Soviet troops withdrew from Afghanistan in 1989 creating a power vacuum that was eventually filled by the Taliban. Through a shared Islamic identity and due to their need for financial assistance, the group developed a symbiotic relationship with al-Qaeda and their affiliates. The Taliban frequently provided these groups shelter in exchange for monetary compensation. This placed the Taliban in a negative spotlight from the perspective of the U.S. and their allies.
In addition, there are 14 recognized ethnic groups existing within Afghanistan. These groups are organized into hundreds of tribes that follow their own traditional customs and judicial practices. Attempts at forming a centralized Afghan government have often faced resistant from tribal leaders accustomed to a certain level of autonomy.
The Taliban began their rise to power in 1989 following the withdrawal of Soviet troops, the collapse of Afghanistan’s communist government, and a civil war. After the group refused to give up Osama bin Laden, an al-Qaeda leader who claimed direct responsibility for 9/11, U.S. President George W. Bush invaded Afghanistan. By 2004, a new U.S.- backed government known as the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan (IRA) was able to seize control of Kabul. However, the Taliban still maintained prominent support in areas surrounding the Pakistani border and continued securing money and resources through mining, taxes, and the drug trade. The current stage of conflict emerged after a U.S.-Taliban Agreement for Bringing Peace to Afghanistan was signed in February 2020. The U.S. committed to a full withdrawal of troops under the condition that the Taliban publicly adopt a counter-terrorist initiative and begin negotiations with the IRA for a new post-settlement Islamic government.
“We want Afghanistan to be a free, independent, united and developed country, and to have an Islamic system in which all tribes and ethnicities of the country find themselves without any discrimination and live their lives in love and brotherhood.”
- Taliban Political Chief Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar
“I urge you to engage the representatives of all Afghan communities - including women, ethnic and religious minorities, and the victims of your country’s long war...As you make your decisions, you should keep in mind that your choices and conduct will affect both the size and scope of future U.S. assistance.”
- U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to the representatives of the IRA-Taliban negotiations.
“I really wonder whether the Taliban have changed or not…. in the Taliban negotiating team that there is not a single woman to be heard, which means that the Taliban do not believe in the participation of women and the position of women in all processes. This creates concerns for Afghan women.”
- Afghan women's rights activist Mariam Atayee
“After decades of conflict, these talks are the best chance of peace. We have to embrace them wholeheartedly and keep in mind the ultimate goal: to end the violence ... A peaceful and stable Afghanistan is in everybody’s interest.”
- Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg
Critical Thinking Questions
- Why did the U.S. invade Afghanistan? What is its reason for maintaining a military presence there today?
- Has this military intervention been effective in combating terrorism and stabilizing the region?
- Should the U.S. set a definitive date for a complete withdrawal from Afghanistan or adopt a condition-based withdrawal process?
- How do women's rights fit into the long term peace and stability of Afghanistan? Does the international community have an obligation to ensure women's rights are protected in any future Afghan political settlement?
- What countries should and will hold the future Afghan government responsible for upholding the constitution and conditions of any finalized agreement?
Islamic Republic of Afghanistan
The IRA is internationally recognized by the United Nations as the sovereign government of Afghanistan. The current administration has been run by president Ashraf Ghani since 2014. The IRA seeks to be recognized by the Taliban as the official government of Afghanistan. Due to a 50 percent surge in violent attacks since peace talks began in September, a permanent cease-fire is a top priority for the Afghan government. Their broader interests include the recognition of a parliamentary democracy and the protection of civil liberties. If the Taliban objects to recognizing the Ghani government, the establishment of a new interim government could represent a compromise.
The Taliban is an Islamic fundamentalist group that has off-and-on secured considerable political power in Afghanistan. Their early popularity was largely due to their success in stamping out corruption, curbing lawlessness, and establishing a secure environment for commerce to flourish. The group enforces its own version of Islamic law and was the target of three UN resolutions while in power. These resolutions urged an end to their abusive treatment of women and destruction of cultural monuments. The group is largely made up of various Pashtun tribes inhabiting the FATA Region, an area compromising both Afghanistan and Pakistan. They don’t recognize the territorial distinction between two regions and take great tactical advantage of the fact that they can operate simultaneously in both countries.
Mawlawi Abdul Hakim Ishaqzai will lead negotiations for the Taliban, he is the group's chief justice and a close confidant of Haibatullah Akhundzada. Ishaqzai is reputed to be "a hard-liner dedicated to sustaining the jihad until an Islamic emirate can be reestablished in Afghanistan. So far, the only condition the Taliban has stipulated for a ceasefire agreement is the establishment of an “Islamic system,” which they have not defined. Their strong focus on securing the withdrawal of U.S. troops has provided little clarity on how they envision the country’s political future.