Jonathan Cristol, PhD, is an expert on Middle East policy, with deep understanding of the Taliban’s history. Author of The United States and the Taliban before and after 9/11, Dr. Cristol shares his predictions for life under the Taliban in Afghanistan and what we might expect from the new regime.
The crisis in Afghanistan continues to evolve as the country adjusts to the sudden withdrawal of U.S. troops and the Taliban’s return to power after 20 years.
We spoke with the interim director of the international studies program, Jonathan Cristol, PhD, to get his insights into the future of Afghanistan and its most vulnerable communities under Taliban rule.
An expert in international relations and international security, Dr. Cristol is the author of The United States and the Taliban before and after 9/11 (Palgrave Pivot 2019). He has recently appeared on podcasts from the Carnegie Council for Ethics and International Affairs and the Canadian Global Affairs Institute, where he spoke about the current state of affairs in Afghanistan.
What is the situation in Afghanistan right now?
The Taliban are in control of the country. They hold more of it now than when they ran Afghanistan between 1996 and 2001. With the possible exception of a fairly small sliver of the country, they are in charge.
We still have a few handfuls of Americans that remain, as well as many thousands of Afghans who worked with us, and even more thousands of Afghans who are eligible for a different status of visa—people who worked for NGOs, aid organizations and educational institutions. These are people whose lives will be at risk now that the Taliban are in charge. Foreign passport holders will be allowed by the Taliban to board planes out as well to travel by land.
What will the future of Afghanistan look like under Taliban rule?
There is this idea that the Taliban are somehow more moderate now because they’re media savvy, but the reality is that they were always media savvy and they are now less moderate. The Taliban we are dealing with today is significantly more extreme. There will be bans on music, movies and virtually anything that could be connected to the West or modernity. It’s going to become, once again, an extremely repressive, closed society.
What will happen is the world’s eyes will shift and the cameras will leave. And that’s when the Taliban will go after people who worked with the United States, people who worked for Western institutions, and all of the people who are now there and fear for their lives.
So the future does not look great. The reality for the foreseeable future is a Taliban-controlled Afghanistan and that really puts a limit on economic development.
What are the prospects for women and girls in Afghanistan?
The prospect for women and girls is somewhat grim. Women will be largely prohibited from leaving the home, and certainly prohibited from leaving the home without a male companion or family member. When the Taliban talk about women being allowed to receive an education, what they really mean is a very limited religious education.
The Taliban have said that women would be allowed to attend school in single-sex institutions and work in health professions in single-sex hospitals. They said that in the ’90s and it never really happened. They said women can work in these roles but under certain conditions, but those were conditions that couldn’t really be met. They said they couldn’t afford to build the specialized facilities they claimed to require, and that they needed international aid and development to build them. But we never got to the point where we could test whether or not they would take that aid and build facilities. The idea that the conditions now are going to be closer to meeting their standards is ludicrous.
How will the withdrawal of U.S. troops and the return of the Taliban impact international relations?
It is much more likely now than in 1996 that the Taliban will become widely recognized as the actual government of Afghanistan and accepted—at arms length, and for better or worse—as part of the international community.
Could Afghanistan once again become a home to al-Qaida or terrorist groups that could strike the United States?
Like in much of international politics, the answer to that is complicated. However, it’s important to note that the Taliban have never expressed any interest in taking over the world. While al-Qaida wants to do away with the state system, the Taliban want to be recognized as the government of Afghanistan and operate within the state system.
I think every state wants to establish some sort of tie to the Taliban to keep a line of communication open. But I think they’re going to wait and see what the Taliban do and what the situation on the ground looks like before they forge ahead and form any sort of formal relationship with them.