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Afghanistan: My points of view in the media

Local forces left defenseless

Afghanistan descends into chaos: Thousands of Afghan local forces must fear for their lives, as they are classified as traitors by the Islamists – but the German government is only gradually bringing them to safety. I spoke to the Tagesschau about the situation: It had been clear for some time that the Taliban would take over large parts of the country after the withdrawal of international troops. On 14 May, I therefore wrote a letter to the German government, together with other politicians, academics, military officers, and ex-diplomats, calling for an evacuation of the local forces, as quickly as possible. Now, in mid-August, the federal government is finally waking up. Way too much time has been lost and immense bureaucratic procedures have been built up which are now being put forward as a justification for slow action. I fear that it will be too late for some of the local personnel to be evacuated. These are also our German dead in Afghanistan! I also spoke about the special need for protection of local forces. The trust of the local people working with the Bundeswehr is central to a mission like the one in Afghanistan. They must be able to rely on the fact that a country like Germany will not abandon them. Leaving the local forces in Afghanistan to their fate means disappointment of the locals and scorched earth. In future missions, Germans forces will probably not as easily be able to rely on locals. This can also have problematic consequences for missions which are underway, for example in Mali, where Bundeswehr soldiers are taking part in an international mission against Islamists. The USA, which has more experience with such missions, has a clear policy: “Whoever has worked for us will be brought to safety when we leave the country.” In Germany, the approach was: not one more than necessary. That's why we are where we are now: frantically trying to evacuate everyone – when it is actually already too late. According to the Federal Ministry of Defence, around 1800 local Afghan forces had been flown out by 14 August, but that is far from all. At least 1,500 more members of local staff need to be rescued – and their families too!

Negotiations in Doha only serve as an alibi for Taliban

There is also a lot that can be done by the European Union. For months, negotiations have been taking place in Doha between the Taliban and representatives of the Afghan government, in the presence of European special representatives. The negotiations are supposed to lead to a robust political agreement for Afghanistan. In reality, however, there are no results, and threats and demands from European diplomats remain unheard.

In an interview with the Redaktionsnetzwerk Deutschland (RND), I have made it clear that talks between the conflicting parties – such as those taking place in Doha – are in principle necessary. But more and more, they just serve as an alibi event for the Taliban: They pretend negotiating peace in Doha, but at the same time, with their brutality, they are creating a fait accompli in Afghanistan. This is the opposite of confidence-building measures! I therefore demand that the European Union:

  • develop alternative scenarios and massively increase pressure on the Taliban;
  • ensure that humanitarian aid reaches all people in Afghanistan;
  • link future aid payments to democracy and human rights;
  • document human rights violations in Afghanistan so that they can be prosecuted.

Chaos at the Kabul airport

Fleeing from the Taliban, thousands of people stranded at Kabul International Airport on Monday (August 16th). Hundreds of civilians are trying to somehow get on one of the planes. And what doesGermany do, the country with the second largest military presence in Afghanistan? Germany manages to evacuate 7(!) people with an A400M in its first evacuation flight. In the meantime, the Bundeswehr has been able to fly out several planes with up to 250 people. With the HandelsblattI talked about the fact that the airport in Kabul must continue to be protected in order to enable more people to leave the country. This is especially true given that many people do not even reach the airport at the moment – not even those present in Kabul.

As I told the Redaktionsnetzwerk Deutschland (RND), a fatal situation has emerged: The Foreign Office in Berlin obviously misjudged the situation and did not react even when it was clear that things were very urgent. Private companies that wanted to get their people out were told that the Foreign Office would take care of this – but nothing happened. It was also said that only family members with German passports would be flown out. In the last few months, there have been repeated internal announcements from the CDU (German conservative party) that Germany should not take in more people than absolutely necessary. It becomes increasingly clear that bureaucracy still takes precedence over humanity in the federal government. I fear that if we look back on these days, we will discover many more shocking things.

The military withdrawal

Much faster than expected, the Taliban have conquered one Afghan province after another. In just one day, they took Kabul, the place where most international organisations and embassies are located. In an interview with El Confidencial, I criticise the fact that there has been no European response to the crisis in Afghanistan so far.

It is true that states like Germany have, for example, evacuated Dutch or Czech citizens – and other member states have done the same. However, this is still far from an adequate coordination at EU level. The representatives of the European Union – EU Foreign Policy Chief Josep Borrell, Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and European Council President Charles Michel – have so far been very reticent in their response. On Tuesday (August 17th), finally a first official statement was published which, however, was only signed by 25 member states. This is far from a good example of EU coordination. As long as we need unanimity in foreign policy, it will be very difficult to take a strong European position in situations like this one.

Europe's military position in Afghanistan depends on the US. With the withdrawal of US troops, there was no possibility for Germany, France, or the EU as a whole to continue their military presence in Afghanistan. In an interview with DW News, I explain that the United States made a mistake when only negotiating with the Taliban, leaving the democratically elected Afghan government out of the equation. The withdrawal was too quick and this kind of withdrawal does not correspond to what we Greens had demanded. From a political and strategic point of view, it would have been better to stay longer in the country and withdraw more gradually. In this way, the withdrawal could have been better organised. However, this was not possible given that the withdrawal of the US was a done deal. Because of these dependencies, more and more voices in the EU are calling for a stronger European defence policy. Nonetheless, I would be cautious with such demands: A common position of EU member states is often a long way off in crises like the one we are now seeing in Afghanistan.

The people of Afghanistan and the European Union

Our concern should be mainly the people who are directly threatened by the Taliban right now. They are at risk because they have supported us in our mission in Afghanistan. For instance, they have worked for women's rights, aid organisations or the military forces of a European country. Most of these people are still trapped in Kabul – because we failed to take precautions to protect and evacuate them before the Taliban conquered Afghanistan. We have an immediate responsibility to make sure they all get a flight!

I am angry about the fact that we are now in the situation of expecting from the Taliban to allow EU local staff and staff of other organisations, as well as human rights and women's rights defenders, to leave the country. Because we acted too late, we now have to make concessions to the Taliban in return for a safe passage of these people to the airport, so they can board a plane. This situation of blackmail cannot be allowed to continue. In the case of Germany, there are about 10,000 people in need of protection. These refugees cannot leave the country via the borders in Afghanistan because they are closed. Because of this, there is also the danger that humanitarian aid cannot reach all parts of the country. Through negotiations with the Taliban, we must therefore ensure that:

  • they are able to leave the country;
  • humanitarian aid reaches all parts of the country;
  • safe routes are created for all those who want to leave for neighbouring countries.

It is obvious that not all of these people can stay in Afghanistan's neighbouring countries. For example, a person who has fought for women's rights and thus defied the Taliban's rules will find it difficult to integrate into society in Iran. For such people, a new start in the EU is the only way. Moreover, why should countries like Pakistan, Uzbekistan or Iran take in millions and millions of refugees while we are unable to open the gates to perhaps 25,000 refugees per member state?

The European Union therefore cannot avoid

  • to deal with the admission of certain people into the EU;
  • enter into talks with Iran and Pakistan on how to bring refugees to safety in Afghanistan's neighbouring countries;
  • ensure an orderly distribution of Afghan refugees within the 27 member states.

Europe is prepared for refugees. In many places, we still have the infrastructure that was deployed in 2015. We still have the capacities that were built in 2015 and the years after, as well as integration programmes that we can draw on. Within the EU, however, we are at an impasse when it comes to the distribution of refugees – this applies not only to people from Afghanistan but also to those who have fled Syria. This Gordian knot must be cut.

The women in Afghanistan

Defending the fundamental freedoms and rights of women in Afghanistan will be very difficult in the current situation. The Taliban have assured that they will respect women's rights – by following the "Sharia". However, there are many different interpretations of Sharia law. Already in the 1990s, the Taliban regime was extremely repressive. I have little hope that it will be any better this time. Therefore, clear conditions must be set and the pressure on Taliban must be increased massively. If the 27 EU Member States, together with the UK, the US, Canada, Australia and Japan, make this a priority, we can make a difference.

We must protect the women who fear for their lives. Many Afghan women want to leave and are unable to because they cannot get a visa. Some women even send their husbands away with their children because it is easier for them to pass through controls, e.g. checkpoints. In other cases, local staff have been granted visas but their family members’ visas are denied. Also in these cases, we have a responsibility towards the women. In the absence of exit programmes, only the strongest will succeed in leaving the country.

We must therefore set clear boundaries for the Taliban. They will still depend on international funds and aid. We are ready to provide this money – but we must attach conditions regarding democracy, women's rights, and human rights. We also need to put pressure on Pakistan: many are unaware of the the country’s structural role. We must make clear that any economic support beyond humanitarian aid cannot go directly to the Taliban. Whether we like it or not, the Taliban now rule Afghanistan and we have no choice but to enter into dialogue with them. The EU needs to agree on what its priorities are in this situation.

Taliban's self-staging

In recent weeks, we have seen that the Taliban can adapt to a different situation. They have even gone as far as to negotiate with their arch-enemy, the United States – and have gained advantages. Nowadays, they speak good English and try to polish their image to achieve their goals. However, I do not think those goals have changed. I wish I was wrong, but the reality is different: For instance, the Taliban raid the houses of people who have worked for the international community, they remove female TV presenters from their posts. We will judge the Taliban by their actions and not by their words, and we obviously cannot give too much credence to their words.

The Western community should not recognise a transitional Taliban government. Their leadership and the first press conference have made it clear that there will be no democracy in Afghanistan with the Taliban. As long as this remains the case, there is no room for recognition by Europe or the US. We will have to wait and see how other countries behave: That will show where each country stands in the battle of autocracies against democracies.

We will try to update this article regularly. However, due to the constantly changing situation, this will not always be possible.

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