We’ll see. The early signs — all sorts of Taliban abuses — are not promising. But we need to watch how, and if, they fully establish control. The Taliban’s main beef with America is that we were in their country. Let’s see what happens when we’re gone.
And let’s also remember: When the United States invaded Afghanistan in 2001, iPhones, Facebook and Twitter didn’t even exist. Flash forward to today: Afghanistan is not only much more connected to the world, but it’s connected internally as well. It will not be nearly as easy for the Taliban to hide their abuses from the world or from fellow Afghans.
In 2001, virtually no one in Afghanistan owned a mobile phone. Today more than 70 percent of Afghans do, and many of them have Internet-enabled smartphones. While there is nothing inherently liberalizing about owning a phone, according to a 2017 study by Internews, Afghanistan’s social media “is already propagating change as it has become a platform for denouncing cases of corruption and injustice, bringing attention to causes that have not yet been addressed on traditional media and seemingly letting any social media user voice a public opinion.’’ Maybe the Taliban will just shut it all down. And maybe they won’t be able to.
At the same time, a July 7 report in Time magazine on Afghanistan noted: “When U.S.-backed forces ousted the Taliban from power, in 2001, there were almost no girls in school across the country. Today, there are millions, and tens of thousands of women attending university, studying everything from medicine to miniature painting.’’
Maybe on the morning after the morning after, the Taliban will just order them all back under burqas and shut their schoolrooms. But maybe they will also encounter pushback from wives and daughters that they’ve never encountered before — precisely because of the social, educational and technological seeds of change planted by the United States over the last 20 years. I don’t know.
And what if all of the most educated Afghans try to emigrate — including civil servants, plumbers, electricians, computer repair experts and car mechanics — and the morning after the morning after, the country is left with a bunch of barely literate Taliban thugs to run the place? What will they do then? Especially since this is a much more environmentally stressed Afghanistan than the one the Taliban ruled 20 years ago? According to a report published last year from National Geographic, “Afghanistan is one of the most vulnerable countries in the world to climate change, and one of the least equipped to handle what’s to come” — including drought, flood, avalanches, landslides, extreme weather and mass displacement.
As for the Biden team, it is hard to imagine a worse morning after for it in Kabul. Its failure to create a proper security perimeter and transition process, in which Afghans who risked their lives to work with us these past two decades could be assured of a safe removal to America — not to mention an orderly exit for foreign diplomats, human rights activists and aid workers — is appalling and inexplicable.
Thomas L. Friedman