EU sees sup­port for Afghan peace talks as new aid flows in

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

Re­gional pow­ers agreed to try to re­vive Afghanistan’s stalled peace process af­ter al­most 40 years of con­flict, the EU’s for­eign pol­icy chief said yes­ter­day, as gov­ern­ments be­gan to raise some $13 bil­lion to fund the coun­try through 2020.

With the govern­ment in Kabul fac­ing a resur­gent Tale­ban 15 years af­ter US forces helped oust the mil­i­tants, more than 70 gov­ern­ments in Brus­sels promised fur­ther fi­nan­cial sup­port. The Euro­pean Union is lead­ing the ef­fort, partly with the aim of slow­ing Afghan mi­grant flows into Europe.

As well as fund­ing, the EU fo­cused on get­ting stalled peace ne­go­ti­a­tions back on track by bring­ing to­gether the United States, China, In­dia, and Pak­istan at a din­ner on Tues­day night. Fed­er­ica Mogherini, who co­or­di­nates EU for­eign pol­icy, said there was an un­der­stand­ing “to work on a com­mon ba­sis for re­gional po­lit­i­cal sup­port for the peace and rec­on­cil­i­a­tion process in Afghanistan.” “Yes­ter­day night we found com­mon ground to sup­port this process with a re­gional per­spec­tive and the Euro­pean Union will try to fa­cil­i­tate this,” Mogherini said.

There have been sev­eral at­tempts in re­cent years to bro­ker a set­tle­ment be­tween the West­ern-backed govern­ment in Kabul and the Tale­ban, but all have failed. With­out the mil­i­tants at the ta­ble, ex­perts say it is hard to en­vis­age a mean­ing­ful so­lu­tion.

Hazaras stage protest

The EU and Afghanistan signed a po­lit­i­cal agree­ment this month to make it eas­ier to re­turn Afghans whose asy­lum re­quests fail. Euro­pean gov­ern­ments, fac­ing in­creas­ing op­po­si­tion from vot­ers to im­mi­gra­tion at home, have pressed Afghanistan to ac­cept more repa­tri­a­tions, say­ing that many parts of the coun­try, in­clud­ing the cap­i­tal Kabul, are safe.

That pol­icy has faced sharp crit­i­cism from aid groups and oth­ers who point to the widen­ing Tale­ban in­sur­gency across the coun­try and the fre­quent sui­cide at­tacks that hit Kabul.

Sev­eral hun­dred mem­bers of Afghanistan’s mainly Shi’ite Hazara mi­nor­ity, which has been tar­geted by Tale­ban and Is­lamic State mil­i­tants, protested out­side the con­fer­ence venue. “(Pres­i­dent) Ashraf Ghani and his govern­ment is here for Euro­pean and other coun­tries’ aid and as­sis­tance in re­turn for ac­cept­ing a deal to send us back to a war zone,” said Ali Reza, hold­ing a ban­ner with the words: “We Will Not Go Back”.

While the West wants more so­cial, po­lit­i­cal and fi­nan­cial re­forms from Afghanistan, EU mi­gra­tion aid is not linked to the Brus­sels con­fer­ence, but was raised by Euro­pean min­is­ters in­clud­ing Hun­gary and Bul­garia. “I hope that the newly signed repa­tri­a­tion agree­ment with Afghanistan will be im­ple­mented in prac­tice,” Ger­man For­eign Min­is­ter Frank-Wal­ter Stein­meier told re­porters.

Tale­ban peace talks?

Two peo­ple briefed on Mogherini’s din­ner, at­tended by US Sec­re­tary of State John Kerry and UN Sec­re­tary Gen­eral Ban Ki-moon among oth­ers, told Reuters that Chi­nese and In­dian of­fi­cials were will­ing to con­sider peace talks.

Pak­istan con­tin­ues to har­bor Afghan Tale­ban, the United States says. In­dia is un­con­vinced the mil­i­tants have changed, judg­ing by the way they rule the 10 per­cent of Afghan ter­ri­tory they con­trol, one of­fi­cial said.

“There are sev­eral coun­tries that ac­tu­ally can help come to­gether, and I urge Rus­sia, China, Pak­istan, In­dia and Iran to think about the spe­cial role that they could play in this re­gion in or­der to make a ma­jor dif­fer­ence ... in reach­ing peace with the Tale­ban,” Kerry told the donor con­fer­ence.

But there re­main di­vi­sions about if, or when, to in­clude Tale­ban mil­i­tants. Even if they were in­vited, it is un­clear whether the move­ment would take part. Hope was briefly raised in 2015 when Tale­ban of­fi­cials met the Afghan govern­ment in neigh­bor­ing Pak­istan, but that process was short lived, and the Tale­ban in­sist that for­eign forces must leave Afghanistan be­fore peace talks can be­gin.

They are also on the of­fen­sive, and bat­tle­field suc­cesses have ex­posed the de­fen­sive lim­its of Afghanistan’s NATO­trained armed forces which are sup­posed to num­ber 350,000 per­son­nel but which have been heav­ily de­pleted by ca­su­al­ties and de­ser­tion.

Mil­i­tants briefly reached the cen­tre of the north­ern city of Kun­duz on Mon­day, and they are test­ing the de­fenses of two other pro­vin­cial cap­i­tals in the south of the coun­try. Still, US and EU of­fi­cials have been en­cour­aged by a smaller peace agree­ment last month be­tween the Afghan govern­ment and a lo­cal war­lord.

Though largely sym­bolic, the deal grants amnesty to the war­lord and his mil­i­tants in re­turn for an end to vi­o­lence and re­spect for Afghanistan’s con­sti­tu­tion. “This a model for what might be pos­si­ble ... I think the mes­sage from ev­ery per­son here would be to the Tale­ban: take note,” Kerry said. —Reuters

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