Updated: Aug 30, 2022
Summary of events
Ever since the Russian Federation was overthrown in 1989, Afghanistan has been a battle ground. A definition of a failed state, Afghanistan was in a state of Anarchy. Rule of law was nonexistent, warlords and tribes waged war on each other to rule one another, and without terms nor adherence to any form of human rights. For five long years the situation was desperate.
In 1994, the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, or as they are better known, the Taliban, brought forward their religious-political movement, abiding by a strict and harsh form Sharia Islam law. Being a military organisation as well, the Taliban started conquering regions of Afghanistan, until they claimed Kabul and victory in 1996. What followed consisted of a harsh application of Sharia law, such as the stoning of adulterers, public executions and the oppression of women, among others.
This itself did not result in the intervention of allied forces, but rather that which occured on the 11th of September 2001, or as it is better known, 9/11. Osama Bin Laden, the leader of the terrorist group Al Qaed, was known to have been seeking refuge in Afghanistan amongst the Taliban. Upon refusing to turn Bin Laden over to the US, the Taliban were quickly expunged from Kabul by allied forces, including the U S and NATO, and exiled from Afghanistan.
For the next 20 years, up to the latter stages of last year, American and allied forces fought side by side with Afghan national soldiers, to repel Taliban forces from provinces across Afghanistan. The forces of the West sought to democratise Afghanistan, and a government was soon formed. A constitution was written up and human rights were no longer a distant reality for Afghan citizens. Women had access to education and employment, and were free from the various oppressions they faced under the Taliban. The US invested almost 2 trillion USD in infrastructure, and in producing a military capable of defending the interests of Afghanistan and its people. How did that lead to present events?
In early 2020, President Trump struck a deal with the Taliban, which consisted of the US and all allied forces to withdraw themselves from Afghanistan in 14 months (April 2021). The deal also stated that the Taliban would have to cease violence, and not allow any terrorist groups to function in the provinces which they control. As the number of allied forces decreased, the Taliban quickly gained momentum, and claimed provinces at an increasing rate. Earlier this month, the Taliban had claimed Afghanistan’s second and third largest provinces, and surrounded the capital, Kabul.
The investment in Afghanistan’s military proved futile, as even though Afghan forces outnumbered Taliban fighters four to one, the Taliban met little to no resistance. The cherry on the cake was the President’s escape, shortly followed by Taliban forces storming and claiming the Presidential Palace. As remaining allied personnel were evacuated, the residents of Kabul scrambled to the roads and airports to escape, while those who could not afford to leave sought refuge. The Western world was stupefied at how fast Afghanistan’s institutions crumbled.
Now, as the dust settles, the world is eager to see how things progress. Will the Taliban throw Afghanistan back in a state of terror, or have they changed? Where are half a million refugees supposed to go? And, who will look out for their rights and interests?
Great repercussions will be met due to the events which have unfolded recently, some are certain, like the influx of refugees into the EU, but there are too many “if”s, and too many unanswered questions, that could pose greater risk if left unknown.
Without question, the initial, and most pressing matter at this time are those displaced by the Taliban’s advancements. Almost half a million people, equivalent to the entire population of Malta, are now at the mercy of the Taliban, bordering countries, and the allied forces which were entrusted to protect them.
Humanitarian aid has been offered by many international organisations and individual countries. As of today (20th August 2021), the EU has not yet devised a scheme on how Afghan refugees will be allocated to member states, so that the weight is mitigated in an equitable manner. French President Emmanuel Macron has urged the EU to hasten its proceedings, and reminded them that irregular immigration is already a major problem among EU member states. Countries like the US and the UK have proposed schemes that would allow the countries to accept 30000 and 20000 refugees respectively, and their allies, such as the Balkans to the US have also accepted to share the load. The first refugees arrived in Albania on Wednesday 18th August 2021.
The majority of Afghan refugees do not usually make their way to Europe, but rather to Pakistan, its neighbouring country. The difference this time around is due to the Taliban showing interest in trade with China, a close friend of Pakistan. Moreover, the Taliban have also ceased trade with India, adding to the instability in the East - India does not engage in trade with China and Pakistan, and often has disputes with them.
What now for Afghanistan?
Rescue or redemption?
Much has been discussed, regarding the Afghan National Security forces’ efforts to repel the Taliban. US President Mr Joe Biden expressed great disappointment at how fast Afghanistan succumbed. 20 years, more than 800 billion USD, and around 3500 spent American lives is what the “Forever War” cost the US, and it was erased in a matter of days.
Naturally, such futile efforts would dishearten the US and allied forces from retaking and reinvesting in Afghanistan, unless it is deemed absolutely necessary due to international security risks. Back in 2020, Mr Trump had conveyed in an interview that should the Taliban attempt to return Afghanistan to a breeding ground for terror, the US would return with a force unlike anything the world has ever seen, but Mr Biden might choose otherwise.
However, the West ought to remember that the US is not the only global super state, and both others - being Russia and China - are keen on developing a relationship with the Taliban, and both have already claimed that they recognise the Taliban as legitimate. Russian President Vladimir Putin stated that Russia will keep a keen eye on how the Taliban govern Afghanistan, and will intervene only if the situation turns desperate and they deem it necessary.
But should Afghans simply look to be rescued? Or should they allow the Taliban a chance to prove their statements that they have changed? Certain provinces under Taliban rule are allowing women to access education and to work. Others even stopped forcing the burqa and long beards, while there are also those which have thrown their provinces right back to 1998. The socio-economic effect on the nation could be devastating. With a population of more than 38 million, barring about half of that population from contributing to the nation, whilst also considering those among them who do not form part of the working population,Afghanistan’s vast reserve of minerals might not be enough to rebuild.
This time around, there are not too many who are keen to intervene in Afghanistan, unless their own borders are at risk.
The refugee crisis
Afghanistan has been in constant violence since 1989. This has had a devastating effect on the socio-economic development of the country. Education is inaccessible to most, unemployment rates are through the ceiling, and the infrastructure, funded by the US and the EU among others, is in ruins.
For the people of Afghanistan, there is no light at the end of the tunnel. Even more so now that the Taliban have declared victory. Those who flee their home are simply seeking access to their basic human rights, including work. However, there are policies which allow certain states to deport the refugees who enter their borders back to Afghanistan. Moreover, Mr Ashraf Ghani, President of Afghanistan until the Taliban ended the war, did, or could not oppose, or challenge these policies, as the Afghan Government relied on their funds (EU in particular) to be sustained.
This current chain of events has left the Western world with a lot of unknowns, such as the humanitarian crisis, irregular immigration, and the prospect of having the Middle East become an ally of Russia and China. Moreover, there have been reports of armed militia forming a resistance against the Taliban. These consist of scattered police and military still willing to fight, and men who stayed behind, so that their families could escape.
Afghanistan is on the verge of a humanitarian catastrophe, such were the words of Isabelle Moussard Carlsen, head of the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Afghanistan. The amount of refugees displaced within Afghanistan, far outweighs those who have crossed the border. The endless turmoil of war, a crumbling economy, and an ongoing devastating drought, have forced entire provinces to abandon their homes. (Democracy Now, August 2021)
Humanitarian organisations, and humanitarian initiatives formed by international communities are persistent to keep addressing the needs of these refugees, but now that the Taliban are in control, and the deadline to remove all allied personnel from Kabul by the end of August edges closer, said groups are facing immeasurable obstacles.
August 31st Deadline
On 30th August, at 11:59 pm, the last US and allied forces left Kabul airport for good. Moments later, Taliban armed soldiers claimed the building, and fired rounds into the air signalling the end of a hasty and humiliating exit by Washington and NATO.
More than 120,000 were flown out of Kabul airport, but many more, including thousands of persons who worked and helped Western forces, were left behind. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken also confirmed that somewhere between 100 and 200 Americans were unable to reach the last flights.
Through his social media, President Joe Biden stated that these persons will not be left behind. The US President argued that this simply marks the end of military intervention, and that the West must now turn to diplomatic means in order to bring the remaining Americans home and to offer humanitarian aid to Afghanistan.
What will Europe do?
EU Policies - Regarding migration, border control, humanitarian aid.
Since its first days, the EU consisted of an initiative to promote cross-border trade, labour and peace. Free movement for the citizens of member states and free trade among them, allowed for the overall growth of the European economy.
After the financial crises in 2009, many member states, particularly those around the Mediterranean, such as Greece, Spain and Portugal required considerable financial aid. Such aid was given only if certain policies were introduced in return. In 2013, pressure was once again put on these states, as the Arab Spring brought along a very increased rate of asylum seekers, or as the member states put it, illegal immigration. Moreover, instability that had been evident since before the Arab Spring was augmented, especially in places where civil war had already been running rampant, such as Libya, Sudan, and Afghanistan.
As the EU institutions resume working after summer recess, the primary discussions on the agenda revolved around the situation in Afghanistan, and how its effects may transcend across European borders.
The European Parliament resumed its proceedings on Monday 30th August 2021. In an Extraordinary meeting of the Conference of Presidents, the developing situation in Afghanistan, along with the Rule of Law situation within the EU were discussed.
On 31th August, the same day the last of the allied troops were supposed to be withdrawn from Afghanistan, the Council of the EU held an extraordinary meeting of Interior Ministers, so that the situation on the ground could be assessed. The fruit of these discussions was a joint declaration, brought forward by the Interior Ministers of the EU and Schengen countries, whereby they pledged more financial support to Afghanistan’s neighboring countries, and humanitarian aid. However, they all refused to take commitments when it came to receiving refugees, since no major immigration flows into Europe were noted as of yet, and that doing so would promote illegal immigration into the EU.
The reasoning behind this refusal was due to “lessons learnt” from the refugee crisis of 2015, when the Mediterranean was used as a gateway into the EU for those fleeing the turmoil of the Arab Spring.
On Wednesday 1st September, an Informal Defence meeting was held. Afghanistan was not meant to be on the topic, however Slovenia’s Defence Minister, Mr Matej Tonin pushed for the discussion on the EU’s capacities for security. In his statement Mr Tonin urged for a reevaluation of the EU’s defence, and its bolstering. He also brought forward the idea of a European task force/army to be mobilised in order to embark on peacekeeping missions, and to safeguard the EU’s interests around the world, however a previous idea in 2018 was never materialised.
Later on, Mr David Sassoli, President of the EU Parliament expressed his disappointment, as no member state, through their interior ministers, committed themselves to taking Afghan refugees.
It is difficult for one to draw conclusions at such early stages, especially since there are a lot of unknowns. EU Leaders admitted that too much faith was put into the US for Afghanistan, and even though some Member States wanted to keep military presence, the US’ withdrawal was the catalyst in the recent chain of events.
There are now loose ends that need tying, with those displaced being at top priority. Aid to Afghanistan’s neighboring countries is essential, in order to offer initial humanitarian aid. The next target would be to devise a mechanism that allocates an equitable number of refugees to member states.
Worryingly, the aftermath of conflict is the least of Afghanistan’s problems, as drought and famine are ravaging across the land. The infrastructure is in ruins, and there is no work. The world has its eyes fixed on the Taliban, and how it will rebuild Afghanistan. Will it be redemption, or hell on earth?