By Alexandra Brzozowski
(EurActiv) — EU member states on Friday (3 September) laid out their conditions for stepping up engagement with the Taliban, agreeing to establish a joint European–Kabul civilian presence.
“We have to engage with the new government in Afghanistan, which doesn’t mean recognition, it’s an operational engagement,” the bloc’s chief diplomat Joseph Borrell said after EU foreign ministers endorsed the position.
In recent weeks, however, it has been unclear what such engagement would look like and whether this would mean formal recognition of the Taliban’s takeover.
“This operational engagement will increase depending on the behaviour of this government,” Borrell said, adding that this would not by itself constitute the formal recognition of the Taliban government, but “increase depending on the behaviour” of it.
Spelling out the five benchmarks for potential engagement, he said one of them would be the condition that the new Taliban-led government must prevent the country from again becoming a breeding ground for terrorists, as it was during their previous time in power.
It must also respect human rights, the rule of law and guarantee media freedom, as well as allow other political forces into a transitional government.
Moreover, the new government must grant free access to humanitarian aid, respecting EU procedures and conditions for delivery.
“We will increase humanitarian aid, but we will judge them according to the access they provide,” Borrell said.
A final benchmark point demands that the Taliban grant those that wish to leave the country with free passage.
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said it depended on the Taliban how swiftly frozen development aid – which is different from the unconditional humanitarian aid – can flow again.
“We have heard many moderate remarks in the past days, but we will measure the Taliban by their actions, not by their words,” Maas told reporters in Slovenia.
“We want to help avert a looming humanitarian crisis in the coming winter, which is why we have to act fast,” Maas said.
According to Borrell, the EU aims to coordinate its contacts through a joint EU presence in Kabul, if the security situation allows, to deal with the Taliban and ensure the departure of Afghans the bloc had been unable to get out of the country.
“In order to implement this evacuation… we have decided to work in a coordinated manner,” Borrell said.
He added that the bloc would “coordinate our contacts with the Taliban, including through a joint EU presence in Kabul … if the security conditions are met”.
At the same time, the EU is also looking to bolster coordination with Afghanistan’s neighbours as it looks to stave off a large-scale flow of migrants from the country to Europe.
Borrell said the EU would look to set up a “regional political platform” with the countries around Afghanistan to help stabilise the situation.
“This political platform will consider, among other issues, the management of population flows from Afghanistan; the prevention of the spread of terrorism; the fight against organised crime, including drug trafficking and human smuggling,” he said.