World must not abandon Afghanistan as Taliban regain control

It must be said that the hasty mission of the administration of U.S. President Joe Biden to end “America’s longest war” has come at great cost. The international community must move quickly to bring the turbulence in Afghanistan under control.

The Afghan Islamist group the Taliban have taken control of the capital Kabul. President Ashraf Ghani had already fled the country and a Taliban-led government is expected to be launched soon.

The video footage of Taliban fighters with guns occupying rooms of the presidential palace as if they owned the place can be said to clearly indicate the reality that the Taliban have been expanding their control through force and fear. Under such circumstances, will a Taliban-led government be recognized by other countries as a legitimate regime?

Even when the Taliban were in power through 2001, their policies such as denying democracy and banning education for women were extreme.

Although the leadership this time reportedly gave instructions to protect the property of residents and ensure the safety of evacuees, it is questionable whether these instructions will get through to fighters on the periphery. It has already been reported that looting is rampant.

Most Afghan people probably feel abandoned by the rest of the world. There are concerns about situations in which people who cooperated with the United States and those related to the Ghani administration will face retaliation and there will be increased suppression of women.

It is obvious that the hasty withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan was behind the Taliban’s swift offensive. The morale of the Afghan government’s military declined and many soldiers fled without fighting.

Even last month, Biden held the optimistic view that Afghan government forces would be able to defend Kabul. It is true that these forces outnumbered the Taliban, but what actually supported their fighting capability were U.S. airstrikes and intelligence.

Biden bears a heavy responsibility for insisting on the withdrawal in August out of consideration for U.S. public opinion. Even if there was a lack of leadership in the Ghani administration or a desire to allocate U.S. military power to respond to China, wasn’t the U.S. exit strategy too indulgent?

After the 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, the United States caused the Taliban regime to crumble, as the Taliban had harbored ringleaders of the attacks. The United States then led the charge in building a democratic nation. Japan and European states were among the nations that invested huge amounts of funds and personnel for Afghanistan’s reconstruction.

If an undemocratic system returns to Afghanistan and the nation again becomes a hotbed for terrorists and extremists again, the efforts of the international community for the past 20 years will have been for naught. The turmoil in Afghanistan increases the risk of international terrorism.

It is necessary for the countries concerned, with the United Nations as their center, to call on Afghanistan to refrain from violence and work toward stability, and establish a framework to discuss their involvement in Afghanistan. China and Russia should keep in step with Japan, the United States and Europe, rather than lean toward supporting the Taliban.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on Aug. 17, 2021.