EU and NATO on Afghanistan

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Zuha Badar

With the withdrawal of American and NATO troops and subsequent change in the Kabul regime, the issue of migration and the terrorist threat has been roused across Europe again. While many European countries have scrambled to help the Afghan and foreign nationals evacuate, some fear a migration spillover.
The UNHCR reports 400,000 Afghans displaced since early 2021 and forecasts a humanitarian crisis. As a wave of refugees turns westwards to escape Taliban rule, Europe’s security interests vis-à-vis the US have severely impinged. According to Jana Pugliern, a senior policy fellow at ECFR Berlin, an unstable Afghanistan would mean an insecure Europe.
Nonetheless, in a joint statement by the EU External Affairs Commission, more than 70 countries, including many European states, promised to help the Afghans and foreign nationals on their safe departure from Afghanistan. The EU Parliament President David Sassoli reiterated the stance, saying that the EU Commission should relocate the Afghans “equally” to avoid a possible wave of irregular migration across Europe. Together, the EU would curb the irregular migration with the help of transit countries like Pakistan, Iran, and Turkey.
Though major European powers, including the UK, Germany, France, Italy, etc., have been mobilized for humanitarian operations in and out of Afghanistan, the EU is still at a crossroads to form a standard and collective policy for incorporating all Afghan refugees. It was recently that Germany, Belgium, Austria, Denmark, Netherlands, and Greece protested against the halting of non-voluntary Afghan deportations in a joint letter to the EU Commission. Though the deportations have been temporarily suspended now, Afghan asylum seekers face uncertainty.
In a tweet, the Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Janša, in a tweet, stated that the Western alliance was responsible for the relocation of all Afghans. Many assistance programs have already been put into effect in this vein. Under the Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy, the UK has announced to welcome 20,000 refugees with programs underway since June. Germany has allocated 100 million Euros for humanitarian assistance. Denmark was one of the first to suspend its embassy in Kabul and the first EU country to offer Afghans residency permits. France, Poland, Ireland, Albania, and Belgium follow a similar path.

The issue of mass migration still persists, however. President Macron voiced this concern, saying that irregular migrations would put Europe in danger. In Germany, similar objections to the 2015 migratory outpour from Syria were expressed by the Christian Democrat leader Armin Lascht that “2015 should not be repeated”. Alternately, he proposed on-site humanitarian assistance for Afghanistan. Greece, being a close entry point to Europe for the refugees, is anxious more than ever. According to the Greek Migration Minister, the country has been a gateway for refugees in Europe. That will not be the case now.
Policymakers for decades have advocated for a strategic shift independent of US-led NATO foreign policy¬¬¬¬, one that favors the security of EU borders from irregular migrations. Tara Varma, another Policy Fellow at the ECFR, calls Afghanistan a test for strategic autonomy. However, this “strategic autonomy” will require NATO’s European allies to spend more than they like on defense. Attention has also shifted towards Turkey, where a billion-dollar deal could be envisaged on the footprints of the 2016 EU-Turkey migration agreement to curb the irregular flow of refugees.

A short-term response plan put forwards by the EU High Representative Josep Borrell calls for the EU to continue humanitarian aid. Secondly, a coordination mechanism by the EU Member States, transit countries, and Afghanistan’s neighbors will be chalked out to avoid mass migrations into Europe. Thirdly, a dialogue with the Taliban — discounting recognition — to prevent further humanitarian disaster due to any terrorist presence in the state is a high priority for the EU.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has made it clear that the EU would relocate all Afghans that assisted the western governments. However, it is the member states that ultimately decide for or against this policy. In the meantime, hope lingers on the February 2020 Doha agreement between the US and Taliban, where the latter agreed not to ferment any international terrorist organization, plan of attack against the NATO countries.
To shoulder the responsibility, Europe will have to bear the brunt of stabilizing the region. According to Tara Varma, isolationism is not an option. While taking in as many Afghans at risk and preventing further migrations, Europe would have to deploy on-site developmental assistance and a humanitarian framework. This would entail entering into dialogue with the Taliban. A moderating role could also give EU leverage in local and global policy-making in Afghanistan. It would be a much-preferred deliverance to its long-standing promise of a peaceful Afghanistan.

The writer is a Research Intern at The Diplomatic Insight and Institute of Peace and Diplomatic Studies 

*Views expressed in this article are that of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of this publication 

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