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Salvaging a Deteriorating Situation

May 5, 2023 | Expert Insights

It has been now nearly two years since the Taliban came back to power in Afghanistan.

In these two years the situation in Afghanistan has gone from bad to worse. Today the country is nearly completely cut off from the international community. The world has forgotten about Afghanistan once again. Last time this ignoring of Afghanistan did not go down well. So, the UN is taking late but necessary measures now.


The 20-year war in Afghanistan which began in 2001 was supposed to change this country forever.

This was always an ambitious target. Historically modifying Afghanistan’s society through a top-down approach has never gone well. The Soviet Union tried it during the 1980s and failed miserably. It is not that Afghan people do not like modernity. The basic hindrance is that traditional cultural and religious mores are too strongly embedded in society to be removed by an outside power even if that power is the United States trying over a 20-year period. There were some successes. The position of girls and women in Afghan society improved considerably. Religious minorities were protected to a certain extent.

But this all turned out to a highly ephemeral change. The Taliban led insurgency continued on through the years of the US led military occupation and went from strength to strength. They were of course supported by the traditional Afghans who were alarmed by the growing modernization of their country under Western forces. However, with only this support base the Taliban could not have come back to power in Afghanistan. Increasingly a large number of Afghan people who actually benefitted from the social change became disillusioned with the post-2001 Afghan government setup by the West. They were disgusted by the brazen corruption of the Afghan government which increased over the years. This corruption allowed the Taliban insurgency to flourish as it picked up holes in the Afghan security forces.

The US and other Western countries did nothing to address this growing malaise in Afghanistan. They continued to look at the Afghan War from a purely security led prism. It was almost unbelievable that outside the major cities the Taliban continued to rule the roost.

All this was compounded by the fact that the Afghan government itself proved to be a mill around the neck for the Western forces. High hopes were placed on the Afghan leaders in the beginning. But these turned out to be short lived. Afghan politicians did not change their colour just because the West was backing them. They continued to follow the mindset of mercenaries and warlords. It was clear to them that the Western led dispensation would not last long without outside support. So, they decided to make hay while the sun was still shining. In their case this meant making the most personal monetary gains in the shortest possible time. Corruption took off like a rocket in the Afghan economy. No sector was left untouched. Money exchanged hands openly. Nothing could be done without bribery. Western donors were totally disillusioned in the end with this level of greed.

Now with the Taliban firmly in saddle, it is the common Afghan who is again suffering. With its foreign reserves frozen, Taliban is in no position to conduct the normal day to day business of running a country.

The UN was primarily feeding the Afghan people with the basics for staying alive and was also being used as a channel to funnel Afghan foreign currency holding to run many humanitarian activities. With the Taliban having banned the employment of UN women workers in Afghanistan, the UN has taken a tough stand and refused to continue with its humanitarian activities.



It is quite evident that the Western policy in Afghanistan has been a failure. Grand ambitions of remaking Afghanistan into a liberal democracy have been turned to dust. All the progress made under Western occupation have been eroded.

 Afghans who pinned their hopes on the Western alliance have been badly hurt. They are literally paying with their lives now. However, for the international community Afghanistan is now a side issue compared to many more pressing matters in the world.

This is why this UN meeting is so significant. It is a reminder that the world cannot afford to forget about Afghanistan. The Taliban have not been invited in this meeting. For this of course they are incensed. Still, they have only themselves to blame in this regard.

The moderate Taliban 2.0 was supposed to take Afghanistan in a new direction. There was no possibility of this ever happening. The moderate mask which the Taliban put forward was only a ruse to fool the international community. They never intended to change their true colours in the first place. While the world brought in their moderate image, they consolidated their power. Later on, they had no compunction in discarding this façade and showing their true face.

Today, the West led by the United States has completely washed its hands off Afghanistan. It is now somebody else’s problem. This generally implies the regional countries surrounding Afghanistan. But these countries neither have the capacity nor the willpower to come to the aid of Afghanistan in a significant fashion. The US created this crisis in the first place. So, it cannot run away from its responsibilities. It has an obligation towards the Afghan people.

The United Nations is the only international entity which has tried to be consistently involved in Afghanistan since the Taliban took back control. But it has faced huge challenges. The Taliban are not willing to compromise on their hard-line policies. This has made the work of the UN that much harder. More importantly it is the apathy of the international community led by the United States that the UN needs to overcome. This meeting is the first step to bring this about in a long process.


  • The incorporation of a large number of countries including the US, China and Russia in this meeting is a good sign.
  • The secrecy behind this meeting was not necessary. Even though the Taliban have not been invited in this meeting, they have to be engaged with one way or another.
  • The Afghan people will be the ultimate beneficiaries if the international community is able to re-focus its attention on this country.