The European Institute of Peace (EIP) held its third President’s Roundtable in Brussels on Wednesday 18th of April, focusing on the issues and the possibilities linked to the peace process in Afghanistan. The main purpose of this roundtable was to provide an opportunity for high-level governmental officials from EIP Board members, donors, and EU partners to discuss current challenges in Afghanistan. In particular, the discussion focused on EU engagement in Afghanistan, EIP work within the framework of Afghanistan Peace Support Initiative (APSI) and how cooperation on regional connectivity issues can be a win-win for both Afghanistan and its neighbours.

Past, Present, and Future

The discussion started off with an initial overview of the historical roots and the different structures that characterise the conflict in Afghanistan. The country has been at war since 1978, and a comprehensive analysis of the conflict must take into account its various complexities. The US-led counterterrorism struggle against the Taliban is only one dimension of a war that is the result of diverse economic and geo-political dynamics, including the Sunni-Shia divide, the rivalries between India and Pakistan, and growing influence of China and India. The argument put forward during this session of the roundtable was that solving political issues in Afghanistan might not be enough to resolve the war, as there are some structural problems that affect the country since its creation. It was argued that Afghanistan was intentionally made dependent upon external aid (and governance) by foreign empires over the centuries, and as it is still the case today.

The debate then shifted towards the recent peace offer without preconditions to the Taliban by President Ghani at the Kabul II. The peace offer made by Ghani is unprecedented, and remarkable since it came after a bloody winter characterised by suicide bombs and terrorist attacks in Kabul and beyond. The offer was re-iterated during the international conference in Tashkent on 26-27 March, where the Government of Afghanistan received the unanimous support from all 22 states that participated. The positive role played by the new regime in Uzbekistan was acknowledged. The upcoming Parliamentary elections scheduled for October are regarded as an important test for the government to show its ability to deliver democratic, free and fair elections. The main problem remains the unwillingness of the Taliban to engage with a government that they consider to be the expression of foreign powers, uncapable of addressing their core demands and their vision for the future of the country. However, the speakers highlighted the successful positioning of the Kabul II process as the only credible solution to the conflict, and the solid international and regional political support for the initiative, as good reasons to be cautiously optimistic about the future.

The second part of the roundtable focused on the two different types of activities that EIP is currently engaged in Afghanistan. EIP experts shared their thoughts on the opportunities and challenges on the ground with respect to the implementation of the peace agreement with Hezb-e Islami, particularly when it comes to the issues of justice, prisoners release, and allocation of land. The other strand of EIP’s work on Afghanistan focuses on the geopolitical implications of regional connectivity projects that are currently being developed in Central Asia. This project, which is still in its conceptualisation phase, is looking at ways to support the EU in applying its diplomatic, economic, and normative power to promote a sustainable model of regional integration that can link security and trade in Afghanistan. By focusing on specific projects, such as the development of the Chabahar port in Iran and the TAPI pipeline, EIP wants to open a discussion with its EU partners on new policy options for the region. The main goal of the initiative is that of driving EU support for investments in connectivity using a geostrategic lens to connect the political process in Afghanistan with development cooperation.