Will the Taliban Truly Control Afghanistan?

“The Taliban had nearly all of the advantages in its favor” as it advanced on the Panjshir valley, billed as the country’s “last pocket of resistance,” Bill Roggio and Andrew Tobin at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies’ Long War Journal. The Taliban say they have seized the valley, completing their conquest of all 34 Afghan provinces.

A resistance group disputed the Taliban’s claim, but “[n]o force has had as unchallenged a grip on Afghanistan since the Soviet invasion of 1979,” The Economist writes of Panjshir’s purported fall. “Foreign powers have little choice but to deal with them.”

The Taliban have since announced an interim government, but the group faces its own divisions and may struggle to control the country, the magazine writes.

The Taliban appeared to be “still squabbling over how to divide the spoils of victory,” The Economist writes of the time it took to form a government. But “[i]f factional politics within the Taliban are tricky, domestic politics are even harder. In the three weeks since taking Kabul, the Taliban have faced more public demonstrations than they did in five years of government between 1996 and 2001.” Unless the Taliban can manage ethnic divisions in Afghanistan, Ibraheem Bahiss of the International Crisis Group tells the magazine, “we will see simmering tensions in the country with a real possibility of it blowing into a full-scale conflict.’”

‘We Lost the War … in the Fall of 2002’

That’s the assessment of former FBI agent and noted counterterrorism expert Ali Soufan, who tells Der Spiegel in an interview, “Let’s be clear: We lost the war in Afghanistan, in my opinion, in the fall of 2002. That’s when the administration of George W. Bush started shifting a lot of important resources to prepare for the Iraq war at a time when al-Qaida and the Taliban were regrouping in Afghanistan. And that was a significant blow to any constructive efforts. And then we did not deal with a lot of the other issues that have to do with corruption, that have to do with basically respecting the way Afghanistan is. Several U.S. administrations had an idea of how Afghanistan ought to be, but did not understand how Afghanistan is. I think this was one of our biggest problems.”

The Reasons for Wanting America to Leave

At The New Yorker, Anand Gopal tells parts of the complicated story of rural Afghans’ relationship with the US, NATO, and the war that came to their country after Sept. 11, 2001. Airstrikes that killed civilians and the foreign forces’ choice of local allies led some—including women—to conclude that things got much worse once the US arrived.

Despite the Taliban’s stark social vision and brutal exercise of power, “many Helmandis seemed to prefer Taliban rule—including the women I interviewed,” Gopal writes, of what he learned on a summer reporting trip to rural Afghanistan as the Taliban advanced. “It was as if the movement had won only by default, through the abject failures of its opponents. To locals, life under the coalition forces and their Afghan allies was pure hazard; even drinking tea in a sunlit field, or driving to your sister’s wedding, was a potentially deadly gamble. What the Taliban offered over their rivals was a simple bargain: Obey us, and we will not kill you. … In Sangin, whenever I brought up the question of gender, village women reacted with derision. ‘They are giving rights to Kabul women, and they are killing women here,’ Pazaro [a woman in Afghanistan] said. ‘Is this justice?’ Marzia, from Pan Killay, told me, ‘This is not “women’s rights” when you are killing us, killing our brothers, killing our fathers.’ Khalida, from a nearby village, said, ‘The Americans did not bring us any rights. They just came, fought, killed, and left.’”

Lebanon’s Total Collapse

“Beirut as we once knew it is now gone,” writes Lina Mounzer, in a New York Times opinion essay on Lebanon’s descent into economic chaos since the massive port explosion in its capital last summer and the subsequent dissolution of its governing coalition.

“Even during the 1975-90 civil war, the city enjoyed a certain cachet,” Mounzer writes. “There was shelling but there was also glamour, a zest for life like an electric current. But now the strips of nightlife are mostly shuttered and dark. During the war there were cease-fires that permitted some rest, however fleeting. But in a world run on fossil fuels, what life is possible when they are no longer available? What life without electricity, cars, cooking gas, the internet, drinking water? … Lebanon … is a preview of what happens when people run out of resources they believe are infinite. This is how fast a society can collapse. This is what it looks like when the world as we know it ends.”

A (New) New Era of Central-Bank Activism?

The economy is still far from its pre-pandemic form, The New Yorker’s John Cassidy reminds us, but Covid-19 has shaped new paradigms in economic management, Adam Tooze writes for The Atlantic.

Stimulus spending has received its share of attention, but Tooze writes that monetary policy has been a big part of the story, as the US Federal Reserve bought up assets and made dollars available to stabilize a wobbling bond market. We thought we’d seen the peak of central-bank emergency measures after the 2008 crash, Tooze writes, but monetary audacity now seems ensconced as a crisis-response tool. “In 2008 there had still been a note of hesitancy about central-bank interventions,” Tooze writes. “In 2020, that was gone. … This was emergency action of the most radical kind. But what now was normality?”

A Post-Roe America?

“The US Supreme Court has poured petrol on America’s already fiery culture wars,” the Financial Times editorial board writes of the court declining to block Texas’s new abortion law. The court did not rule the law constitutional—rather, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote that it presented “complex and novel” procedural questions that complicated the court’s ability to step in—but “the decision is a dramatic escalation of the campaign to undo Roe vs Wade, the 1973 decision that legalised abortion nationwide,” the paper writes.

In revisiting arguments that President Joe Biden should “pack” the court by adding and appointing new justices, Lawrence Douglas suggests at The Guardian that this Supreme Court is “far more conservative than the nation whose constitutional meanings it is meant to protect.”

Insights, analysis and must reads from CNN’s Fareed Zakaria and the Global Public Square team, compiled by Global Briefing editor Chris Good

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