(PONARS Eurasia Policy Memo by Charles J. Sullivan, 2015) The city of Kabul has fallen on three occasions over the past generation: to the mujahedin in 1992, the Taliban in 1996, and the Northern Alliance (supported by a U.S. aerial bombing campaign) in the aftermath of September 11. Since the Taliban’s overthrow, the United States has spearheaded a costly state-rebuilding effort but with little to actually show for it. U.S. military forces now appear to be intent on withdrawing from Afghanistan, and Washington will likely retain only a small contingent force (if any) post-2016. Could Kabul possibly fall again in the near future, presumably to the Taliban?
This memo analyzes whether political violence will remain a standard feature of Afghan politics in the coming years. The chances that the ongoing civil war in Afghanistan will endure past 2016 are very high. Rampant corruption within the Afghan government, operating in tandem with a predominantly drug-based economy, inhibits the consolidation of a ruling regime that is able to assert its political authority throughout the country. Consequently, the Afghan government remains dependent upon the United States for its survival. In addition, the Taliban do not seek to engage in negotiations with the Afghan government, on account of the latter’s perceived weakness and the likelihood that foreign aid will begin to dissipate soon. In light of concern over a possible Taliban resurgence, the United States may thus ultimately decide to stay militarily engaged (or perhaps reengage after officially vacating from Afghanistan), but not indefinitely. Acts of political violence will likely continue to serve as a defining feature of Afghan politics, and Kabul might well fall again soon, plunging the country into chaos and despair. […]