ignificant progress on a number of issues has been made at the latest round of talks between the United States and the Taliban—but will these negotiations foster a lasting peace after decades of conflict? Experienced professionals disagree on the premise of negotiating with the Taliban; Dr. Barnett Rubin favors negotiations, while Ambassador Ryan Crocker opposes them. However, the ongoing Doha talks between U.S. representatives embody a new approach to ending the 18-year-old war in Afghanistan by reversing the order of priority issues from President Obama’s strategy. Though the United States has been negotiating with the Taliban in Doha since 2011, Ambassador Khalilzad’s strategy to negotiate an American withdrawal and extract counterterrorism assurances prior to moving on to intra-Afghan dialogue and a ceasefire agreement is new. Does this rearrangement really matter? The priority issues are proceeding in an order that appears to defy successful civil war termination sequences and may jeopardize the opportunity to achieve reconciliation between the Afghan government and rebel groups.
Joshi, Melander, and Quinn recently studied the sequencing of accommodation policies with post-civil war elections. Accommodations are any “measure that reduces the incompatibility of the former warring parties’ preferred policies.” In their 2017 paper Joshi et al found that specific forms of significant and early reconciliation measures lead to the highest likelihood of peace consolidation. A related finding is that low accommodation for rebel groups in the reconciliation process, or none prior to elections, had the lowest likelihood to secure a peaceful transition. The transition from conflict to peace requires negotiated solutions to simultaneous information problems and commitment problems.
The two agenda items pursued first by Ambassador Khalilzad pair a high-cost, easily-verifiable U.S. commitment with a low-cost commitment by the Taliban that is difficult to verify. The Taliban does not control the entire country, nor is it likely to do so while still competing with other rebel groups and Afghan security forces. As a non-state actor, the Taliban is incapable of comprehensively preventing terrorists from using Afghan territory. However, the U.S. withdrawal will be widely publicized and easily verifiable while costing billions of dollars and substantial political capital to achieve. Simultaneously, the central government’s status as the sovereign authority is diminished by excluding it from the ongoing Doha negotiations.
The two delayed agenda items—comprehensive ceasefire and intra-Afghan dialogue—have easily verifiable components and cost enough to demonstrate commitment. The ceasefire would visibly demonstrate the Taliban’s commitment to a rebel-to-party transition. By demonstrating the ability to end the violence, they would bolster confidence in their counterterrorism assurances to third parties. However, the political cost of a ceasefire is likely unacceptable to the Taliban, as they control or influence 12 percent of Afghan districts (while contesting an additional 34 percent) and conduct additional attacks on Afghan security forces in the north, east and southwest. A ceasefire, at this point, would be disempowering to the party that holds the advantage.
On the other hand, an intra-Afghan dialogue could build confidence to accommodate the Taliban as they make their rebel-to-party transition. The 1988 Geneva Accords showed that international non-interference agreements cannot be successful without a parallel domestic agreement. Joshi at al identify three high-cost, confidence-building measures that could be swiftly, publicly, and verifiably implemented:
1. creating a transitional government,
2. granting amnesty, and
3. releasing prisoners of war.
The United States has used the latter two measures in the past but it has not rehabilitated relations between Kabul and the Taliban. Therefore the prospect of a transitional government is the principal object in this analysis because the sequence of the Doha talks all but ensures the intra-Afghan dialogue will not occur before the next Afghan presidential election.
The United States has used the latter two measures in the past but it has not rehabilitated relations between Kabul and the Taliban. Therefore the prospect of a transitional government is the principal object in this analysis because the sequence of the Doha talks all but ensures the intra-Afghan dialogue will not occur before the next Afghan presidential election. Institutional resistance from a new Kabul administration should be expected after a hotly-contested electoral campaign if reconciliation results in giving some power to the Taliban. It will also be difficult to justify additional elections, considering the effort it takes for Afghan citizens to vote.
The effects of a missing intra-Afghan dialogue are amplified by facts on the ground. First, the opposition is not monolithic—the Taliban are not the only forces opposing a Western-backed government in Kabul, nor are the Taliban themselves strictly cohesive. As in Afghan civil wars past, the potential for northern, eastern, and western insurgencies linger if the Taliban are handed legitimacy and political power at the exclusion of a broader dialogue. Simply permitting the Taliban a say within the government will not solve the underlying within-state and between-state inequalities of power and prosperity that undergird ongoing political violence.
Second, acceptance of the Taliban as a legitimate counterparty in the Doha talks signals broader acceptance by the United States. Washington’s acceptance of a Taliban regime that includes corrupt, criminal, and political Islamist elements in Kabul, preempting an intra-Afghan dialogue, privileges the rebels before domestic negotiations approach the most serious issues. Taliban power-sharing creates an uncertain future for some U.S. policy preferences like gender, peace, and security programs.
Finally, the acceptance of a politically Islamist regime before the domestic politics are negotiated raises the issue “Can we trust our allies to support this strategy?” Pakistan has its own set of security interests in Afghanistan that do not perfectly match U.S. strategy. In addition, some of our Gulf allies have pursued aggressive counter-Islamist campaigns in the Middle East and as far afield as Sub-Saharan Africa to prevent disagreeable Islamist ideology from spreading. Implicit permission to reinstate political Islam as the governing principle in Afghanistan would be a juicy target for allies that are increasingly unconstrained by U.S. policy preferences in their backyard.
Negotiations with Afghan opposition is a critical part of the process to end America’s longest war. Sequencing both internal and external dialogues, upcoming Afghan elections, and U.S. forces’ withdrawal is integral to long-term peace. By sequencing the Doha talks in their current format, the opportunity to achieve reconciliation may be at risk. If negotiations are to address the long-term issues, the evidence shows that talks should quickly pivot to reduce bargaining space between domestic political competitors. Without confidence-building measures between the government and opposition already in place, expect the Afghan reconciliation process to take longer than the trajectory in Doha suggests—if it succeeds at all.
We’ve already agreed.
Our agreements are grounded in deep value centers that are globally shared, but undervalued and unfulfilled. The reason for this is our inability to quantify intangible value. All of these rich, inherent values are still nebulous and fragmented in implementation—largely existing as ideals and blueprints for deep, globally shared common agreement. That is, we all agree education, health, and equality have value, but we lack common units for understanding who and who is not contributing value—leaving us to fumble in our own, uncoordinated siloes as we chase the phantoms of impact. In essence, we lack common currencies for our common agreements.
Now we find ourselves at the nexus of the real paradigm of Blockchain, allowing us to fuse economics with inherent value by proving the participation of some great human effort, then quantifying the impact of that effort in unforgeable and decentralized ledgers. It allows us to build economic models for tomorrow, that create wholly new markets and economies for and around each of the richest of human endeavors.
In late 2017 at the height of the Bitcoin bubble, without individual coordination, planning, or the help of institutions, almost $1 trillion was infused into blockchain markets. This is remarkable, and the revolution has only just begun. When you realize that Blockchain is in a similar stage of development as the internet pre-AOL, you will see a glimpse of the global transformation to come.
Only twice in the information age have we had such a paradigm shift in global infrastructure reform—the computer and the internet. While the computer taught us how to store and process data, the Internet built off that ability and furthered the conversation by teaching us how to transfer that information. Blockchain takes another massive step forward—it builds off the internet, adding to the story of information storage and transfer—but, it teaches us a new, priceless and not yet understood skill: how to transfer value.
This third wave kicked off with a rough start—as happens with the birth of new technologies and their corresponding liberties. Blockchain has, thus far, been totally unregulated. Many, doubtless, have taken advantage. A young child, stretching their arms for the first couple times might knock over a cookie jar or two. Eventually, however, they learn to use their faculties—for evil or for good. As such, while it’s wise to be skeptical at this phase in blockchain’s evolution, it’s important not to be blind to its remarkable implications in a post-regulated world, so that we may wield its faculties like a surgeon’s scalpel—not for evil or snake-oil sales, but for the creation of more good, for the flourishing of commonwealth.
But what of the volatility in blockchain markets? People agree Bitcoin has value, but they don’t understand why they are in agreement, and so cryptomarkets fluctuate violently. Stable blockchain economies will require new symbolic gold standards that clearly articulate why someone would agree to support each market, to anchor common agreement with stability. The more globally shared these new value standards, the better.
Is education more valuable than gold? What about healthcare or nutrition or clean water?
We set out in 2018 to prove a hypothesis—we believe that if you back a cryptocurrency economy with a globally agreed upon inherent value like education, you can solve for volatility and stabilize a mature long lasting cryptomarket that awards everyone who adds value to that market in a decentralized way without the friction of individual partnerships.
What if education was a new gold standard?
And what if this new Learning Economy had protocols to award everyone who is helping to steward the growth of global education?
Education is a mountain. Everyone takes a different path to the top. Blockchain allows us to measure all of those unique learning pathways, online and in classrooms, into immutable blockchain Learning Ledgers.
By quantifying the true value of education, a whole economy can be built around it to pay students to learn, educators to create substantive courses, and stewards to help the Learning Economy grow. It was designed to provide a decentralized way for everyone adding value to global education to coordinate around the commonwealth without the friction of individual partnerships. Imagine the same for healthcare, nutrition, and our environment?
Imagine a world where we can pay refugees to learn languages as they find themselves in foreign lands, a world where we can pay those laid off by the tide of automation to retrain themselves for the new economy, a world where we can pay the next generation to prepare themselves for the unsolved problems of tomorrow.
Imagine new commonwealth economies that alleviate the global burdens of poverty, disease, hunger, inequality, ignorance, toxic water, and joblessness. Commonwealths that orbit inherent values, upheld by immutable blockchain protocols that reward anyone in the ecosystem stewarding the economy—whether that means feeding the hungry, providing aid for the global poor, delivering mosquito nets in malaria-ridden areas, or developing transformative technologies that can provide a Harvard-class education to anyone in the world willing to learn.
These worlds are not out of reach—we are only now opening our eyes to the horizons of blockchain, decentralized coordination, and new gold standards. Even though coordination is the last of the seventeen sustainable development goals, when solved, its tide will lift for the rest—a much-needed rocket fuel for global prosperity.
“Let us raise a standard to which the wise and the honest can repair.” —George Washington