Australia’s recent closure of its embassy in Kabul, and the withdrawal of all US forces from Afghanistan after 20 years by 11 September 2021, casts a deep shadow over Afghanistan’s future prospects.
In this paper, leading expert on Afghanistan, William Maley, examines the implications of the US withdrawal. He discusses how the ‘peace process’ that was supposed to flow from the US-Taliban agreement of February 2020 went horribly wrong, destroying trust in the United States and weakening the Afghan government. He warns that if the Taliban regain control, Afghanistan faces two risks: theocratic totalitarianism and civil war. He also notes that whilst the United States is confident it can prevent the re-emergence of terrorism in Afghanistan, the spectacle of the US abandoning a long-term moderate Muslim ally risks inspiring and reinvigorating anti-Western extremist groups in other nations.
The paper concludes by pointing to the likelihood of large flows from Afghanistan of vulnerable refugees, arguing that in the kind of environment that is looming no Afghan is safe. These refugees are likely to seek out Western countries where freedom, democracy and human rights are valued, presenting a humanitarian challenge that could overwhelm governments unless timely measures are put in place now.