With the last American troops leaving Afghanistan this year, there are many questions regarding what the future holds for the Central Asian country. Afghanistan has been beset with conflict for much of recent memory, which has been to the detriment of its citizens. They have once again been put under the harsh rule of the Taliban, erasing years of progress for Afghan rights. Since this has occurred, their future has been thrown into danger and uncertainty.
While the Taliban has eroded much of the progress made in the past two decades, it is important to acknowledge previous achievements. Chief among them has been the increase in the number of women educated within Afghanistan. This achievement has allowed generations of young women to take advantage of opportunities, benefiting both themselves and their families.
Moreover, there has been a decrease in the infant mortality rate within Afghanistan with the help of the USAID. However, without a meaningful attempt by the international community to address these issues, the country will likely backslide in these key areas, which have proven instrumental in the progress made thus far.
More troublingly, the Taliban has engaged in a campaign of reprisals of those who worked with the United States and those deemed as subversive to their ideology. A prime example of this violent campaign was the attack on an interpreter’s brother by the Taliban to send a message to their perceived enemies.
Such attacks are not isolated incidents but rather an attempt to consolidate their power without any opposition to their radical governance. Although there have been successful evacuations of high-risk Afghans out of the country, a significant population remains left behind.
Economic and Political Challenges
In the aftermath of the American withdrawal, the country has faced economic and political woes due to the power vacuum created by Ashraf Ghani fleeing the country. This instability has caused the local currency to depreciate at an alarming rate, thus creating a dire situation for Afghans. To make matters worse, many Afghans are on the verge of starvation as food prices exponentially increase.
It is evident that such instability is troublesome for the region and, more importantly, for the Afghans themselves. This instability will also weaken the state from protecting against the onslaught of attacks from more radical extremist groups, such as ISIS-K. Therefore, it is imperative for policy to be enacted to remedy the situation and ensure the safety of Afghan nationals.
The United States’ Impact
Because the United States has evacuated its military from Afghanistan, it has lost considerable leverage within politics; however, this does not mean that they have run out of policy options. Once the Taliban is unable to feed those under their governance and are defunct of international financial funds, the United States can use its soft power within international organizations to renew negotiations. By doing so, the United States would be able to operate from a position of strength in which they can advocate for policy that would ensure Afghans’ well-being.
Such policies which would ensure this outcome would include the participation of Afghans who share opposing views within their government. Considerable resources have been expended to extract and evacuate Afghans with the highest risk of Taliban retaliation.
However, due to the number of individuals who have worked in the United States during the war, it would be logistically impossible to retrieve everyone. These policies would allow for their safety to be guaranteed through negotiations. The United States should also advocate for the safe evacuation of the last remaining operations underway, to evacuate Afghans at highest risk of attack. The Taliban government would also have to make a commitment to ensure the human rights of its citizens under the aforementioned policy regime.
These policies potentially represent the last remaining window to ensure the Afghans’ safety and well-being of those who have spent their lives enveloped by conflicts. The dire situation has the possibility of devolving into a humanitarian crisis on par with that of Yemen. Moreover, the lack of capital by the Taliban would most certainly lead to the growth of groups like ISIS-K, who would be able to gain permanent footholds in the regions of the country with the harshest terrain.
The policies would also provide the last possibility of a democratic Afghanistan, where Afghans would be able to decide their future for the first time in decades. More importantly, the country would not forgo the progress which has been made through the sacrifices of both Americans and Afghans alike.
Chris Ynclan, Counter-Terrorism Research Fellow at Rise to Peace
Ahmad Shah Mohibi, Founder of Rise to Peace
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