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What Will the Taliban Do? It's Up to Us
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How will the Taliban govern Afghanistan? It may be up to us.

The U.S. is out, but what the Biden administration and its Western allies do in the weeks and months ahead will have a big influence on whether the Central Asian country reverts to the insular, medieval barbarism of the 1990s or modernizes in order to conform to major international norms.

The Taliban is far from monolithic. They have common values: adherence to Sharia, resistance to foreign interference, the traditional Pashtun tribal code of Pashtunwali. How those general values manifest into specific policies and laws will be subject to interpretation through the movement’s fluid internal politics.

Divided along regional and tribal lines, an alliance between anti-imperialist Afghan nationalists motivated to protect the country’s sovereignty and Islamic fundamentalists, and partly composed of former Ashraf Ghani regime soldiers and policemen who defected under pressure, the Taliban is a highly decentralized movement whose desperate leadership could tilt it toward the hard-liners, or more liberal and modern.

Right now, the Taliban are saying the right things and sending positive signals about keeping girls schools open, allowing women to work as well as amnesty for Afghans who worked for the NATO occupation force. Clearly the order has gone out from the Taliban shura to their fighters to behave correctly. Images from a Taliban press conference reveal that the presidential palace has not been vandalized or looted. In a signal that this is not your father’s Taliban, high-ranking Taliban official Mawlawi Abdulhaq Hemad sat for an interview with a female television journalist whose face was uncovered. Former President Hamid Karzai is safe despite having remained in Kabul. While Western news media made much of the Taliban firing their guns outside the airport, firing over people’s heads was clearly an attempt at crowd control.

Americans would not have voted for the Taliban to govern Afghanistan. But we don’t get a vote. For the foreseeable future, what seemed inevitable to anyone who was paying attention over the last 20 years is now a fait accompli. The question now is: Which Taliban will we and, far more importantly, the people of Afghanistan be dealing with?

The Taliban who are allowing French, British and other nations’ troops to travel inside the capital in order to escort their citizens to the airport for evacuation — who even risked their own lives to evacuate Indian embassy staff — and who have left unmolested old Afghan government posters of ousted president Ashraf Ghani and iconic Northern Alliance commander Ahmad Shah Massoud, a sworn enemy of the Taliban assassinated by al-Qaida?

Or the thugs who tortured and assassinated nine members of the Hazara minority and have threatened to subject women to forced marriage?


The U.S. and its Western allies face a choice. We can exert pressure through de facto economic sanctions, as the Biden administration has done by freezing the Afghan government’s \$9 billion in assets and cutting off half a billion in International Monetary Fund funding, and via airstrikes, another option the president is keeping on the table. Alternatively, we can offer economic aid and diplomatic recognition. Or we can tailor a middle path that ties rewards to our perception of the new government’s behavior.

Pouring on the pressure would be a tragic mistake. It would strengthen the hand of the most radical Taliban hard-liners at the expense of relative moderates who want Afghanistan to look and feel more like Pakistan: undeniably Islamic in character but connected by trade and communications to the outside world. You don’t want your adversary to feel as though it has nothing left to lose — so give them something they want to keep.

Let’s be mindful of how the blunders of American policymakers in response to the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran needlessly radicalized a revolutionary government.

Had President Jimmy Carter not admitted the deposed shah to the U.S. for medical treatment, radical college students would not have seized the U.S. embassy in Tehran or taken 52 staffers as hostages. Supreme Leader and Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, by temperament a moderate who opposed hotheaded tactics, was forced to side with the student radicals during the hostage crisis or risk being pushed aside by his own uprising. After the embassy was taken over, there was too much national pride at stake for either party to back down. The U.S. and the new Iranian government dug in their heels, leading to decades of misunderstanding and antagonism.

While a total absence of pressure would be politically unpalatable and unrealistic given the Taliban’s 1990s track record, U.S. policymakers should deploy a light touch with Taliban-governed Afghanistan. Playing the tough guy will strengthen the hand of hard-liners who don’t want girls to be educated or for women to fully participate in society and who would prefer to return to the bad old days of stonings and demolishing cultural treasures. Right now, the relatively liberal wing of the Taliban is in charge. Let’s try to keep it that way.

• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Afghanistan, Iran, Joe Biden, Taliban 
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  1. How about mind your own business as the primary mission for the US from now on?

    Any foreigner still in Afghanistan now is a mercenary of one sort or another. Live by the sword, die by the sword. Fuck em.

    • Replies: @Ginko
  2. bro3886 says:

    “But we don’t get a vote.”

    Foreigners and foreign occupiers voting is only for white countries, right lefty?

  3. Rich says:

    I’m not sure the seizure of the American embassy in Tehran wouldn’t have happened if the US hadn’t refused medical treatment to its old ally, the Shah. The radicals were looking for a way to humiliate the US and Carter looked extremely weak. The seizure of the embassy definitely wouldn’t have happened if the US and the rest of the West had supported the Shah and helped prevent the radicals from taking over Iran.

  4. Alfa158 says:

    The Taliban can exhibit different behaviors because it seems to be composed of groups with different values, ideas and interests, once you get beyond the common ones of Islamic fundamentalism and expelling foreign invaders.
    Freezing currency assets and bombing them will only further damage the country and encourage their most radical tendencies.
    They aren’t our problem so we need to stop screwing around with them. The Afghans will have their hands full trying to keep the various tribes and cliques from going at each other. Let the Chinese proceed with their commercial exploitation of the country. If they are smart about how they do it, Afghanistan will settle into being a loose confederation of tribes that will still be mostly poor and anachronistic, but relatively safe and functional. It might go back to being a place adventurous tourists could visit, as it was 40 years ago.

  5. I may ever-so-gently remind you that after the revolution succeeded
    the first thing Castro did was a goodwill tour through the US.
    What did it avail him?

    Americans will always fall for a false flag followed up by jingoism;
    Remember the Liberty Laconia, Lusitania, Maine and all those babies
    ripped out of their incubators by the savage See-ooks!

    Wokism is just neoPuritanism in drag (“women´s rights” anyone?).

    • Agree: Ginko
  6. God forbid a labor/left coalition win an Israeli election and immediately call for entry into a two state solution. There might be calls to close the US embassy and certainly I can picture helicopters flying US citizens out from an improvised landing pad at the Ambassador’s residence.

  7. @Rich

    The CIA claimed responsibility, in a public Congressional intelligence committee meeting, to helping overthrow Western style democracy in Iran in 1953. There was no US disapproval at the time and the normal US hatred for democracy was shared by the US media, particularly the New York Times.

    If you had the slightest affection for democracy, you’d have none for the dictator Shah or, for that matter, for the US thugs who helped put him in power. [email protected]

    • Replies: @Rich
    , @DonM
  8. @Rich

    The seizure of the embassy definitely wouldn’t have happened if the US and the rest of the West had supported the Shah and helped prevent the radicals from taking over Iran.

    It wouldn’t have happened if “the US” hadn’t installed “the Shah” in the 50s; problem solved.

    • Replies: @Rich
  9. Rich says:
    @Donald A Thomson

    I’m not married to democracy and from my point of view, as well as from the Iranians I know, Iran was much better off under the Shah. Had the Shah been able to hold onto power, Iran would today be a prosperous, modern nation and, perhaps, would have evolved into some kind of representative democracy under a strong monarchy. Instead it’s a medieval theocracy and state sponsor of terrorism.

  10. mijj says:

    lol .. Americans, with their Colonial Superior world-view, which defies all reason and evidence, feel the world, no matter where, will benefit from their numbskull nation’s mass-murderous, miserable interference.

    The sooner the USA collapses, the better. Hurry up China. Come on Russia. Deflate the gasbag.

  11. Ginko says:

    I don’t think “minding our own business” has been a mainstream idea in American culture since Charles Lindbergh and the (real) America First movement. I really don’t even know how many layers of cognitive dissonance you would have to peel back before the “man on the street” “gets it”, but maybe I’m just too cynical…

  12. Rich says:

    Mossadegh was a communist who had dissolved parliament and become a dictator. Had he not been overthrown he would have gotten into bed with the Soviets and caused major problems for the West. Preventing Iran from becoming a Soviet client was the correct move from a Western strategic point of view.

  13. @Rich

    Preventing Iran from becoming a Soviet client was the correct move from a Western strategic point of view.

    Since childhood I’ve been in awe of folks who’re able to believe that human interaction is a chess game in which the other side doesn’t move its pieces.

    • LOL: Greta Handel
  14. @Rich

    Mossadegh wanted to nationalize the oil – the rule by Anglo Persian
    was odious; what most people like to cover up is the Usual Suspects
    ousted Reza Shah in 1941 because he tried to remain neutral and replaced
    him with his British-educated spoiltrotten son.
    (Persian policy had always been charting a course between Russia and
    Britain, but location and oil fucked them even more than Afghanistan.)

  15. The Taliban have proved conclusively that what they do next is NOT up to “us”.

  16. DonM says:
    @Donald A Thomson

    In 1953, what happened was not Western style democracy that was overthrown. What happened was a attempted coup by a communist against the government of Iran that was prevented. Before and after the attempted coup, the Shah was the head of state, and a constitutional monarch. Before and after the attempted coup, the Shah was the commander in chief of the Army, and a constitutional monarch.

    The Shah was a friend of the US, and it is for that friendship that the usual leftists hate him still. Certainly the oppression by his police was far less than that in Cuba, USSR, East Germany, Communist China, North Korea, or post-Shah Iran.

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