World must not allow Taliban’s return to power in Afghanistan

Should Afghanistan once again come under the rule of the Taliban, security and human rights in that nation will further deteriorate and the region will be increasingly destabilized. The international community should not leave the situation as is and must deepen its involvement.

The Taliban have intensified their offensive against the Afghan government’s security forces and have taken control of more than half the country. The government has control of the capital Kabul and other major cities, but the areas it administers are less than 20% of the country. Some soldiers have reportedly crossed the border and fled.

It is obvious that the withdrawal of the U.S. military from Afghanistan has helped the Taliban gain momentum. Timed with the announcement by the administration of U.S. President Joe Biden in April to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan completely, proceeding with a plan to do so by the end of August, the Taliban touted their “victory” and subsequently have rapidly expanded the areas they control.

When the Taliban were in power, they were attacked by the U.S. military in 2001 for harboring the mastermind behind the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States, and as a result the Taliban regime collapsed. After that, the Taliban regained their influence and are still cooperating with Al-Qaida, the international terrorist organization that carried out the simultaneous attacks on the United States.

If Taliban rule is restored, there is a large risk that terrorist organizations and extremists could enter Afghanistan and the country will again become a hotbed of terrorism. There are also concerns that Taliban funds obtained from drug trafficking and other sources may flow to these organizations.

Taliban rule is characterized by a disregard for human rights based on their strict interpretation of Islamic law. In the towns controlled through the latest offensive against the Afghan government’s security forces, the Taliban reportedly burned down women’s schools and required the students to wear clothes with thick veils covering their faces. It is inevitable that women’s human rights will be severely restricted.

The Biden administration has envisioned a scenario in which the Afghan government and the Taliban would cooperate to form a new government in line with the withdrawal of U.S. troops. It is impossible for the U.S. administration to escape criticism that this scenario was too optimistic.

The U.S. administration’s message that “it’s time to end America’s longest war” at the time of the 20th anniversary of the simultaneous terrorist attacks will gain support from Americans. However, does the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan serve U.S. national interests in the medium to long term? Depending on the situation, the Biden administration needs to consider redeploying U.S. forces to Afghanistan as an option.

China and Russia have made approaches to the Taliban. At a meeting of foreign ministers in mid-July, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization of China, Russia and Central Asian countries stressed the importance of Afghan-led dialogue, expressing their stance to remove U.S. involvement.

There is a high possibility that the reinstatement of the Taliban and the growing number of Islamic extremist militants in Afghanistan could become factors through which China and Russia bring upon themselves and their surrounding countries an increased threat of terrorism.

China and Russia must use their influence over the Taliban for regional stability, rather than as a tool in their struggle with the United States for hegemony.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on Aug. 3, 2021.