The U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan has encouraged the Taliban to stake their future on the battlefield, Stanford scholar says

Map of Afghanistan

After two decades of conflict in Afghanistan, the U.S. is set to withdraw its troops by Aug. 31. But according to Stanford scholar Robert Crews, political...

As the U.S. withdraws its troops in Afghanistan, the question now is whether the Afghan government – or another international force – can stop a resurgent Taliban from using violence to seize power, says Stanford historian Robert Crews.

Here, Crews, whose research and teaching focuses on Afghanistan and global history, discusses what America’s end of its two-decades-long war on Aug. 31 means for the future of Afghanistan and its people at a time when the Taliban has expanded its reach across the country.

Crews is the author of Afghan Modern: The History of a Global Nation(Harvard University Press, 2015) and co-editor of Under the Drones: Modern Lives in the Afghanistan-Pakistan Borderlands (Harvard University Press, 2012) and The Taliban and the Crisis of Afghanistan (Harvard University Press, 2009). He is also editor in chief of Afghanistan, an academic journal that takes a cross-cultural, humanities-oriented approach to the study of Afghanistan and its surrounding regions. Crews is a professor of history in the School of Humanities and Sciences.

Can you describe what Afghanistan looks like today, after some two decades of war and conflict?

Afghans face the confluence of multiple crises just as President Biden withdraws American forces. Beyond the pandemic, drought and a dire economy, they confront a resurgent Taliban movement that now controls or contests more of the country’s territory than at any time since 2001. Afghan security personnel are struggling to hold territory, and the political elites have thus far been unable to unify against the common threat of the Taliban. Many Afghans are searching for alternatives to both the Taliban and President Ashraf Ghani. Meanwhile, anti-Taliban militias are mobilizing, and reports of Taliban killings and abuse are rife. A number of Afghans fear they have no hope but to flee the country.

But the world has largely closed its doors to Afghans. Others are determined to fight to deny the Taliban an opportunity to reimpose their rule. Anxiety is palpable, particularly for Afghans who live in the cities, where many displaced Afghans have sought refuge. Activists, intellectuals, artists and writers are uncertain about their future in a country where the Taliban seek to reestablish their “Islamic Emirate.” Marginalized ethnic communities such as the Hazaras fear genocide. Perhaps most important, the position of Afghan girls and women is now in flux. Their access to schools, to work, to the ballot box, to their seats in parliament and the newsroom, even the possibility of leaving their homes without a male chaperone, is in question. Finally, amid all this anxiety and uncertainty, there is a profound sense of betrayal. Why did the Americans wage war in this country for two decades? The Taliban, of course, have their answer: They see in recent events the unfolding of a path toward victory and a return to power.