EU plans its return to Kabul as ministers seek leverage with Taliban

Diplomatic mission would serve as base for engagement with Taliban if demands are met

The EU wants to restore a diplomatic presence in Kabul if the security situation eases, the bloc’s foreign policy chief has said.

Western embassies were evacuated after the Taliban took control of the Afghan capital, where chaos reigned during the airlift and a terrorist attack killed dozens of people.

Josep Borrell announced after talks between EU foreign ministers on Friday that diplomats hoped to return and work on the ground to help people get out.

The mission would serve as a base for engagement with the Taliban, which the EU sees as necessary to provide humanitarian aid to Afghans.

Brussels is not formally recognising the Taliban, but Mr Borrell said the current “operational engagement” would increase if Europe’s demands are met.

He said the five key demands are preventing terrorism, respecting human rights, forming an inclusive government, permitting humanitarian aid and allowing safe passage out of Afghanistan.

Acknowledging scepticism that the Taliban would meet these demands, he said: “Let’s see. Our engagement will depend on the fulfilment of these conditions.”

He said a co-ordinated approach to evacuations would require a “strong engagement, a strong contact, a close presence”.

“This will be done in a co-ordinated manner through a joint European Union presence in Kabul … if the security conditions are met,” he said.

Humanitarian crisis

Aid agencies have said that Afghanistan is facing a humanitarian catastrophe, with a drought and Covid-19 outbreak adding to the population’s woes.

Filippo Grandi, the head of UN refugee agency UNHCR, estimated that at least half of Afghanistan’s 39 million population need humanitarian help.

“More than four million are displaced by recent and less recent conflict,” Mr Grandi said.

“The already-started collapse of services and the economy is exposing many more to terrible hardship. That’s the humanitarian crisis that is beginning just now. ”

The EU has offered humanitarian aid to Afghanistan, but suspended a separate supply of development aid.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said the unfreezing of this money would depend on the Taliban’s actions.

Mr Maas signalled that Germany was ready to resume its own diplomatic presence in Kabul if the Taliban live up to promises.

“We have heard many moderate remarks in the past days, but we will measure the Taliban by their actions, not by their words,” he said.

“We want to help avert a looming humanitarian crisis in the coming winter, which is why we have to act fast.”

EU delegation staff were among those evacuated during the two-week airlift from Kabul.

Western countries hope to extract people who were left behind by persuading the Taliban to allow civilian rescue flights from Kabul airport.

The airport was badly damaged during the chaos. Some people who could not get to Kabul have fled for Afghanistan’s borders.

Britain’s diplomatic staff have decamped to Qatar for the time being, after the military airlift ended.

Ambassador Laurie Bristow said after returning on one of the last flights that Britain would re-open the Kabul embassy as soon as it could.

Some countries, such as Russia, China, Iran, Pakistan and Qatar, are keeping their embassies in Kabul open.

Updated: September 3rd 2021, 3:26 PM
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