The Decline and Fall of Republican Afghanistan

February 2023 9781787388017 304pp
Available as an eBook Available from Oxford Scholarship Online
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The Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan in 2021 was the result of declining active support for the government, and of waste and inefficiency in aid delivery. Yet, while corrosive, these problems were not in themselves sufficient to have brought about a collapse. To a significant degree, they were the result of early failings in institutional design, reflecting an American inclination to pursue short-term policy approaches that created perverse incentives⁠—thus interfering with the long-term objective of stability.

This book exposes the true factors underpinning Kabul’s fall. The Afghan Republic came under relentless attack from Taliban insurgents who depended critically on Pakistani support. It also suffered a creeping invasion that put the government on the back foot as the US tried and failed to deal with Pakistan’s perfidy. The fatal blow came when bored US leaders naively cut an exit deal with the enemy, fatally compromising the operation of the Afghan army and air force and triggering the final collapse, with top leaders at odds over whether to make a final stand in Kabul.

The Afghan Republic did not simply decline and fall. It was betrayed.


‘A well-written publication that will contribute to the ongoing and necessary debate about the fall of Afghanistan to the Taliban and the current situation in the country.’ — Informed Comment

‘This detailed account of the decisions and misjudgements that led to the fall of the Republic and the Taliban’s return to power is essential reading for anyone wanting to understand why the twenty-year campaign ended this way.’ — Sir Laurie Bristow, British Ambassador to Afghanistan 2021

‘A brilliant account by two of the most experienced, informed and insightful observers of Afghanistan, this is a must-read for anyone who wants to know how a twenty-year effort that started so confidently came to such a calamitous end.’ — David Kilcullen, co-author of The Ledger: Accounting for Failure in Afghanistan

‘A definitive account, including mistakes of US diplomacy that contributed to the debacle, which will be invaluable for policymakers seeking to make sense of the disaster and learn lessons for the future.’ — Lisa Curtis, Director of the Indo-Pacific Security Program, Center for a New American Security

‘A brilliant analysis of everything that went wrong in Afghanistan’s post-9/11 journey from darkness to light and back to darkness, exploring Pakistani duplicity as well as failures in Afghan political leadership and US diplomacy. Sobering, chilling and compelling reading.’ — Gareth Evans, former Australian Foreign Minister and President Emeritus of the International Crisis Group

‘An exceptional scholarly work, offering eye-opening insight into the strategic and military failure of the US and allies’ intervention.’ — Timor Sharan, author of Inside Afghanistan

‘Distinguishing between the gradual weakening, and the sudden collapse of the Republic of Afghanistan, this is a must-read. Jamal and Maley are uniquely well-informed, engage interestingly with relevant theory, and are unmistakably critical of those who have advocated peace with the Taliban.’ — Kristian Berg Harpviken, Research Professor, Peace Research Institute Oslo

‘This is the most comprehensive account written so far of Afghanistan’s twenty years as a Republic, beginning with the US intervention after 9/11 and ending with the Taliban’s return to power. The authors explain events in the context of Afghan society and politics, and spare none for their mistakes: the US for ignoring ground realities, Pakistan for supporting the Taliban resurgence, and Afghan leaders for not putting country above self, clan, or faction. An illuminating book.’ — Husain Haqqani, former ambassador of Pakistan to the United States, and author of Magnificent Delusions: Pakistan, the United States, and an Epic History of Misunderstanding


Ahmad Shuja Jamal was director-general for international relations on Kabul’s National Security Council (2019–21). He was previously a Fulbright scholar (Georgetown University), and worked for Human Rights Watch.

William Maley is Emeritus Professor of Diplomacy at Australian National University, and the author of many books on Afghan politics and history.

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