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The Failure of Liberal Interventionism: Deconstructing Afghan Identity Discourses of “Modern” and “Tradition”

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Abstract:  In Afghanistan, the crisis of liberal intervention unfolded in the failure to establish democratic structures as a solution to terrorism and extremism in the aftermath of 9/11. Following the emergency withdrawal of US and NATO forces from Afghanistan on August 30, 2021, President Ashraf Ghani discreetly left Kabul, enabling the Taliban to regain control and form a new government in the country. The recurrent pattern of intervention and the subsequent return of the Taliban highlights a failure of the liberal project, which is a significant concern addressed in this article as the main question: Why has liberal intervention failed in Afghanistan? The answer lies in deconstructing the hegemonic discourse of “modern” Afghan to understand how it was resisted and replaced by the alternative discourse of “tradition,” subsequently, leading to the failure of the liberal project. The “modern” discourse, rooted in the US social context, aimed to civilise the perceived primitive and traditional Afghans. Conversely, the Taliban, drawing upon the Afghan social context, contested the “modern” discourse with an alternative discourse of “tradition” portraying liberals and their supporters as “occupiers” and “oppressors,” thus, justifying their armed resistance (jihad) against occupying forces. Framed within a critical social constructivism, the text, interviews, speeches, and statements of prominent Taliban leaders and the US presidents, apprise how specific identities have been employed to naturalise the “modern” discourse as justification for intervention. Critical discourse analysis explicates how the “tradition” discourse denaturalised the former and, subsequently, facilitated the establishment of the Taliban’s power in Afghanistan.

Keywords:  Afghan identity; critical discourse analysis; critical social constructivism; failure of liberal intervention; Taliban; US policy failure; war on terrorism



© Aisha Younus. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license (, which permits any use, distribution, and reproduction of the work without further permission provided the original author(s) and source are credited.