In June 2013, the Afghan Taliban opened a political office in Qatar to facilitate peace talks with the U.S. and Afghan governments. Negotiations between the United States and the group that sheltered al-Qaeda would have been unthinkable 12 years ago, but the reality is that a negotiated settlement in Afghanistan is one of several possible end games under the current U.S. withdrawal plan. Negotiating an end to an insurgency can be a long and arduous process beset by false starts and continued violence, but a comprehensive review of historical cases that ended in settlement shows that these negotiations followed a similar path that can be generalized into a "master narrative." This research examines 13 historical cases of insurgencies that were resolved through negotiated settlement in which neither side (insurgents or counterinsurgents) unambiguously prevailed. Taken together, these cases reveal that the path to negotiated settlement generally proceeds in seven steps in a common sequence. Although this resulting master narrative does not necessarily conform precisely to every conflict brought to resolution through negotiation, it can serve as an important tool to guide the progress of a similar approach to resolving the conflict in Afghanistan as U.S. forces prepare to withdraw.
Of the 71 insurgencies resolved between 1944 and 2010, 13 ended in a negotiated settlement in which neither side (insurgents or counterinsurgents) unambiguously prevailed.
Each of these 13 cases generally proceeded from stalemate to resolution in seven steps executed in a common sequence: (1) military stalemate and war-weariness created an environment that was "ripe for resolution," (2) the government accepted the insurgents as legitimate negotiating partners, (3) the parties brokered one or more cease-fires, (4) the government and insurgents entered into official intermediate agreements, (5) the government extended a power-sharing offer to the insurgents, (6) the insurgent leadership became more moderate and willing to engage in political compromise, and (7) a third-party guarantor helped reinforce the settlement and transition.
The Master Narrative Distilled from These Historical Cases Could Guide a Negotiated Settlement to the Conflict in Afghanistan
As the United States prepares to withdraw from Afghanistan, a negotiated settlement is one of several possible end games.
The master narrative distilled from historical analysis could help guide such an approach to resolving the conflict in Afghanistan, should policymakers and Taliban leaders choose this option. It reveals what has been successful and what has been less successful in past negotiations, providing some indication of the challenges that lie ahead and what concessions the Afghan government, the Taliban, and U.S. and coalition forces may be required to make to achieve a lasting settlement.