Afghanistan has at one and the same time been at the center of global dynamics and resolutely separated from them. These intersections were put into stark relief in 2001 when Afghanistan became the center of the world’s attention following the attacks on the World Trade Center, the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan and the attempt to uproot the Taliban. Then over twenty years later, Afghanistan took center stage again when the American withdrawal in August 2021 sent the nation reeling into chaos and the world witnessed the Taliban takeover and the ensuing humanitarian crisis. These events, though, are part of a much longer history where Afghanistan has been at the center of geopolitical tensions. In Games Without Rules, Tamim Ansary explains the great riddle of Afghanistan: “Why does every great power going into Afghanistan make exactly the same mistakes as the previous great power going into Afghanistan, even though each one comes to grief in pretty much the same way and for pretty much the same reasons?”
This symposium explored how Afghanistan both defines and defies the long history of geopolitical dynamics, statecraft, cultural exchange, and identity formation. Papers examined the topic of a global Afghanistan from a range of disciplinary perspectives, including but not limited to history, economics, political science, religious studies, cultural studies, and human rights. This event offered much-needed perspectives on the process of the Afghan nation-building project, the global aspects of Afghanistan in the 20-21st centuries, Afghan society from domestic and international geo-political angles, the complexities of Afghan culture, and the prospects of an independent Afghanistan. Bringing together scholars, policy makers, and public intellectuals, this event aims to begin an ongoing dialogue. In order to increase the impact of the event, papers presented at the symposium will be published as an edited volume in addition to the this complementary website of resources, including videos of presentations.