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Can the European Union Tackle Afghanistan’s Crises?

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The Pulse | Diplomacy | South Asia

Can the European Union Tackle Afghanistan’s Crises?

The EU has the capability to take a proactive diplomatic and political stance in managing the impending preventable socioeconomic and politico-security crises in Afghanistan. 

Can the European Union Tackle Afghanistan’s Crises?
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After the U.S.-led coalition, in which the EU was a significant partner, withdrew from Afghanistan in 2021, the country entered another political vacuum. The currently fragile state of affairs in Afghanistan is likely to drive the country to another crisis, which will have negative consequences for the region and beyond. Having played a significant role over the last two decades in Afghanistan, the EU has the capability to take a proactive diplomatic and political stance in managing the impending preventable socioeconomic and politico-security crises.

The 2016 EU Global Strategy (EUGS), titled “Shared Vision, Common Action: A Stronger Europe,” outlined key priority areas, including the EU’s role in conflict settlement, peacebuilding, and crisis management. The EUGS emphasizes that “preventing conflicts is more efficient and effective than engaging with crises after they break out.” This accurately characterizes the current political stalemate in Afghanistan. 

The Taliban regime lacks internal legitimacy due to the absence of elections, and external recognition from the international community. A regime that lacks the general public’s confidence is deemed unsustainable. This is when the EU must take proactive and constructive diplomatic measures to prevent potential crises.

An isolated Afghanistan could inadvertently become a haven for transnational terrorist groups, leading to a rise in poppy cultivation and widespread human rights violations, while also limiting freedom of expression and freedom of media. At the recent G-7 foreign ministers’ meeting in Japan, criticism was expressed regarding the Taliban’s strict restrictions on the Afghan population and reports of human rights violations throughout the country. However, the conservative Taliban group has not only failed to accommodate the public demands of the Afghan people and political movements but also intensified its coercive forces to rule through fear and exclusion. The use of coercion, intimidation, and oppression to silence dissenting voices not only fails, but also leads to increased public unrest.

The Taliban’s recent policies include a ban on girls’ secondary education and preventing women from working for U.N. organizations in Afghanistan. Similar policies fuel public outrage against their regime. The U.N. office in Afghanistan has been prompted to issue a warning of their potential departure from the country, unless the prohibition of female U.N. workers in Afghanistan is reversed.

All neighboring states of Afghanistan, except Afghanistan itself, have been included in the EU’s Global Europe-Programing for medium- and long-term international cooperation. The absence of a legitimate government has resulted in the country’s disconnection from regional and transnational forums, events, and initiatives, leading to further isolation, political instability, economic disruption, and a deepening humanitarian crisis with limited access to healthcare, food, water, and education for the public.

What Can the EU Do?

The fragile political security in Afghanistan is unlikely to be sustainable. The resurgence of armed resistance and sporadic attacks by the self-proclaimed Islamic State of Khorasan (ISKP) are likely to deteriorate the security situation, culminating in internal conflicts.

To prevent impending security threats to the region and beyond, the EU should act earlier and pursue its EUGS’s “integrated approach to conflicts and crises.” The EU has the capability to pursue a “multidimensional” approach and use existing instruments that are helpful in managing potential crises and conflicts. The situation is still in the early stage of armed resistance, but political violence persists.

The EU must pursue a “multi-phased” approach to the current and potential crises and conflicts. The withdrawal of the international community, of which the EU was a significant actor, left Afghanistan in a crisis. The theocratic Taliban movement is ruling the country, and other strata of society, including youth, women, and minority ethnic and religious communities, are marginalized. The persistence of such policies is likely to deepen the crisis and create a backlash. The EU should seek diplomatic ways in the earlier phases to prevent, resolve, and stabilize the political-security situation before a larger crisis erupts.

An effective and sustainable solution to the current and potential crises could be pursuing a multilateral approach aimed at engaging all Afghan political parties, ensuring the representation of women and ethnic and religious communities. Achieving this is possible by enabling concerted international and regional efforts to pave the way for a representative and inclusive government. Elite-driven peace and governance efforts have fallen short of bearing fruit in the past. To ensure sustainable peace and responsible governance, Afghan citizens’ engagement in initiatives from the top-down and bottom-up levels is imperative. This confers a sense of belonging to people and minimizes the risk of conflict.

The EU has the capability to streamline initiatives similar to the Global Europe thematic programs focused on peace, stability, and conflict prevention. These programs serve multiple purposes, including providing support to local stakeholders, community leaders, civil society activists, and women representatives to help build their capacity for conflict prevention. Additionally, they act as points of connectivity to engage in the ground. Moreover, these initiatives can serve as early warning mechanisms to address threats and crises.

Reports suggest potential security threats stemming from Afghanistan. In addition to existing missions in the region, the EU has the capability to deploy a non-military Civilian Common Security and Defense Policy (CSDP) Compact, which can serve dual purposes: tackling emerging threats and addressing potential crises in the context of the changed security circumstances in Afghanistan. The presence of a Civilian CSDP Compact could serve as a rapid reaction to address these threats. Additionally, such missions could also assist humanitarian organizations operating in the region and Afghanistan, aimed at delivering life-saving and relief assistance to Afghan citizens in need.

The Way Forward

It is worth stating that regional problems require regional solutions, but the region is characterized by certain regional rivalries, particularly India and Pakistan’s historical hostilities, Tajikistan’s stance against the Taliban, the lack of a unified stance vis-à-vis the regime in Afghanistan, whether for engagement or confrontation, and other regional issues. It is imperative to seek constructive and diplomatic solutions to ongoing and impending crises. This requires a multifaceted approach involving various local, regional, and transnational stakeholders.

Local stakeholders, including political parties, opposition groups, women and youth representatives, civil society groups, representatives of ethnic and religious communities, and individuals can be brought together through dialogue to initiate and promote concerted efforts. Starting with dialogue is a significant step toward building efforts between and among stakeholders and parties. The EU has both political and economic leverage, and incentives for parties and stakeholders to use in building concerted efforts.

Through the use of existing political instruments and influence, the EU can facilitate the establishment of a regional consensus. This, in turn, can help facilitate the process of building intra-Afghan negotiations aimed at achieving a political setup that includes representation of all strata of society.

The present Taliban administration falls short of effectively representing the wider aspirations of the Afghan population and lacks mechanisms to be accountable to citizens. The persistence of such uncertainty prolongs the chaotic political deadlock. 

To end the ongoing political stalemate, it is necessary to establish a responsive, accountable, and inclusive government that represents the desires and aspirations of all Afghan people. The EU has the capability to play a constructive role in supporting initiatives for a constructive solution that would lead to an inclusive, democratic, and representative political set-up in Afghanistan.