October 5, 2021 | Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs

Afghanistan’s Future: Assessing the National Security, Humanitarian and Economic Implications of the Taliban Takeover

October 5, 2021 | Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs

Afghanistan’s Future: Assessing the National Security, Humanitarian and Economic Implications of the Taliban Takeover


October 5, 2021


Of full written testimony

Chairman Brown, Ranking Member Toomey, and other members of the committee, thank you for inviting me to testify today. The Taliban’s victory over the Afghan government will lead to additional national security and humanitarian challenges for years to come. There are no easy answers to these challenges, but I hope to provide some clarity on related issues in my testimony.

The resurrection of the Taliban’s Islamic Emirate, which was deposed during the U.S.-led invasion in late 2001, is a boon for the global jihadist movement. The Islamic State, which retains a network inside Afghanistan, rejects the Islamic Emirate’s legitimacy. But al-Qaeda’s regional branches throughout Africa and the Middle East see it as a divine sign that they can also defeat local governments and build their own jihadist emirates. Therefore, the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan’s interactions with other nations and international institutions will continue to serve as a model for jihadists around the globe.

We should be clear about the nature of the Taliban’s Islamic Emirate. It is an authoritarian regime that will impose its draconian laws on the Afghan population. The Taliban and al-Qaeda fought for two decades for this very purpose — to rule according to their version of sharia. This is a foundational part of the Taliban’s and al-Qaeda’s belief system. It is not something they are willing to compromise on. Both the Taliban and al-Qaeda refer to the Islamic Emirate’s top leader, Haibatullah Akhundzada, as the “Emir of the Faithful,” an honorific usually reserved for a Muslim caliph. Ayman al-Zawahiri, who leads al-Qaeda’s global network, has sworn a blood oath to Akhundzada on the premise that he is the only religiously legitimate ruler on the planet.[1] In other words, the Taliban’s regime is no ordinary nation-state. Zawahiri himself has described the Taliban’s “blessed emirate” as the “core” or “nucleus” of the jihadists’ effort “to reestablish their caliphate according to the Prophetic methodology.”[2]

Some hope to be able to influence the Taliban’s behavior, as if socio-economic concerns will trump their deeply held religious beliefs. This is a dubious assumption. The Taliban may be willing to make marginal compromises, but it has never deviated from its core agenda. There is no reason to think the group ever will. This hard truth must be remembered as the world tries to use various carrots to convince the Taliban to moderate its behavior toward women, religious and ethnic minorities, and other Afghans who do not share its religious convictions. The jihadists know that the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan must provide for the people if it is to be successful and stable. But that does not mean they are willing to adopt Western-style norms, or anything remotely resembling those norms, to improve their economic conditions. The regimes in Iran and North Korea have repeatedly demonstrated that the lure of economic aid is not enough to make them renounce their core tenets. The Taliban’s Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan is not all that different in this regard.

Below, I make several points about the Taliban’s Islamic Emirate, its unbroken relationship with al-Qaeda, and related issues. These and other facts must be weighed when considering the viability and means of providing humanitarian assistance to the Afghan people. I then provide a closer look at the so-called Haqqani Network, which is closely allied with al-Qaeda and an integral part of the Taliban. The relationships described in my testimony greatly complicate any effort to help the Afghan people, who are in desperate need of relief after more than four decades of war.

Read the full written testimony here.

[1] Thomas Joscelyn, “Zawahiri swears allegiance to the Taliban’s new leader,” FDD’s Long War Journal, June 11, 2016. (https://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2016/06/ayman-al-zawahiri-swears-allegiance-to-the-talibans-new-leader.php)

[2] Ayman al-Zawahiri, “The Battle of Awareness and Will – The Solid Structure,” As Sahab, August 23, 2018.

Full written testimony


Afghanistan The Long War