The recent Herat Security Dialogue, Afghanistan’s premier strategic forum, is the only place where the Afghan government, representatives or proxies for the Taliban, Iranians, Russians, Pakistanis, Indians and Americans come together. Unfortunately, the U.S. embassy’s refusal to attend the Dialogue’s events outside their own isolated compound for security reasons meant there was no official U.S. presence.
Discussions at the Dialogue were lively. After Mutasim Agha Jan, a former top aide and son-in-law to Taliban founder Mulla Omar, demanded that all foreign troops leave Afghanistan, an audience member asked if that would apply to the Chechens, Arabs and other foreign fighters whom the Taliban welcomes, let alone the Taliban’s Pakistani aides and minders. Agha Jan was evasive, simply saying if there was no jihad, then foreign fighters would have no reason to be in Afghanistan. Of course, when the Soviets left, the foreign fighters stayed behind.
More notably, Pakistani politician Bushra Gohar took the opportunity to—rightly—accused U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad and the Trump administration of engaging in a “delegitimization process of the Afghan government.”
There were no Afghans—from any side or political perspective—who doubted the Trump administration’s determination to leave. The frustration among Afghan government officials, feminists, and both Afghan and Pakistani liberals is that while the United States is determined to leave, U.S. efforts to undermine Afghanistan’s constitutional order is wrongheaded and guaranteed to worsen regional security.
Among the biggest debates between Afghans and the Taliban is the nature of Afghanistan’s future government. Most Afghans want an Islamic Republic headed by an elected president with a government accountable to the people. The Taliban, in contrast, seek an Islamic emirate led by a religious authority appointed by religious scholars but not subject to popular elections. For the Taliban, this bypasses their biggest weakness: lack of local support. The Taliban fiercely opposed elections because they realize the emir has no clothes. While many Afghans criticize their current government and its corruption, that does not mean they accept the brutal and intolerant Taliban ideology.