Image from the 2021 film Ghosts of Afghanistan, by Graeme Smith and Julian Sher.
Squeezed between the cascade of extreme weather events that signal a more active phase of climate change and the parade of new variants of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, the Taliban’s takeover of Kabul on August 15 nevertheless stands as one of the landmark events of 2021. It brought to an end the 20-year war that began with the American invasion of Afghanistan in the immediate aftermath of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attack.
While the deficiencies and corruption of the Western-backed government that surrendered without resistance were widely acknowledged, the Taliban’s return to power also swept away what hope remained for something better, and especially for increased freedom for women – an ambivalence captured in Graeme Smith and Julian Sher’s documentary Ghosts of Afghanistan, filmed before the Taliban takeover but released afterward.¹
This issue of Inroads features two articles by knowledgeable observers on the ramifications of the Taliban takeover. While unsparing in his account of “two decades wasted on ineffective nation-building,” Andy Hira warns against concluding from this experience that the West should retreat from the world. Instead, in his article To Intervene or Not to Intervene, That is Not the Question, he recommends a Western role based on “a deeper appreciation and study of local history and dynamics” and on “build(ing) from what exists and deeply set patterns instead of attempting to impose new patterns from scratch.”
For Sergei Plekhanov, the involvement of Afghanistan’s neighbours in building a “viable political order” in the country will be crucial. In his article Can Afghanistan’s Neighbours Tame the Taliban, he especially highlights the position of Pakistan, with its close geographical, historical and ethnic ties to Afghanistan, but also points to the importance in the country’s future of major powers such as China, India and Russia, which either border on Afghanistan or are not far away.
¹ The documentary can be streamed online at Tvo.org.