Perspectives on Politics

Review Essay

Afghanistan: What Went Wrong?

Roland Paris

Centre for International Policy Studies, University of Ottawa

The US-led invasion of Afghanistan in October 2001, which deposed the Taliban regime, was followed by a major international effort to stabilize that country. More than a decade later, this effort has yielded neither security nor political stability in Afghanistan. After having been ousted from power, the Taliban reestablished itself in the borderlands of Pakistan and began fighting an effective guerrilla war against international and Afghan government forces. Despite heavy losses in recent years, the insurgency shows no sign of giving up. Meanwhile, attempts to establish a credible and legitimate Afghan government have been similarly disappointing. President Hamid Karzai, once hailed as the country's democratic savior, came to be seen instead as the leader of one of the most corrupt regimes on the planet, a perception that has damaged his government's legitimacy both at home and abroad. Afghanistan's development and human rights indicators have improved, but it remains to be seen if these gains can be sustained as the international effort is scaled back. Finally, although the United States and its partners succeeded in weakening Al Qaeda in the region, both Afghanistan and nuclear-armed Pakistan appear to have become considerably less stable over the course of the mission, with untold consequences for the future.

Roland Paris is founding Director of the University of Ottawa's Centre for International Policy Studies and Associate Professor of Public and International Affairs at the University of Ottawa.