The overarching question imparting urgency to this exploration is: Can U.S.-Russian contention in cyberspace cause the two nuclear superpowers to stumble into war? In considering this question we were constantly reminded of recent comments by a prominent U.S. arms control expert: At least as dangerous as the risk of an actual cyberattack, he observed, is cyber operations’ “blurring of the line between peace and war.” Or, as Nye wrote, “in the cyber realm, the difference between a weapon and a non-weapon may come down to a single line of code, or simply the intent of a computer program’s user.”
The Taliban recaptured power nearly a year ago. The return of the Taliban swept aside the U.S.-backed Afghan government after twenty years of international support only weeks before the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. The regime’s return has profound security implications for Afghanistan and its neighbours, and understanding these will guide the discussion. Despite the withdrawal of all international forces, the conflict in Afghanistan has not ended for Afghans or its neighbours who are tackling the ripple effects of the Taliban’s return. The recent U.S. drone attack that killed Osama bin Laden’s successor, al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri in downtown Kabul demonstrates that the Taliban protect global terrorists. Although unsurprising, Zawahiri’s discovery in the heart of the Afghan capital raises questions about developments across the terrorist landscape. Terrorist groups in the region and within Afghanistan are celebrating the Taliban’s victory and looking to replicate its success across the region. Moreover, the Taliban feel emboldened to conduct their affairs with impunity following the U.S.-led coalition’s withdrawal from the country.
This discussion will examine vital questions relating to the political, security, and humanitarian challenges facing the country and what can be done about them.
What lit the fuse for the Taliban’s return to power?
What impact did the Doha agreement have on insurgent violence in Afghanistan?
To what extent did the U.S.-led coalition tackle the question of Taliban sanctuaries in Pakistan?
What are the main regional implications of the new political reality and how are Afghanistan’s neighbours responding to the Taliban regime?
What does the Taliban’s come back mean for violent extremism in Afghanistan and outside its borders?
What is the current state of the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan and what measures have been adopted in response?
What can be done to stem the interlocking political, security, and humanitarian challenges?
This event will present a rich tapestry of ideas from researchers and practitioners with experience of having served in Afghanistan. The discussion will draw on rich scholarship, first-hand insights, and evidence-based research.
Dr. Nishank Motwani
Nishank Motwani works on regional competition, protracted conflicts, nuclear strategy, and terrorism, focusing on the Indo-Pacific and South Asia. He has held senior executive organizational and advisory roles in Kabul, where he worked on security, countering violent extremism, and political affairs. During his time in Afghanistan, he also served as an Independent Elections Observer and covered two presidential and one parliamentary election between 2014 and 2020. Following the collapse of the Afghan government in August 2021, he testified before the Australian Senate in November 2021, where he examined the dynamics of the terrorism threat flowing from the Taliban’s return to power. Nishank has published his research in peer-reviewed journals, edited books, and online channels such as the Combating Terrorism Centre at West Point, War On The Rocks, Foreign Policy, The Diplomat, The Interpreter, East Asia Forum, and others. Nishank is finalizing his forthcoming book, Players, Perceptions, and Power in Afghanistan’s Regional Conflict, to be published in 2023 by Palgrave Macmillan. He was awarded his PhD at the University of New South Wales, Australian Defence Force Academy, in 2015, and has dual master’s degrees in strategic studies and diplomacy at the Australian National University. Nishank is currently a Mid-Career Master in Public Administration candidate at the Harvard Kennedy School, where he is an Edward S. Mason Fellow and a Ramsay Centre Postgraduate Scholar.
Fatima Faizi is an Afghan journalist who fled the country after the Taliban came to power last year. She has reported on Afghanistan for The New York Times, Al Jazeera, and The Guardian. She’s recently completed a fellowship at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism.
Major Benjamin Wong is an active-duty infantry officer from the Canadian Army and member of the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry. He has served on three operational assignments and twice with senior staff at the Canadian National Defence Headquarters. His is a graduate of the Royal Military College of Canada where he holds a BA in Military & Strategic Studies, and an MA in War Studies. He was deployed in Afghanistan in 2011-2012 and later served as the Military Assistant to the Minister of Defence in 2013 during the Canadian drawdown from Afghanistan.
Dan Dillenback is an active-duty officer in the United States Army. He served 10 years as a combat engineer before transitioning to his current role as a military strategist. After graduating high school in Massachusetts, Dan attended Boston University and was commissioned in the Army as an engineer officer. He deployed to Afghanistan in 2013, where he led a platoon in route clearance, finding and destroying improvised explosive devices in several provinces north of Kabul. He also served as an engineer advisor to an Afghan National Army Brigade. After returning from Afghanistan, Dan taught route clearance tactics at the Army Engineer School, where he trained over 750 engineer officers from numerous countries, including several from Afghanistan. He recently published a thesis on foreign security force development that included a case study on the Soviet-Afghan War. Dan holds a bachelor’s degree in advertising from Boston University, a master’s degree in Geological Engineering from the University of Missouri Science & Technology, and a master’s degree in strategic studies from the United States Army Command and General Staff College. He is currently a candidate for a Master’s in Public Administration through the Mid-Career MPA program.
Laura is an Australian international lawyer and diplomat specialising in multilateral organisations and global peace and security issues.
She has served overseas at Australia’s Permanent Mission to the African Union in Addis Ababa, with accreditation to Ethiopia, South Sudan and Djibouti. In 2019-20, she was seconded to NATO as a civilian policy advisor at the Resolute Support Mission in Kabul, Afghanistan, supporting NATO’s engagement on the Afghan peace process. Most recently, Laura worked on human rights and gender issues at Australia’s Permanent Mission to the United Nations in New York. She also has extensive experience working on regional and maritime security challenges in the Indo-Pacific including the South China Sea in Canberra-based roles.
Laura has a Bachelor of Arts/Laws from the University of Newcastle and a Master of International Security Law from ANU. She is an RG Menzies scholar and was a 2021-22 fellow with Harvard Davis Centre’s Arms Control Negotiation Academy.
Ali Yawar Adili
Ali Yawar Adili is a graduate student at Columbia University concentrating in International Security Policy. He works as a researcher with Afghanistan Analysts Network (AAN). He was the project coordinator of the Afghanistan Observatory at New America from the beginning of January to the end of October 2022. Ali was the Country Director of Kabul-based research organization Afghanistan Analysts Network (AAN) before he left Afghanistan following the Taliban takeover in August 2021. He joined AAN as a researcher in 2016. In that role, he has conducted extensive research focused on elections and electoral system, political groups and coalitions in Afghanistan, the intra-Afghan peace talks, the government institutions, and the Taliban activities and internal political development in the Hazarajat region of Afghanistan. His publications are available here.
Prior to AAN, he worked with the UNDP-ELECT Project (2014-16) and as an international member of staff with UNHCR in Baghdad, Iraq (2012-14). Adili has worked with the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs (NDI)-Afghanistan (2007-12) and the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (2006-07). He also contributed as a columnist and political analyst to various Afghan daily newspapers, including Daily Outlook Afghanistan and Daily Open Society.