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What Does the Taliban Want?

Date & Time

Oct. 6, 2020
10:00am – 11:30am ET


Peace talks have begun between the Afghan government and the Taliban. One major question is how the Taliban, which is often vague about its goals beyond getting foreign troops out of Afghanistan, views key issues related to the peace process. This online-only event, organized by the Wilson Center's Asia Program in partnership with Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, will assess what we know--and don't know--about the Taliban's position on political systems, women's rights, international terrorism, and its relationship with Pakistan; what this all may tell us about the Taliban's future decisions and actions; and what the implications are for the peace process.

About the Speakers

Ibraheem Bahiss is an independent analyst. His academic background is in international  law, international relations, and security studies, and he conducts consultancy work at various government levels in Australia. He is a long-time observer of Afghan politics.

Malali Bashir is an award-winning journalist and video producer with RFE/RL’s Afghan Service, known locally as Radio Azadi. She reports on a range of topics related to Afghanistan, often with a women’s rights perspective. Along with her work at RFE/RL, Bashir has written for BBC Pashto and Foreign Policy, and she has edited Afghan magazines. She was also a Fulbright scholar at Brandeis University.

Dr. Orzala Nemat, an activist and scholar, is director of the Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit, an Afghan think tank. She has developed educational programs for the marginalized, worked with female victims of violence, and focused on peacebuilding efforts for children. She has held positions at Yale and SOAS University of London and worked as sub-governance adviser to the Afghan president.

Andrew Watkins is the International Crisis Group’s senior Afghanistan analyst. Previously, he worked as a political affairs officer for the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan. He was also a conflict analyst and adviser to the humanitarian community in Afghanistan, and a liaison with Afghan security forces for the U.S. State Department.

Rahimullah Yusufzai is resident editor of The News International and is based in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar. He has reported widely on the Afghan conflict. He was the first to interview Mullah Mohammad Omar, the Afghan Taliban’s founding leader, and he twice interviewed Osama Bin Laden in 1998. 

Speaker Quotes

Dr. Orzala Nemat

“In my opinion, the current position of Taliban regarding women’s rights is ambiguous. Like the ambiguity that the colleague [Andrew Watkins] highlighted, I think they are also ambiguous when it comes to women's rights - they give a very vague answer always when they are asked. Their essays and articles on the website try to say that “we never are against women’s rights, we protect more women’s rights than the others who are claiming to do it because we want to protect this in accordance to the Taliban view of Sharia and Islamic principles”. The reason that the Taliban don’t have any female representation is very genuine. I think it would have been quite problematic to suddenly see the appearance of some woman on the Taliban side of the negotiations in Doha because it would have been fake like in many ways we could see it. In my views this was a positive side from the Taliban to genuinely say that “we don’t believe in the idea of women’s political participation, that’s why we don’t have any participating there”. And the reasoning to that I think (it's clear at least for most of the Afghans why) is because [...] the background of who the Taliban are.”

“Taliban’s positioning is not entirely restricted to be an Islamic position but also traditional. A lot of Taliban media try to engage in the conversation and they try to portray an average or traditional practicing Muslim from a village and I think that’s hugely problematic (particularly for our western audience in this conversation or even beyond) because the Afghan traditional society is no longer the very classic traditional society.”

“One of the failures of the Taliban regime time is interacting with the international community on international aid and assistance. Unfortunately, we are to a high degree ‘donor dependent’ that when it comes to international assistance in the particular areas of health and education, it’s out of possibility to imagine that we will be self-sufficient. We have to have that vision but we are not there yet and therefore its really critical for the Taliban to have a very clear understanding of engaging with international assistance and future in accepting part of the realities of trying to have very constructive relations with the international assistance organizations governmental and especially non-governmental and trying to proceed [...]. Our desire is to see more engagement and more constructive ways of approaching the issue of international assistance.”

Rahimullah Yusufzai

“I think they have made up their mind as to what they want but they will put their card down when the time comes. I think they are waiting for that opportunity so we don’t have to believe that the Taliban is not clear about what they want. I think they know what they want and that’s why they have been fighting for so long. The basic thing is that they want power. They’ve been fighting for power and if they can get it through talks, why not.”

“I think that there is a lot of self-praise nowadays in Pakistan; the government officers, the military … the analysts, all of them are self-praising Pakistan. They say “we have done it, we were able to facilitate the peace talks and the peace agreements between the U.S. and Taliban”. They say “we were able to persuade the Taliban to hold peace talks with the Afghan government and the Afghan opposition”. They actually believe very strongly that Pakistan has played a very crucial role [...]. I believe that in the Pakistani policy regarding Taliban, they [Taliban] should become part of the new political system in Afghanistan; they should join democracy, they should set up a political party, they should take part in elections.”

“I think that the Taliban realized that by agreeing to the peace talks with the Afghan opposition, they have actually conceded and that there has to be a give and take: they cannot demand or get whatever they want, they have to give and take. I don’t think that they can have a system of government of their choice through negotiations. They have to reach a consensus, they have to negotiate with their rivals, and then they can have a system of government which is acceptable to all the stakeholders, all the parties and to most of the Afghan people. Taliban, I think, would have to withdraw from whatever they were demanding until now. They would have to seek a consensus to make these peace talks successful.”

Malalai Bashir

“What is peace to ordinary Afghans and how do they perceive the Taliban's intention in the peace process and beyond? We’ve been talking to hundreds of afghans, men and women, on the ground from all the provinces and to some afghans peace is going out with your family for a dinner without being attacked or without the fear of being mobbed or kidnapped. For others, it's going from one city to another, not fearing your life on the road. And for others, peace means the opportunity to go to school, an opportunity for employment, and taking part in political processes in the country.”

“Women in particular are concerned about losing rights, the hard earned rights that they have been working for for the past almost two decades… their right for equal education, employment, and also taking a part in the political life. Currently, millions of girls are going to schools. There are women who are governors, women who are ministers… we have a high percentage of women in the parliament. But just today we received a report… which says that the education officials say that in at least thirteen districts of this province, the Taliban is not allowing the education authorities to build schools for girls. Also, the Human Rights Watch have said that the Taliban remain deeply misogynistic. President Ghani has said that Afghans are ready for peace, but not at any cost.”

“Most right activists state that the path to peace in Afghanistan is through talking to the Taliban. But they do actually voice their demands that there should be more women on the negotiation table and the independent human rights commission of Afghanistan has said that the peace process should be victim centered and it should be from the perspective of those who are affected the most by this war.”

Ibraheem Bahiss

“I would say the Taliban of today feel more comfortable or at least equally comfortable with this consensual decision making mechanism as they do with the one man as they do with the one man political system. This shura based system is better for them as it accommodates from interests and power bases and is thus more conducive to preventing fragmentation. [It’s] worth noting that both systems have intellectual and ideological basis in Islamic political thought, so it will not be a very hard sell to their rank and file.”

“I don’t believe the Taliban want their rank and file to know that they’re willing to forgo the emirate until and unless progress is made in the intra- Afghan talks. That could explain why they have been so ciphered in communicating their willingness to give up the emirate. So, why would they not want their rank and file to know, and why did they invest so forcefully in an emirate all these years? The answer is that as a group navigating the ebb and flow of an insurgency, the Taliban needed a system that would maximize cohesion and minimize fragmentation.”

“The gap between what the Taliban want and what President Ghani is prepared to offer is so huge, that it’s difficult to imagine it being bridged. Ideally he would like to offer an iteration of what was offered to Dr.  Abdullah in 2014. Therein lies the Taliban's dilemma: President Ghani has proved himself in not being very credible to follow through either of those commitments. Especially when the other person or other party was someone who was friendly to the post 2001 political order… From the Taliban’s perspective, there’s a lot of scholarly work that talks about peace processes–– how insurgents face a credibility gap… they are the one who feel they have the most to lose by giving up their source of strength, which is violence… So the Taliban has started advocating for sidelining President Ghani by establishing an interim government.”


Ibraheem Bahiss

Independent Analyst

Malalai Bashir

Senior Journalist, Radio Azadi, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty's Afghan Service

Dr. Orzala Nemat

Director, Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit

Andrew Watkins

Senior Afghanistan Analyst, International Crisis Group

Rahimullah Yusufzai

Resident Editor, The News International

Hosted By

Indo-Pacific Program

The Indo-Pacific Program promotes policy debate and intellectual discussions on US interests in the Asia-Pacific as well as political, economic, security, and social issues relating to the world’s most populous and economically dynamic region.   Read more

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