BBK Magazine 41

200th Anniversary Edition

The Fall of the Afghan Republic

Dr Jasmine Bhatia, Lecturer in Politics

It is impossible to forget the scenes of chaos at Kabul airport on 15 August 2021, when Afghanistan’s President, Ashraf Ghani, fled the country and the Taliban seized control. A 20-year international mission to rebuild Afghanistan was over. New research at Birkbeck seeks to discover the reasons for the collapse of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, drawing lessons from what happened.

The US put a staggering $2 trillion into rebuilding the state and supporting the Afghan military

The speed at which the Taliban retook control of Afghanistan in 2021, two decades after being removed from power by a US-led military coalition, stunned the world.

To uncover the short- and long-term reasons for the collapse of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and contribute to a valuable historical record, Dr Jasmine Bhatia, Lecturer in Politics at Birkbeck and Dr Florian Weigand, Postdoctoral Fellow at LSE, are conducting interviews with senior officials in government and international organisations, as well as academics and journalists.

Jasmine explains, “Documenting these memories and perspectives has historical value for policy makers as well as current and future researchers. The interviews have taken on a life of their own, with interviewees sharing wide-ranging opinions on the factors that led to the collapse, and the way it happened.

So far, officials agree that the fall of the Afghan Republic was a catastrophic defeat, resulting in a complete takeover by Taliban forces. This in turn has led to political isolation, the rolling back of human rights and a prolonged economic crisis for Afghanistan. Many respondents have been very critical of the peace deal the United States struck with the Taliban in 2020 that led to the withdrawal of US and Allied Forces from Afghanistan in 2021. Some are more critical of Afghanistan’s former President Ashraf Ghani and his senior advisors, not only because they fled, but also given their inability to devise an effective strategy to combat the Taliban over the years they were in power.

The Unites States put a staggering $2 trillion into rebuilding the state and supporting the Afghan military over the 20-year period. It is therefore important to delve into the extent to which the collapse was rooted in long-term issues with corruption, elite infighting, ethnic tensions and poorly designed constitutional arrangements in the Republic, as well as short-term decisions over the last couple of years.”

Jasmine hopes this research can create a robust, publicly accessible record of this period in Afghanistan that can feed into policy discussions and help us extricate vital lessons and avoid similar mistakes in the future.

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