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India, EU discussed need to engage with Taliban but no recognition yet: EU special envoy

Tomas Niklasson, Special Envoy of the EU for Afghanistan, says they are planning to reopen their mission in Kabul with limited diplomatic staff for carrying out relief work.

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New Delhi: India and the European Union (EU) share a common vision on the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan, and discussed the need to engage with the interim regime while staying focused on assisting the Afghan people, Tomas Niklasson, Special Envoy of the European Union for Afghanistan, has said.

In an interview with ThePrint, Niklasson said: “India’s and the EU’s perception on Afghanistan, on the challenges and what needs to be done, largely converge. We discussed issues related to the non-recognition of the Taliban, we discussed the humanitarian needs, we discussed the need also to engage in a dialogue with the Taliban and not try to isolate the regime and to stay focused on the needs of the people.”

The EU envoy met Indian officials in New Delhi last week, where both sides discussed the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan and agreed on not recognising the Taliban’s interim government.

He said the humanitarian need is “extremely critical” in Afghanistan and the situation is “getting worse”, which has led the EU to pledge €300 million, which is separate from the €400 million being committed by EU’s member countries.

“We already have people on the ground in Kabul working to have this assistance distributed to the people in need across the country. We work not through the interim government but we work through UN organisations and NGOs and this we have done for the last two decades,” he said.

“While the scale is more substantial, it is not a new thing to us and it is also not a new thing to the Taliban. They understand what the EU is doing in terms of humanitarian assistance, and they appreciate it and most importantly, the people of Afghanistan need it and appreciate our support,” he added.

Also read: Unpaid Afghan diplomats struggle to hold fort, ensure ‘business as usual’ at embassies

‘India well-placed to engage with Afghanistan’

Calling India the “most generous regional donor” in Afghanistan, Niklasson said India can continue helping the war-torn country.

“India is well-placed to engage with Afghanistan in many ways. You have been the most generous regional donor. You had very strong presence close to the people through development cooperation for decades and there are strong historic roots. So, I think, given India’s place in the region, there is a role that could be played,” he said.

“We appreciate and I am sure the Afghan people appreciate the offer now to send humanitarian assistance, that is one important element but also to build perhaps on the previous engagement and see at some point whether you can continue being close to the people and increase assistance, could indeed be one way of remaining engaged,” the EU envoy said.

India is planning to send 50,000 metric tonnes of wheat and life-saving drugs and other essential items to Afghanistan.

He added, “I understand the concerns by Indian officials. You need, like we do, security guarantees, you need to be comfortable before sending people into the country and also into the countryside. So those decisions will take some time.”

“The only thing I can say is that it is of key importance for all of us who wish to see a peaceful and stable Afghanistan to do whatever we can, to support the Afghan people and as a first priority to help the people to get through the winter.”

On recognising Taliban regime

According to Niklasson, the EU is “very clear” about its position in recognising or giving legitimacy to the Taliban government in Kabul.

We do not recognise the interim government and there are reasons for that. It’s a government that came into power by force, it’s a government that has revoked the constitution, it’s a government that has said it’s against democracy, it’s a government that is unclear about its commitment to the international community and it’s a government that is non-inclusive,” he said.

Niklasson added that the EU is still seeking “answers to many questions before we could possibly at some point move closer to a situation where we could recognise a Taliban government. We are nowhere near that for the moment”.

He said the main reasons why the EU will not technically recognise the present dispensation in Kabul is because “it is dominated by Pashtuns, it is dominated by the Haqqani Network and it is exclusively made up of men”.

“This cannot be an interim government that represents the Afghan people. And as I have told them (the Taliban), there is a risk that is to repeat itself where we have seen in the past that the winner thinks that they can take it all and under the ‘winner takes it all’ slogan after a decade or two, the winner loses it all,” he added.

He also said the Taliban has to first obtain domestic recognition for the international community to recognise it.

“Recognition by the people is crucial for the survival of the interim government,” he said.

Also Read: Cut ties with terrorist groups and eliminate them, Pakistan, China, Russia & US tell Taliban

‘Taliban lacks resources, experience’

Niklasson, who has been negotiating with the Taliban since much before the militant group forcefully took over the Afghan capital on 15 August, said the Taliban is now “in a difficult situation”.

“I see a change in the sense that, before 15 August, it was a militant organisation with a political office in Doha, still committed to negotiate an agreement with Islamic Republic of Afghanistan,” he said.

He stressed that the Taliban “broke those promises and they are now trying to transition from being not only an opposition movement and a militant movement but actually to establish themselves as, in a way, a responsible government. They are very far from that and it’s difficult situation for them to be in.”

He explained that the Taliban “lack resources, they lack experience because Afghanistan has also changed a lot in the last 20 years. The cities have changed and also the countryside has changed, and they are not familiar with that situation, they are not well-equipped to govern.”

“So, the situation of being in the opposition and being critical is sometimes more comfortable than when you are actually supposed to be more responsible.”

EU to reopen mission in Kabul

While the EU has “people on the ground” in Kabul, it is planning to reopen the mission with limited diplomatic staff for carrying out relief work there and also to facilitate the “safe passage” of those Afghans who want to seek asylum in European countries.

“We have people on the ground in Kabul. That’s essential for the planning of the distribution of humanitarian assistance. We also think that it might be useful to have a very small number of colleagues, not an ambassador certainly, present in Kabul to focus further on humanitarian assistance and also to assist in what we call as safe passage for a number of Afghans who are under threat and a number Afghans who may have worked with us, human rights defenders — a small number of people but people that we care deeply for and have obligation towards,” he said.

“So from that point of view, it could be important and could be useful and we are looking into the possibilities of establishing such presence.”

Also read: Aid to Afghanistan, movement of people discussed as US Special Envoy Thomas West visits India

‘Risk of violence to increase in Afghanistan’

According to Niklasson, the increase of attacks by ISIS-K is a matter of concern for the EU.

“But the situation varies in different parts of the country. It’s a matter we need to monitor closely. The Taliban has made clear commitments and they claim to be taking action. We will certainly keep following the actions and this continues to be a key concern for us,” he said.

He reiterated that there is also a link between the humanitarian crisis and security.

“Unless people find a way of surviving, unless people find livelihood, the breeding ground for terrorism, the risk that people might join some of these organisations will increase. So the best prevention is not the only thing that we need to do, but the best prevention is certainly providing hope and providing a way in which people can survive and as a very first step to get through the winter,” he said.

“There is a risk for violence to increase… Our focus very much is to now prevent the situation from getting worse and to provide assistance as quickly as we can,” he said.

(Edited by Neha Mahajan)

Also Read: India is wary about finalising Afghan aid route despite Pakistan’s assurance


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