Analysis: From Doha, EU limits diplomacy with Taliban to Afghan aid
- Recognition of the Taliban no longer at the center of discussions with the EU
- Aid-focused diplomacy, neighboring countries
- Doha, not Kabul, will be the EU’s base for staff
BRUSSELS, Sept.20 (Reuters) – The European Union will focus on humanitarian aid to determine how to deal with the Taliban, with the aim of reaching an informal deal with the new Afghan leadership to ensure safe aid corridors, said four diplomats and two officials.
More than a month after Islamist militants took control following a chaotic Western withdrawal from Kabul, EU governments are also limiting their presence to the Qatari capital, Doha, where the Taliban have representation.
The reduced ambitions reflect security concerns and confusion over who to deal with in the Taliban after their leaders announced a female-less interim government that went against calls from world powers for an inclusive team.
The formation of a government of former Taliban combatants and hardliners as well as numerous reports of human rights abuses shattered the optimism they had changed since they ruled the country between 1996 and 2001 , diplomats said.
“The Taliban will have to make a choice between money or isolation, but we expect very little of them,” said an EU diplomat. “Today there are no signals.”
Limited aid convoys reach Afghanistan, where poverty and hunger have increased since the Taliban took power on August 15, through the UN refugee agency. UNHCR chief Filippo Grandi also met with the Taliban in Kabul last week.
But as the EU, the world’s largest donor, prepares an aid plan for Afghanistan worth some 300 million euros ($ 351 million), it wants to use its aid as leverage to push the Taliban to defend human rights.
He also needs the names and phone numbers of Taliban officials who can be trusted once the planes arrive from Pakistan and the United Arab Emirates.
“We are seeking guarantees for humanitarian aid corridors free of attack, free of interference and in which women could participate,” said a senior EU diplomat briefed on talks between the EU and the Taliban in Doha .
The EU’s main demands are that nongovernment aid groups be protected, that the Taliban allow women on their teams, that aid deliveries are not seized at Kabul airport, and that the Taliban not be seized. not determine which regions or areas will receive aid, diplomats said.
EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said last week that the bloc wanted to reopen its mission in Afghanistan. Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto told Reuters that the EU’s humanitarian aid unit will operate there.
“We would have first hand information on the situation and some sort of technical discussion with the Taliban on how aid could reach those who need it most,” he said.
Despite the EU’s agreement on five goals the Taliban must achieve for full engagement, much of the broader diplomacy is likely to focus on Afghanistan’s neighbors – Pakistan, Iran, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. They are considered essential in preventing refugees from fleeing to Europe.
EU leaders will discuss their approach with the United States and other Western governments in New York this week at the United Nations General Assembly. It was not clear whether the Taliban would propose their own envoy to the UN.
LACK OF SECURITY, TRUST
EU Special Representative in Afghanistan Tomas Niklasson met Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai, deputy head of the movement’s political committee, in Doha earlier this month and was told the EU would be welcome in Kabul , according to diplomats.
But EU foreign ministers, many of whom have also met with Stanikzai individually, are unsure whether he speaks for the Taliban in Kabul and Kandahar, as the most influential leaders are in Afghanistan, not Qatar. .
The composition of the Taliban government and human rights concerns limited the scope of discussions in Brussels. EU ambassadors did not discuss issues such as direct payment of Afghan salaries or the possibility of transferring money directly to the Afghan central bank.
With the Taliban breaking into European embassies in Kabul such as non-EU Denmark and Norway, a return to Kabul is also logistically difficult.
The EU expects its staff to be based in Doha and only travel briefly to Kabul for meetings. One diplomat said EU countries should provide their own security or hire contractors, rather than relying on a Western security alliance.
“Even if you only want to send a handful of people permanently to Kabul, you have to make sure they can work safely,” another EU diplomat said. “But we’re in the early stages, I don’t think we’re close to any breakthrough.”
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Additional reporting by John Irish in Paris, Essi Lehto in Helsinki and Sabine Siebold in Berlin; Editing by Angus MacSwan
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