Coming Full Circle

After 20 years, the country’s old regime prepares to come back

In Afghanistan the year 2021 marks the 20th anniversary of the 2001 war which was supposed to topple the Taliban regime. These last two decades coincide with the childhood and adolescence of the country’s younger generation.

For the past 30 years, since the last Soviet soldier left Afghanistan after a decade of occupation, the country has known only conflict, terror and instability. The population has endured a long civil war, an oppressive regime, another invasion in 2001, and has heard an endless number of announcements about reconstruction plans, troop surges, exit strategies, peace conferences and political deals which would finally bring peace to their exhausted land. 

The latest of these deals was reached in Qatar in 2020, between the U.S. and the same people – the Taliban – which the Coalition forces fought 20 years ago. The agreement was almost immediately followed by a series of deadly strikes which involved U.S. and Afghan forces and Taliban fighters. However, in April 2021 U.S. president Biden announced that the withdrawal of all American and Coalition troops will be completed by September 11, 2021.

Meanwhile, the country is facing the same issues which have plagued it for so long. 
The government is fighting a war with an army that it can’t seem to build fast enough: almost more soldiers are killed every year than the number of recruits that complete basic training. The enemy is an insurgency that has control over 60 per cent of the country. And the insurgency is split between groups – several Taliban factions and Daesh – which fight for territory among themselves, and whose weapon of choice is the suicide attack.

Opium production is rampant, as is drug addiction. Women’s rights are still a utopian dream. The economy is choking. Corruption is widespread at all political and social levels, and despite the efforts to introduce democracy into the country – much like a transplant in which the surgeons don’t worry about the body rejecting the new organ – most of the time power is in the hands of those who control the largest militia.

Not much has changed since that last Soviet soldier left in 1989. And it is not yet clear whether, and how, anything will change in the near future.