David McAllister: On the current situation in Afghanistan
7 September 2021
David McAllister MEP, Chairman of the Committee on Foreign Affairs in the European Parliament
Following the 9/11 attacks in New York, US troops and their NATO allies ousted the Taliban from power in November 2001. The Taliban group had been harbouring Osama Bin Laden and other al-Qaeda figures linked to the 9/11 attacks. Over the last two decades, the US and its allies have fought terrorism and pushed back al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. Despite all the training and funding, that was provided by the western militaries to the Afghan national security forces, the Taliban managed to seize power in the country two weeks before the US was set to complete its troop withdrawal. President Trump’s agreement regarding the withdrawal of troops leaves us Europeans with a notion that it was more important to abide by the date rather than securing an intra-afghan political agreement. As a consequence, this radical islamist group that ran the country in the late 1990s, have again taken control by capturing all major cities, including Kabul, in a matter of weeks. As a consequence, the Western-backed government and its national security forces collapsed.
Apart from the Taliban, al-Qaeda is still present in Afghanistan, and this presents another major threat not only to the rights and fundamental freedoms of the Afghan people, but also to the region itself – and to Europe.
The Afghan crisis is one of the top generators of displacement worldwide. The European Union has funded humanitarian operations in Afghanistan since 1994, providing over 1 billion EUR. A new influx into Pakistan and Iran, but also into Tajikistan, is to be expected. Since 2015, around 570.000 Afghans have requested asylum in the EU, 44.000 in 2020 alone – thus making Afghanistan the second most important country of origin last year. Over the course of the past decade, the EU has had an active presence in this country to support social and economic development. Many EU Member States, NATO partners and allied countries have contributed military and civilian resources to the stabilization and development of Afghanistan. Local and international NGOs have provided services and relief to the Afghan people despite major security risks. It is essential to preserve the progress of the past two decades, in particular regarding human rights and fundamental freedoms. At the same time we have to prevent a replay of Europe’s migration crisis in 2015 when more than a million people fleeing conflicts in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan came to Europe. There are several armed conflicts worldwide. The EU cannot absorb millions of refugees. As we all have seen during the past years, illegal migration can be a source of social tension and can destabilise our societies.
I underline the statement of UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, in which he describes it as horrible and heart-breaking to see that the rights of Afghan girls and women are about to be taken away. I greatly welcome and give my full support to the statement of the European Union and the United States and 18 other states (including Australia, Brazil, Canada, Senegal, Norway, Argentina and New Zealand), in which they express their deep concern for women and girls in Afghanistan, for their rights to education, employment and freedom of movement. Afghan women and girls, as all Afghan people, deserve to live in safety, security and dignity.
I am deeply concerned and condemn in the strongest terms the alarming increase in violence in Afghanistan, the atrocities committed by the Taliban towards the Afghan population.
The Taliban have brought down a government that was internationally recognised. I am deeply concerned about the humanitarian and security crisis it has brought about.
I call for the immediate evacuation of EU and allied nationals as well as those Afghani nationals who have previously worked and supported the Western allies and who wish to depart in accordance with international law and human rights. Roads, airports and border crossings must remain open in order to ensure the safe departure of foreign personnel.
The European Commission and the EU Member States need to increase cooperation and support for Afghanistan’s neighbouring countries so that refugees, above all women and girls, can get protection close to their home country.
The Taliban now have a duty and responsibility to ensure security in Afghanistan. I urge them to abide by international law – to guarantee the protection of ethnic and religious minorities, women and children.
I call for increased security and defence capacity on the part of both EU Member States and the EU as a whole, as a complement to NATO. The EU must be able to protect its vital interests — including, in such an emergency, the capacity to evacuate EU personnel. The European Commission should urgently put forward plans for how the EU in future can be better prepared for such an exigency.
In an increasingly interconnected world and in light of the current destabilisation of Afghanistan there is a renewed strategic significance of Central and South Asia for EU interests. I therefore call on the European Council, European Commission and External Action Service urgently to put forward a comprehensive, updated strategy for Central Asia, complementary to the forthcoming comprehensive strategy for the Indo-Pacific and to the EU’s other external policies.
The European Commission and the EU Member States should take responsibility for Afghan women and seek acute solutions, consisting of:
- Providing women in Afghanistan all humanitarian support and assistance, including financial assistance, to empower them to have their voices heard;
- Making the greatest possible financial and political commitment to organisations fighting for women’s and girls’ rights in Afghanistan;
- Ensuring that issues regarding women’s political participation, eradicating illiteracy and ensuring access for girls and women to education and to economic resources are an integrated part of the policy of the EU and its Member States towards Afghanistan.