We must hold the Taliban accountable for their actions. This is not about faith and trust. We are being pragmatic.
- John Kirby, Pentagon Press Secretary.
“The new and improved” pragmatic Taliban has taken over Afghanistan (henceforth “A”). The United States has stated that the military mission is over and the diplomatic and economic mission has begun. So how does the U.S. negotiate with the new A situation?
Step One: What are the interests?
One of the first steps in any negotiation, is to identify the interests and secondly to prioritize the issues, and finally, to discern if there are any overlapping or mutual interests aka interdependence.
Interests of the United States
Surely much like the Taliban, the US is not monolithic. Most would hope that when it comes to foreign relations, especially “wars,” the political parties would be in sync, but some may use the chaotic pull out as politics.
Regardless of the politics, US interests may be the following:
-It is estimated that there are about 200 U.S. citizens or Afghan allies who remain in A. The US must work with the Taliban diplomatically for safe passage for them. This future work could build on the cooperative effort between the US and the Taliban during the pull out. Some of those left behind include local journalists who worked for US-supported media.
Also there are many faculty and students of the American University in A who remain there.
US plans to operate out of the little embassy in Doha, Qatari, capital.
-A is thousands of miles away from the US, but the US realizes that anything that goes on in the world can affect the US, especially on terrorism issues.
-US wants A to be a peaceful country that does not breed nor harbors terrorists including Isis-K (also an enemy of the Taliban).
-US is on record being concerned about humanitarian issues. The treatment of women and girls is part of this. Maybe the US can reframe the treatment of women and girls as an “economic” issue?
-A does have a lot of valuable minerals which US may want to help them extract.
-US has a vital interest in its international reputation. Some, would consider the A pullout a disaster, a defeat? US wants to frame it as “mission accomplished” in regards to terrorists. Taliban frame it as “a victory.”
-US also has an interest in not setting the stage for China and Russia to highly intervene in A. US shares an interest with Russia that they don’t want A to resort to illegal narcotics and arms traffic. To that end, Russia is leading the effort to unfreeze A’s assets internationally. Russia and China still have embassies in Kabul.
Interests of Taliban Afghanistan:
-First, they want to govern A so it becomes economically viable. Becoming economically viable, A believes that their assets need to be unfrozen and the pledged aid needs to continue.
A wants US and other countries to unfreeze their more than $9.5 billion in reserves ($7 billion in the US).
The European Union had pledged more than $1 billion in aid to A over the next five years. Now, those monies are dependent on A respecting human rights and other conditions.
-Taliban wants international recognition.
-Taliban wants to make the Kabul airport operational.
-Taliban wants assets unfrozen internationally.
-Taliban considers Isis, especially Isis-K, to be their enemy so they need to control them.
-Taliban may have an interest in seeking international assistance such as from Russia and China.
Step Two: Prioritizing Interests.
It is clear that for the first several months, the number one US interest is securing the safe passage of those left behind. This will demand Taliban cooperation maybe in exchange for some economic aid.
The second would be that the Taliban keeps to their pledge of good governance in such a way that does not breed or harbor terrorists along with humanitarian treatment of women and girls.
In President Joe Biden’s August 31, 2021 address to the nation, he stressed that security and terrorism is of high concern, but these concerns are broader than Afghanistan. The threats involve cybersecurity, maybe from Russia, and terrorism, maybe from Somalia?
The Taliban’s number one interest most likely will be governing the country (especially in light of the distrust and corruption). To do so, the second interest is the unfreezing of their assets throughout the world and to continue to receive international economic aid. Consistent with the unfreezing, the Taliban would seek international recognition.
Step Three: Finding Interdependence of Mutuality of Interests
In actuality, most of these interests stated above could be mutual.
The Taliban might share the US interest in providing safe passage for all those US citizens and sympathizers maybe making it easier to govern.
The US is hoping that the Taliban fulfills their pledges. Based on the Taliban public relations campaign so far, they are promising to cooperate with the US. They have promised to be respectful of their citizens. They have promised that people will be able to keep their jobs.
For the Taliban to get their assets unfrozen, they will need international recognition. Despite the history, Russia, which is regarded as a US enemy, may be one of the first to recognize the new Afghanistan. China, the number one US competitor, may be the next as part of their “Belt and Road Initiative.”
The Belt and Road Initiative, known in Chinese and formerly in English as One Belt One Road or OBOR for short, is a global infrastructure development strategy adopted by the Chinese government in 2013 to invest in nearly 70 countries and international organizations.
This Chinese are not necessarily magnanimous. They often have their eyes on the mineral- rich resources.
…Afghanistan possesses a wealth of nonfuel minerals whose value has been estimated at more than US$1 trillion. For millennia the country was renowned for its gemstones – rubies, emeralds, tourmalines and lapis lazuli. These minerals continue to be locally extracted, both legally and illegally, in mostly small, artisanal mines. Far more value, however, lies with the country’s endowments of iron, copper, lithium, rare earth elements, cobalt, bauxite, mercury, uranium and chromium.
While the total abundance of minerals is certainly vast, scientific understanding of these resources is still at an exploratory stage.
Step Four: Understanding the History of Afghanistan
A has a long history of being conquered by outsiders dating back to 500 BC, with Darius 1 of Babylonia, then Alexander the Great in 329 BC, and the greatest conqueror may have been Mahud of Ghazni, followed by Genghis Khan.
A is viewed as a Gateway between Asia and Europe. It finally united into a single country in the 1700’s.
-1870: Islam took root after A was conquered by a series of Arab rulers.
-19th Century: A series of wars with Britain as Britain tried to protect “their India.”
-1921: Britain defeated.
-1934: US recognizes A.
-1956: A becomes close allies with the USSR.
-1978: King is killed during a Communist coup.
-1982: 2.8 million Afghans flee to Pakistan.
-1984: Possibly Osama bin Laden’s first visit to A and establishes al Qaida (the base). They claim victory over the Soviets.
-1989: Peace Accord among US, A, Pakistan, and the Soviets.
-1995: Islamic militia=Taliban created.
-Late 1990’s: Drought and 1 million flee to Pakistan.
-2000:vbin Laden designated as an international terrorist.
-2001: bin Laden’s attack on US-NYC resulting in air strikes and Taliban surrendering the last portion of A in December.
-2004-5: New Constitution, Presidential and Parliamentary elections.
-2011: bin Laden killed by US.
-2014: NATO officially ends their military involvement in A.
-2021: US officially ends their military involvement in A.
The conquering, the wars, and the internal warring tribes must exhaust the Afghans.
Get to Know the Afghanistan Negotiating Culture
Usually, when an expert negotiator desires to learn the national negotiating culture of another nation, they turn to either of two books:
Kiss, Bow or Shake Hands by Terri Morrison and Wayne A. Conaway; or
How to Negotiate Anything with Anyone Anywhere Around the World with Frank L. Acuff
In these two books, one learns cultural overviews, negotiation strategies and business tips.
It is noteworthy that neither of these books cover Afghanistan.
One must wonder is there a national negotiating culture in A. Considering all the conquering, turmoil, violence, security issues, time spent in Pakistan and the warring tribes, it is challenging to discern some negotiation norms.
Given this, one might speculate that cultural factors in A are important. A might be:
-High-context ,which means relationships are important-maybe more than written agreements. Yet, many of the tribes are accustomed to binding agreements especially of a religious nature.
-Rapid to adapt their negotiating behaviors since they have had to deal with so many partners. This means they might prefer “rapid gains” or short-term gains over long term.
-Mistrustful of strangers, so possibly negotiation is more formal.
-Value age and status, quite deferential.
-They may show positive emotions to gain concessions.
-Only fixed times most likely are for Muslim prayers.
-They will want to know how exactly this benefits their tribe or their present situation.
It is important to note that A rate 177 out of 180 on the Corruption Perception Index (CPI). CPI measures the perceived levels of public sector corruption worldwide.
Future negotiations between Afghanistan and the United States is surely unpredictable.
Some would say that A is barely a nation. It may be best described as a collection of warring tribes that have been conquered over the centuries and yet proved oddly victorious over super powers. The ruling Taliban is not monolithic and has many factions.
Beyond this, the poverty rate is 47% who live below the national average and the literacy rate, 43%. (Probably an unfair comparison but neighboring Qatar has a 0% poverty rate and a 93% literacy rate.)
A under the terrorist group Taliban is even less predictable. It is unclear if the Taliban has a negotiating culture.
So, trust and faith are not the issues. Patience and verification by actions are.
See Recommended Books under “Blogs” drop down menu. Clicking on any book will lead one to the discounted Amazon site.
Roy J. Lewicki is the author of 'Essentials of Negotiation', published 2015 under ISBN 9780077862466 and ISBN 0077862465. Publisher: McGraw Hill Higher Education
The Conflict Resolution Training Program, Leader’s Manual, ISBN: 0-7879-6077-2. Prudence Bowman Kestner and Larry Ray
5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace.
Getting Your Way Every Day.