Editor in Chief: Moh. Reza Huwaida Tuesday, April 13th, 2021

Role of Afghan Political Parties in the Peace Talks

Role of political parties in peace building and state building is increasing among national and international
Actors. They are considering ways how to more effectively engage political parties in political processes and structures in conflict-affected and post-conflict states.
Although political parties are frequently at the center of such processes and structures, international actors have generally been wary of working with them beyond limited capacity-building activities, seeing this as a sensitive and high-risk area including Afghanistan.
Political parties in conflict-affected contexts
Afghanistan Political parties can play an important role in brokering an end to conflict, mediating bargaining over the nature of the political settlement and shaping the post-conflict state. Indeed, parties are unique among political institutions in their potential to give political expression to grievances that may otherwise be expressed through violence and to aggregate and articulate the interests of citizens during both peace negotiations and transition processes, as well as more broadly in post-conflict political governance and state building. 
The context in which Afghanistan political parties function shapes the ability of political parties to act as peace builders. Moreover, political parties are often excluded from peace negotiations, which frequently only include armed actors, or are included in a very limited way. Beyond such direct barriers, the nature of political systems in conflict-affected contexts can also limit the effectiveness of parties as peace builders. Such systems are frequently characterized by hybrid regimes and limited democratic traditions, the fusion of state and ruling party, or high levels of party fragmentation that dissipates political energies in endless realignments. Such circumstances restrict the ability of parties to collaborate effectively around an inclusive peace agenda. In such contexts the fragmented nature of society, low levels of trust, weak political institutionalization, and weak associational life undermine citizens’ ability to come together – including through political parties – to express common interests.
However, it is also the severe internal weakness of political parties that prevents them from contributing to peace building in many conflict-affected and post-conflict contexts. Such parties tend to be institutionally thin; have limited organizational or political capacity, little presence beyond the capital, and limited membership; and are only active at election time. They often do not have coherent ideologies or policy agendas to which citizens can hold them to account, lack internal democracy, and are highly personalized around “charismatic leaders who monopolize power and do not tolerate dissent. Moreover, the precarious financing of many parties in conflict-affected contexts limits their ability to reach out to citizens and makes them more likely to seek illicit funding sources. This institutional, policy and financial weakness limits parties’ ability to deliver effectively on any of their functions and certainly reduces their potential as peace builders.
Identity-based parties play a particularly crucial role in such settings. These often have great legitimacy with their constituencies and can potentially help to ensure that the interests of minority groups are reflected in peace processes. However, the extent to which they are able to do this in a way that enhances peace depends on their ability to present a national vision or represent the interests of their communities in national institutions, as opposed to playing divisive identity politics. As in Afghanistan, such parties often struggle with the difficult balance between articulating a vision that is acceptable to the majority and can be a basis for progress, and expressing the genuine grievances and political aspirations of minority constituents. This challenge is made more difficult by the fact that in conflict-affected contexts the civil values of trust, mutual understanding and willingness to discuss differences, which are essential for the development of multiparty democracies, are often deficient.
International actors have a weak record on working with political parties in conflict-affected contexts. The peace building community has mostly neglected the vital role of political parties, which can play either a constructive or a regressive role in democratic development and peace building. This neglect is partly because engagement with parties is difficult and risky, given limited entry points and the fact that parties are political organizations with partisan interests and a reputation for corruption. Moreover, where international actors do engage, they frequently lack an in-depth understanding of local political contexts. As a result they work with political parties in isolation, using blueprint approaches that assume that the weaknesses of political parties can be treated in the same way in each country. While such standardized technical assistance may have some value in supporting election processes, it is unlikely to help parties to effectively aggregate and represent citizens’ interests within peace building processes or broader bargaining over the post conflict political settlement.
Political parties can play a powerful role in advancing peace. It is therefore vital that international actors strengthen engagement with them. However, such engagement must be based on an understanding of how parties’ willingness and ability to support peace building are shaped by broader struggles over the political settlement by the nature of the political and party system.
Afghanistan government and international actors should engage actively the political parties in the Afghanistan peace talks. The political parties should play their religious and national obligations regarding the peace process, and create an inclusive environment for a serious agreement between the government and the Taliban. Indeed, these efforts should be within the framework of the government in order to raise the voice for peace from a united front rather than several fronts to preserve the Republic System and the framework of the current Constitution.