Written by Beatrix Immenkamp.
The departure of United States (US) and North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) troops from Afghanistan marks the end of a 20-year military campaign that was launched in 2001 to eliminate the Taliban’s ability to provide sanctuary for international terrorists, especially al-Qaeda, and stabilise the country with the help of a democratically elected government. However, as the last US soldier boarded a US military aeroplane on 31 August 2021, terrorists were firing rockets at Kabul airport, members of the democratically elected government, including the president, had either fled abroad or were in hiding, and the Taliban had taken back control of most of Afghanistan. On 7 September 2021, the Taliban announced an all-male caretaker government drawn entirely from the Taliban movement, contrary to earlier promises that the new government would be ‘inclusive’. So far, no country has recognised the interim government. There have been reports of reprisals against security personnel, individuals with links to the previous administration and foreign forces, journalists and minorities, in particular. The rights to education and employment that women have enjoyed for the past 20 years are meanwhile being curtailed.
In the meantime, the humanitarian situation in the country is increasingly desperate. The country relies extensively on foreign aid, most of which is currently suspended, while foreign assets have been frozen. Many Afghans have fled to neighbouring countries, joining the estimated 3-4 million Afghan refugees already living there, mainly in Iran and Pakistan. The EU has expressed concerns over the composition of the interim government, noting that an inclusive and representative government – which the interim government is not – is an essential benchmark for EU engagement. The EU has made available large amounts of humanitarian and development aid and is hoping to establish a diplomatic presence on the ground in Kabul. The EU is also planning to set up a regional platform for cooperation with Afghanistan’s neighbours on issues including population flows from Afghanistan, terrorism, organised crime and drugs.
This Briefing expands and updates an ‘At a glance’ note published on 2 September 2021.
Read the complete briefing on ‘The situation in Afghanistan: Essential benchmarks for EU engagement‘ in the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.