On Tuesday, September 14, the World Affairs Council hosted an in-depth talk about the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan with guest speaker Annie Pforzheimer at Seton Hall’s Walsh Library. The in-person and online discussion was led by the president of WACNJ Rozlyn Engel, also in attendance were Dean Courtney Smith and Dr. Martin Edwards.
Ms. Pforzheimer is an adjunct professor at City University of New York and a non-resident associate with the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS). A retired career diplomat with the personal rank of minister counselor, Pforzheimer held numerous prominent roles shaping U.S. foreign policy at the State Department, holding positions as the acting deputy assistant secretary of state for Afghanistan and the ranks of deputy chief of mission and political counselor. Pforzheimer also directed the implementation of the 2014 U.S. Strategy for Engagement in Central America at the National Security Council and the Office of Andean Affairs in the State Department’s Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs.
The Taliban stormed to power in mid-August, overthrowing the government as the United States-led international forces completed their withdrawal from Afghanistan. According to Ms. Pforzheimer, negotiations with the Taliban began in November 2020, under President Trump’s administration. The Trump administration appointed a special envoy for Taliban peace talks without the Afghanistan government. She further explained that the Biden administration had the task of withdrawing U.S. troops from Afghanistan but did not keep to the conditions of the agreement.
The decision to withdraw U.S. troops should not have been set on a timeline but conditions-based, and a better outcome would have been more favorable. One of the biggest shifts from one administration to the other, and by NATO, was that the U.S. announced in April the withdraw of its troops by no later than September, a month or two earlier than anticipated. The Trump administration had made the same announcement, and decision to withdraw troops, but with some conditions for the Taliban.
“China is now negotiating with the Taliban and Russia is pushing their interest in the region as well,” said Ms. Pforzheimer. “Women and girls under the Taliban are subject to horrific treatment.” After deposing the Taliban in 2001, the U.S. wanted to develop that country and establish rights for Afghan women. Under Taliban rule, their lives were hellish, as girls were banned from school and women forbidden to leave their homes except in the company of a male, as reported by Human Rights Watch.
When an online participant asked about the relationship between ISIS and the Taliban, Ms. Pforzheimer stated, “They don’t have a relationship, they don’t like each other, and perhaps in the future may fight each other.” Al-Qaeda and ISIS are present in Afghanistan, which could result in violence, a critical concern for the people of Afghanistan. Al Jazeera says that explosions in Jalalabad and in Kabul appear to be the work of ISIL-K remnants. The Biden administration, meanwhile, may plan to push the Taliban to a peace negotiation but would be pressed to not give up any leverage during talks.
Ms. Pforzheimer stated that “after 20 years of fighting the U.S. has no way of assessing what lessons it learned from Afghanistan.” One in-person participant asked her to further elaborate on that point. She stated there is no department within the U.S. that assesses lessons learned because the situation changes constantly. Furthermore, the U.S. government does not frequently speak about failed wars like Vietnam or Afghanistan. At the current moment, the setback in Afghanistan will remain unfavorable for the United States image abroad.