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The Fate of Afghanistan and the Measure of American Culpability


In August, the world looked on in anguish as chaos erupted in Afghanistan. The United States was hastily withdrawing its forces after occupying the country for nearly twenty years, and the Taliban—dislodged from power a generation earlier—were swiftly regaining control. Panic swept across Afghanistan’s cities, and desperate citizens crowded the airport in Kabul in an attempt to flee.

Abdul Wahid Wafa, a longtime journalist from Afghanistan, was stunned but not surprised. For months, he had observed ominous signs of what awaited after the U.S. departure, and had been making plans for his family to leave. “I knew that something is going to happen in Afghanistan,” he told New Yorker subscribers, on Thursday night. “The collapse was very gradual. I can remember that, months ago, I started calling my friends and colleagues, that I see something that completely goes to a wrong direction.”


Wafa was speaking from the safety of Houston, where he and his family took shelter last month, following brief stops in Qatar and Mexico. A former Kabul-based reporter for the New York Times, Wafa was taking part in The New Yorker Live, a monthly digital event series for subscribers to the magazine. The panel’s other participants included Anand Gopal, who recently wrote in The New Yorker about support for the Taliban among Afghanistan’s rural women, and returned to the country last month, and Eliza Griswold, a contributing writer for the magazine who received a PEN Translation Prize for “I Am the Beggar of the World,” a collection of Afghan women’s folk poetry. David Rohde, the executive editor of newyorker.com, who has reported from Afghanistan—and who described his kidnapping there by a faction of the Taliban—served as the moderator.

In the video above, you can watch highlights from the discussion, which covered topics including Donald Trump’s unprecedented decision to engage in negotiations with the Taliban; the responsibility that the Biden Administration bears for Afghanistan’s collapse; how ordinary Americans can aid Afghans; and the Taliban’s prospects for remaining in power. The event, which can be viewed in full by subscribers, was extended to allow the panelists time to answer questions submitted by members of the audience.

Details of the next edition of The New Yorker Live will be announced after the twenty-second New Yorker Festival, which begins on Monday and is open to both subscribers and non-subscribers. (Subscribers are eligible for discounted tickets.) New Yorker Live programming is available exclusively for subscribers, who can enjoy all past episodes at any time.

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The Fate of Afghanistan and the Measure of American Culpability