‘We will have to engage with the new government in Afghanistan,’ says EU foreign policy chief
Saturday, 04 September 2021
The informal meeting of EU foreign affairs ministers last Friday focused on Afghanistan and the conditions for EU’s engagement with the new regime in Kabul.
In a press statement after the meeting, High Representative Josep Borrell described the issue – how to deal with the new government in Afghanistan under the Taliban’s rule – as multifaceted and of the most urgent priority facing EU today.
Currently, there is much speculation about where the new regime is heading. Will it prevent terrorist organisations linked to ISIS from operating in the country? Will it establish trade relations with other countries to avoid economic collapse? Has it moderated its hard-line Islamist ideology? Will it allow international aid organisations to provide much-needed health- and education services?
“In order to support the Afghan population, we will have to engage with the new government in Afghanistan, which does not mean recognition, it is an operational engagement,” Borrell said. “And this operational engagement will increase depending on the behaviour of this government. In order to measure the behaviour, we need benchmarks.”
Borrell listed five conditions for EU’s relations with Kabul but it remains to be seen if the Taliban regime will accept all of them. To assess the implementation of the conditions, or benchmarks, EU has decided to work in a coordinated manner “through a joint EU presence in Kabul, coordinated by the European External Action Service (EEAS) – if the security conditions are met”.
“It is the first practical thing to do if we want to keep in touch, reach out from an operational point of view, with the new Afghan government, because we need to discuss about important issues,” the High Representative explained.
“The first one, the most pressing one, is how do we evacuate the several hundreds or thousands of people who we would have liked to have evacuated by plane – it was impossible – but we know them, we know who they are. They have been working with us or they have been working to build a democratic and free Afghanistan and we are strongly committed to take them out.”
EU conditions for engagement with Kabul
Afghanistan must not serve as a basis for the export of terrorism to other countries.
Respect of human rights, in particular women rights, the rule of law and freedom of the media
The establishment of an inclusive and representative transitional government through negotiations among political forces in Afghanistan.
Free access for humanitarian aid
The fulfilment of the Taliban commitment about the departure of foreign nationals and Afghans at risk, who wish to leave the country
Borrell also referred to the Council of the Home Affairs Ministers meeting on 31 August. “Individual Member States will decide, on a voluntary basis, on the persons at risk that they are willing to receive under their protection.”
The issue of resettlement of Afghan refugees in EU, however, is controversial and no consensus was reached at the home affairs minister meeting. Ylva Johansson, the European Commissioner responsible for home affairs, said after the meeting that no figures and resettlement goals had been decided. EU’s focus should be to avoid a humanitarian crisis in order to avoid a migration crisis.
Belgium seems to be one of the few member states willing to receive Afghan refugees. Its Foreign Affairs Minister Sophie Wilmès said after the meeting that her priority is still to get Belgians and people with a link to Belgium out of Afghanistan quickly and safely. “Belgium therefore strongly insisted on European coordination to complete the evacuation. That has also been agreed to.”
Is the pledging of resettlement places in the EU still going on?
A Commission spokesperson told The Brussels Times that resettlement is part of the Commission’s comprehensive approach which was basically confirmed at the home affairs council meeting. He did not comment on any figures since the pledging of resettlement places is still work in progress until mid-September. The Commission will also organise a high-level resettlement forum.
“The Commission calls on the member states to engage in voluntary resettlement and provide safe pathways,” he added.