Afghanistan and Central Asia Since the Taliban Takeover


The shockwaves of the August 2021 U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan and subsequent Taliban takeover have reverberated across Central Asia. In a water scarce region, Taliban efforts to build the long-desired Qosh Tepa Canal on the Amu Darya River and a water diversion project on the Helmand River have strained relations with downstream Central Asian states and Iran. The U.S. lacks leverage to contain cross-border incursions and terrorist acts in the region, and Russia’s capabilities have also diminished since its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022. The absence of formal diplomatic ties between Washington and the Taliban-led government in Kabul further constrains U.S. capacity to mediate conflict between Afghanistan and its neighbors.

On March 28th, the Center for the National Interest hosted the second in a monthly series of expert discussions organized by the Center’s Central Asia Connectivity Project.

—Zekria Barakzai is a former top diplomat with more than 30 years of experience working across the private sector, international organizations, NGOs, and the Afghan government. He received his MA in International Relations from Moscow State University for International Relations (MGIMO) and is currently a PhD researcher in International Affairs at Altinbas University in Istanbul, Turkey. His research focuses on Afghanistan’s transboundary water issues and water diplomacy.

—Jennifer Brick Murtazashvili is Founding Director of the Center for Governance and Markets and Professor of Public and International Affairs at the University of Pittsburgh. She has more than 25 years of experience working, conducting research, and living across Central Eurasia. She is the author of two books on Afghanistan and has advised the World Bank, USAID, and countless others. She is a contributing editor at The National Interest and was named by Prospect magazine as one of the world’s top thinkers.

—Tom Sanderson is Principal at Tom Sanderson Consulting where he leads a team serving clients on geopolitics, terrorism, and frontier markets. He is the former director of the Transnational Threats Project at CSIS. Across 25 years of field work, Sanderson has produced dozens of CSIS reports, published in The New York Times and Washington Post, testified before the U.S. Congress, provided expert commentary for the media, and taught courses for the U.S. Intelligence Community. He advises the Middle East Institute, Atlantic Council, and Hostage US. Recent field work includes Ukraine, Georgia, Taiwan, Jordan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan.

Andrew Kuchins, Senior Fellow at the Center for the National Interest, moderated the discussion.