🌍 Looking back at Afghanistan: two years later

Plus: The Taliban regime

Today’s newsletter supported by:

Hi there Intriguer. There’s an old Afghan proverb that says, “even on a mountain, there’s still a road.” Today marks two years since the return of the Taliban. So in this special edition, we’re looking back at the road that brought us here, and where it might lead ahead.

📢: We’ll be taking a short break next week (21-25 August).

Today’s briefing is a 4 min read:

  • 🇦🇫 What’s going on in Afghanistan now?

  • 🌏 Did the world see this coming?

  • Plus: Afghanistan’s ephemeral flag, how the papers covered the US withdrawal from Kabul, and an ambassador without a country.

⏱️ Around the world in sixty seconds

  1. 🇹🇼 Taiwan: Vice President Lai visited New York en route to Paraguay on Saturday. Beijing criticised the visit and described Lai as a “troublemaker”, as China commenced military exercises near Taiwan.

  2. 🇷🇺 Russia: Russian submarines will be fitted with hypersonic missiles, according to the head of Russia's largest shipbuilder. Their speed makes hypersonic missiles challenging for air defences.

  3. 🇲🇾 Malaysia: Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim’s ruling coalition held off an opposition challenge in six state elections over the weekend. The polls were widely seen as an early referendum on Anwar, who came to power after inconclusive elections late last year.

  4. 🇵🇪 Peru: Lima has signed an air security pact with Washington, reviving a deal from 20 years ago. The pact is intended to stop drug cartel aircraft from entering Peru’s airspace.

  5. 🇳🇪 Niger: The military junta has said it’ll prosecute ousted leader Mohamed Bazoum for treason despite numerous international calls for his reinstatement. Bazoum and his family are still being detained at his official residence.

🇦🇫 Afghanistan | Development & aid

Afghan women protest in Kabul shortly after the Taliban takeover two years ago. Credit: Reuters.

Two years on: life in Afghanistan

After returning to Kabul on this day in 2021, the Taliban pledged it’d be more moderate and inclusive than during its previous rule (1996-2001).

But since 2021, the Taliban has:

As the group cemented power, donors froze Afghan assets, suspended aid, and the economy collapsed, undoing a decade of growth in twelve months.

The regime has since managed to stabilise the macroeconomics (inflation, exchange rate), but the humanitarian situation remains grim:

  • Two-thirds of the country’s 38 million people need aid, and

  • At least six million people are on the brink of starvation.

Intrigue's take: The world has a near-impossible choice here: tacitly legitimise - and prop up - the Taliban regime by supplying aid, or continue to register opprobrium by staying away.

To date, the international community has tried to thread the needle by supplying limited aid through the few remaining non-Taliban channels. But the reality on the ground suggests it’s just not reaching enough people.

Also worth noting:

  • The UN downsized its Afghan aid appeal for 2023, partly in response to donor concerns over the ban on female workers.

  • The largest donors to this year’s UN appeal are the US ($301M), the EU ($94.5M), Japan ($69.7M), Germany ($34.7M), and Canada ($28M).

📰 How newspapers covered…

The Taliban takeover of Afghanistan in 2021

Beijing, China

“Afghan president leaves country, Taliban controls capital Kabul” - 16/08/2021

New York, US

“Chaos Ensues at Kabul Airport as Americans Abandon Afghanistan” - 16/08/2021

Kyiv, Ukraine

“Propaganda against Taliban proving false, says Qureshi*” - 19/08/2021

*Shah Mahmood Qureshi was Pakistan’s foreign minister at the time.

Today’s newsletter is supported by: Trends.vc

Save 2,000+ hours of market research with free 5-minute reports on AI, Crypto and more.

Join 50,000+ founders and investors discovering new markets and ideas.

🌏 Afghanistan | Geopolitics

Two years on: the region and beyond

The Taliban’s return sent shock waves around the world. Here are a few key geopolitical assessments made at the time, and how they’ve held up:

  1. 🇨🇳 Neighbouring China will fill the West’s vacuum

Since 2021, China has announced a new land route to Afghanistan, an oil deal, and Kabul’s partial inclusion in an infrastructure program.

The pace has been slow, partly because conditions aren’t right, but more because China’s core interests here are really in security: border stability, cooperation on Uighur militants, and the safety of Chinese nationals.

So it’s still early days yet, but Beijing seems to be proceeding with caution.

  1. 🇵🇰 The Taliban’s return will benefit neighbouring Pakistan

After decades of quiet support, Pakistani leaders openly welcomed the Taliban’s return; the hope was it’d now be a pliable, pro-Pakistan neighbour.

But newly emboldened Taliban-linked groups have since killed hundreds of Pakistanis; there’ve been more clashes along the disputed border; and Kabul has shrewdly exploited its occasional leverage on the trade front.

So on balance, it’s hard to see how the change has served Pakistan well.

  1. 🇺🇸 US prestige and credibility will be damaged beyond repair

In theory, there were plausible arguments for each US path: the US could cut its losses and reprioritise resources elsewhere; or it could maintain a limited footprint in-country to degrade terrorist groups and preserve US credibility.

But the reality was messy: a chaotic withdrawal, the Taliban flag over Kabul on September 11, and an endless visa wait for folks who supported the US.

Credibility is tough to build, and tougher to re-build.

Intrigue’s take: We’ve barely scratched the surface here, and we’re mindful that these events have touched many Intriguers personally.

But as we glance in the rear view mirror, we’re struck by how similar it looks to the road ahead: tough for Afghanistan, its neighbours, and beyond.

Also worth noting:

  • Afghanistan has an estimated $1T in untapped mineral wealth.

  • Three countries recognised Taliban rule during 1996-2001: Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Pakistan. That number is now at zero.

  • The US and the Taliban held their first talks since 2021 in Doha earlier this month.

🎧 Today on Intrigue Outloud

Credits: Associated Press

Is there reason to be hopeful about Afghanistan?

🗳️ Poll time!

Should the international community recognise and cooperate with the Taliban?

Login or Subscribe to participate in polls.

🏁 Flag(s) of the day

Source: Matritum via Deviantart

Afghanistan’s history of upheaval is reflected in its flag, which has changed over 20 times since 1901.

Yesterday’s poll: If you had to choose an historical figure to lead your country today, who would it be and why?

🟨⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️ 🗡️ Julius Caesar (10%)

🟨⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️ 👑 Elizabeth I of England (10%)

🟨⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️ 🛡️ Alexander the Great (11%)

⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️ 👸 Empress Wu Zetian (2%)

🟨⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️ 🇮🇳 Indira Gandhi (5%)

🟨⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️ 🐎 Genghis Khan (7%)

⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️ ♕ Cleopatra (4%)

🟩🟩🟩🟩🟩🟩 🇿🇦 Nelson Mandela (34%)

⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️ Njinga Mbande (1%)

🟨🟨⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️ ✍️ Other (write in!) (14%)

Your two cents:

  • 🇿🇦 F.F: “Half of these historical figures would be too dictatorial, tyrannical and oppressive to lead a liberal democracy.”

  • ✍️ H: “Diocletian - we need more rulers who appreciate good administration, the division of power, and great cabbages.”

  • Your suggestions: Ataturk, Otto Von Bismark, Catherine the Great, Winston Churchill, Eugene Debbs, Abraham Lincoln, Pericles, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and George Washington.

Join the conversation

or to participate.