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While French evacuations from Kabul have ended, President Emmanuel Macron has sought to keep the national focus on his management of the crisis in Afghanistan – admitting that Paris diplomats are in talks with Taliban leaders, and using the UN Security Council to push for a “safe zone” to protect ongoing humanitarian operations.
In an interview with TF1 television late Sunday following his trip to Iraq, Macron said discussions with the insurgents now in charge in Afghanistan – and other regional bodies – were inevitable in order to save the lives of the thousands of Afghans still in need of protection.
“We have initiated a dialogue with the Taliban,” Macron said, adding this did not amount to French “recognition” of the group as the country’s legitimate leaders.
“Let’s be clear: it is the Taliban who are in control of Kabul. In an operational, practical way, we must have these discussions.”
End to airlift
France’s diplomatic team in Kabul, including the ambassador and soldiers of the Apagan operation landed on Sunday at the Vélizy-Villacoublay military airport in the south-western suburbs of Paris – marking the end of an evacuation operation that saw 2,800 people transported to Paris.
The US withdrawal from Afghanistan is also in its finals stages, and comes amid the threat of more attacks by Islamic State Khorasan (ISIS-K) – who are sworn enemies of the Taliban.
While US troops were due to leave by Tuesday, in line with an agreement with the Taliban, some 100 countries – including France – issued a joint statement Sunday revealing the Taliban had agreed to allow evacuations to continue.
Macron has underscored that France was not finished with Afghanistan, using interviews given to both TF1 and the Journal du Dimanche (JDD) newspaper to clarify his country’s stance on a country he warned would send an influx of migrants to Europe.
“On our list we still have several thousand Afghans who we want to protect," he told the JDD, adding the goal of dialogue with Taliban militants was solely to facilitate the humanitarian operations.
“Will we succeed? I can't guarantee it.”
The talks come with the condition the Taliban respect humanitarian law, the rights of women, and that they do not collude with regional terrorist groups, Macron added.
In the wake of the Taliban’s takeover of Kabul on 15 August, Macron was accused of playing politics after warning that France and other EU countries needed a “robust plan” to protect themselves from “irregular migratory flows” from Afghanistan.
He later responded that his words had been "hijacked" and taken out of context.
To date, most asylum applications in France are from Afghan citizens, with more than 10,000 requests filed in 2020.