The EU urges the U.S. to extend the evacuation from Kabul. Biden announced to G-7 leaders that the Americans are on the right track to leave Afghanistan by the end of August. The final decision depends on the attitude of the Taliban.
On Tuesday afternoon, the leaders of the U.S., Great Britain, Germany, France, Italy, Japan and Canada, as well as heads of EU institutions, met at the urgently convened virtual Group of Seven summit. The topic was Afghanistan: how to manage the evacuation from the country, prepare for the wave of refugees and talk to the newly formed government.
“First, we tackled what remains our most pressing priority: the safe evacuation of the coalition’s citizens, Afghan staff, and their families. […] We call on the new Afghan authorities to allow free passage to all foreign and Afghan citizens, who wish to get to the airport,” President of the European Council Charles Michel said after the meeting. He called for the security of the Kabul airport for as long as necessary and for equal access for all. These last rules were also directed at the U.S.
Not Enough Time
Washington has set a deadline to end the evacuation on Aug. 31, but it is already clear that it will not be possible to remove all those on Western lists from Kabul by then.* This has been said unofficially in Brussels for several days, and now important Western politicians are talking about it directly. “Even if (the evacuation) goes on until Aug. 31 or even a few days longer, it will not be enough to allow those who we, or the United States, want to fly out,” said Minister of Foreign Affairs Heiko Maas. And this despite the increased efforts of Western governments.
Just on Sunday, 10,400 people left Kabul. Per American media, however, for the time being, the U.S. is evacuating mainly its own citizens, while Afghans — even those with required documents — are being turned away.
How many more does the EU want to remove? “We are in the process of deciding,” says an EU diplomat unofficially. That is why it is so urgent to extend the date beyond Aug. 31.
At the G7 summit, Joe Biden informed the leaders that the Americans were keeping the deadline. But at the same time, the president asked the Pentagon to prepare contingency plans should the situation in Kabul change.
The problem is the position of the Taliban now governing Afghanistan, who do not agree to the extension of the evacuation mission.
Suhail Shaheen, the Taliban spokesperson in the Qatar office, categorically rejected such a demand, arguing that it would breach the U.S. deal. But a meeting at a much higher level was supposed to take place in Kabul. Taliban leader Abdul Ghani Baradar was supposed to talk with CIA Director William Burns, as reported by The Washington Post. If this actually happened, then the safety of the evacuation operation was definitely the topic of the meeting.
Money and Conditions
The G7 leaders also discussed humanitarian aid. It is not only a moral obligation but also — at least for Europe — an instrument of protection against a great migration wave. Afghanistan was systematically supplied with Western funds for the past few years, but now there will be even more money. The EU has already increased this year’s humanitarian budget from 57 million to over 200 million euros.
“Humanitarian aid does not go to governments, does not go to armed groups. It always goes to NGOs, international organizations, notably the United Nations,” assured European Commission spokesperson Balazs Ujvari. The authorities can count on other money from the development aid in the amount of 1 billion euros. But they have to meet certain conditions, and this is what the Western allies will talk to each other about. These conditions must also be met if the new Afghan government wants to maintain relations with international partners. We are talking about respecting human rights, including non-discrimination on the basis of sex or ethnic origin and religion, democratic election standards, rejection of terrorism, condemnation of al-Qaida and groups cooperating with it, as well as halting the production and smuggling of drugs.
Not Only West
Brussels hopes for an agreement on this matter not only at the G7 level, but also with other important players in international politics, namely China and Russia. “There are many differences between us, but our interests are shared in this matter. Russia and China care about stabilization in Afghanistan as much as we do. They certainly do not care about fueling terrorism there,” explained the EU diplomat.
The European Union is the most exposed to the wave of migration, and it is the European Union that puts pressure on international partners to stabilize the situation and send humanitarian aid to Afghanistan, as well as support its neighbors to keep the Afghan refugees with them. Hundreds of thousands of Afghans are already in Iran and Pakistan; Uzbekistan and Tajikistan will also be their destinations.
You Are Not Welcome
The EU does not intend to invite refugees, apart from, perhaps, a carefully selected group of people most vulnerable to repression by the new government. However, if this operation occurs, it would be voluntary — interested countries would report their readiness to accept a specified number of people. In addition, the use of a directive on minimum standards for granting temporary protection in the event of a mass influx of displaced persons is also considered an exceptional measure. The directive was adopted in 2001 in fear of a massive wave of Balkan refugees, but has never been used. It would oblige the member states to protect such persons, but not for more than one year.
This possibility was first mentioned a couple of days ago by EU Foreign Affairs Minister Josep Borrell. Some countries are firmly against accepting any refugees. However, the application of this directive would require a qualified majority rather than unanimity. Reaching for it would be a political act; it was not even applied during the 2015 migration crisis. At that time, an extraordinary instrument of quotas of immigrants to be adopted by each country was implemented, but several countries — including Poland — did not comply with this decision.
*Editor’s Note: U.S. evacuation of Afghanistan was declared complete on Aug. 30.