EU Special envoy on Afghanistan says lauds India’s offer of humanitarian support to Kabul

European Union’s special envoy on Afghanistan Tomas Niklasson, who is in Delhi, has welcomed the Modi government’s offer to send humanitarian support of 50,000 MT of wheat to the people of Afghanistan. The Indian support comes even as the onset of winters in Afghanistan is worsening the situation in the country for many common Afghans. The country saw a Taliban takeover in the month of August.

Speaking to our diplomatic correspondent Sidhant Sibal, Niklasson said, “there is a very strong overlap in a way, or a very similar analysis of the situation” by India, EU when it comes to Afghanistan and both are “looking to see if there are concrete areas where we can work.” In Delhi, the EU special envoy met India’s Foreign Secretary Harsh Shringla and JS PAI JP Singh.

Niklasson has come to Delhi from Doha where he had talks with the Taliban delegation led by its Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi. One of the key issues raised by the EU during the meet was human rights, women’s rights, lack of inclusivity of Taliban led govt, etc. Asked about if EU plans to recognise the regime, he said, “we are not rushing into recognition, we are not recognizing, we haven’t recognized the Taliban regime, the interim govt. We do however see the need to engage with them”.

Question: What kind of conversations did you have in Delhi with India’s Foreign Secretary Harsh Shringla and JS PAI JP Singh?

Tomas Niklasson: We had a very good meeting on Wednesday with the foreign secretary and also with the joint secretary working on Afghanistan, whom I have met before. Basically, the purpose of my visit is to explore with Indian officials, understand better how they see the situation, what challenges they see coming from Afghanistan, what solution they see, how we can work together and I am pleased to see, this we basically knew from before that there is a very strong overlap in the way or very similar analysis of the situation and now looking to see if there are concrete areas where we can work.

Question: What are these concrete areas where India and the EU can work on Afghanistan?

Tomas Niklasson: To start with, we need to have a common understanding of the situation, that we already have. We should also, try to harmonize the messages we are sending to the Taliban appointed interim government, in terms of what is expected from them, in terms of respect for human rights, in terms of Afghanistan not again being a threat to other countries, in terms of inclusivity of the govt and some other issues and that is something we can work on but not exclusively between EU and India, and I see convergence among partners in the region and beyond. It is the same thing we tell, and that is a good thing.

Question: What kind of conversation did you have in Doha with Taliban FM Muttaqi and do you plan to recognize the Taliban govt in Kabul?

Tomas Niklasson: I will start with the second question because that is the easiest and shortest one. The answer is no, we are not rushing into recognition, we are not recognizing, we haven’t recognized the Taliban regime, the interim govt. We do however see the need to engage with them and our conversation in Doha this weekend, with the acting Taliban foreign minister and the delegation from Kabul touched on the areas I just mentioned–it touched on inclusivity of the govt, we talked about human rights, we talked about counter-terrorism, we talked about access to humanitarian assistance and we also talked about safe passage–which means Afghans under threat, Afghans which need safe place should be able to leave the country.

Question: But do you think the Taliban is serious about these issues, like human rights, women’s education?

Tomas Niklasson: We have discussed the issue of inclusive govt and I made it very clear, you are absolutely right that there are no women in the leading position that is something we talked about. On inclusivity, there are other aspects, such as ethnicity–non-Taliban, non-Pashtuns should have a stronger role if they want govt to be recognized by its own people. There is a lot of talk about international recognition but equally important or some would say even more important is to be recognized by your own people. When it comes to the right of women, long way to go, we talked about education and there was a clear commitment and clear declaration that it is a policy of the interim govt that women, girls should go to school and women should have access to education. But obviously, this is not happening and we need to see, we need to push and monitor and provide girls should have access to education. We could even see or support the payments of stipends, to incentivize teachers, so that education can be provided but that can only happen if girls also have access.

Question: India is keen to send humanitarian aid to Afghan people, but some hindrances.

Tomas Niklasson: Humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan is absolutely crucial, EU has raised its pledges of humanitarian assistance from 60 million euros to 300 million euros. Our member states have pledged another 400 million euros and we very much appreciate contributions from other countries and very much appreciates India’s offer to send 50,000 MT of wheat to Afghanistan. There were some references in our conversation that there were talks going on to solve the issue between India and Pakistan, I am not aware of how these talks are progressing, I am not aware of specific details but obviously, for the sake of the people of Afghanistan, we will very much hope that a solution can be found quickly.

Question: Pakistan has influence when it comes to the Taliban. What is the role you see of the Govt in Islamabad when it comes to making sure the Taliban fulfils its commitment? Do you think the Taliban is playing a negative role or it is playing a certain positive role?

Tomas Niklasson: I don’t think it is constructive to try to put countries in either of those categories. The relationship between Afghanistan and Pakistan is complex and long and we can talk about history, how the countries suffered. Pakistan has paid a high price. It has been very clear to me that many Indian voices consider Pakistan to have played a negative role but we have seen positive elements. They have generously hosted a large number of Afghanistan refugees for decades at a very high price, in terms of how it has impacted the country. They have played a constructive role now in helping the Afghan people and foreign citizens to leave the country. So, I would not like to or don’t find it helpful to try to draw up a net value. We try to work with countries including India and Pakistan and we see that the messaging and the identification of these messages we need to send to the Taliban are very similar and we all need to make progress from words to action. So rather than qualifying who is playing the negative or positive role, we should look as to how each can contribute for the sake of people and for peace and stability.

Question: What do you think is the biggest challenge, one is of course humanitarian aid; and what EU can do?

Tomas Niklasson: In the short term, winter is already in Afghanistan and humanitarian challenges, the crisis is a priority concern. We already have people on the ground in Kabul, we have international humanitarian staff working day and night to make sure our pledges of 300 million euros are translated into medicine, food, clothes, the essentials people need to survive. We work through international organizations, UN org, NGOs to make sure that this happens and it is. We see fast progress and there are significant challenges in getting resources into the country, not just the Indian wheat, but liquidity problem, but my basic message is we never left Afghanistan in terms of humanitarian assistance, we have worked with Afghanistan for more than 20 years and we continue to do everything we can to help the Afghan people because of our commitment to it remains very very strong.

Question: Any plans to open a full-fledged mission of the EU in Kabul?

Tomas Niklasson: There are no plans to open a full-fledged mission in Kabul. We had a quite substantial presence, we were providing development assistance, of 200-300 million euros per year. This is not happening; this is not possible. What we are considering is if we can have a very small number of colleagues, no ambassador, no head of the delegation but few people who can help on the one hand when it comes to humanitarian assistance and second to help Afghans whom we have obligations and a big responsibility for– in terms of safe passage. This will depend if we can do that, when we can do that depends on the security situation, how it evolves and it depends on the mechanism we can put in place to secure our staff which is an absolute priority for us but provided we can solve these issues–this can happen sooner or later.

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