Afghanistan Analysts Network – English

Special Reports

Peace offerings: Theories of conflict resolution and their applicability to Afghanistan

Matt Waldman 2 min

AAN’s new discussion paper by Matt Waldman and Thomas Ruttig takes a more theoretical approach to the current debate about reconciliation, often too narrowly described just as ‘talking to the Taleban’. It looks into various theories of conflict resolution and which insights they may offer for a peaceful solution of the Afghan conflict.

Despite the recent deployments of more troops and greater military resources to Afghanistan by the US-led Western coalition, there has been no abatement in the insurgency. It rather is increasing in lethality, territorial scope and mobilisation beyond their main base in the Pashtun ethnic group. As a result, doubts about the efficacy of conventional war-fighting, counter-insurgency and transition strategies grow and alternative means of mitigating the conflict come into sight.

The paper briefly discusses seven such theories and draws conclusions from them for peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan: ripeness theory, theories of mediation, theories of reconciliation, power-sharing theories, credible commitment theory, spoilers’ analysis and local peace-building. While such theories are not panacean, they can help to understand the conflict and point towards practical steps that can contribute to improve the prospects for peace. The authors point out, though, that as abstractions they must necessarily be adapted to circumstances.

The authors conclude that the theories discussed suggest that military de-escalation, effective mediation, dialogue and confidence-building measures, supported by track II and III diplomacy, could increase the prospects for a negotiated outcome of the Afghan conflict. Peace-building theory suggests the need for a broad, long-term reconciliation process, involving civil society leaders, that addresses all levels of conflict and seeks to rehabilitate inter-group relations, based on inclusiveness and combined with constitutional reform as well as the establishment of robust, representative state institutions and supplemented by strong support for grassroots peace-building efforts. Furthermore, effective third party political and security guarantees are seen as necessary. In this context, the legitimacy of internal dissidence needs to be acknowledged even though this does not mean that the means used by the insurgents are legitimised.

This applies to the Afghan conflict where perceived foreign military aggression, the abuse of power and predatory, exclusionary politics have driven the insurgency. It suggests that outright military defeat of the insurgents will be difficult, if not impossible to achieve and that there may be non-violent means of reducing or even ending violence. Given the suffering experienced by ordinary Afghans and so many others affected by the war, it is incumbent upon policymakers to explore such possibilities and to benefit from the insights of theory. Policymakers should redefine the concept of a ‘position of strength’ to involve a judgement not primarily of military, but mainly of moral criteria – by pursuing a political solution and promoting just, inclusive, non-violent approaches to the conflict.

The full report can be downloaded here

Release date: 28 January 2011.

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