Conversations on the Evolving Situation in Afghanistan: Europe’s Role in Afghanistan
September 16, 2021
The Centre for Afghanistan, Middle East & Africa (CAMEA) at the Institute of Strategic Studies Islamabad (ISSI) had a Panel Discussion on ‘Conversations on the Evolving Situation in Afghanistan: Europe’s Role in Afghanistan’ which is the sixth in a series of conversations CAMEA is having on Afghanistan – under its ‘Conversations on the Evolving situation in Afghanistan’.
The distinguished speakers included: Mr. Graeme Smith, former Senior Consultant on Afghanistan at the Crisis Group, Ambassador Nadeem Riyaz, former Pakistan Ambassador to Sweden, Finland, Estonia, Latvia & current President Institute of Regional Studies (IRS), Mr. Daud Khattak, Managing Editor, Radio Mashaal (a Pashto language unit, broadcasting to regions on both sides of the Pak-Afghan border), Dr. Christian Wagner, Senior Fellow at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP), and Mr. Sangar Paykhar, founder of Afghan Eye podcast, freelance journalist & commentator on Afghan affairs. Ms. Amina Khan, Director CAMEA, Ambassador Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry, Director General ISSI, Ambassador Khalid Mahmood, Chairman BOG, ISSI, also participated in the discussion.
During her opening remarks, Ms. Amina Khan, Director CAMEA said although the Taliban gave assurances that it would work towards the formation of an inclusive political set-up, the interim government is anything but inclusive. However, even within the confines of a Taliban dominated set-up, a lot will depend on how the group delivers on governance, foreign relations, CT assurances, as well human rights. If the Taliban fail to deliver, it risks losing support and recognition need by the group to legitimize its rule. Hence, Taliban should work towards a future inclusive government. Europe has been a key player in Afghanistan, being the second largest political, economic and security contributor, making Afghanistan the largest beneficiary of EU development assistance. Apart from fearing the loss of gains made during the past two decades, in the light of recent developments, key concerns for Europe revolve around instability, terrorism and increased migration. Moreover, Europe’s engagement, recognition, funding, and cooperation with the Taliban will be conditioned upon the group meeting its commitments.
Ambassador Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry said that Europe has always been a very important player in Afghanistan, and that he has always believed in the resilience of the European continent as it has been at the centre of human and intellectual evolution. However, In Afghanistan Europe took a backseat and let the US lead the show. Hence it is important to see what kind of role Europe now intends to play in Afghanistan in terms of providing assistance be it economically as well as bringing peace and stability to the country.
Mr. Graeme Smith said that a lot of us are hoping for a political setup in Afghanistan but unfortunately it ended up with a military takeover of the country. The new interim government in Afghanistan is presenting various challenges for European policymakers. Providing economic assistance and avoiding economic crises is the key concern of Europe right now. He mentioned that there is a real trust deficit between Europe and the current Taliban government in Afghanistan. He stated that the future of Afghanistan is still unclear; however, there is hope that the Taliban will help international organizations continue their work and projects in Afghanistan. We are still in the very early days and we still have to wait for what comes out of Afghanistan, he said. It is the matter of survival of over 18 million Afghans. Hence, international community must come forward and play its due role before the events move towards the chaos.
Ambassador Nadeem Riyaz said that the Taliban’s takeover of Kabul and their establishment of an interim government in Afghanistan mean the group is now organised. The Taliban has transformed from what they were 20 years ago. They now have the capability to deliver and govern and should not be treated as an isolated entity by the international community. Talking about Europe’s concerns, he said that the influx of refugees is a serious concern for Europe because it will create instability in terms of security and, more specifically, with regards to harbouring terrorism. In order to bring stability to Afghanistan, it is important to engage with the Taliban, and allow them to govern according to the people’s wishes. He said the group needed to be given a chance to deliver. He stressed that Europe should play a key role in ensuring the well-being of the people of Afghanistan and engaging with them. There is a need to find a middle ground where neither party suffers. Furthermore, engaging with Afghanistan is not only in the interests of the region, but also the world at large.
Mr. Daud Khattak, said that Europe has been a major ally of the US in the post 9/11 era, and it now has serious concerns about the future of Afghanistan. These concerns will guide the role of Europe in Afghanistan in the future. After the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, Europe’s immediate concern is how to ensure women rights, human rights and freedom of the media. The safety and security of vulnerable Afghans is also an important concern along with an emerging humanitarian crisis in the country. He believed that Europe would be interested in avoiding a civil war in Afghanistan as well as Afghanistan becoming a sanctuary for terrorist organisations. He said the Taliban have to prove themselves as a successful political entity that can run the country in the long run. He also highlighted that the threat of terrorism is a key concern in Afghanistan. Regarding an international CT framework, he said the Taliban would not agree to have a CT mechanism with European countries, because they remained part of US/NATO coalition forces which the group opposed.
Dr. Christian Wagner, spoke about the reaction of Europe at three different levels: immediate pertaining to refugees, midterm, regarding the humanitarian crisis and long-term which revplved around the recognition of the Taliban government in Afghanistan. He mentioned that a huge refugee influx (which is already anticipated) will be a serious concern for Europe. He believed that discussing cooperation at this stage is very difficult because presently Afghanistan is in desperate need of large scale international support to run the country. If Europe does not recognize the Taliban, it will weaken the European position, he said. While talking about the long term concerns of Europe, Dr. Wagner stated that Europe has learnt lessons from this failure of the US in Afghanistan and they will think before indulging in such kinds of interventions again. In the future Europe has to adopt different defence and security policies compared to the past. He suggested that Europe should set up its own rapid crisis force to deal with such crises which are independent of US influence. He also said regional countries including Europe should ensure that there is no civil war in the country and focus should be on developmental issues.
Mr. Sangar Paykhar said that at the moment, majority of the European countries are anti-immigrants, however, European countries cannot afford an unstable Afghanistan because it will ultimately cause a refugee crisis in Europe. He highlighted that any civil war would be another disaster that might last for decades. Europe should adopt a realistic approach towards the current political dispensation in Afghanistan instead of being idealistic. In order to be more responsible and avoid any further conflict in Afghanistan, they need to seek a more diplomatic approach, and they should make sure that individual Afghan does not suffer. He said that Afghanistan has immense potential, and therefore should remain engaged with Afghanistan. Speaking about the Taliban, he said while the group has not changed fundamentally, it has evolved
Ambassador Khalid Mahmood said Europe has been part of the US’s military presence and development aid for more than 20 years. Concerns of Europe are the evacuation of the remaining Europeans in Afghanistan and preventing the influx of refugees. There is a growing feeling in Europe that they cannot just depend on US stewardship in undertaking military operations. Provision of humanitarian assistance must not be made conditional on how the Taliban behave. I think there is a need to avoid any action, even unwillingly, that can prompt a civil war in Afghanistan. We have to show patience and time for things to work out in Afghanistan, he said.