In its recently published article, “The European Union and Afghanistan – Prospects for Peace”, the European Foundation for South Asian Studies (EFSAS) described the European Union’s (EU) strategy in Afghanistan, highlighting how the EU has consolidated its effort to accompany the Afghan government in its crucial transitional phase through two principal agreements: the EU-Afghanistan Strategy and the EU-Afghanistan Cooperation Agreement. In mid-May, the second Joint Committee under the EU-Afghanistan Cooperation Agreement for Partnership and Development met in Kabul, to discuss the ongoing progress in regards to the cooperation agreement signed by both the EU and Afghanistan in February 2017. One of the focal points of this agreement is the EU’s assistance to Afghanistan in regional and international development, as Afghanistan’s strategic geographic position places it at the crossroads of South and Central Asia, the country’s relationship with its neighbours is crucial for its own development and the stability of the region as a whole. Furthermore, the stakes at play in Afghanistan like the migratory flows, heroin trafficking and the resolution of four decades of conflict, have naturally captured the interest of the country’s Central Asian neighbours. And so, like a well-meaning mentor, the EU has taken Afghanistan, or rather Ashraf Ghani’s government, by the hand and is trying to lead it on the path of reconstruction.
Furthermore, EFSAS explained how the EU has expressed its opinion that the peace process should be Afghan-led, Afghan-owned, and has pledged support to Ashraf Ghani’s government, but has side-lined itself from the Doha peace talks between the United States (US) and the Taliban. Having invested millions of euros in development and humanitarian aid, the EU cannot afford to let its efforts in Afghanistan go waste. Organising political dialogues between the EU, Afghanistan and its neighbours is certainly a good initiative, however if Ghani’s government is overthrown by the Taliban because the US has decided to give in and withdraw its forces, then the political dialogue will be quickly forgotten and would not have had time to bear any fruit. In its efforts to aid Afghanistan in its State building and governance capacities, it would seem the EU has overlooked a crucial step: having an inclusive, effective, legitimate government to build the State in the first place.
In its article EFSAS deliberated why it is unfair and unrealistic to place the burden of a political dialogue on the shoulders of only the EU. In 40 years, no one, neither Afghans nor the foreigners that invaded Afghanistan, have been able to find or form the government that would bring national unity, stability and prosperity to a country that withers in the chaos of ethnic division. The EU can sign all the agreements and strategies it pleases, but the reality remains that these will not be sustainable until the Afghan people decide upon, a new, inclusive form of governance. The EU has preached the Afghan-led, Afghan-owned argument, but this does not mean the peace process cannot be Afghan-led, Afghan-owned and EU-aided. As it has pledged to be a guarantor in the peace process, what is preventing it from taking on this role?
EFSAS illustrated the EU’s financial aid to Afghanistan that is delivered with the aim to maintain the standards achieved since the fall of the Taliban. The financial aid has led to some progress, for example, 57% of the population now has access to health care, over 120,000 police officers have received salaries from one of the EU’s trust funds for Afghanistan, and more than 35% of rural and urban Community Development Council members are female, which is considerable progress as compared to the oppressive conditions women were subjected to under the Taliban rule.
EFSAS also elucidated on the fact that there are two factors that can explain the rapid deterioration of Afghanistan’s (already lacking) security conditions. Firstly, the Taliban is steadily regaining pre-US invasion territory battling the Afghan government and foreign military forces in its path. Secondly, the Islamic State (IS)’s expansion into the country has added more fuel to the fire. IS declared its stronghold in Afghanistan back in 2015 in Khorasan province, but since losing significant amounts of territory in the Middle East, reports indicate that IS fighters are moving towards South Asia, starting with Afghanistan.
The EU has demonstrated its dedication to fighting terrorism, both in and out of Europe’s borders and Afghanistan is now riddled with two of the world’s most dangerous terrorist organisations, whose ideologies are both violently against the West. The European Union’s efforts in promoting human rights in Afghanistan are more vulnerable than ever; the EU must concentrate part of its Afghan agenda to developing effective counterterrorism policies.
EFSAS concludes in its article that the Afghan peace process has attracted a lot of onlookers. Some parties, such as China, Russia and Iran, maintain a close eye on the situation in order to better position their interests in the country. Afghanistan’s regional neighbours, Pakistan and India, could potentially use Afghanistan as a new battleground for regional influence. Pakistan’s role in the peace process is significant, as its military establishment maintains close ties to the Afghan Taliban.
The EU’s sui-generis makeup places it as the best candidate to take the peace process to the next level. It does not make decisions based on the interests of a single government, unlike a regular nation-state, and it has demonstrated its will and ability to invest time, money and resources into Afghanistan. The EU should take steps towards establishing an inclusive dialogue, with perhaps, itself as a moderator, if it wants to ensure the sustainability of its investments and longevity of its agreements with Afghanistan.