What is the attitude of the Taliban government towards the United States? What is the future trend of the contradiction between the Taliban and the United States? What is your professional opinion to solve these problems may faced by them?
The Taliban came to power after two decades of its deposal by US-led forces. The war in Afghanistan cost the US thousands of lives of its soldiers and civilian contractors and trillions of dollars. Over the years, American citizens’ support for the war has decreased. Now, the majority of the American people oppose the war. President George W. Bush promised to reconstruct Afghanistan. Billions of humanitarian and reconstruction aid was distributed to the country between 2001 and 2009. Yet, the mission of state building failed in Afghanistan. As of 2020, Afghanistan ranks 9th in Fragile States Index. The US mission of combatting terrorism has faced serious challenges in the country. While the focus of the US shifted to rooting out Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan and reconstructing Iraq, the Taliban started to reorganize and gained power. The US drone strikes against militants led to civilian deaths which resulted in the alienation of the local population. Two decades after the toppling of the Taliban regime, a self-sustaining government could not be established in the country and the government struggled to provide security and basic services which diminished its legitimacy in the eyes of the Afghan people.
With the Doha agreement signed between the Trump Administration and the Taliban in 2020, the US-led forces began to withdraw. Yet, the absence of a peace agreement between the Afghan government and the Taliban plunged the country into uncharted waters. As of 2020, Taliban forces controlled many regions of Afghanistan, imposing its own laws upon the people.
In July 2021, President Biden announced that the US military presence would end in Afghanistan on August 31st. The withdrawal of US troops coincided with the Taliban seizing more territory. On August 15, 2021, Taliban militants entered Kabul and the US rushed to evacuate its diplomatic mission. Against the US’s expectations, the Taliban quickly took over the country with little domestic resistance. The Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, who lost many allies during his tenure, fled the country. On August 27, before the deadline of the US troop withdrawal was over, Kabul airport was attacked by ISIS-K resulting in the deaths of 13 US service members and more than 90 Afghans. The US retaliated by launching an airstrike and a drone strike.
As of now, it is not certain if the US will establish diplomatic relations with the Taliban. Even though the Taliban promised to respect women’s rights, distance itself from al-Qaeda, and expressed their willingness to establish good relations with the rest of the world, it is not certain if they will keep their promises. Afghanistan will be more likely to descend into chaos, repression, and violence under the Taliban.
Afghanistan is now a breeding ground for terrorist groups. ISIS-K, which consists of ex-Taliban fighters, supports an even more radical version of Islam than the Taliban. While the Taliban follows the Hanafi sect of Islam, ISIS-K follows the strictest version of Salafism. The two groups vie for political power. The Taliban started to fight ISIS-K immediately after the group’s establishment in 2015. ISIS-K proactively sought to increase its military strength.
The Taliban’s peace talks with the US encouraged some Taliban members to join ISIS-K. While the Taliban and ISIS-K have an inimical relationship, the US and the international community in general faces a double-edged sword with regards to Afghanistan. Cutting ties with the Taliban would only lead to further isolation of the country, paving the way for increased arbitrariness of the Taliban regime. In order for humanitarian assistance to reach the local population, the cooperation of the Taliban is essential.
On the other side of the spectrum, if the US and other Western countries cooperate with the Taliban, ISIS-K might evaluate that as a further concession to the West and increase the frequency of its attacks. Enhanced violence might push more people to flee. With Turkey and Pakistan at capacity for hosting refugees, the Afghan refugee crisis might become worse than the Syrian refugee crisis.
The Afghan crisis clearly reveals that traditional security approaches to radicalization and terrorism do not work. Drone attacks against militant targets alienate people by killing civilians which triggers more terrorism. As seen in Afghanistan and Libya, regime change without state building leads to catastrophic consequences. The toppling of a dictator does not bring more human rights. If a country does not have strong state institutions, it might descend further into chaos and even become a failed state, with different terrorist and militant organizations vying for influence and creating parallel institutions.
In order to survive in the long-run, the Taliban needs to engage in trade and investment relations with other countries. While Afghanistan might be a prime target for investment with its abundant mineral resources, it poses serious threats to regional security in terms of violence, terrorism, and refugee issues. The deterioration of the security situation in the country might have not only regional, but also international repercussions, as the country could easily become a breeding ground for international terrorism. Against the backdrop of Afghanistan’s security and humanitarian issues, it is essential that countries both inside and outside the Asian region speak with one voice regarding security issues, human rights, and development.
Editor Assistant Research Fellow: Xianglin Gu