The Taliban is back in power in Afghanistan, less than a month before the 20th anniversary of the September 11 attacks on the United States that led to the group’s ouster in an American-led invasion. As Afghans flee and embassies evacuate staff, Washington’s efforts to build a prosperous nation and model of Western-style democracy lie in tatters, a loss of credibility and humiliation being compared to its defeat in Vietnam. The Islamic group’s leaders are forming a government after President Ashraf Ghani fled with the stunningly swift fall of the capital, Kabul, and they have pledged to rule judiciously. It is a promise that has to be upheld, for the sake of long-suffering Afghans and regional stability. Uncertainty abounds whether the Taliban has learned lessons from two decades of fighting and is a different group from that which brutally ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001. US President Joe Biden apparently thinks it has changed; he precipitated its return to Kabul by going ahead with an agreement forged by his predecessor, Donald Trump, to withdraw troops from the country. The Taliban won. Here’s what that could mean The deal did not involve Ghani’s government and was struck on the proviso that the Taliban would engage in peace talks, end attacks, not support or host terrorists and respect the rights of women to work and girls for an education. Whether these will be delivered only time can tell, although initial signs in some areas do not augur well. The group has declined to attend peace talks in Qatar, decrees in provinces point to women being forcibly married to its fighters and girls again being denied an education, and experts contend the al-Qaeda terrorist group may once more have a presence. But the Taliban’s return to Kabul was largely peaceful, Afghan soldiers having either fled or joined its ranks as it seized territory. Some Western leaders have called for governments not to recognise the Taliban’s rule. But it faces no immediate political opposition. China, Russia and a number of other countries with interests in Afghanistan’s stability have been engaging the group. Beijing has sought assurances Muslim extremists will not use Afghan soil as a base from which to fuel unrest in its neighbouring region of Xinjiang and that its Belt and Road Initiative projects in Central Asia will not be put at risk. Not accepting the Taliban’s legitimacy and freezing it out of international dialogue could cause radicalisation and that would be disastrous for the well-being and future of Afghans. The Taliban has a chance for vindication. By working for an inclusive government, rejecting violence and extremist behaviour, and allowing equal rights for women, it will win international acceptance. Through that, Afghans will have a chance for the positive future the US promised, but failed to deliver.