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How the ethnic-religious factors affect the process of intra-Afghan dialogue

The role of ethno-confessional factors in the process of intra-Afghan dialogue is fundamental and crucial, says Farzad Ramezani Bonesh, Senior Researcher and Analyst of International Affairs. In his opinion, a lasting peace in this country is possible only if the rights of all ethnic and religious groups are respected.

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Taliban delegation arrived in Doha in May 2019 for talks. Photo: Associated Press

Summary of the article:

– The factor of ethnicity in Afghanistan has been politicized;

– The events of recent years have made the role of ethno-religious elements in the process of inter-Afghan dialogue very important;

– The Taliban consider ethnic, religious, political, and linguistic diversity as a threat;

– Non-Pashtun leaders disagree with the Taliban on the future of the state structure in Afghanistan;

– Lasting peace will not be achieved if the authorities sacrifice the rights of ethnic and religious negorities in negotiations with the Taliban

Afghanistan is the home to a rainbow of cultural, linguistic, racial and even religious diversity. ‌The largest ethnic group includes about forty percent of the country’s population. Sixty percent of the rest of the country’s population is made up of large or smaller ethnic groups.

Also, more than half of the country’s population speaks Persian and the majority of them are Hanafi Muslims. This diversity is while the ethnicity in Afghanistan has become increasingly politicized.

In fact, ethnic, religious, and linguistic differences are not inherently problematic. But past challenges have made the role of ethnic-religious elements in the inter-Afghan dialogue process very prominent.

The Role of Ethnic-Religious Factors in the Taliban approach to the Inter-Afghan Dialogue Process


In fact, in the past, ethnicity and religion have played an important role in gaining power of the Taliban and renewing its strength. They were quite a fundamentalist tribal group in the Pashtun areas near Pakistan border.

In the past, the Taliban had an ethnic attitude towards non-Pashtun Sunnis and a religious attitude towards non-Sunni people.

In the past, the Taliban had an ethnic attitude towards non-Pashtun Sunnis and a religious attitude towards non-Sunni people. As a result, during Taliban rule, Afghanistan witnessed a deadly crackdown on ethnic and religious movements.

In the meantime, although many believe that the Taliban have been changed and understand the new realities of Afghan society, their understanding of Sharia and Islam yet remains authoritarian.

In fact, although the neo-Taliban try to present themselves as more up-to-date and changed and emphasize the presence of other ethnicities in the body of their leadership, but their perception of the Qur’an and the Sunnah, reasoning and logic is such that they also see ethnic, religious, political, and linguistic diversity as a kind of conspiracy and danger

In addition, the role of Sunni fundamentalism and their Pashtun ethnicity is still evident in the Taliban’s approach to peace, the issue of the country’s official religions, and equal rights for religious minorities. In fact, the ethnic-religious variable still plays an important role in their demand for a dominant power in Afghanistan (without separation of powers and elections), the Islamic system of the Islamic Emirate with the absolute power of the Emir and pays little attention to the multiple realities of society.

In addition, the variables of Pashtun ethnicity and Sunni Taliban fundamentalism have put political and pragmatic leaders under pressure from the middle-ranking leaders and military commanders to change their views and positions in the inter-Afghan dialogue process. This adds to the Taliban’s policy of ambiguity.

On the other hand, the Taliban have to make concessions and retreats that are inconsistent with the Taliban’s Sunni ethnic and fundamentalist ideals in order to maintain their presence in inter-Afghan talks. This complicates the process of dialogue.

The Role of Ethnic-Religious Factors in the Government’s Approach to the Inter-Afghan Talks

First of all, it should be noted that ethnic-religious factors have played an important role in the formation of the current inclusive government. Meanwhile, the first meeting of the leadership committee of the Supreme National Reconciliation Council was held after a delay of nearly seven months.

According to the political agreement between the President and the chief of the High Council for Reconciliation, this committee has full authority to decide on the promotion and management of peace. In fact, although the United States, the European Union, and the Afghan people welcomed the start of the leadership committee, but the fact is those ethnic-religious factors played an important role in delaying it.  The High Council for Reconciliation needs to resolve team differences and tensions, division of power and internal disputes in order to form and build internal, regional and international consensus.

The most serious concern is the lack of political consensus among Afghan politicians, parties and ethnic and religious political elites between the two teams of Ghani and Abdullah. Because the High Council of Reconciliation has 48 members, but apart from differences over the type of list of members of the High Peace Council, if there is a sharp difference of opinion, it will affect the negotiation process in favor of the Taliban.

Thus, on the opposition front of the Taliban, ethnic-religious factors could have a negative or positive impact on the agreement over their internal disputes. In this case, they can negotiate with the Taliban to establish a ceasefire, a participatory government, amend the constitution, and so on.

In another dimension, peace is a national priority and an urgent need of the Afghan people. But in fact, the role of ethnic-religious elements in the process of inter-Afghan dialogue is positive as long as it is accompanied by the rights of ethnic and religious minorities in order to achieve peace, not the collapse of legal and social achievements after 2001.

In the meantime, the ethnic-religious factors can play an important role in the type of individuals selected at the negotiating table, the dynamics and continuation of negotiations for a comprehensive peace agreement, avoiding challenges and unilateral policy-making.

In addition to this, ethnic-religious factors is decisive for further talks and discussion over the role of religion in the future system of Afghanistan, the constitutional rights of Afghan citizens, especially for ethnic and religious minorities (Chapter II of the Constitution), protection of religious rights and freedoms of religious minorities and Shiites. Because ethnic and religious elites will play an important role in agreement or disagreement over any decision to form a participatory government, the type of democratic system and the post-peace system (Taliban and the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan), a decentralized system or a central government.

In other words, what will change after the constitution and political system of Afghanistan after 2004 and based on what mechanism; if the rights of minorities is protected or not; and the recruitment of Taliban fighters into the structure of Afghanistan’s security forces requires the consent of ethnic and religious elites.

Under these circumstances, lasting peace will not be achieved if the rights of the country’s ethnic and religious minorities are diminished in order to gain the Taliban’s favorable opinion…

The role of specific ethnic-religious groups in the process of inter-Afghan dialogue

Undoubtedly, specific ethnic-religious parties and groups in Afghanistan, especially the four ethnic groups of Pashtun, Tajik, Hazara and Uzbek, play an important and fundamental role in the country’s political scene. Pashtun and Tajik ethnic-religious parties and groups are the two main contenders. The main concentration of Pashtuns is in the south and east and Tajiks in the north, center and west. The next ethnic-religious parties and groups in Afghanistan, which is the Hazaras (mostly Shiites) are mostly based in the center and the Hazarajat.[1]

The Uzbeks live in the north of the country. Other ethnic and religious minorities such as Ismailis, Turkmen, etc. have much less population, role and influence compared to the four ethnic-religious groups.

The Afghan government has previously appointed a delegation to promote inter-Afghan peace talks, chaired by Masoom Stanekzai. This board includes all the influential factions and strata of the society among the ethnic and religious parties and factions of the country.

In fact, figures such as Mohammad Masoom Stanekzai and Fatemeh Gilani (Pashtun), Abdul Hafiz Mansour and Fawzia Kofi (Tajik), Habibeh Sarabi (Hazara) Bator Dostum (Uzbek) from the four main ethnic groups of the country along with other personalities of the two religious minorities of Shiite and Ismaili like Seyed Saadat Mansour Naderi (Ismaili) are present in the negotiating team.[2]

In the meantime, many of the figures in the negotiating team and the National Reconciliation Council of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan must be practically close to the country’s ethnic and religious groups and leaders.[3]

Demands of leaders of ethnic-religious groups in negotiations with the Taliban

The kind of the future of the system in Afghanistan is one of the most important issues for the leaders of ethnic and religious groups in peace talks with the Taliban. In fact, the Taliban is seeking a regime change from the root.

But preserving the republic is the red line for the leaders of Tajik Hazara and Uzbek ethnic and religious groups in negotiations with the Taliban

Although the Taliban is in favor of a strong and independent central system, the separation of powers, proper participation of the people, the fundamental rights of citizens, the proper role of the opposition and minorities are among the demands of Tajik, Hazara and Uzbek, Turkmen, and other ethnic and religious groups.

In addition, more moderate and secular Pashtun ethnic groups appear to be afraid of declining power in the face of increasing Taliban (fundamentalist and predominantly Pashtun) power. However, leaders of Tajik, Hazara and Uzbek ethnic and religious groups are also afraid of making significant concessions to the Taliban and withdrawing all US forces.

Also most of the leaders of Tajik, Hazara and Uzbek ethnic and religious groups and some Pashtun ethnic and religious leaders such as Hekmatyar and Karzai, have a positive view of the Provisional Government and consider it a factor in transferring power, creating grounds for compromise, and distribution of power and making change in the constitution.

The faction of Tajik figures, along with other major Hazara and Uzbek parties, along with defending the republic and maintaining structures, now appear to have shifted the change of the system from presidential to parliamentary in the peace process, to their most important strategy.

However, neither Dr. Ghani’s faction nor the Taliban accept this view.

In particular, it seems that the Tajik figures, along with other major Hazara and Uzbek parties do not want the returning of the Taliban to the power to pave the way for the elimination of some political factions in the face of the complete strengthening of the Pashtuns (the Taliban and the Pashtun parties and figures of the government).


Inter-Afghan peace talks began a  and have stalled due to disagreements over the basic framework of the debate and the role of ethnic-religious elements. Ethno-religious elements affect the approach of the Afghan government’and the Taliban over differences on the peace negotiating agenda (more than 20 articles).

In the meantime, it should be noted that the signing of a peace agreement or the domination of the Taliban in Afghanistan, regardless of ethnic and religious factors, the acceptance of ethnic and religious diversity of the opposition in the constitution will not lead to lasting peace.

The art of negotiation is also creating a new framework for reconciling widespread ethnic and religious differences. So much so that ethnic-religious minorities are not harmed by the presence of the Taliban, and the Taliban do not consider their existence and presence a threat to themselves.  In this context, it should be said that the role of ethnic-religious factors in the future of the process of dialogue within Afghanistan is fundamental and crucial.

In fact, ethnic-religious variables can practically play the role of accelerator, barrier, facilitator, positive and negative in the future of dialogue, whether between any of the negotiating teams or between the two sides of the dialogue. This makes it more difficult or time consuming to reach the final point in the conversation.

This article was prepared as part of the «Giving Voice, Driving Change – from the Borderland to the Steppes Project»

[1] . https://www.justice.gov/eoir/page/file/1311881/download

[2] . https://www.ndtv.com/world-news/21-member-team-from-afghanistan-government-to-negotiate-with-talibans-2201810



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