otorbaev8_Sefa KaracanAnadolu AgencyGetty Images_talibanrussiabaradar Sefa Karacan/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Friends of the Taliban?

With the Taliban back in charge, the outlook for the country – and especially for its minorities, women, and girls – depends crucially on which elements of the Taliban prove dominant. That is why it is essential for Afghanistan's friends and neighbors to identify and support the group's more moderate leaders.

BISHKEK – The days and nights following the Taliban’s capture of Kabul and the collapse of the Afghan government have been remarkably calm. Most shops and businesses are closed. Ordinary Afghans are hiding in their homes. The Taliban are acting as a police force, protecting the city from marauders. And yet, in this moment of relative stillness, Afghans are facing a monumental realization: they now live in a completely new country.

In defending his decision to withdraw all American troops from Afghanistan, US President Joe Biden acknowledged that events unfolded “more quickly” than US officials had anticipated. According to Biden, that is because Afghanistan’s political leaders, including President Ashraf Ghani, “gave up and fled the country,” and “the Afghan military collapsed, sometimes without trying to fight.” Afghanistan’s acting defense minister, General Bismillah Khan Mohammadi, defended the military, tweeting, “They tied our hands from behind and sold the country. Curse Ghani and his gang.”

Whatever happened in Kabul’s corridors of power last week, now it is the Taliban that occupies them. But who are the Taliban, which the world’s mightiest country spent more than $2 trillion attempting to defeat, and what will their return to power mean for Afghans and their neighbors?

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