Cover: Envisioning a Comprehensive Peace Agreement for Afghanistan

Envisioning a Comprehensive Peace Agreement for Afghanistan

Published Dec 10, 2019

by Laurel E. Miller, Jonathan S. Blake


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Research Questions

  1. What issues are likely to arise in an Afghan peace process, and how have similar issues been addressed in past peace agreements?
  2. What are the conflict parties' goals for a peace process, and how might a peace agreement satisfy those goals without crossing the parties' redlines?
  3. What are plausible forms of political and security power-sharing for Afghanistan?
  4. What are the biggest risks to implementation of a peace agreement in Afghanistan, and how might the risks be mitigated?

Throughout years of halting attempts to negotiate an end to the war in Afghanistan, the conflict parties articulated only the barest outlines of envisioned outcomes. By not spelling out their preferred terms for peace, the parties reinforced resistance to a peace process and fed fears of what compromise with the enemy might bring. An effective peace process will require filling this gap. With the aim of sparking the imaginations of policymakers on all sides of the conflict and others interested in encouraging negotiations, this report paints a detailed picture of a plausible political settlement.

To provide concrete ideas, the authors chose to write a peace agreement rather than write about one, translating their research and analysis into the format of a comprehensive peace accord. Their intent is to lay out realistic compromises that could satisfy the parties' interests and stand some chance of actually being implemented for the most important issues. The issues addressed include cessation of hostilities, political and security power-sharing, foreign troop withdrawal, constitutional reform, transitional mechanisms, and monitoring and verification. The authors researched the probable negotiation goals of the conflict parties; studied past peace agreements, both for Afghanistan and for many other countries around the world; and conducted extensive in-person confidential consultations with people associated with all sides of the conflict and with states neighboring Afghanistan, as well as experts on Afghanistan and peace processes. Beyond the report's main purpose, its methodology and supporting comparative analysis will benefit conflict resolution practitioners broadly.

Key Findings

The negotiating parties in a potential Afghanistan peace process have a long way to go to find substantive common ground, but it is possible to envision the compromises that could form a plausible agreement. The basic elements of a peace deal that would likely appeal to the parties would include the following:

  • For the pro-government side, keeping intact the main contours of the post-2001 democratic political system, including using the existing constitution as the starting point for negotiated revisions and keeping it in effect until a new constitution is adopted.
  • For the Taliban, ending the presence of U.S. and North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) forces, creating an opportunity to adopt a fresh constitution, and including structural vehicles for realizing aspects of Islamic governance in a revised state system.
  • For the United States, including counterterrorism assurances and mechanisms and setting a pathway toward ending its military involvement in Afghanistan in a manner that has some prospect of leaving stability in its wake.


  • Aim for a substantive peace agreement, not a process roadmap. Filling in more difficult details down the road will be harder, not easier, once international attention diminishes as a result of an agreement being reached and once the United States' leverage associated with its military presence dissipates.
  • Link the internal and external aspects of a settlement. The less intertwined these aspects are, the more fragile an Afghan peace agreement is likely to be. External leverage — specifically, U.S. backing for the Afghan security forces and government and U.S. capability to satisfy, or not, the Taliban demand for foreign military withdrawal — is a powerful variable in determining whether a political settlement can be reached and implemented.
  • Each negotiating party should develop its preferred version of an agreement text early in the peace process in order to develop internal consensus, work out the details of negotiating positions and offers, and imagine compromises.
  • Provide expert assistance for shaping negotiation positions and compromises. The international supporters of a peace process who have a stake in the outcome should ensure the provision of any technical help the parties might need and accept in transforming their goals into practical proposals and in designing compromises.
  • Anticipate the need for donors to help fund implementation. Although foreign financial support for a post-agreement Afghanistan cannot guarantee successful implementation, not providing adequate support to help enable a new government structure to function and the reconfiguration of security forces to be effectuated would virtually guarantee implementation failure.

This research was sponsored by the government of a U.S. ally and conducted within the International Security and Defense Policy Center of the RAND National Security Research Division (NSRD).

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