Tensions within the European Union over attitude towards the Taliban

European diplomacy is torn between humanitarian and political imperatives. Should we reconnect with the Taliban to come to the aid of an Afghan population in danger, at the risk of overthrowing a fundamentalist Muslim regime which refuses to comply with international human rights rules? This has been the dilemma that has strongly opposed members of the European Union (EU) for the past two weeks, when Brussels has decided to send a delegation to Afghanistan for the second time in Kabul.

For France and Denmark, this decision borders on naivety and amounts to opening the way to the official recognition of a regime not very inclined to compromise, and that even its Russian, Chinese or Pakistani allies have not recognized.

According to the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Policy, Josep Borrell, EU member states have agreed that a “Minimal presence” of the EU in Kabul was “Necessary to support the Afghan people, and guarantee safe passage for Afghans in danger, but this does not mean recognition by Europeans of the new regime”. This statement did not escape the Taliban government. On Monday, October 25, the Taliban authorities promised to “Guarantee the security of this European mission”, closed in mid-August, and could reopen in four to five weeks. On Monday, the Taliban spokesman for the foreign ministry, Abdul Qahar Balkhi, spoke of a step “Important and positive”.

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“The famine is worrying, dramatic, with half of the population in need of help”, say those close to Mr Borrell, calling on the EU to be « leader » in the face of this drama. They add that, without a solution, “The way will be opened for China, the Emirates or Russia”. Embarrassing for a Union that wants to be “Geopolitics”. EU foreign ministers in September set a series of conditions for the continuation of a cautious dialogue focused on humanitarian action. But the repression of demonstrations and vis-à-vis journalists by the Taliban, like the composition – not very inclusive – of the new government, had frozen the attitude of the Twenty-Seven, evoking only the need for a “Operational commitment”.

“Saving a population in distress”

This very vague wording of the mandate reflected the desire to prevent « l’implosion » of the country, without officially recognizing its leaders. For the Union, it was also a question of avoiding a new wave of migration which is shaking many countries. On October 12, EU delegates met with Taliban envoys in Doha, Qatar. An exchange “Technical and informal”, cautiously emphasized those concerned. Brussels also sent to Kabul, on two occasions, to prepare for the reopening of a European branch, a delegation led by Arnout Pauwels, ex-number two of the EU mission in the Afghan capital.

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Tensions within the European Union over attitude towards the Taliban