Having seized control of most of Afghanistan during the U.S. withdrawal, the Taliban now faces the challenge of governing. Washington, for its part, must confront a problem similar to the one faced by Israel in Gaza, and by much of the West in Lebanon: how to deal with a terrorist group that controls a sizeable territory? Colin Clarke writes:
In Afghanistan, the international community is in a lose-lose position—the country’s best chance for stability, at least for the time being, depends on the Taliban providing effective governance. But to do so, it requires significant cash infusions and development assistance. The European Union recently pledged more than $1 billion in an effort to stave off economic and humanitarian disasters in the near term. In some ways, the Taliban is holding the international community hostage. If countries help the Taliban, they are cementing the legitimacy of a ruthless insurgent group inextricably linked to some of the world’s most dangerous terrorists. But if countries eschew aid and Afghanistan collapses, it will lead to a massive humanitarian disaster and a civil war that could attract foreign terrorist fighters recruited to bolster the ranks of groups such as al-Qaeda and Islamic State.
Conventional wisdom holds that once terrorist groups are forced to govern, they become more pragmatic as they contend with the realities of trash collection and the other mundane responsibilities of running a country. Yet as Hamas has proved, this does not necessarily mean that a group will grow less radical over time. Hamas first sat for elections in 2006, but in the fifteen years since, it has kidnapped Israeli soldiers, fired rockets at civilian populations, and launched suicide attacks.
After two decades of a global war on terrorism, Washington and its allies are understandably suffering from counterterrorism fatigue. But walking away from weakened states as they are co-opted by terrorist groups is a recipe for ongoing conflict and instability.