American withdrawal from Afghanistan is a challenge for Europe #Forum2000online

October 21, 2021

In this week's #Forum2000online Chat, French political scientist and Arabist and Professor at Paris Sciences and Lettres University, Gilles Kepel, spoke about the situation in Afghanistan and the wider region now that the US have withdrew.

The takeover was to be expected

The withdrawal of US troops in August was not the first withdrawal of foreign troops from Kabul. Recent footage recalls the Soviet withdrawal in 1989, as well as the American retreat from Saigon in 1975.

But the hasty American withdrawal from Afghanistan “asks a number of questions about American behavior in the region (…) and how it to some extent backfires,” Professor Kepel assessed.

Taliban now is different from the Taliban 25 years ago

The international jihadist movement rejoiced in the Taliban takeover. According to the Professor, today’s Taliban is more prone to enter negotiations with the rest of the world than it was in the form of 1996 to 2001 rule.

Nevertheless, is already evident that Afghanistan is not going to be a place of stability – because of the violation of women's rights and compulsory veiling “as if 20 years of American presence suddenly were erased”.

What is the future of democracy in the region?

Because of the pandemic, oil countries had to reassess their economies and start preparing for future changes. When prices hit negative numbers in April 2020, it showed how fragile the economics of fossil fuels are. This logic is also pursued in the recently signed Abrahamic Accords.

Professor Kepel also touched on further the consequences of the withdrawal: “This is also creating a major challenge for Europe in terms of how to deal with migration and southern and Eastern borders – something that was farmed out to a large extent to America until recently.”

Were the 20 years spent in Afghanistan worth it, according to an American taxpayer?

From the view of Americans, Professor Kepel explained, “people would vote against the war at any costs.” Biden was chosen by the Democrats “in order to recapture” those states that were opposed the US intervention and “he had to deliver on the promise.”

Now the US seems to be focusing more on China and decided “to pull their resources out of the middle east and increasingly out of Europe and the Atlantic.” It is unsure whether the Middle East is going to be able to ensure stability without the US presence.

In this interview, you will learn that:

  • We were supposed to expect the withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan, but the hasty execution of it was rather surprising. 
  • Recent images of the withdrawal are reminiscent of the US defeat in Saigon in 1975. 
  • Today’s Taliban shows differences from the Taliban of 1996 to 2001.
  • Human and other rights are disappearing as if 20 years of American presence had not occurred. 
  • The international jihadist movement might seek to relocate some of its activities to Afghanistan
  • Europe will have to take responsibility for migration and its borders. 

Gilles Kepel is a French political scientist and Arabist and Professor at Paris Sciences and Lettres University (PSL) as well as the Director of the Middle East and Mediterranean Program at Ecole Normale Supérieure. His newest book „Away from Chaos: The Middle East and the Challenge to the West” was published in English translation in 2020.

This interview was recorded on October 5, 2021 and moderated by Arzu Geybulla, Azerbaijanian journalist and member of the Forum 2000 Program Council.