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The Taliban's Resurgence In Afghanistan Has Regional Security Implications


U.S. forces are leaving Afghanistan rapidly after almost two decades, and the Taliban seems to be moving in also rapidly and now control roughly half the districts in the country. A total or significant Taliban takeover of Afghanistan would cause many major concerns in the region. Pakistan, which has its own insurgency concerns, cradles Afghanistan's eastern and southern borders. Of course, to the west, another major local power with its own domestic problems is Iran.

We're joined now by Ahmad Shuja Jamal. He's the head of international affairs and regional cooperation at Afghanistan's National Security Council and joins us from Kabul. Thanks so much for being with us.

AHMAD SHUJA JAMAL: Thanks for having me, Scott.

SIMON: Are you concerned about Afghanistan being pitched into a protracted civil war at this point?

JAMAL: Here's what I'm concerned about, Scott. I'm concerned about the fact that if you look at Afghanistan four years, five years ago, nobody in the political arena actually was even amenable to making peace with the Taliban. Five, six years down the road, fast-forward, no politician of national stature is actually opposed to making peace. Everybody wants to make peace with the Taliban. Six, seven years ago, the international community was also not on board the same way that they are right now about bringing the Taliban in from the cold.

But the Taliban are pushing a strategy of terrorism and complete military takeover, and what that does is it actually is provoking the people in areas in which the Taliban are encroaching to stand up and take up arms. And the more areas into which the Taliban push the violence, the more difficult it becomes for us to actually achieve a peaceful settlement.

SIMON: Well, help us take a look at a couple of countries in the region that we know to be concerned. Pakistan has at times blamed Afghanistan for insurgent attacks on its own borders. And as I don't have to tell you, Afghans often say that the Taliban gets a lot of support from elements within Pakistan. What are the concerns Pakistan would have at this moment about the Taliban becoming more powerful?

JAMAL: What is floated generally is that they're concerned about an influx of refugees from Afghanistan. They're concerned about an - sort of an osmosis, a spread, a spillover effect of violence into Pakistan. But what really concerns not just Pakistan, but the region as a whole and the international community writ large is that the model of insurgent terrorism that the Taliban are using is actually giving proof of concept to radical extremist militants all over the world.

SIMON: And let me ask you about Iran, which it's sometimes said that they have even in indirect ways supported the Taliban. It hosted talks between the Taliban and an Afghan delegation, I believe, this week. What kind of relationship do you believe Iran wants to have and wants to avoid with the Taliban?

JAMAL: The Iranian government has told us that they fully support the republic constitutional order in Afghanistan - we are an Islamic republic bound by a constitution - and that an emirate of the type that is unanswerable to its people is not to the advantage of Iran. That's what they tell us. But also, I think for the Iranians, the Taliban are something that they see across their border and that they feel like it has to be managed. We, the Afghan government, has been doing most of the management of the threat from the Taliban and their associated international terrorist groups that could've threatened not just the U.S., but the neighborhood. But I think the cancer is growing to the extent that our efforts alone may not be sufficient. And I think some of our neighbors are beginning to feel that, and they're feeling the threat and the heat of an expanding Taliban insurgency.

SIMON: Do you believe the Taliban will strike up relations with influence with armed groups that are in, for example, Pakistan and Iran?

JAMAL: There is well-documented evidence, Scott, that the Taliban are in a symbiotic relationship with Pakistan-based terrorist organizations. And there is enough ideological overlap between the Taliban and regional terrorist groups from Pakistan and beyond, but also practical cooperation in terms of the same smuggling routes that smuggle Taliban arms also smuggle ISIS arms. And some of these practical links are forged over a 20-year career of terrorism.

SIMON: Mr. Jamal, I feel the need to ask, I guess this weekend in particular, after all the sacrifice of money and blood, what did America do wrong over the past 20 years that the Taliban is coming back?

JAMAL: Well, I'll talk about that. But first of all, let me tell you what America did right. This country now has more women in parliament and civil service and universities than ever before in our history. This country has more minorities in positions of power and influence than ever before. This country actually has a vibrant media.

What went wrong, I think, is that collectively, we failed to stem the strategic depth advantage that the Taliban had with respect to Pakistan. Let me explain what I mean by strategic depth advantage. When we pushed the Taliban on our side, they went across the border, where they treated their injured, where they recuperated and rested and raised money and recruits, and they came back to kill us and to attack us. And when a terrorist organization has that kind of ability, it's virtually impossible to defeat it unless you've actually denied it that kind of backdoor strategic depth advantage that the Taliban have enjoyed for 20 years.

SIMON: Ahmad Shuja Jamal, who's head of international relations and regional cooperation of the Office of the National Security Council there in Kabul. Thanks so much for being with us, sir.

JAMAL: Thank you, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.