With their harsh social policies, unbroken ties to terrorist organizations, and stiflingly narrow political rule, the Afghan Taliban have regularly ignored the pleas for change by the United States and much of the international community. Despite the Kabul regime’s coveting of political recognition and economic assistance, it has thus far demonstrated no desire to yield on policies it considers to be its Islamic birthright. The U.S. and its Western allies, witnessing the suffering of the Afghan people and mindful of their own security and broad strategic concerns and limitations, have sought ways to engage in Afghanistan that manage to avoid strengthening the Taliban government’s ability to pursue its repressive agenda and enhance its legitimacy. How to best deal with the Taliban is a matter of increasing debate among policymakers and analysts. Premised on the view that the current regime may remain in power for some time, this panel will discuss various practical diplomatic and economic options that could further American interests and the well-being of the Afghan people.
Senior Fellow and Director of the Indo-Pacific Security Program, Center for a New American Security (CNAS); former NSC Senior Director for South and Central Asia
Ronald E. Neumann
President, The American Academy of Diplomacy; former U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan
Non-Resident Scholar, MEI; Senior Fellow, Atlantic Council; former Ambassador of Afghanistan to UAE
Non-Resident Scholar, MEI; former CIA Senior Operations Officer; and author of The Recruiter: Spying and the Lost Art of American Intelligence
Marvin G. Weinbaum, moderator
Director, Afghanistan and Pakistan Studies, MEI
- According to Lisa Curtis, the security and human rights situation in Afghanistan is worsening by the day: women in Afghanistan are experiencing extreme gender persecution that goes beyond gender discrimination and terrorist groups are proliferating, especially ISKP and Al Qaeda, who operate under the patronage of the Taliban and are in present in their administrative structures. She advocates for conditioning U.S. engagement with the Taliban on policies that the U.S. wants to see materialized.
- Panelist Douglas London “would like to see the U.S. have an official presence on the ground not just in Kabul but in Kandahar where many decisions are being made” in order to try to achieve goals in the interest of U.S. national security, like addressing the human rights situation and the treatment of women, as well as the destabilizing presence of the Taliban in the region at-large.
- Ronald Neumann advocates for operating in a gray area: according to him a policy of hard disengagement is no longer feasible because the U.S. still wants to conduct counterterrorism, get more people out of the country, and address the humanitarian crisis. This requires cooperation with the Taliban. Neumann also advocates for the maximum degree of regional cooperation, which can pressure the Taliban.
- Javid Ahmad says that the Taliban have a “hermit kingdom” in the making as they transition from a former insurgent group to a ruling regime. Ahmad says that it is in the U.S. interest to cooperate with the Taliban to aleve the humanitarian situation. He believes that in the coming months we will see diplomatic cooperation become more socialized in public, especially if the Taliban cooperate on issues like counterterrorism. Ahmad also advocates for Afghans themselves to come to consensus on the way forward because the U.S. is not taking action to prevent or slow the Taliban’s consolidation.
Detailed Speaker Biographies
Lisa Curtis is a Senior Fellow and Director of the Indo-Pacific Security Program at CNAS. She is a foreign policy and national security expert with over 20 years of service in the U.S. government. Her work has centered on U.S. policy toward the Indo-Pacific and South Asia, with a particular focus on U.S.-India strategic relations; Quad (United States, Australia, India, and Japan) cooperation; counter-terrorism strategy in South and Central Asia; and China’s role in the region. Curtis served as deputy assistant to the president and NSC senior director for South and Central Asia from 2017 to 2021 under three successive national security advisors. From 2006 to 2017, Curtis was senior fellow on South Asia at the Heritage Foundation. She also served as a professional staff member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, handling the South Asia portfolio for former chairman of the committee, Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN), from 2003 to 2006. Before that, she worked as a senior advisor in the South Asia Bureau at the State Department and as a senior analyst on South Asia at the CIA, and from 1994 to 1998 served at the U.S. embassies in Pakistan and India.
Ronald E. Neumann, formerly a Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, served three times as Ambassador: to Algeria, Bahrain, and finally to Afghanistan from July 2005 to April 2007. Before Afghanistan, Neumann, a career member of the Senior Foreign Service, served in Baghdad from February 2004 with the Coalition Provisional Authority and then as Embassy Baghdad’s liaison with the Multinational Command, where he was deeply involved in coordinating the political part of military actions. Prior to working in Iraq, he was Ambassador in Manama, Bahrain (2001-2004), Deputy Assistant Secretary in the Bureau of Near East Affairs (1997-2000) with responsibility for North Africa and the Arabian Peninsula, and Ambassador to Algeria (1994 to 1997). He was Director of the Office of Northern Gulf Affairs (Iran and Iraq, 1991 to 1994). Earlier in his career, he was Deputy Chief of Mission in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, and in Sanaa in Yemen, Principal Officer in Tabriz, Iran, and Economic/Commercial Officer in Dakar, Senegal. His previous Washington assignments include service as Jordan Desk officer, Staff Assistant in the Middle East (NEA) Bureau, and Political Officer in the Office of Southern European Affairs.
Javid Ahmad is a nonresident senior fellow with the Atlantic Council’s South Asia Center. He was formerly Afghanistan’s ambassador to the United Arab Emirates. Previously, he was a nonresident fellow with the Modern War Institute at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, where he focused on pressing security, violent extremism, anti-money laundering and counterterrorism financing, and socioeconomic issues in South Asia. Ambassador Ahmad has worked with the U.S. defense community, including General Dynamics, where he provided security, counter-terrorism and economic analysis and assessments to U.S. government and business clients on South Asia/Central Asia. Prior to that, he worked on South Asia for the Pentagon’s Afghanistan-Pakistan Hands and the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School. He also worked as a program coordinator for Asia at the German Marshall Fund in Washington, a Washington-based think tank, and at NATO headquarters in Brussels. He has also worked on governance issues for organizations in Kabul.
Douglas London is a retired, decorated, 34-year veteran of the Central Intelligence Agency’s Clandestine Service. London’s experience as an Intelligence Community leader includes executive positions and multiple field assignments as a CIA Chief of Station and Director of National Intelligence Representative, the President’s senior intelligence representative. He served extensively across the Middle East, Africa, and South and Central Asia and was likewise a CIA subject matter expert on Iran, Counterterrorism, and Weapons of Mass Destruction. London is currently an Adjunct Associate Professor at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service who frequently writes on national security issues. His op-eds have been published in The New York Times, Foreign Policy, The Hill, Just Security, and The Middle East Institute. He has been widely quoted by journalists on Intelligence and issues related to counter-terrorism, Iran, the Middle East, and South Asia.
Marvin G. Weinbaum is professor emeritus of political science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and served as analyst for Pakistan and Afghanistan in the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research from 1999 to 2003. He is currently director for Afghanistan and Pakistan Studies at The Middle East Institute. At Illinois, Dr. Weinbaum served for 15 years as the director of the Program in South Asian and Middle Eastern Studies. His research, teaching, and consultancies have focused on the issues of national security, state building, democratization, and political economy in Afghanistan and Pakistan. He is the author or editor of six books and has written more than 100 journal articles and book chapters. Dr. Weinbaum was awarded Fulbright Research Fellowships for Egypt in 1981-82 and Afghanistan in 1989-90, and was a senior fellow at the United States Institute of Peace in 1996-97. He has been the recipient of research awards from the Social Science Research Council, the Ford Foundation, the American Political Science Association, and other granting agencies.
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