September 20, 2021

How America Should Deal With the Taliban

By Lisa Curtis

As the United States ends its mission in Afghanistan, U.S. policymakers have already begun to reckon with American military failures over 20 years of fighting. But the war’s disastrous finale was not solely the result of armed conflict. In cataloging its mistakes, Washington must also seriously evaluate its diplomatic efforts—especially peace talks with the Taliban led by U.S. negotiator Zalmay Khalilzad.

Both President Donald Trump and President Joe Biden made clear their desire to end U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan. But the negotiations, which were largely held on Taliban terms, were neither necessary nor desirable—in fact, the eventual deal struck in Doha likely hastened the Taliban’s victory. If Biden wishes history to judge his withdrawal from Afghanistan as an acceptable foreign policy decision, his administration must reckon with this diplomatic failure and begin to take a tougher and more realistic approach toward the Taliban. Doing so is the only way to prevent the reemergence of a global terrorist hotbed.

Washington cannot simply wash its hands of Afghanistan and wish away a terrorist threat that will likely grow over the months and years to come.

Unfortunately, the Trump administration’s desperation to conclude a deal will make this process more difficult. Three years of negotiations empowered Taliban hard-liners, many of whom now play central roles in the new interim government—including al Qaeda–linked Haqqani network leader Sirajuddin Haqqani. As they craft a post-withdrawal strategy, U.S. officials must therefore change their diplomatic tack—judging the Taliban by their actions before granting them international recognition or economic assistance. This approach, coupled with a new counterterrorism strategy, is the best way to protect vital U.S. interests in the years to come.

Read the full article from Foreign Affairs.

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