Negotiating with the Taliban: Alumnus strives for peace in Afghanistan

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Khalid Noor 1
Khalid Noor speaks in Balkh, Afghanistan after the first round of peace talks in Doha, Qatar. Photo provided.

A few days after Khalid Noor was born in Takhar, Afghanistan, the Taliban seized the province, and his family had to escape to another region on foot.

“We were constantly moving from city to another city,” he said. “When one district was taken or collapsed, we had to move to another.”

It wasn’t an ideal life, but Noor is motivated to change that for future generations—and he’s negotiating with the Taliban to do so.

Khalid Noor Headshot
Khalid Noor is the youngest member of the Afghan negotiating team.

In March 2020, the George Mason University alumnus, who graduated with BA in conflict analysis and resolution in 2019, was appointed to the Afghan negotiating team by President Ashraf Ghani. The team, comprising high-level politicians, members of Parliament, and representatives of political factions in Afghanistan, is negotiating with the extremist insurgency group in efforts to achieve peace, ceasefire, and a political settlement to the four-decade-long conflict. Noor is the youngest member of the negotiating team.

“My vision is to have a peaceful Afghanistan, where there is political justice, where there’s social justice and all ethnic groups see themselves as equal,” said Noor, who also learned about the struggles of Afghans from his father, who is the head of the political party Jamiat-e-Islami Afghanistan. “I want to see the women of Afghanistan empowered; I want the young generation to be educated.”

His dream mimics U.S. ideology, he said, which is why he wanted to study at Mason. The Carter School for Peace and Conflict Resolution’s prestige in the field of conflict resolution was another draw.

So, what’s it like negotiating with the Taliban?

“It’s a bit complicated,” Noor said, adding that the team spends between one and five hours a day in negotiations. “In the first round, we spent three months only talking about the rule of conduct.”

The slow progress can be frustrating, but Noor keeps the goal in perspective.

“Whenever I see my people and that hope they have when they look at me and other team members representing them, that is something that gives me patience and drives me at those difficult times,” Noor said. “I have patience because I negotiate for a cause that I live for.”

Noor said his Mason education helps him decrypt complicated scenarios. In particular, he enjoyed learning from professor Marc Gopin on “Healing the Heart of Conflict” and understanding opposing sides.

“These classes help me analyze the situation every time that we meet with the Taliban,” Noor said.

Mason’s Dialogue & Difference class, which brings together international and American students to discuss controversial issues, also helped Noor learn how to manage emotions and discussions with conflicting groups, he said.

"Khalid demonstrated great understanding of the stages of healing serious conflicts that we studied,” Gopin said. “He applied those approaches to healing conflict exactly to the challenges in Afghanistan, showing great skill and sensitivity to all parties.”

“I am so proud of him engaging in this vital undertaking,” Gopin said.

Negotiations aren’t always successful though, and that terrifies Noor.

“I know the burden and responsibility we have on our shoulders,” he said. “If this negotiation fails, we won’t have the current situation, it will get much worse.”

But he’s giving it his all.

“I feel for [my people],” he said, “and I have this feeling that I’m willing to sacrifice myself for this good cause.”