EU 'will have to talk with Taliban' to prevent humanitarian crisis

EU 'will have to talk with Taliban' to prevent humanitarian crisis
An army soldier patrols past people at the border of Chaman in August 2021. Credit: Belga

The European Union will have to engage in a dialogue with the Taliban as soon as possible to prevent a humanitarian and a potential migratory disaster, according to the EU foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell.

In a statement on behalf of the EU, Borrell stressed that “The negotiation process between the Afghan government and the Taliban offered the best chance to reach a solution that would guarantee security and peaceful coexistence within Afghanistan and in the region.” Whether the Taliban will agree to resume the process after their power-grab is questionable.

Speaking following a digital meeting with the 27 Ministers of Foreign Affairs to discuss the EU's approach to the new situation in Afghanistan, he stressed that this does not imply recognition of the new regime.

"We will have to get in touch with authorities in Kabul. The Taliban have won the war, so we have no choice but to approach them," Borrell said.

He added that during these talks, EU authorities will "remain vigilant about the respect of international obligations and especially the rights of women and girls."

During the press conference following the meeting, Borrell stressed that any communication with any future Afghan government will be "conditioned on a peaceful and inclusive settlement and respect for the fundamental rights of all Afghans."

Whilst humanitarian aid to Afghanistan will continue, development aid to the country is now at a standstill and "can also only be resumed if the Taliban respect a series of conditions," Borrell stated.

Evacuation and consequences

The priority of the meeting was the evacuation of European nationals still present in the country as well as Afghan citizens who worked with the EU for more than 20 years, "if they want to leave the country."

"We cannot abandon them and we will do – we are doing – everything we can in order to bring them and offer them shelter in the European Union Member States," Borrell stated, thanking the countries for offering the visa required for these almost 400 people and their families.

"I coordinated with Secretary of State [of the United States, Antony] Blinken on Monday, and I informed my colleagues on Tuesday and our engagement is to continue working to do everything we can to get these people out of Afghanistan," he said.

However, he stressed that this evacuation will also involve dialogue with the Taliban so that these missions can access Kabul international airport.

He also emphasised that the EU must ensure that the new political situation created in Afghanistan by the return of the Taliban "does not lead to a large-scale migratory movement towards Europe."

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The High Representative explained: “What worries me is the Afghan people who had been working with us. To take 400 people from their houses to the airport in order to board several planes leaving at several moments in different groups, is a logistic operation that cannot be implemented without some kind of agreement with the Taliban.”

Peter Spano, Lead spokesperson for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, clarified to The Brussels Times that the common EU rescue operation only includes staff and their families who had worked for the EU delegation. Each EU member states is supposed to take care of its own local staff and to make arrangements with partner countries to get them out of Afghanistan.

“There is a lot of coordination among the EU (EEAS) and Member States in preparation of the evacuations but in the end the planes are provided and operated by specific Member States, not by the EU, and they fly to a specific Member State,” the spokesperson added.

Another purpose of the foreign affairs council meeting was to assess the consequences of "a new political dynamic in Afghanistan created by the political and military control by the Taliban," the militant group that seized power of the country two weeks before the US was set to complete its troop withdrawal.

Many people fear the Taliban will reimpose the harsh interpretation of Islamic law, which was implemented when the group ran the country from 1996 to 2001, and banned women from attending school or working outside the home, whilst obliging them to wear the all-encompassing burqa and be accompanied by a male relative whenever they went outside.

The EU emphasised that an enduring solution to the conflict should not be established by force, but "through meaningful negotiations based on democracy, the rule of law and constitutional rule."

Borrell added that the negotiation process between the Afghan government and the Taliban offered the best chance to reach a solution that would guarantee security and peaceful coexistence within Afghanistan and in the region.

"The protection and promotion of all human rights, in particular those of women and girls, must be an integral part of these efforts and women should be supported and able to contribute fully to this process," he said.

It remains to be seen if the Taliban has become more moderate since 2021. At the first press conference given by  a Taliban spokesperson, the tone was conciliatory but it was obvious that any social reforms must comply with the Taliban’s framework of Sharia law. Afghans who had worked for the ousted government were offered amnesty.

Lessons learned?

Finally, Borrell stressed that there are many lessons to learn about what has happened, and about what the consequences of international interference were in Afghanistan.

Looking back at the original commitment from the West, which was to "fight Al-Qaeda", he noted this had shifted to the construction of a modern state, to be able to guarantee freedoms and fundamental rights of the human persons, especially women and girls.

"Today, 20 years later, we can say that the first part of the mission succeeded and the second [did] not," Borrell said.

"We have to recognise that mistakes have been made, and we have to ask ourselves about the consequences of an operation of nation-building conducted with an unprecedented amount of resources, but which achieved very modest results in regard to the limited resilience of the Afghan state and the Afghan army," he added.

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