Taliban soldiers stand guard at a checkpoint in Kabul, Afghanistan, July 6, 2023 (via Reuters)
‘The Return of the Taliban’ Makes Sense of Afghanistan’s Misery

Nearly two years since the United States withdrew from Afghanistan, the Taliban are still firmly in charge. Despite initial predictions of a civil war, there is no substantial resistance challenging their power, although the nation grapples with an ongoing humanitarian crisis. Its fledgling aid-dependent economy has severely contracted but not yet imploded, and while food inflation is declining, it remains a slow-moving trainwreck with no apparent long-term solutions in sight. While terrorism remains a concern, Afghanistan is not quite the epicenter of transnational jihadists it once was.

Yet tragically, for women and those Afghans who want a more inclusive society, the worst-case scenarios have truly unfolded. The international community has cautiously engaged with the new Taliban-led Afghanistan, but without full commitment, resulting in a state of limbo. The Taliban’s series of draconian measures have made the lives of Afghans and diplomacy exceedingly challenging. Their latest action was the closure of beauty parlors, one of the few places where women could gather freely outside their homes. The Taliban cabinet members who meet with concerned foreign diplomats appear to serve more as liaisons than actual decision-makers, with their statements frequently being contradicted by the decisions of authorities back home.

At a time when numerous authors and commentators reflect on the failed American project in Afghanistan, conducting analytical autopsies to uncover its causes, Hassan Abbas’s latest book, The Return of the Taliban, adopts a distinct approach. Rather than extensively dwelling on past events, the book briefly glances in the rearview mirror, placing its primary focus on the potential for a more pragmatic and hopeful future.

The book begins with a scathing critique of the state of the Afghan republic during the months leading up to the U.S. withdrawal and its simultaneous collapse. President Ashraf Ghani had surrounded himself with young sycophants and fostered an institutional culture where “[d]issent was deemed crime.” By the time U.S. special representative Zalmay Khalilzad engaged in direct negotiations with the Taliban, “Afghanistan had no legs of its own to stand on, and ultimately Ghani was in no position to think he could make decisions about Afghanistan independently,” explains Abbas.

Read the full piece in Foreign Policy.

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