In this lesson, students review the current condition in Afghanistan and explore the possibility of negotiating with the Taliban. Students will develop a briefing paper on the current conditions, view recent news reports, discuss possible conflict resolution techniques for talking with the Taliban, and develop and evaluate a plan for resolving the conflict in Afghanistan.
The United States has been indirectly or directly involved with Afghanistan since 1979. After the Soviet invasion and occupation in 1979, the United States and several of its allies contributed arms and technical support to the mujahideen fighters in Afghanistan who were trying to oust the Soviets. After the Soviet withdrawal in 1989, the United States withdrew its support. Afghanistan went through a period of upheaval between tribal warlords, al Qaeda, and former leaders struggling for control. In 1995, a radical fundamentalist Islamic group, known as the Taliban, emerged and became the government. Along with the promise of peace and upholding traditional Islamic values, the Taliban outlawed the opium trade, cracked down on crime, and brought a level of stability to the country. They also implement a form of Islamic law that denied Afghans civil rights, individualism, education for women, and due process. For nearly six years the United States had little or no interaction with Afghanistan, save for refusing to recognize the Taliban as the legitimate government. Then, on September 11, 2001, Afghanistan and the United States once again became entwined. Al Qaeda founder and spiritual leader Osama bin Laden was identified as the mastermind and inspiration for the attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. He was suspected of living in Afghanistan. The United States demanded the Taliban extradite him for trial. They refused and the United States launched air strikes and a limited strategic ground attack designed to embolden the Northern Alliance of Afghanistan tribes against the Taliban. Within four months, the Taliban abandoned their final stronghold in Kandahar and an interim democratic government was established. In 2003, the United States launched an invasion of Iraq and reduced its efforts in Afghanistan to establish a lasting and stable government. Efforts to kill or capture Osama bin Laden, who it was believed escaped across the mountains into neighboring Pakistan, were also curtailed. For five years, a small NATO force in Afghanistan tried to bolster the fledgling democratic government and establish order. During this time the Taliban regrouped and regained control of several areas in Afghanistan. After the election of Barack Obama as president of the United States, U.S. military efforts were shifted from Iraq to Afghanistan to resolve the conflict. In the first several months of the Obama administration, informal discussions begin on ways to possibly negotiate with the Taliban toward a peaceful resolution to the conflict.
- Before students enter the classroom, put up on the overhead or the front board the following:
- MENTION NO NAMES, but discuss with your partner the reasons for the break between you and someone you have or have had a conflict with.
- Why can’t you reconcile the differences?
- What is needed or could be done to change the situation?
- How would you implement a plan to reconcile the differences?
- Divide students into pairs. Ask them to think of someone or a group of people in which they have or have had a conflict and discuss the questions above with their partner.
- Select a few students to share their conversations.
Now tell students that they are going to look at the conflict in Afghanistan between the Taliban, the Afghan people, and the American and coalition military. Tell students that they will gather information on the history of the Taliban in Afghanistan, their status since the 9/11 attacks, and current issues surrounding the conflict to create a briefing paper. Then explain to them that recently, discussions have been held to bring some sort of diplomatic solution to the war in Afghanistan, but that first both sides need to learn how to talk to the enemy. Their job will be to set up a strategy for such talks.
Part I: Creating a Briefing Paper
- Divide the class into groups of 3-4 students.
- Distribute the “Briefing Paper” student handout and review the instructions.
- Students can access the links provided in the briefing paper handout, or if computer access is limited, you download and print copies of the material. The initial research for this part of the activity can also be assigned as homework.
- After student groups have completed the briefing paper, debrief the information with the entire class.
PART 2: Understanding the Different Points of View
- Have students review a report on the recent change in U.S. policy as of March 2009, in which the Obama administration is considering talking to factions among the Taliban at http://www.pbs.org/newshour/extra/video/blog/2009/03/should_the_us_talk_to_the_tali.html. Transcripts of the report are also available on the website. You can present this news segment to the entire class on a projector or have them work in small groups. Then discuss the following questions:
- Why do you think the United States is now interested in talking with the Taliban?
- What do you think would be the reaction of the Taliban to such an offer from the United States?
- What are some of the feelings of the Afghan people in talking to the Taliban?
- What conditions on the ground need to be accomplished by the U.S. for such talks to occur?
- Describe the dilemma facing the United States, as explained by Margaret Warner toward the end of her report, in trying to align policy and reality to open doors for negotiations with top Taliban officials.
- Divide the class onto larger strategy groups of 4-6 students. Make sure each group as a copy of the briefing paper developed in Part 1.
- Distribute the graphic organizer, “Inside the Taliban” to each student and review the instructions on the first page.
- Have students listen to Charles Sennott’s audio interview of former Taliban leaders, General David Petraeus, and Owen Sears, former U.S. intelligence officer on the PRI The World website and fill out the “Interview” graphic organizer.
- Then have students complete the “Common Assumptions” graphic organizer based on the Sennott interview and their other sources.
- Next, have students use the “Identifying Options” graphic organizer to identify several options for the United States to resolve the conflict with the Taliban. Remind students that this is more of a brainstorming session.
- Have students evaluate the options by identifying the costs and benefits of each.
- Now have students review the “Techniques for Conflict Resolution” handout to get ideas of techniques they think would work best. They can implement these guidelines as the deliberate on the best negotiating strategy.
- Next, have students decide on the best negotiating strategy. They should look for the option with the most benefits and fewest costs. In some cases, students might have to select parts of several options to come up with a plan. The group should arrive at a consensus, but some might have reservations with some or all of the final agreement. They will have an opportunity to voice their concerns when they write up the Strategy Planning Form.
- Finally, have students individually complete the Strategy Planning Form for assessment. They should also include the conflict resolution techniques they believe would be most effective.
- Have students revisit the opening activity and contemplate how they might resolve their differences with the person or persons they identified in the activity. Have them write up a strategy plan for addressing their differences following the guidelines in this lesson.
- Apply this lesson to other areas of conflict in the world. Gather supporting materials to give students background on the conflict and have them work in small groups to develop a possible resolution.