How should Europe engage with the Taliban?

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As Europe tries to work out how to welcome Afghan refugees fleeing the Taliban takeover of their country, the bloc is also assessing how to engage with Afghanistan’s new rulers. Some say Europe and the international community have no choice but to work with the Taliban.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who convened an emergency G7 meeting on Afghanistan on Tuesday, said that members had agreed "a roadmap for the way in which we're going to engage with the Taliban" in the future.

“Any future Afghan government must adhere to Afghanistan’s international obligations,” said the statement coming out of the G7 meeting, which highlighted the need to protect against terrorism and support human rights, particularly of women and ethnic minorities.

Addressing the German parliament this Wednesday, Chancellor Angela Merkel underlined the need to maintain dialogue with the Taliban if it is to protect improvements made in Afghanistan during two decades of NATO deployment.

‘We need to talk to them’

“It’s obvious that we need to talk to them,” Bernard Bajolet, who served as French ambassador to Afghanistan from 2011 to 2013, told French public radio.

As ambassador, he helped organise three meetings in Chantilly, near Paris, in 2011 and 2012, the third of which was attended by high-level Taliban representatives.

Since the Taliban last held power in 2001, Bajolet says they have learned they must engage internationally.

“Their approach is more political. And in any case, we have no other solution but to talk with them.”

But that does not mean sanctioning the Taliban, who, he warns, have not necessarily changed since their brutal regime from 1996 to 2001, despite their assurances otherwise.

“You cannot take at face value what they say," said Bajolet. "They should be judged on their actions."

A sentiment that echoes the G7, which stated: “We will judge the Afghan parties by their actions, not words.”

Wait and see

Ahmad Wali Massoud, the youngest brother of Ahmad Shah Massoud, the legendary rebel commander who was assassinated by Al-Qaeda in 2001, says he is willing to wait.

“Let’s see and wait. Maybe in a few days time we will know,” he told RFI, about whether or not the Taliban have really changed.

“If they stop violence, attacks in the provinces, selective killings, then there is a way to see the future.”

Ahmad Shah Massoud successfully defended his native Panjshir Valley, northeast of Kabul, against the Soviets in 1979, and against the Taliban.

Today his son, Ahmad Massoud, has taken the reins and is leading a resistance against the Taliban, which is attracting supporters, he said in an interview with French philosopher Bernard-Heri Levy.

"I would prefer to die than to surrender," he said in the interview published Wednesday in French weekly Paris Match.

"Surrender is not a word in my vocabulary," he said, adding that he is open to talks. "In all wars, there are talks. And my father always spoke with his enemies," he said.

The Taliban have announced an offensive to take over the Panjshir Valley, though they have not moved, and have said they, too, are open to negotiations.

Ahmad Wali Massoud says if the Taliban shows they have curbed their use of violence “that will really kind of pave the way for talks”.

Beyond negotiations over Panjshir, the Taliban must put in place a representative government, that “really represents all ethnicities in Afghanistan, and that will be inclusive”.

International community failed to protect Afghans

Massoud considers the international community has a responsibility to protect the fundamental rights of the Afghan people, but that has not been the case so far.

“To abandon the Afghan people, the way they have abandoned them right now, that is not a good responsibility of the international community,” said Massoud.

Bajolet, the former ambassador, says the international community, and Europe in particular, has economic clout over the Taliban.

“Europe must talk with them, while insisting on conditions,” which he said will “attenuate a certain number of measures that the Taliban could take with regard to women.”

If Europe does not take the lead on engaging with the Taliban, it will leave the field open for others.

“There will be no more breaks, and it will mean we make way for those countries who speak to the Taliban, which is China, Russia, Turkey and Iran.”

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