For more than four decades, the country of Afghanistan has been wracked by political turmoil, instability and conflict. In August 2021, this culminated into violence, death and uncertainty for the Afghans. On August 15th, the Taliban, an Islamist organization often regarded as terrorists, defiantly overthrew the government, causing President Ashraf Ghani to flee and sending citizens into chaos. Many fear their rule and attempted to flee, petrified of their rule. Consequently, the Taliban’s presence in Afghanistan has also shaken up American politics and foreign relations.
Afghanistan’s turmoil began at the end of 1979, when the Soviet government invaded the country to impose a pro-Soviet government. As this took place during the Cold War, which was primarily a conflict between the U.S and Soviet Union, the U.S immediately became hostile towards the new pro-Soviet government. Americans had also been trying to gain a foothold in Afghanistan, ever since the 1950s. In the following year, guerilla fighters launched an attack against Soviet forces, leaving 1 million Afghan civilians and 15,000 Soviet soldiers dead. Later, it was revealed that the US had been aiding the guerilla fighters, and continued to do so into the 1980s. U.S aid helped Afghan militarist groups defeat Soviet troops throughout the decade. During the 80s’ end, the Geneva peace accords signed between Afghanistan, the Soviet Union and the U.S forced the Soviets out of the country. However, American presence remained.
Following the Soviet withdrawal, a pro-communist government replaced their rule. But, guerilla fighters opposed them as well. This resulted in a civil war, with thousands of refugees fleeing to Pakistan and Iran. Some of these guerilla fighters banded together to form the Taliban, ultra-conservative student warriors and activists. Although they promised security and order to the country, their harsh interpretation and extremist views on Islam meant that Afghans were now under strict rule. Osama bin Laden from the al Qaeda, another extremist Islamist organization, joined the supreme Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar to rule. In 1996, they both took over the Afghan capital, Kabul, and killed the pro-communist president, Mohammad Najibullah. By 1997, the Taliban controlled the nation. Unfortunately, under their restrictive rule, women’s rights are severely limited. For example, women are banned from working and studying and subject to harsh punishments like public beatings, amputations and executions.
During the 1990s, American and al Qaeda troops began clashing head to head in numerous attacks. In 1999, the UN Security Council formally recognized the Taliban and al Qaeda as terrorist groups. On September 11th 2001, al Qaeda forces hijacked two planes and bombed the World Trade Center in New York City, killing thousands. The continued American military presence in their region and alleged American involvement in other situations triggered their attack. Since the attack, the US launched military strikes against Taliban and al Qaeda forces. In November 2002, the Taliban left the country and their regime was successfully overthrown. As a new president was integrated, it seemed like Afghanistan would enter a period of stability. However, in 2006, the Taliban reemerged and since then fighting has continued.. Most recently,Afghan women have begun hiding to prevent being targeted Some are even hiding their degrees. Although the Taliban government promised more inclusivity and women’s rights, many are still uncertain about their future.
Recently, US President, Joe Biden, ordered the withdrawal of all American troops from Afghanistan. Currently, troops are in the process of returning home to America, while supporting the young children who will return with them, in hopes of a brighter future. Although they had their presence in the country for half a century already, the US had much greater involvement after the 9/11 attacks. Every member of the US Congress voted to go to war with Afghanistan except Representative Barbara Lee. Explaining her controversial decision, Lee wanted to step back and allow the country to grieve before pursuing such a costly war. As the only person to vote against the war, she faced death threats, insults, and hate mail. Now, 20 years later, people are reconsidering her vote after seeing the effects of the longest war in American history. Countless lives were lost and the government spent an estimated $2.26 trillion USD to fund it. Many critics have claimed that Biden should have been anticipating the Afghan government to be overthrown for a while already and are disappointed that he did not take action beforehand. Popular support for him has fallen to an all-time-low and he has also acknowledged Afghanistan’s uncertain future.
Currently, Afghans continue to live in fear under these new circumstances, with women feeling the heaviest burden. Thousands continue to flee in any direction, hopefully towards a brighter future. It is likely that more countries will open their borders for refugees. While many Afghans are happy that there is no more American presence in their country, they are scared about their future under the Taliban.
Feature Image: Jim Huylebroek/The New York Times