The Doorstep: The Future of Afghanistan Roundtable Discussion, with Ali M Latifi & Said Sabir Ibrahimi

August 19, 2021

NIKOLAS GVOSDEV: Welcome to this latest edition of The Doorstep podcast. I am your co-host, Nick Gvosdev, senior fellow at the Carnegie Council, broadcasting to you from the sidelines of the Newport Global Summit.

TATIANA SERAFIN: And I'm Tatiana Serafin, also a senior fellow here at Carnegie Council, welcoming our audience for this special Doorstep on Afghanistan. There has certainly been a lot of news, and we are very honored to have two guests, one on the ground in Kabul, Ali Latifi, who is an online journalist with Al Jazeera English and who covers Afghanistan, obviously migration and refugees, which I think we do need to talk about today, and also Said Sabir Ibrahimi, a nonresident fellow at the Center on International Cooperation at New York University (NYU), who has actually written extensively on what Afghanistan might look like.

I want to reference some of your work, Said, because I think it is so interesting, and our audience would appreciate both of your commentaries and insights today.

So, a very relevant topic. Thank you so much for joining us.

I will get right to it. Ali, you are in Kabul. How are you doing? How are things looking on the ground?

ALI LATIFI: In Kabul so far they are okay. They are relatively calm. There are a lot of unconfirmed reports of abuses, infractions, or the Taliban going against their word being spread online, but those are very difficult to confirm, and I am not saying that they are not true, but I am just saying that so far I myself and people around me—my family and my friends live in different neighborhoods of the city—have not seen anything like that yet, so hopefully that's a good sign.

What we have to remember is that even if it does turn out that things are okay now overall, it has only now been four or five days—and I keep saying this everywhere—and every single day the onus to prove themselves to the people renews for the Taliban. Every single day they have to start from zero and try to provide assurances to the people that they will not go back to the way they were in the 1990s.

So, even if things for some of us seem okay right now, we have to remember that it is still a very delicate balance, and there are still millions of people who do not feel comfortable going out right now and trying to go back about their daily lives because of the fact that people in their thirties and forties remember the Taliban times, and people in their twenties and younger have only heard stories, so that makes it even more scary for them. That is why it is so important for the world to keep watching and keep putting pressure and for the Taliban to really prove to everybody that their actions can match their words.

TATIANA SERAFIN: It is so interesting that you say that because I want to give some context to the population of Afghanistan—38 million people approximately, a majority of those under the age of 15.

ALI LATIFI: Something like that.

TATIANA SERAFIN: I believe the median age is 18. You are right, very young population, who don't know or haven't experienced Taliban 1.0 and now we are at 2.0. This is a new organization and a new structure that is going to have to be, I think, more practical in 2021. We are leaps and decades ahead technologically, and people communicate differently. I have a Polish cousin in Afghanistan, who is now friends with so many Afghans who are calling him daily. It's a different world. We are a little bit more interconnected in 2021 than we were in 2001. I am wondering if this youthful generation is more revolutionary or more conservative. What are you seeing?

ALI LATIFI: One thing that has been really promising is that in the last two days in the Eastern provinces—in Nangarhar, in Kunar, in Khost—the people have started a resistance movement to the Taliban, not with guns but with the old black, red, and green flag of the country. Essentially, they have been replacing the black-and-white Taliban flag with the traditional Afghan flag and on independence day going around and waving that flag and chanting "Allahu Akbar" and also their dedication to the country and the idea of the nation, and what they see the black, red, and green flag as representing.

Then there is also a dark side to it. You saw right in the city of Jalalabad, on a main road in the city that I have passed by a million times, in broad daylight footage of the Taliban shooting at these protestors, and you can see two of the protestors being loaded into rickshaws and being whisked off to the hospitals.

The good thing is that not only are people willing to stand up however they can, but because there is so much technological proliferation across the major cities of the country, people are able to document it. In the past in a province like Nangarhar, which was subject to things like drone strikes, night raids, and airstrikes, and things like that, they couldn't document the abuses against them because they took place at night and because there were always U.S. Special Forces or intelligence or something around them making sure they couldn't, and by the next day everything was cleaned up to try to make it look like normal.

But now, at least with these things they are able to document it, and if they can't physically themselves post it online for fear, they can send it to someone maybe outside the country or outside the city to post it, so now again the onus is on the Taliban to answer to that: Why did you shoot on these protestors because, for instance, when the old government used to shoot on protestors—and they killed protestors as well—it became a huge national issue. And the Taliban would taunt the old government for that. If you are going to taunt your predecessors for it, then you have to be willing to answer for your own flaws and explain how you could do that and try to assure people that you won't do it again.

TATIANA SERAFIN: Said, what do you think? Are you seeing the same thing, a kind of changed mentality, leadership, and thought process? It is different to be a revolutionary than to be an administrator, right?

SAID SABIR IBRAHIMI: Definitely, and the Taliban have actually relied on the existing institutions that the United States and others have built over the last 20 years, for example, the Ministry of Health. They went to the Ministry of Health and asked men and women actually to stay and work there. They met with the minister. They do not have the technical expertise to run a country of 35 million people actually, so it is a little more than 30 million.

But here is the problem: The problem is that their mentality hasn't changed. Zabihullah Mujahid, when he had his first public appearance the other day, said: "We are the Taliban. We have not changed. Yes, we might have become practical in ways," but that's their brand. Talibanism is their brand. I think we should not fool ourselves that they have changed in ways or that they are going to be much more tolerant. They are just going to be much more practical. They are not going to be much more tolerant in my view, and that's where we stand.

The signs of hope—I agree with Ali that there are people who are getting out on the streets in Jalalabad and elsewhere. Today in Kabul there were some small protests here and there. But the issue is that the Taliban are killing people. In Jalalabad they shot three to four people from the reports, and many people were injured. In Kabul they have arrested people who were protesting and who were actually waving the national flag of Afghanistan. So I think the situation is very dire. Thousands of people are now at Kabul Airport to leave. So if the Taliban were so great and have changed, why would this many people fear them?

Another big issue I think is that they also inherited this government that was dysfunctional in some ways. It was corrupt. Also, there are other issues. They have COVID-19 on their hands. There is drought. There are so many things that are happening at the same time.

Yes, there is a generational change also in Afghanistan. The younger generation will resist the Taliban, but I am afraid that there will be a crackdown on them. I am afraid that they will be arrested and put in jails and killed. There are younger generations in a lot of dictatorships, and they have been suppressed unfortunately in many countries, so I don't think that the Taliban would be any exception, and all of a sudden they will have this really kind heart and change drastically.

TATIANA SERAFIN: How about economically? You have to follow the money. Things have to work. You mentioned some of it, Said: COVID-19, drought. About $4 billion of aid flows into Afghanistan that is now a question mark from foreign donors out of a gross domestic product (GDP) of something around $28 or $25 billion.

SAID SABIR IBRAHIMI: GDP is around $20 billion, but now around $5 billion of that is slashed. A lot of that is the international community's money. Right now we don't know what the GDP will be in the coming months. When the Taliban ruled the country, the GDP wasn't even near $1 billion. This was in the 1990s, obviously, and the population was much smaller.

I will let Ali speak, and then I will add some things on your question with regard to the economy, recognition, and whatnot.

TATIANA SERAFIN: Ali, I am curious to see day to day how things are on the streets. People have to eat and have to survive and go to work. We have read some reports that people are not going to work. How does it look on a day-to-day living basis?

ALI LATIFI: I just want to clear up a couple of points first. One is that Zabihullah Mujahid did not say we're the same Taliban. I am not saying this to defend him. I just think we have to be accurate. Again, these are his words. I am not saying it is the actions of the Taliban, but these are the words that they put forth. He actually said specifically: "We are not the same as 20 years ago. We have learned from 20 years ago." So I don't think it's accurate to say that he said, "We're the same," because that's literally not what he said.

The GDP was much less during the Taliban time because the only three countries that recognized them were Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, and they provided very little financial assistance, and they were cut off from the rest of the world. So I think we have to put that in its proper context.

Yes, it's a big problem. Things are slowly starting to open back up in Kabul. Stores are slowly starting to open back up, restaurants, cafés, and things like that. Businesses are slowly starting back up. But I am about to have this problem, and everybody I know is about to have this problem, where we are all going to run out of cash at any point because the banks have not been open since Sunday, and on Sunday they closed early. On Saturday they closed early also, and on Saturday and Sunday at every bank—I live above two banks in the city—there were hundreds of people waiting outside the bank and then outside the doors to get into the bank. People were going to ATMs and trying to get as much money as they could as well. So, even if the banks reopen, right now there is actually a shortage of cash.

The first day most of the stores were closed. Starting the second day and definitely by the third day they all started to open back up, but the worrying thing is that this is a highly cash-based economy, and if you can't get your money out of the bank, whether that be the small number of people who have ATM cards or everyone else who just goes to the bank and withdraws cash, people are eventually not going to know how to buy food. It's going to be very simple.

Already when the government was losing districts for months and provinces in a matter of 11 days, food prices were already going up, basic staples the prices were going up. Gas prices have almost doubled. Even when I was in Herat in July for the Eid al-Fitr holiday, the people who make sweets were saying that the price of oil was going up, the price of milk was going up, the prices of all of these basic staples and commodities were already going up because at that point the Taliban had controlled the crossings on the Durand Line and on the borders with other countries, so they were charging some kind of a tax, the government was charging some kind of tax when they could, and then basically these traders were just passing off the price increases onto the people.

Also, just because essentially the border with Iran was closed, half of the Durand Line was closed, the Northern borders, by the end were all closed, so that also impacted what could be imported, which raised prices again. In terms of personal economics, there are big, big issues right now for people.

NIKOLAS GVOSDEV: Can I follow up with that and tie it back to this question of the Taliban's overall perspective? Whether they have changed or not ideologically, is there a new sense of pragmatism? I am thinking of two things: (1) Does this group of Taliban have a sense that they are more likely to be left alone by the United States and other countries if they are not seen as supporting movements or giving refuge to movements, the way that Taliban 1.0 did, and that includes not only the United States but Russia, China, and others? And (2) is this economic crisis within the country going to be a source for this type of pragmatism?

As you mentioned, the last time around only three countries recognized the Taliban. Right now you have China, for example, signaling that it may be interested in dealing with the Taliban government. Are those going to be things that will drive some degree of practicality over ideology in what you're seeing both on the ground and observing the reaction in the area?

ALI LATIFI: Look, they are putting all the right words out there, and they are trying to seem hands-off as much as possible. Obviously, what has been happening in the East and in Kabul these past few days with the protests definitely tarnishes that image that they are trying to portray. They addressed this issue in their press conference. They said: "We pose no harm to any outside country. We won't allow any group that poses a harm to any outside country to take refuge here."

The one thing you have to realize is that with these Taliban the last thing they want is to be cut off from the world because they were cut off from the world once, and it made their problems even worse. Ever since Obama sent them to Doha in 2011 they have been having unofficial meetings with Western officials and regional officials, all kinds of people. Then, in the last two or so years they have been having direct, face-to-face, well-publicized meetings, going on these diplomatic world tours and trying to make themselves look like officials who can represent a government and bringing exactly those assurances to China, Russia, Iran, and all these countries that we won't let other groups come here.

Also, when the peace talks were just starting, they would continually put out statements like: "Okay, your troops need to go, but your money can stay and your embassies can stay." So the last thing this Taliban wants is to be cut off from the entire world because they have been putting on a show for two or three years now, and they are trying to keep that show going, but unfortunately their actions have already started belying their words. So they have a huge weight on them to really make the Afghan people feel comfortable.

I don't really know how much the international community at this point cares what the Taliban does, because they say a lot of things, but what have they really done other than issuing condemnations all the time? So it will be interesting to see when they start to cross lines for the international community or if they ever really care and take any kind of meaningful or decisive action, which they have yet to do at all.

TATIANA SERAFIN: Said?

SAID SABIR IBRAHIMI: Here is the issue with the Taliban: For the people in Doha over the last few months they were saying something, and people on the ground were doing something else. In places like Kandahar they have participated in revenge killing despite the fact that they have announced a universal amnesty that anybody who worked for the government, for international organizations, or even for the U.S. Army are forgiven. However, they are going around and locking up people or literally just killing them.

That is the issue. If the Taliban wants to be part of the international community, first of all countries like Canada and the United Kingdom have already announced that they are not going to recognize a Taliban government, so I don't see Taliban being part of the international community unless they share power, unless they go to a unity government or something like that because they have spent no blood and treasure to bring some sort of democracy to Afghanistan over the last 20 years, and now they are back to square one with this pariah state, with these people who want to isolate 35 million people under the excuse of Sharia and a dogmatic way of seeing the world. Yes, their worldview is there, they are part of the reality of Afghanistan, but they are not the only people there. There are other factions, and resistance is already building in some parts of the country, whether it is political resistance or military resistance.

The Taliban has all the power right now. The only place that I think now is not under their control is Panjshir Valley, and it is a very tiny place. But the thing is that a lot of people fear the Taliban. It is not just from their 1990s rule that people fear them. It is throughout these 20 years they have been participating in suicide attacks. They have been participating in all sorts of these attacks that have killed civilians. We do blame the United States for B-52 attacks, and the Afghan national security forces committed crimes, but we also need to be cognizant about how people feel about the Taliban, especially people who have lived in the cities, which were constantly under suicide and car bomb attacks by the Taliban. That is another source of worry for the Afghan people.

Also, the fact that Zabihullah Mujahid, we don't actually even know if this guy is Zabihullah Mujahid because there were a bunch of Zabihullah Mujahids in the past who were spokespersons for the Taliban. He goes and sits at the same seat that was occupied by Menapal, who was the head of the government media center a week before, and he happily admitted his assassination through a sophisticated attack or something like that.

People cannot forget that, and I hope that people find healing on both sides because it's not that the Taliban didn't lose anybody. They have been losing people too. Their villages were bombed. They have lost loved ones too, but I don't know if the Taliban are now ready to participate in such a dialogue. They do talk about inclusive government. So far we are not seeing anything. I have not seen any proposals on the table as to what this inclusive government will look like and that will also be able to attain the international community's assistance and recognition.

TATIANA SERAFIN: There are two issues I want to address. I guess I will start with the international community because here on The Doorstep we talk a lot about the idea of regional pockets of power emerging in this new global world. We are connected globally, but regionally we might have these pockets of power because it's not all about the United States as the only voice anymore. There is China. What is China's interest?

I think, Said, maybe in something you wrote, you mentioned even India is interested in recognizing the new government.

There are these trade routes, Ali, that you talk about that are important. I think trade with Iran was something like $2 billion in cross-border trade.

Is there this potential chance of creating a regional pocket? Maybe you don't need the United Kingdom and Canada to acknowledge you. Maybe you create a regional pocket and regional trading partners. Any thoughts on that, Ali, Said, or Nick?

ALI LATIFI: They have already had a regional pocket. It is very clear to anybody living in Afghanistan that if not for the entirety, then for much of the last two decades, Pakistan and Iran have both been supporting the Taliban in any number of ways: from finances, giving them sanctuary, letting their families stay in those two countries, sending fighters, sending weapons, and helping them in any way possible. There have also been accusations that China and Russia—but those aren't as clear—have had a hand in it, but if you talk to anybody in Afghanistan, they will specifically name these two countries.

The problem with this whole international community thing is that the world has essentially known—okay, maybe it is difficult to deal with Iran because of the world's relations with Iran, so we can set that aside for a minute—that Pakistan has a very clear hand in this. It has been proven time and again. It is where Osama bin Laden was found. It is where Mullah Mansour was killed, the second leader of the Taliban. There were videos and photos of Mullah Mansour transiting through the Karachi Airport to go to Iran on several occasions and I think also to the Emirates. There has just been consistent proof, and the former government kept talking about this "imposed" war. And when people talk about an imposed war, that is what they mean. They mean these two neighbors are enabling the people that are killing us.

Obviously, as people who have spent time in the United States—I have worked in Washington and seen what it is like—there is unfortunately this unfailing allegiance to Pakistan both on the Republican side and the Democratic side. Actually, the one time Donald Trump called out Pakistan and withheld funding for a little bit, it actually won him a lot of political favor here because, for all of his flaws—and he had many flaws later with Afghanistan—the one thing he did do was call out Pakistan at least once and acknowledge it outright on the world stage. Unfortunately, not much was followed up with it.

This regional issue is a big deal. Okay, maybe the United States can't take on China and probably not even India and definitely not Iran, but it can certainly take on Pakistan very easily. It has a lot of sway over Pakistan, but it has never come out and—Hamid Karzai was famous for saying: "You're fighting the war on the wrong side of the line. You're bombing our villages when the bombers are coming from the other side."

SAID SABIR IBRAHIMI: The United States actually has supported a regional solution to the problem, and over the years the State Department's special representative for Afghanistan reconciliation, Ambassador Khalilzad, has been going around and talking to the regional countries—Pakistan, Russia, China, and I think he was even willing to talk to the Iranians and their back channels tried to talk to the Iranians also in Kabul and elsewhere, in Doha—so the American push was for a regional solution, and it still is. Also, there is the United States, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, and Afghanistan quadrilateral that was there, so there have been discussions about regional solutions and about regional consensus on Afghanistan.

However, it didn't happen. There was consensus that they wanted peace in Afghanistan, but they want it on their own terms. Pakistan wanted it on its own terms, Iran on its own terms, and Russia on its own terms. The Central Asians were kind of agnostic. India was trying to stick to the side of the republic, and to the last minute they didn't even contact the Taliban. When the government norm was collapsed the Indians reached out to the Taliban. There is some back-channeling going on right now that started a couple of months ago.

But here is the issue of how the international community works: You don't get recognition just by being recognized by your neighbors. At the United Nations the Security Council needs to recognize you as a country. Your country's representative to the United Nations has to be approved by the United Nations, so if the Taliban are going to send, let's say, a permanent representative now to New York, the United Nations I think will not accept it because de facto there is no government in Afghanistan. Which government are you talking about? The collapsed republic or the emirate that is not recognized literally by anyone, including Pakistan, Russia, China, and Iran, who might be willing to recognize the Taliban emirate if they went that route.

However, I think right now the focus is to avoid that scenario where the Taliban announce their emirate, and I believe that the Taliban didn't want that. They didn't want the return of the emirate because they know that they are not going to get the recognition. However, they are not going to let go of power and let go of their ideological goals, which is the establishment of a rigid Islamic state.

I think the international community would be fine with an Islamic state as long as it respects the basic human rights of minorities and women. The achievements of the 20 years I do not think they will be the same. It is not the same. It is not going to be same. Already there are some changes. Afghan radio and TV were occupied by the Taliban the other day, and they did not let the women anchors talk. I don't know if that has now changed, but that is a thing that happened two or three days ago. However, to be fair to the Taliban, they have participated in other media where women were actually interviewing them.

So I think we can see that the Taliban are trying to stick to what they said to their constituency, which was the establishment of a rigid Islamic state. Also, they are trying to accommodate the changes of the last 20 years. If they reach a political settlement with other Afghan factions, I think this is the way it's going to be: much more restrictions on women, a much more "religious society," I would say—I don't know how else to put it—but there will be accommodations to private media, other people, private businesses doing things; that is if they reach a political solution. If they don't reach a political solution, I don't know. I think the alternative would be another unfortunate uncivil war, which I personally for my people and for my family, who are there right now, hope that is avoided at all costs.

Actually, poverty—right now I think around 18 million Afghans are in need of humanitarian assistance. This is when the international community was there, the GDP was around $20 billion, and there was money pouring in from all over the world, not a lot but at least enough to get some things going, but already the United States and others are talking about slashing those funds, humanitarian funds even. I hope the international community finds a way to keep at least the humanitarian aid going into the country and probably hold other money that they have for the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces or other assistance that was planned to go to the government. But humanitarian aid should go because people are in need and people need it.

TATIANA SERAFIN: Nick, I think this is very important to our doorstep and our audience, the idea that humanitarian and women's rights issues are the issues that might motivate our average Main Street listener. Do you think that is true? What are you seeing and hearing on your end?

NIKOLAS GVOSDEV: What I think is striking is that, while there is a lot of dismay at how the withdrawal happened, support for the withdrawal, which was pretty high in the United States across all party lines hasn't really budged, so you don't have people saying, "We need to be going back in force." The question of humanitarian, human rights, and women's rights will motivate certain sectors in the United States and in the West, but I think the real question is, as we saw prior to 9/11 that those were not enough to get the United States to act. It was the terror threat.

What I find fascinating listening to this is the extent to which the Taliban say: "Look, if we say the right words, if we perhaps at least publicly down-pedal some of the things we've done, even if we're doing them"—which I think both Ali and Said have mentioned—"we can avoid triggering that doorstep threshold where the United States or other countries will want to come back." The risk here, of course, also is that you may have donor fatigue of people saying, "Well, there are other parts of the world now that need the aid, and perhaps we should move on."

But listening to this conversation—and gentlemen, for your final thoughts on this as we conclude—is the sense of, is there a kind of equilibrium that will evolve here that things will not be great in Afghanistan, but we may not also see a repeat of the conditions that led to the United States and other countries making a big effort to try to come into Afghanistan? I think this point about Afghanistan being recreated as an Islamic state, and as we have seen the United States is prepared certainly in its relationship with other countries to tolerate a degree of human rights violations and the like.

In the end, maybe it is too early to speculate, but are we evolving toward that this 20-year chapter in the international community's role in Afghanistan is coming to an end, and everyone is preparing in their own way to move on?

ALI LATIFI: One thing to remember is Afghanistan, even as an Islamic republic, has always been an Islamic society—its laws, its regulations, education, everything, the culture, has all been based on Sharia. I think it was the Canadian foreign minister or someone who said, "We will never give money or support in Afghanistan based on Sharia."

I was like, "Well, then you're never going to give money to Afghanistan in its entire history."

So we have to get rid of this mentality that an Islamic system is somehow the Taliban system. It is not that.

Really quickly, the Taliban didn't occupy the national broadcasters. They concerned themselves with the government, so they took it over and ran it the way they wanted, but it was really good because in stark reaction to that were the private networks for, I think, the last two days have had all their female anchors anchoring all of their news segments, all of their news hours. They have sent the female reporters onto the streets to report. Because the Taliban are everywhere on the streets of Kabul right now you would have this female reporter standing next to a caliph.

An equilibrium is the best possible outcome at this point, and there is a hope that there will be when this new government is formed that even flawed people from the last 20 years or who were around from the kingdom and First Republic times, even with all their many difficulties and flaws, at least if they are included they will bring in some level of democracy to counterbalance the Taliban urges, and that at this point is probably the best possible outcome.

But I think the one thing we have to remember is that everything that is happening right now is the direct result of the failure of the last 20 years of the international community. They failed to hold a corrupt government to account. They failed to create a ceasefire with the Taliban, to push both sides to negotiate in good faith and in earnest. They have been slashing aid funds for years. It is not like they just started slashing funds because the Taliban took over. They have been slashing funds for, I don't know, three or four years already.

So hopefully, on the Western side, the thing that needs to come out of it right away is a serious investigation and interrogation as to just how badly this international community managed to mess up the entire situation in Afghanistan, to the point where now we have a Taliban that almost exactly 20 years from when they started their occupation is back in power and was able to take 20-something provinces in a matter of 11 days with nobody batting an eye, nobody in the Western world really saying anything, and the government that was in charge never acknowledging it. So I think, just like the failures of Vietnam should have taught lessons to them when they came to Afghanistan, hopefully this time they can take their failures here and really try to study them and learn from them so that they don't do this again to another nation.

TATIANA SERAFIN: Said, final comments.

SAID SABIR IBRAHIMI: To be honest with you, I think what's happening in Afghanistan right now, I just want us to look at this again from a regional and international perspective. The regional powers, as long as the Taliban are kept at bay in Afghanistan, they are okay with their rule, even the broader international community. The European Union, for instance, has said that they will engage with the Taliban even if they do not recognize them. So I think engagement with the Taliban will be necessary because they are going to be ruling 35 million people, whether they will be ruling alone or whether they come to their senses and agree to some sort of unity government. I agree with Ali that it has to be something that all Afghans see themselves in.

I am not in a position right now that I can tell you that this will happen because now the Taliban have all the power, and why would they share it? Yes, for international recognition, but they were not recognized in the 1990s, and they didn't care that much. Other dictatorships, like North Korea, do they care? I am just going to pose this question: For how many years North Korea has been isolated from the rest of the world, and the dictatorship just keeps going? Iran: There are a lot of sanctions on Iran, but they are still there.

I just hope that the Taliban comes to their senses—and not only the Taliban, but also the other factions. Right now people are talking about armed resistance. I don't know how successful that would be, but it will kill a lot more Afghans. But people are tired of the Taliban, and they are back and forth. All the fault does not fall on the national community. The corrupt leaders of Afghans, they were also responsible for it, from Karzai to Ghani. What did they do for their country, we should ask.

I applaud Ghani, actually, Abdullah, and Karzai staying behind, but Ghani escaped. A lot of other people who work in the government with hyphenated Afghans were there with their passports, they have all left the country.

ALI LATIFI: They left before Ghani. They left days before Ghani.

SAID SABIR IBRAHIMI: So that is where we are. It is not just the international community. I think it is a shared responsibility.

Also, Pakistan and Iran, as Ali mentioned, were part of this, and Russia and China. It is very complicated. Now they are trying to scapegoat this one person, Ghani, which I do not support in any way, and I think he was one of the corrupt leaders, and he ran a very corrupt government, but so was Karzai before him and so were all other Afghan leaders who worked in the government. I can't even find one person I can tell you that ran the country in a way that we could call good governance. The ministers were all politically appointed, and they had their relatives and buddies hired. That's how the government was functioning.

To be honest, some Afghans are happy that the Taliban are in power now because of those corrupt people. However, it is not going to be beautiful under Taliban life. Yes, Afghanistan is an Islamic country and has been an Islamic country for a long time. The laws are based on Sharia, as Ali pointed out, but the Taliban way of thinking is totally different.

Iraq also is a Muslim country and Syria, but the way the ISIS went in there, they had a different vision of Islam. I think we need to be careful when we say, "Oh, Afghanistan was Islamic, so now another Islamic country is not a big deal." It is a big deal. The Taliban worldview is totally different. As long as they can tolerate other worldviews that are still Islamic worldviews, I think we will see a stable Afghanistan. Otherwise, it is just going to be another chaotic situation there for years to come.

TATIANA SERAFIN: On a note of hope I hope we leave this conversation today. Thank you so much, Said Sabir Ibrahimi from the Center on International Cooperation at NYU, and Ali Latifi from Al Jazeera, who is on the ground in Kabul. Thank you both for your time today. I really appreciate it. We will be following this issue here at Carnegie.

Please, our audience, send us your questions and comments on Twitter @DoorstepPodcast, and we will engage and keep following this issue.

Thank you so much, Nick, for your time today. Thank you, everyone.

NIKOLAS GVOSDEV: Thank you.

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