Afghanistan: What To Do Now with the Taliban?

Foreign Policy Brief # 128 | By: Reilly Fitzgerald | September 3, 2021

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Policy Summary

The war in Afghanistan is over. After nearly 20 years of fighting and bloodshed, the United States has left Afghanistan in the hands of the people that it sought to destroy and overthrow, The Taliban. The Taliban have over the past couple of years been in negotiations with the United States through both former President Donald Trump and now President Joe Biden regarding the drawdown and withdrawal of American forces and other personnel.

Former President Trump sat down and negotiated with the Taliban many times, and eventually came to a deal in early 2020 that stated that American troops would be out of Afghanistan in May of 2021. When President Biden was elected to the Presidency, he changed the end of that deal to Sept. 11th, 2021, as his new deadline for full withdrawal from Afghanistan. Within the last two weeks we have seen staggering images of Taliban fighters driving through the streets of Kabul and parking themselves outside of Kabul International Airport as American forces made their withdrawal.

The last time the Taliban was in power of Afghanistan was for approximately 20-25 years prior to 9/11. The Taliban has, as they are trying to tell the world, changed a bit from their previous reign; though, they are still highly religious and conservative. The United States, and every nation who aided the United States in the war, will have to start to deal with the Taliban as a governmental entity that is representing the people of Afghanistan. The United States, and its allies, will in their dealings with the Taliban be confronting their largest foreign policy failure in the last twenty years.

Policy Analysis

The Taliban know that their behavior needs to change and that they cannot be the same Taliban that they were in the 1990s that led to the conditions for al-Qaeda to operate, leading to the last 20 years of war. The United States may not be directly on the ground in Afghanistan, but the US military has talked about their ‘over the horizon’ capabilities to strike targets within the country. The Taliban should be careful about how they are to be perceived by the international community to spur international investment to sustain their economy. The United States will need to interact diplomatically with the Taliban government especially on issues of human rights, terrorism, and other areas of common interest.

President Biden has clearly stated over the past week that human rights issues such as women’s rights in Afghanistan (which are surely going to be severely limited by the Taliban) are not issues of military power, but rather diplomacy and economics. President Biden said in one of his addresses this week “there are a lot of places where women are being subjugated. The way to deal with that is not with a military invasion. The way to deal with that is putting economic, diplomatic and international pressure on them to change their behavior.”

For now, women and girls are being encouraged by the Taliban to participate in their new government (in some capacity), and the Taliban has also said that girls can continue their education. Women have been protesting for the ability to be fully involved in political affairs, and also they have been calling for the rule of constitutional law rather than Islamic law. It remains to be seen whether American diplomacy will be able to have an impact, which will be hard to achieve without having a diplomatic presence in the country.

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The Taliban need to ensure that they are taken seriously by the international community, and to do that they need to monitor and prohibit terror groups from being able to operate in their country per their agreement with the United States; so far, they have been willing to uphold this part of the deal. The question still remains as to what the Taliban will do next without the threat of the US military, and its allies, being present in the country. It will be imperative that the Taliban figure out how to govern responsibly and to work with international partners to ensure that the citizens of Afghanistan are being taken care of in the face of mass starvation due to recent droughts in the country that threaten millions of Afghan people – the Taliban will need international help to rectify issues like this.

The United States will need to determine to what extent they would like to create and maintain a relationship with the Taliban as the government of Afghanistan. The United States maintaining a relationship may be helpful in terms of keeping an eye on human rights abuses, and deterring terrorist groups from establishing themselves in Afghanistan.. The decisions made going forward with Afghanistan will determine the ability of the United States to appear as a champion of human rights and liberalism around the world.

Engagement Resources​

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US State Department Press Briefings (

The United States State Department Press Briefings page is updated every few days with official commentary from the State Department on issues taking place all over the world. The transcripts are provided for public consumption.

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Human Rights Watch, Afghanistan

Human Rights Watch investigates and reports on abuses happening in all corners of the world. We are roughly 450 people of 70-plus nationalities who are country experts, lawyers, journalists, and others who work to protect the most at risk, from vulnerable minorities and civilians in wartime, to refugees and children in need.

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The Asia Foundation, Afghanistan

The Asia Foundation is a nonprofit international development organization committed to improving lives across a dynamic and developing Asia. Informed by six decades of experience and deep local expertise, our work across the region addresses five overarching goals—strengthen governance, empower women, expand economic opportunity, increase environmental resilience, and promote international cooperation.

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