What does a Taliban takeover of Afghanistan actually mean?

A man pulls a girl to get inside Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan August 16, 2021.

It happened faster than most people expected, but the US-backed Afghan government has now fallen. The Taliban have taken over the capital, Kabul, and installed themselves in the presidential palace. Thousands of Afghans are scrambling to leave amid uncertainty of what comes next for the war-torn country. Chaos reigns.

What are some of the implications for Afghans and other countries with a stake in the region?


Islamic law will be front and center. Recent developments, and Taliban leaders' statements, make it clear that when it comes to ideology, ambition and creed, the Taliban of 2021 is the same radical group that was toppled in 2001.

Essentially, Taliban members believe in a fundamentalist Quranic philosophy, which is underscored by stringent prohibitions. As the group has swept the country, there have been reports of summary executions, abuse of women, and closing of schools that teach non-religious curricula. (The Taliban espouse that girls and women should be confined to their homes.) Western influence is sacrilegious, and the Taliban have reportedly been searching homes for alcohol and other contraband.

Politically, they want the Islamic Emirate reinstalled. Under the Taliban, electoral politics in Afghanistan are a thing of the past, and civil society has no role in the decision-making process, which they say, will be left solely to emirs (religious chiefs) and a council of mullahs.

An influx of refugees. As the Taliban stormed dozens of provincial capitals, thousands of Afghans descended on the international airport in Kabul in hopes of fleeing the country. Scenes of anguished people clinging to a US military plane will forever be a symbol of Afghans' desperation and struggle to escape Taliban terror. But there are no flights to carry these people out.

While the US has been accused of abandoning thousands of Afghans who aided the US-led mission over the past two decades, Canada has said that it will take in about 20,000 vulnerable Afghans, including women leaders and human rights activists. But that's just the tip of the iceberg. Many analysts say that the burgeoning refugee crisis will soon land on Europe's doorstep, drawing comparisons to 2015-2016, when more than 1 million refugees, mostly from Syria, arrived in Europe, fueling one of the biggest political crises in the bloc's history.

Since then, the European Union has beefed up its immigration protocols and border control: surveillance drones are used to monitor migrant flows, and border fences have been constructed bloc-wide. Just days ago, several EU states signed a letter saying that despite the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan, deportations of failed asylum-seekers will continue: accepting refugees "would lead more people trying to leave and come to the European Union." (However, Germany, the Netherlands, and France have since said they would hold off on deportations — for now.)

Tellingly, EU member states, like Greece — which bore the brunt of the migrant crisis in 2015 — say that they simply don't have the state capacity to absorb the huge number of people trying to flee Afghanistan. Even German Chancellor Angela Merkel, a staunch refugee advocate, recently said: "we cannot solve all of these problems by taking everyone in."

But "the risk to the EU is not from a short-term surge in Afghan refugees — the numbers will remain manageable," Mujtaba Rahman, who leads Eurasia Group's Europe desk, told GZERO Media. Rather, problems could arise "from the fractious internal debate it will sponsor, distracting from priorities elsewhere."

The power of international recognition. The last time the Taliban were in power, they turned Afghanistan into an international pariah. While the group maintained relations with Pakistan, as well as with the UAE and Saudi Arabia, it was mostly isolated from the rest of the world.

But 2021 is very different to 2001. With the US more interested in leaving than dealing with the mess it'll leave behind, in recent weeks senior Taliban leaders have embarked on a whirlwind diplomatic mission, trying to court Western rivals in Moscow and Beijing.

When the Taliban last ruled Afghanistan, Beijing had already suspended ties with Kabul after civil war erupted in 1993. But a pragmatic and increasingly ambitious China has made clear that it may be willing to recognize the Taliban's rule in Afghanistan if it gives China carte blanche to expand its Belt and Road infrastructure development projects to Afghanistan.

Similarly, some analysts say that the Kremlin is also toying with the idea of recognizing the Taliban, and could use it as leverage to ensure Russian interests are safeguarded across Central Asia.

Meanwhile, the seemingly botched withdrawal is becoming a massive political crisis for the Biden administration both at home and abroad. Domestically, he's being criticized on the left and right for the hasty pullout. With foreign allies, it's further undercutting Washington's global standing, which plummeted mostly under his predecessor. Even though Biden said in an address Monday that he "stands squarely behind" his own decision-making, the optics are very bad for a president who has made "America is Back" the rallying cry of his administration.

Rough road ahead. The situation is still in flux, and much could change in the upcoming days and weeks. For now, the Taliban is certainly in the driver's seat, both domestically and internationally.

A masked Walmart employee giving a presentation in a room with blue walls

We're proud to support associates by offering jobs at all levels – and investing in our workforce through training and skills development so that all jobs lead to careers. Earlier this year, we announced a five-year, $1 billion investment in career training and development. And we're paying 100% of college tuition and books for nearly 1.5 million eligible associates. Learn how we're creating a path of opportunity for associates to grow their careers, so they can continue to build better lives for themselves and their families.

Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:

Good morning everybody and I hope everyone is okay this Monday. I hope you had a happy Thanksgiving, those of you that celebrate. Of course, pretty difficult news over the weekend, and even this morning, the World Health Organization, referring to the new variant omicron of COVID as a very high global risk. And when I hear those words, obviously we get moving at Eurasia Group, a firm very much concerned about that. And indeed, this is in terms of new news about this pandemic that we've all been living with now for almost two years, this is some of the most concerning new headlines that we've seen thus far.

There are some things we know and some things we don't know, there are three things we need to know, if you want to really assess what the omicron risk represents for us and for the world: rates of infection, sickness and mortality and vaccine effectiveness. We only have strong answers about the first, which is we know that this is a lot more infectious as a variant than Delta has been, which itself was much more infectious than the original virus. And that is a very serious problem. I've spoken with a lot of the epidemiologists we know about this over the weekend, they're all extremely concerned about that.

More Show less
Don’t jump out the omicron window

With cases, and fears, of the new omicron variant spreading rapidly around the world, we sat down with Eurasia Group’s top public health expert, Scott Rosenstein, for a little perspective on what to worry about, what not to, and whether the pandemic will ever actually end.

Scott, we appear to be in the age of omicron now. On the scale of mild concern to apocalyptic jump-out-the-window panic, how worried should we really be?

Go over to the window, open it, and repeat the following: WE DON’T KNOW YET, BUT VIGILANCE IS WARRANTED. The current signals, which are still early and vague, suggest this variant could be extremely transmissible and that it has mutations that could reduce – but not eliminate – the protection offered by current vaccines. In principle that means we have a variant that could cause a spike in cases and add to healthcare strains in places that thought the worst was behind them.

More Show less
Watch Ian Bremmer's State of the World 2021 speech live on December 6

Join us on December 6th at 8 pm ET to hear Ian Bremmer's unique perspective on the most pressing geopolitical events shaping politics, business, and society in our "GZERO" world.

Ian's State of the World speech will examine:

  • Are the US and China engaged in a cold war?
  • How powerful have tech companies become on the global stage?
  • Is there hope for the world to unite to fight climate change and other shared challenges?

Watch live at https://www.gzeromedia.com/stateoftheworld

Ian Bremmer: State of the World 2021

December 6, 2021 8 pm ET

Sign up to receive email updates about this and other GZERO events.

Click here to watch Ian Bremmer's State of the World 2020 speech.

Also happening that week:

Former Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey

5: Twitter’s stock jumped 5 percent Monday after CEO and cofounder Jack Dorsey announced he was leaving the company. Many say that Dorsey is ditching the social media giant to play a bigger role in the crypto world.

More Show less
NATO flag is seen during NATO enhanced Forward Presence battle group military exercise Silver Arrow in Adazi, Latvia October 5, 201

NATO looks to deter Russia, but how? With Russia having massed more than 100,000 troops along the Ukrainian frontier, NATO says it’s looking to deter the Kremlin from launching a potential attack. But how? Though both the EU and US back Ukraine economically and militarily, the country isn’t a NATO member – and won’t be soon – so there’s no automatic defense treaty in place. And while NATO’s toolkit includes options from increased defense operations, to cyber attacks on Russian targets, to the threat of retaliatory strikes on Russian forces, it has to play the deterrence game carefully: any consequences that it threatens must be both serious enough to scare Russia and credible. After all, Vladimir Putin loves to call bluffs, and it would be a massive fail for the world’s most powerful military alliance to draw a red line only to watch the Kremlin prove that NATO forces won’t defend it. Lastly, a NATO miscalculation could accidentally provoke the wider conflict everyone wants to avoid.

More Show less
Who’s politically vulnerable to omicron?

The new COVID variant, omicron, has already spread around the world. Though there are more questions than answers about its characteristics, omicron is already spooking global leaders who had hoped that the era of snap lockdowns and travel bans was a thing of the past.

After almost two years of disruptions to lives and economies, the stakes for world leaders are very high. So, who’s vulnerable to the political fallout from new cases and costly precautions?

More Show less
What We're Watching: Omicron sparks fear and restrictions, Honduras' elections, Modi plays politics with farmers, EU calls for migrant pact with UK, Kyiv on alert

The omicron wars: Can we really afford to lock down again? In response to the new omicron variant first discovered by South African scientists, many countries have reintroduced pandemic travel restrictions that we thought were long behind us. Israel and Morocco have banned all foreign visitors, while tougher rules on quarantining and travel have also been enforced in the UK, Australia, Singapore and parts of Europe. Meanwhile, travelers from southern African countries have been banned from entering almost everywhere. Scientists say that it is still too early to say how infectious the new variant is, or how resistant it might be to vaccines. This disruption comes just as many economies were starting to reopen after more than 20-months of pandemic closures and chaos. The new restrictions are already triggering a fierce debate: some say that we are now in the endemic stage of the pandemic and that it is both unsustainable – and economically and psychologically harmful – to keep locking down every time a new variant surfaces. Others, like Israel's PM Naftali Bennett, say we are in the throes of a new "state of emergency," and that we can't afford to take any chances. What do you think?

More Show less

Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter, Signal

GZEROMEDIA

Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter: Signal

Don’t jump out the omicron window

Viewpoint

GZEROMEDIA

Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter: Signal