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EU's approach towards the Taliban’s rule in Afghanistan

29 Jan 2022 - 9:40

The role of the European Union (EU), as a political identity, in the international politics is remarkable. Politically, it is an important and influential actor in terms of defining strategy as well as legitimizing major international decisions. However, there is no agreement between each European country and the European Union as a whole in terms of interaction with the Taliban government. That is why the governments of Germany, Britain and France as well as other European governments pursued their own unique policies towards Afghanistan during the republic. If we look at the EU’s foreign policy, since the presidency of Ashraf Ghani until the takeover of Kabul by the Taliban, we can clearly see the EU’s flexibility and tolerance. If this situation continues, the future would be in favor of the Taliban government.

By: Abdulrahim Kamel

The European Union is the only powerful political union in the world. Other political and security unions in other parts of the world have never reached to such level of authority. However, the EU cannot control the entire foreign policy of its members in a legal and political manner, and each member has its own independent diplomatic mission in other countries, including Afghanistan.
Therefore, one cannot look at the EU and its members as two corresponding mirrors in terms of interaction with the Taliban government. That is why the governments of Germany, Britain and France as well as other European governments pursued their own unique policies in Afghanistan during the republic. This policy will further continue.

Nevertheless, the European Union has managed to preserve its position as an important actor in the regional and international politics. The EU is an important and influential actor in terms of defining strategy as well as legitimizing major international decisions. That is why the announcement of the EU's readiness to reopen its political embassy in Kabul has been implicitly interpreted as a step towards recognizing the Taliban government, which created a very serious hope and confidence for the Taliban.

In the same way, if we look at the EU’s foreign policy during the presidency of Ashraf Ghani as well as the takeover of Kabul by the Taliban, we can clearly see EU’s flexibility and tolerance. If this situation continues, the future would be in favor of the Taliban government. In this article, we intend to investigate this political evolution and flexibility of the European Union.

EU and the United States’ unilateralism
The European Union, along with the United States, entered Afghanistan’s battlefield and paid enormous costs. However, the United States, based on its own interests and policies, opened negotiations with the Taliban without considering the European Union. Washington even put aside the Afghan government at this crucial juncture. From then on, the positions of the republic government of Afghanistan and the EU came closer together. That is why when the United States opposed to the last presidential election in Afghanistan and did not pay the promised election expenses, in the hope of advancing its negotiations with the Taliban, the European Union increased its cooperation with the Afghan government and helped the country in terms of paying the election’s costs.

Following the success of the US-Taliban talks, the European Union and NATO also decided in a sudden move to withdraw their troops from Afghanistan. The argument of the European governments was that "we came together and we will go together." However, this argument cannot be interpreted as the common and inseparable strategy of the EU and US towards Afghanistan. The fact was that after the end of US-Taliban negotiations, EU realized that Afghanistan has been located on an absolute slope; So, EU did not want to be left alone in this swampy region after the safe withdrawal of the United States.

Even now, there is no single and consistent policy between the EU and US on how to deal with the Taliban. In a situation that the United States and the European Union shared common destinies, values, and costs in Afghanistan, the US decided to move unilaterally. So, it is natural that in the current situation, the EU cannot easily trust the Americans. The anti-US sentiment has increased dramatically in today's world. Moreover, Afghanistan is no longer in the situation of 2001, which forced the United States and the European Union to adopt a unified and coordinated policy towards the country.

EU and the threat of the Taliban’s isolation
During Afghanistan’s war, NATO’s casualties were almost at the same level of the United States. So, it is not fair to only highlight the US casualties and ignore those of the EU. However, in some important political areas - such as peace talks, direct talks with the Taliban and the Doha talks-  both the US and the Taliban did not respect the EU's authority as they should.

This issue made the European Union, as a political organization, to support the republic as well as the common values ​​in Afghanistan with fear and sometimes anger, till the last moment.
That is why Josep Borrell, the head of the European Union's foreign policy apparatus, warned the Taliban a week before they enter Kabul that "if you come to power by force, you will be isolated in the world." His message seriously warned the Taliban that the EU would never engage the group if they capture Kabul and revive their Emirate.

Given this approach, the European Union closed its mission immediately after the takeover of Kabul by the Taliban, and all political missions of EU member states closed their embassies in Kabul and moved to Qatar. But the question is, can the European Union and the United States keep their embassies in Kabul closed in a situation that the Russian, Chinese and Iranian embassies are still operating there? It is true that NATO and US have failed miserably in Afghanistan, but the importance of Afghanistan to NATO and US has never been due to the country itself. In other words, as long as the image of the catastrophic defeat remains alive in the minds, Afghanistan, as the scene of this catastrophic war, will remain still important and sensitive. Therefore, with the presence of China, Russia and Iran in the Taliban-led Afghanistan, it is likely that the EU and US decide to have a different kind of presence in the country. Perhaps this is the reason why the European Union withdrew from its initial warning of boycotting the Taliban.

EU and political flexibility towards the Taliban
The European Union, as a continental organization, always outlines its approach towards the developments of Asia on a broad scale; And Afghanistan is a small part of this approach. NATO's military presence in Afghanistan was interpreted as NATO's expansion towards the east. On the other hand, NATO's military defeat in Afghanistan is interpreted as the victory of NATO rivals in Asia. If this destructive mentality continues to persist in the psyche of NATO and the EU with the same intensity, sooner or later we will see indirect revenges in the critical regions of Asia. And Afghanistan will be one of these critical regions. Perhaps these big issues have led the EU to ignore its previous warning of boycotting the Taliban after a two-month hiatus.
"I haven't said that we are going to recognize the Taliban. I just said that we have to talk with them for everything… Even for that, you have to get in touch with them," Josep Borrell said at a recent EU foreign ministers' meeting. 

After these words, the EU officially announced that it would reopen its political mission in Afghanistan in the near future. To that purpose, a delegation from the European Union went to Kabul to discuss with the Taliban officials about the security of the mission and other related issues. The Taliban described the move as a major step in expanding the group’s diplomatic activities. The EU and US representatives have so far held several formal meetings with representatives of the Taliban in Qatar. It was after these meetings that the European Union assured Afghanistan of the resumption of its humanitarian aid. However, two important issues still have remained pending. One is the recognition of the Taliban government by the European Union, and the other is the EU's $1 billion development aid to Afghanistan. This aid had been approved by the EU during the republic government.

The reason behind the EU's delay in recognizing the Taliban
As mentioned earlier, in the very first days of the Taliban's advance towards Kabul, the EU officially warned that if the Taliban take over Kabul by force, the next government would be boycotted. But if we look at the picture more closely, we will see that the takeover of Kabul didn’t happen through mere force. The fact is that most parts of Afghanistan were first abandoned without war or bloodshed and then came under the control of the Taliban. Therefore, if we consider the stage of the control of Kabul as well as the defeat of Ashraf Ghani's government as the main criteria, the EU has no reason to condemn the Taliban.

That is why the EU officials cite the Taliban’s disrespect towards human rights, civil liberties and women's rights as well as their failure to form a comprehensive government as the main reasons for the EU’s refusal to recognize the new Afghan government.
It seems that after the US turned a blind eye on the democratic common values ​​in Afghanistan, the EU intends to introduce itself as the main supporter of the common values in Afghanistan.

However, the EU's hesitation in recognizing the Taliban has a more fundamental reason, which is related to the reaction of public opinions in EU member states. Many citizens from Europe and other countries have fought in Afghanistan in the form of NATO and ISAF peacekeepers and lost their lives. There was only one salve for the fathers and mothers of those who were killed in Afghanistan. They believed that their governments were sacrificing their tax and children in Afghanistan for the sake of the common human values. Now, if the European Union recognizes the Taliban, it will not have a convincing answer to the public opinions, families of its soldiers, and generally to its citizens.

Now, undeniable realities have happened in Afghanistan. Whoever is to blame, the reality is that the republic’s era in Afghanistan is over. The Taliban has introduced itself to the people of Afghanistan and the world as a military and political reality.
On the other hand, the countries of the world never prioritize the interests of the Afghan people over their own national interests. The European Union is also no exception. Even in the days of the Taliban's imminent rise to power and the weakness of the Kabul government, many governments and organizations began to play a double game, trying to establish a contact line with the Taliban for the future. Even the French government, despite its long-standing emotional ties with the Afghan Resistance Front led by Ahmad Massoud, recently has proposed the establishment of a joint European office in Afghanistan, where some European countries’ ambassadors could work together.

Therefore, if the Taliban can adhere to some minimal norms in Afghanistan and in their relations with other countries, there would be some grounds for the recognition of the Taliban by many countries, including the European countries. The reopening of the EU mission in Kabul can be implicitly interpreted as the practical recognition of the Taliban, although its official announcement can take more time.
Abdulrahim Kamelis an afghan expert

Story Code: 2962

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Institute for East Strategic Studies