The assassination of Burhanuddin Rabbani, who was spearheading the reconciliation process with the Taliban in Afghanistan, has changed the dynamics of peace in Aghanistan. The Afghan government has evidence that the assassination, carried out by the Quetta Shura Taliban headed by Mullah Omar and based in Pakistan, was supported, encouraged, and perhaps financed by the ISI, the Pakistani Intelligence Service. The Pakistanis vehemently deny this charge. However, it would seem that Pakistani influence in Afghanistan is on a severe decline.

As a response to the assassination and the evidence linking it to the Pakistani intelligence service, the Afghanistan government has turned to India, seeking stronger ties and a reliable peace partner. This is infuriating and probably frightening the Pakistani military and intelligence service. The whole point of the Afghanistan adventure, from their perspective, was to de-stabilize the country, keep it in a low level of insurrection and civil war, and control the insurgents from Pakistan. They could thereby assure themselves that Afghanistan would not pose an existential threat on their western border. However, the continued duplicity that Pakistan has used as its chief strategy now seems to be backfiring. The US is tired of the lies, double-dealing, and outright deceptions carried out by the Pakistani military and intelligence service. This became apparent after Osama bin Laden was discovered living 750 yards from the Pakistani military academy and was assassinated by Seal Team 6. Now the Afghanistan government has turned against Pakistan as a direct result of Pakistan’s involvement in the Rabbani assassination. Obviously, Pakistan is not a willing partner in the creation of a stable, neutral Pakistan and is beening ostracized from the process. What might this mean for a peace process?

First, any legitimate peace process will have to start inside of Afghanistan. No matter what any other country may wish, the Afghan people have to decide that they want peace, not war. This will by necessity be an internal process and therefore cannot be constrained by traditional 18th century diplomatic negotiations favored by the international foreign policy establishment. In other words, at the outset, there will be no high level peace talks between diplomats, envoys, and heads of state. 

Instead, if any peace process is to be effective and enduring, it must be organized and implemented from within Afghanistan. The stakeholders must include tribal leaders, village and regional councils (both shuras and jirgas), urban civil society leaders, women’s rights leaders, government ministers, Pashtun, Tajik, Hazzari, and Uzbek ethnic representatives, and rule of law advocate, among others. The process must be carefully designed, fully funded, and organized by a mediation and facilitation team dedicated to a very long, arduous process. Lasting peace in Afghanistan will take 10-15 years to accomplish, not 6 months.

Second, the focus of the international community, especially the US, should be on supporting this internal process and protecting it from outside interference (e.g. from the Pakistanis and their Taliban proxies). Pakistan may be the major spoiler because peace is the last thing it wants to see in Afghanistan, unless it is in total control of the government. Pakistan and its Taliban proxies must be isolated and persuaded to stay out of the internal peace process.

Third, to the extent feasible, the NGOs and diplomats working in Afghanistan should be offering peace-related resources to the stakeholder groups. This could include referrals to mediation and facilitation experts, training in negotiation and mediation, training in effective group decision-making, and the myriad other skills needed in any difficult peace process. Building a systemic capacity for peace processes, negotiations, facilitated conversations, and restorative processes will be as important as the actual peace work itself. The US could divert a small percentage of its military spending in Afghanistan, which would be enough to support a robust peace process for the  generation that the process will probably take.

Finally, the international community should stay out of the way except to provide support and expert advice when asked. It should shelter the process, provide security as necessary in support of the process, and keep Pakistan at bay. Only when the Afghanistan people are speaking with one voice under a leadership regime that all trust to speak for their interests should the circle widen to include regional states.

This view of peace is very different from the usual trajectory of international peace efforts. It requires those who have power or think they have power to step back and allow for Afghanistan self-determination. At the same time, those who have power and are truly interested in peace can use their power to protect the process from outside spoilers. It means becoming a servant to peace instead of a master of war. It means putting the interests of the Afghanistan people ahead of national economic or security interests. It’s unlikely that this dedication to peace exists in the international community. However, peace in Afghanistan is unlikely without it.


Douglas E. Noll is a professional mediator, author, and speaker. His latest book is Elusive Peace: How Modern Diplomatic Strategies Could Better Resolv....

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Comment by David N. Tshimba on October 7, 2011 at 2:07pm

Dear Doug,

Thanks for this well-thought posting. Much has been commented upon it! I commend Dr Samuel for his sobriety in embracing the relatively bigger picture. Your views are worth noting and ought to be looked into by the so-called international community. My addition to what has already been articulated is rather much simple:

1. Once again, Afghanistan makes us believe that PEACE is indeed ELUSIVE. Only when we imagine that we've got it right that it slips and things get out of hands. We therefore all ought to be humble enough in speculations about peace.

2. A "holistic approach" to conflict-resolution in Afghanistan and peace in the entire region as a whole is quite an 'absurd' thing! We ought to touch the RIGHT BUTTON. The question is how do we know the right button? Doug has already somewhat pointed to the answer-- Afghan people themselves are in the better position to tell us what the right button is. They may do so by themselves or helped out by 'outsiders', but the ultimate confirmation of the right button is their sole prerogative.

3. Gandhi had already reminded us that there is no way to peace; peace is the way! What can't we observe endogenous mechanisms to restorative justice and reconciliation in the case of the Afghan conflict? Have all the 'traditional' mechanisms to peace-building in the context of the Afghan people been looked into and fully exhausted? Tradition is the way we comprehend, imagine, and make sense of our lives. So peace should be 'traditionalised' for it is the way!


Reactions are most welcome.


Comment by Ashfaq Rafiq on October 6, 2011 at 4:21pm

Afghanistan is a Cake in which U.S want to give Pakistan a piece but Pakistan want the half of it. 


Comment by Doug Noll on October 5, 2011 at 12:28pm

I agree with your analysis of the problem and the need for an interest-based approach. And, I agree with your general approach. Would it be possible to begin a peace process internally, rather than externally? In other words, I am arguing for the diplomatic community to step aside until the Aghanistan people have worked out what they collectively can agree a modern Afganistan will be. This is no easy task, for all the reasons you have mentioned, but it is not impossible either. What I fear is a US-led diplomatic solution to give create an excuse for a US withdrawal of forces. This would be no solution at all, yet it would typify the usual international response to a deep and difficult conflict-cut and run with as much dignity and face-saving as possible. The results of this type of diplomacy resulted in the failed Oslo accords and more recently the 2008 Kenyan election crisis (of which the botched mediation has lead, in my opinion, to a high likelihood of genocide in Kenya in 2012). The interational community needs to become realistic and pragmatic about the peace process in Afghanistan. This will be a long, hard slog and the world had best prepared to support it and protect the process as it slowly and painfully unfolds. Otherwise, the Afghanistan people will suffer from decades more of civil war. Finally, as you correctly point out, the truly lasting solution will have to be based on peace between India and Pakistan, so much more effort should be focused on that deep conflict.
Comment by Dr. Samuel Appiah-Marfo on October 4, 2011 at 10:54pm


e) I guess I took too much space. In any case I believe there is economic and social dimension to the conflict in Afghanistan. It must be identify and resolved.


Comment by Dr. Samuel Appiah-Marfo on October 4, 2011 at 10:47pm


Thanks for your brilliant articulation of your thoughts on the dynamics and complexities existing in the region.  There is a wise saying that " It is our differences that defines our unique individualism and our perculialism as a people. However, it is precisely these same differences which divide us."  As you are well aware, resolving or managing ethnic conflict such as the one in Afghanistan will need a "holistic approach".  Even in this holistic paradigm there are no guarantees of absolute success.   Permit me to make some suggestions about the way forward, while making some efforts to answer your question.

 I'd like to suggest "Interest-Based Peace Negotiation Paradigm", which I believe its not new to you.  This approach grouped parties and issues of conflicts. It does not eliminate any party. However the problematic area is for parties to agree first to negotiate or be part of the peace process.  I see 3 major parties to this conflict with three interrelated issues.

a). Pakistan

(i). Parties: looking at the bigger picture, the Afghan conflict concerns two major nuclear power brokers in the region (Pakistan and India), who have been at each others throat in recent times probably over Kashmir.  May I add that Pakistan has become a breeding ground for "hardliners Islamic groups / networks such as the Haqqani Network, Quetta Shura, Pashtun-centric and the Taliban (not all of them though) gravitating towards Pakistan, and flirting or vacillating with 

(ii). the ISSUES of - Pushtun autonomy; nationalism (removal of occupiers); Islamization of Afghanistan; ethnic superiority; control of the opium trade; the issue of Afghanistan has always been an amalgam of tribes and as such difficulties to be run as a nation.  In fact there are many issues you and I as well as the general academic community are well aware.

b).  India:

(i) India on the other hand, though seemed not to be directly involved, yet through its political arms-twisting in Kashmir have led to few clashes with some Kashmir'es and Pakistan.  Correct me if i'm wrong, India therefore has become eternal enemy of Pakistan. All the Pakistani geopolitical games are designed to put India on the back-peddle.

(ii) ISSUES - Need security from Pakistan sponsored attacks; Need security from attacks from Kashmir separatist etc.

c).  Afghanistan

Afghanistan - the third of the parties to this conflict. It's land is the center stage of the conflict. It is important to note that the ISSUES of -  Pushtun autonomy; nationalism (removal of occupiers); Islamization of Afghanistan; ethnic superiority; control of the opium trade; the issue of Afghanistan has always been an amalgam of tribes and as such difficult to be run as a nation. These issues have largely been re-enforced by both internal factors (like; the Pashtun loyalty, excessive freedom in the tribal areas, Quetta shura activities, Haqqani network activities) and external factors ( chiefly among them is Pakistan).

d). International community

International community is not a party but will act as a convener.


The Way Forward Using the "Interest-Based Negotiation Paradigm" Model:

a)  With the above knowledge, the "interest-based negotiation paradigm" can now be used. There are two main points to be focused on: Specifics needs and Global needs. Note that, in this approach, neither of the parties are being refused to take part in the negotiations process.  

b)  The focus of the conveners must be on the Global needs in this political conflict theater.   In this case, Afghanistan is the global need of the three main parties to the conflict, either directly or indirectly.  

c)  All parties especially Pakistan should be told not to use Afghanistan as a breeding ground to test its extremist networks.

d)  Pakistan again must not allow its territorial sovereignty to be violated with impunity by the Taliban as

Comment by Erlinda Saw on October 4, 2011 at 8:38am

Interesting!  Poker Playing seem to be a special field of Pakistan not only in the case of Afghanistan but also perhaps in the case of Bangladesh.  Did they have something to do with the killing of Mujibur Rahman? 

Comment by Nasim Jan on October 4, 2011 at 5:05am
an interesting article.i want to ask some points/clarification from international community
i.what the international community says about the group(back by U.S) frighting against USSR(who attack on the sovereignty of a independent country),terrorist or freedom fighter.
ii.same group is fighting against US who attack on the sovereignty of a independent country,now what the international community says about this group.
iii.till this date any independent inspection team(UN or other) proved that Taliban of Afghanistan or osama is involved in 9/11 attacks
iv. current attack on rabani or US/NATO head quarter taken place in Afghanistan,surely by the freedom fighters(Taliban) or terrorist who are based in Afghanistan,then how Pakistan or ISI is involved in these attach if the same group fight against USSR are said freedom fighters but if the same group fights against the army who attack in same ways as USSR are called now terrorist.
vi. think it is a drama of US in the same way as propagate against Iraq that Saddam have weapons of mass destruction,tell me ,was there any weapons of mass destruction?and if not,then why a country was destroyed on the base of false information. similar way ,till now it is not proved that osama is the real attacker of twin tower.
vi.i haven't any soft corner for Taliban or osama ,they are terrorist or what they are,but i have soft corner for Pakistan and ISI,who are the front line state or agency,fight against the terrorist group of US/NATO.
Comment by Doug Noll on October 4, 2011 at 12:30am

Yes, you make some excellent points. First, as you probably know, there are many "Taliban," some of which are Pashtun-centric. I think the Pashtun "Taliban" shoudl be a part of the peace process as a major part of the problem for the Afghan people is deciding how to handle the Pashtun desire for an independent Pashtunistan. As far as I can tell, s consensus has not formed around this issue so it certainly is a core issue. Pakistan will continue to assert influence and do its best to de-stabilize peace talks that do not result in its control, direct or indirect, of the Afghanistan government. That is a major impediment that is not easily solved. Since Pakistan does not speak with one voice, convening the Pakistani stakeholders would itself be a major challenge. Ultimately, the solution will have to be a rapproachment with India. There are positive signs of diplomatic efforts in this direction, which is encouraging. The Pakistani Taliban preent a different question. Mullah Omar is not interested in an autonomous Pashtunistan. As far as I can tell, he is interested in a radical Islamic political regime in Afghanistan. I do not think the majority of the Afghan people want to return to his vision of Islamic rule and I do not think the West would tolerate it. So, he is not part of the peace equation except as a spoiler. The Haqanni Network, yet another "Taliban" seems to have a variety of motives, some of which relate to Pashtun autonomy, some which relate to the problem of creating maintaining an identity around war and insurrection. It is unlikely that the Haqanni Netowork can be brought to the peace table within the contex that I have described. However, as you point out, its absence from the conversation will be problematic.
At the moment, I think the Afghan people have to proceed along the lines I have suggested. If enough villages and provinces can be persuaded to find peace, there will be less of a haven for the Quetta Shura and the Haqanni, and therefore more security. It is something the Afghan people have to develop for themselves, however.
So, the question I pose to you is this: At the moment, it appears that neither the US nor the Afghanistan government has been successful in engaging either the Quetta Shura or the Haqanni Network. Further, Pakistan has lost all credibility with the US and the Afghanistan government. How would you propose that a peace process be structured in this environment?
Comment by Dr. Samuel Appiah-Marfo on October 3, 2011 at 10:34pm


You make an audacious proposition in resolving the web of instability,  the intractable ethnic Afghan conflict and the Taliban continuous political ambition to be in the helms of affairs in Afghanistan.  I wondering whether you fully considered the geopolitical games of Pakistan and the strong Pashtun loyalty to the Taliban and Pakistani military-intelligence services.  I believe, as you are, that, this complex web can only be disentangled by both "prescriptive and elicitive approaches to resolving intractable ethnic conflict" (Lederach, 1995).  However, permit me to make some observations:  

1. You correctly alluded to the elicitive idea of allowing the resolution process to come from within the contextual conception of conflict resolution of the ethnic groups in Afghanistan.  You termed Pakistan and Taliban as "the spoilers of peace".  It is important to note that, culturally, the Taliban   way of life has wide appeal among some Afghans and largely the Pashtun ethnic group, whom you included in your peace model.  The tacit permission of Pakistan in allowing the Taliban to loosely use their Western corridor as a launching pad to destabilize Afghanistan of any peace initiatives by the so called "occupiers" over the years; is going to be among the determining factors in achieving overall peace initiatives in Afghanistan and for that matter, the entire region. Therefore, by suggesting to cut them off from participating in the peace process, as your peace model suggests, will be counter-productive. After all, they (Taliban and Pakistan) were the primary destabilization forces in Afghanistan for reasons best known to all of us.

2.  The Pashtun loyalty to the Taliban and possibly the ISI, (Pakistan's intelligence service) have come to head for sometime now.  Thus, to invite the Pashtun's according to your peace model is a tacit invitation of the Taliban and Pakistan to the peace process.

3. Your model suggests 10-15 years of peace process.  The multi-million dollar question is, does the international community, and US (my addition! I know US is part of the international comity of nations), wish to lose more life and treasure to guide and guard a peace process for that number of years, knowing what we know today?   

4.  Truth be told, if we are to allow a peace process to evolve among the ethnic stakeholders in Afghanistan, your prescriptive model of keeping out the Taliban and Pakistan (which is a power-broker in the region) would indeed be a recipe for disaster. 


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