faculty & experts
07 October 2021

What’s Next for Afghanistan: An Anthropological Perspective

Professor Alessandro Monsutti recently gave an interview to Russian media outlet, where he discussed the future of Afghanistan, Taliban rule and raised questions as to the international community’s ability to hold the US military accountable for civilian deaths. The Taliban have been in power for more than a month. They have made some peaceful statements, but what is behind these words? How do they correlate with their actions?

Alessandro Monsutti:
On the one side, the Taliban is multiplying reassuring statements internationally. And internally and domestically sometimes they are also trying to reassure the population.

At the same time, we know that they have started to search houses, arrest people.

Apparently, they are very well informed with exactly who’s who: who has worked with the Americans, with the NGOs. Maybe they had some spies in these organisations, but they seem to be extremely informed.

We know that in Kabul they are now targeting especially the Panjshiri.

There are videos of arrests; we know that they carry out extrajudicial executions. We cannot exclude that the level of pressure and repression will progressively increase.

At the same time, they've announced that women will have access to higher education, but separately from men. Okay, let's wait and see. We don't know yet.

They were saying that they were thinking about including women in the government. They have not done it so far.

There are also the Shia. I have seen videos of the Taliban visiting Shia mosques and saying some reassuring words. At the same time, in the past, their attitude was that Shia are not true Muslims, they don’t consider them as Muslims actually.

So now they say things, but they do not always do what they say. It's difficult to know how they will evolve.  

How should international community respond?

The only option we have is to encourage them to be coherent with what they say.

I don't think we have any other choice but to cooperate and negotiate with them because they won the war. And that's something we have to accept, to take acknowledgement.

There is no way to take away their power, to get them out of Kabul.

We need to try to bring them towards more moderation by negotiating access to assets of the Afghan state outside Afghanistan and humanitarian assistance.

We need to have a kind of critical discussion with them: if we isolate them, if we refuse to talk to them, they will have no incentive to be moderate.

I don't think they’re ideologically different from 20 years ago. But I think they have learned a lot about the pragmatic side of politics and that's our only hope now because they want to be recognised internationally.

In a sense, they have recognised the legitimacy or the existence of the international community and the political pluralism internationally.

They say: we accept that you, the international community, exist, but you have to accept that Afghanistan has its own way to participate in international community, that we will organise our country in our way, not your way; we don't believe in democracy, we believe in Sharia.

And that's quite an interesting question in terms of political philosophy.

The problem, I would say, is that they don't translate this pluralism domestically. Their discourse is that there is only one way to be Afghan — it's our way; if some Afghans don't agree with us, it's because they are not true Afghans.

In the Taliban's view, it's because the minds of some Afghans have been polluted by the foreigners (the UN and the US) and it's the Taliban's duty to extract these prejudices from the mind of their compatriots and to purify them from the pollution, which came from outside.

This is potentially a recipe for super repressive policies.

Read the interview in its entirety by downloading the PDF below. 

The interview, conducted by Valentina Shvartsman, was originally published on in Russian.