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3rd Feb 2023

EU should 'make sure' moderate Taliban prevail, envoy says

  • Head of the EU delegation to Afghanistan, Andreas Von Brandt, told MEPs that women participation must be safeguarded in all aspects of governance (Photo: European Parliament)
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The EU's envoy to Afghanistan has said the bloc has to make sure that the moderate forces within Taliban prevail, weeks after the extremist group took over the country at a lightning speed after 20 years of Western involvement.

Andreas Von Brandt, head of the EU delegation to Afghanistan, told MEPs on Monday (6 September) that "for the moment, and this needs to be verified and confirmed, there has not been a dramatic change so far, and that is a good thing".

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"We have to see how it unfolds, we have to make sure moderate and modern forces within the Taliban movement prevail," he told MEPs in a joint session of the women's rights committee and human rights subcommittee.

The ambassador oversaw the evacuation of hundreds of EU staff and Afghan workers and their families in the frantic days after the fall of Kabul and the final US military pullout from Afghanistan at the end of August.

He said Taliban officials ensured that women will be allowed to be working and travel without a male escort, but added that the Taliban will have to be judged by their deeds. He also added that there are "negative things happening".

"A lot of these problems have existed without the Taliban, have existed throughout the famous 20 years, […] I don't like too much the term of 'the gains of 20 years', […] a lot of things have been in dire straits for women," the ambassador said - adding that this was not an excuse for the Taliban.

Von Brandt added that "women participation must be safeguarded in all aspects of governance" after the Taliban take over.

Citing some of the gains, he mentioned that in 1999, when the Taliban were last in charge, there had been not a single girl in secondary school, by 2003 there have been 2.4 million girls in school, and in recent years 3.5 million girls went to school.

The ambassador said a third of public and private university students are women and 20 percent of civil servants are women.

Von Brandt was critical of some of the international community's development focus in Afghanistan, and said there is a "painful internal 'lessons learned' process for all of our Western institutions".

He cited examples of too much focus on urban areas, not enough focus on sustainability without military participation, and he said "we may have also underestimated the conservative climate in the country".

Von Brandt said, however, "there is no need [for] alarmism in a way, all what is happening what is embedded in the society".

'Unprecedented, rapid change'

Afghan women's rights defenders disagreed with the ambassadors assessment, however, and called for the EU to continue paying attention and not to be complicit in human rights abuses by turning a blind eye.

Shaharzad Akbar, chairperson of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) told MEPs that Afghans know the Taliban better than the EU envoy, and the gains of the last 20 years should not be underestimated.

"My colleagues who are living in fear know the Taliban better than him [EU ambassador], and having lived in Afghanistan before and after what he called the 'beautiful 20 years", which he felt of nothing new, it was a time of unprecedented, rapid change," Akbar said.

"It's loss is nothing short of a tragedy for millions of women and girls," she added, saying: "You all have the privileged of not being alarmed, Afghan women and girls don't."

She called on EU governments to lobby for a stronger statement at the UN humans rights council September meeting, and call for a fact-finding mission into alleged human rights abuses by the Taliban.

"Is it really beyond the collective foreign policy leaders of the entire EU to take some time to decide on a joint policy of accountability in Afghanistan, is it really beyond all these states to do something for Afghanistan?," Akbar asked the MEPs.

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