In late August 2021, the US completed its withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, ending a 20-year occupation. The Taliban retook the country with shocking speed. The Islamic fundamentalist political group was founded in 1994 and controlled most of Afghanistan until the US-led campaign ousted it in 2001. Now it faces the challenge of forming a new government.

Despite pledges to uphold human rights, Taliban forces are reported to have broken many promises. Women after a certain age are being excluded from school and public life and the United Nations has received allegations of reprisal killings. The safety of different ethnic and religious groups remains uncertain. The rise of the Taliban has taken a toll on Afghan media too, with more than 250 news services shut down. So what does the future hold for Afghanistan? Will the situation deteriorate further? And what can the international community do to help?

We asked US foreign policy professor Scott Lucas and political economy researcher Kambaiz Rafi.

Are the Taliban of today any different from the group ruling 20 years ago?

Kambaiz Rafi: The Taliban first emerged back in the 1990s. Afghanistan had recently come out of a ten-year Soviet occupation. This was followed by four to five years of internal conflict in rural areas and the big cities. The country was dismally diminished and subdued, and infrastructure that had been built before the 1970s more or less reduced to rubble. The population, which in the 1980s amounted to about 18 million people, had been reduced by about a third. Partly, this was the result of war-induced emigration to countries like Iran and Pakistan.