy makers and functionaries from all parties take note of these lessons from history in the coming days and weeks as they begin to establish the framework for Afghanistan’s transition to peace.

The specific justification for western military involvement in Afghanistan back in 2001, related to the Taliban regime harbouring international terrorists and the country acting as a base for Al-Qaida. Now, after 12 years of prolonged violence, the US has suggested it will hold talks with Taliban leaders in Qatar after dropping the previously held pre-condition that negotiations could only occur following a formal rejection of al-Qaida by the Taliban leadership. The details remain unclear as to when and in what form these talks will occur. Nevertheless, the public revelation that negotiations could be occurring at all definitively indicates a renewed commitment to diplomatic efforts.

Below is a summary of the main recommendations made by conscience in the initial Engaging Afghanistan report.

1. Cessation of large scale offensive military activities
Despite often being successful in their own terms, i.e. by killing the enemy or clearing them from a particular territory, military operations in Afghanistan have not improved the security situation either for the Afghan people, or for western troops. Just as the actions of the British army at Bloody Sunday provided the IRA with the impetus for a fertile recruitment drive, so too must the US/NATO forces come to recognise that collateral damage, often occurring as a by-product of military aggression in the form of air strikes, serves to surge the ranks of the Taliban insurgency.

2. Engage in talks with all sincere parties
Efforts must be directed to bring conflicting parties to the negotiating table, not with the intention of forcing a surrender but, rather, to persuade them to pursue their political aims without recourse to violence. This reimagining of the framework for negotiation was crucial to the success of peace negotiations in Northern Ireland where previously violent actors were incorporated into the peace process, ultimately leading to their rejection of violent means.

3. Long term thinking is required
In order for a sustainable peace agreement to be reached in Afghanistan, diplomats and interested parties should be prepared for a lengthy process of talks and negotiations. The Northern Ireland peace process entailed many years of careful negotiation, throughout the 90s, prior to the eventual signing of the Good Friday agreement in 1998. The West has already demonstrated a significant long term military commitment to Afghanistan. Let’s hope that this can now be matched by a similar commitment to diplomatic means.


To read the Engaging Afghanistan report in full, click here.


1. To read an article detailing David Cameron’s words on prospective talks with the Taliban, please click here.

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