K4D Helpdesk Report

Lessons learnt from humanitarian negotiations with the Taliban, 1996-2001

Published on 17 September 2021

This rapid literature review finds that humanitarian actors responded in a variety of ways to Taliban actions limiting principled aid in the country during the period of their rule (1996-2001).

The report is focused on the findings around humanitarian negotiation and the strategy of humanitarian actors in response to Taliban policies limiting women’s ability to work for humanitarian organisations or access services. The findings are not intended to imply parallels with the current situation in Afghanistan.

Evidence is in the form of a number of evaluations, academic articles and lessons learned papers on negotiating with the Taliban. It discusses the methods of negotiating with the Taliban (e.g. co-ordination, working with the leadership or rank-and-file), the content of negotiations and particularly the question of reaching agreement on women’s rights, as well as humanitarian actors’ negotiating capacity.

There is less discussion on the negotiation of specific programmes (e.g. anti-gender-based violence programmes). Due to the different goals and principles of humanitarian actors, as well as different ideas of feasibility, conclusions on the effectiveness of negotiating tactics vary. Strategies therefore cannot be judged as ‘successful’ without reference to a conception of what is most important in humanitarian programming, and the constraints of the situation.

The review highlights lessons on good negotiating practices. The main issue being negotiated was the clash between the Taliban’s restrictions on women and humanitarian actors’ aim of providing aid to all, including women, according to need. Various strategies were used to persuade the Taliban to consent to principled aid.

This review considers aid agency negotiating strategy and tactics, as well as the underlying interests and constraints that may make negotiations more or less successful.

Cite this publication

Kelly, L. (2021). Lessons Learnt from Humanitarian Negotiations with the Taliban, 1996-2001. K4D Helpdesk Report 1044. Institute of Development Studies, DOI: 10.19088/K4D.2021.119


Luke Kelly

University of Manchester

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