The collapse of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan on August 15th, 2021 and the ensuing images broadcast out of Kabul – Taliban soldiers in the Presidential Palace and scenes of desperation at Hamad Karzai International Airport – shocked the world with the speed at which the country hurtled towards chaos. In the month since, Afghanistan has become enveloped with a series of political, security, and humanitarian crises that are threatening the lives of millions and planting the seeds of new conflict. The UN Secretary General has convened a High-Level Ministerial Meeting on the Humanitarian Situation in Afghanistan on September 13th to organise funding and aid modalities in light of the serious risks to impartial humanitarian assistance and protection of development gains, particularly for women and girls.
What is most surprising, however, is that the chaos from August 15th was neither inevitable nor expected. The writing on the wall had been clear to all parties in the conflict well before the fall of Kabul: the two Afghan sides had undertaken carefully considered negotiations in the weeks leading up to the 15th for a peaceful end to the conflict that would preserve national stability. The Republic, the Taliban, and the US had drawn up an agreement that would entail a two-week transitional period and ceasefire, the security of Kabul maintained by the Republic, and the US with NATO forces conducting the airport evacuation. To all but a handful of individuals, this was the expected arrangement between all sides going into the 15th.
The plan was upended when former President Ashraf Ghani fled the country at the alleged urging of palace security, which led to the total collapse of the security system in Kabul within hours. While this sudden action by the former president was the single most decisive act for the post-conflict transition, it is important to balance it with a view of the long efforts of a broader and inclusive group of Afghans on both sides to negotiate a peaceful and orderly transfer of power.
The counterfactual – what would have happened if the former president had not fled? – is important to keep in mind because it depicts what was expected and planned by the Afghan parties and the US: a stable and inclusive transitional process to end the conflict, the culmination of the almost year-long Doha process. Furthermore, it contextualises the specific challenges facing the present Taliban government, who have been propelled into government – and therefore responsibility for managing the national crises – more quickly and with less preparation than they originally planned for. Recommendations to the new Taliban government for a stable post-conflict order must be tailored to the challenges of the context in which they entered power as well as the well-known organisational deficiencies of the Taliban movement.
To this effect, this policy brief presents contextualised recommendations for a time-bound roadmap to a transitional process to the Taliban and the international community in order to urgently restore stable conditions in Afghanistan and prevent the country from falling into a humanitarian disaster. This policy brief originated from a joint discussion organised at CHS on 7 September, 2021 with the recommendations reflecting consensus views from participants from the former Government, the Taliban, and civil society as interpreted by the author.