Check against delivery!
Ms President, dear Members of the European Parliament,
Afghanistan is another place where there is not a lot of room for optimism. But even if there is no room for optimism, we have to continue being engaged in a country where a lot of civilian casualties have been happening and 40% of these casualties are women or children.
Today, the United States and NATO troops are withdrawing from the country. The troops from European Member States will also withdraw. The peace process is largely stalled and violence continues. We see an appalling rate of civilian casualties – as I said, 40% of them are women and children - and targeted killings of civil society activists, media workers and public servants. And I am afraid that this violence might further increase in the near future.
The security situation in Afghanistan is evolving quickly. The Taliban control more than half of the country’s territory and increasingly have less incentive to compromise, so short-term prospects for a peace deal look bleak. However, the Taliban know that a large part of the Afghan population does not share their convictions and that ethnic and religious cleavages may come out to the fore in the absence of a negotiated peace settlement.
Therefore, I wish to underline that the European Union will make every effort to support the peace process and to remain a committed partner to the Afghan people. Of course, we will have to take into account the evolving situation, but disengagement is not an option. It is not an option for many reasons:
Firstly, because over the past two decades, in the last 20 years, we have invested significant political capital and financial resources to support Afghanistan’s stability and development. And also we have lost quite an important number of lives of our soldiers. The gains of our assistance have been prominent with regard to human rights and empowerment of women. I want to stress the importance that during these last 20 years the Afghan women have been increasing their rights and getting out of the medieval times in which they were under the Taliban regimes. But these achievements can be very much jeopardised, these achievements are in danger because Afghanistan today is at a crossroads. They are living critical times and in order to safeguard the achievements that the Afghan people have made during these years, we have to continue being engaged and to provide new perspectives for the Afghan citizens when finally, we hope, an agreement will be obtained on the Doha negotiations.
Secondly, because our strategic interests are also at stake. Independently of the troops’ withdrawal, political and civilian assistance disengagement from Afghanistan would not serve our interests. A collapse of the democratic order in Afghanistan or massive backtracking on human rights – and, once again, I want to stress the importance of the rights of women - could lead, among others, to a new surge of international terrorism, to further forced displacement and irregular migration - too often in the hands of traffickers, and to greater magnitudes of illicit trade in narcotics. There can be no tolerance for Afghanistan becoming a safe haven again for international terrorism.
We are currently in intense discussions with our Member States, the United States, NATO and the United Nations on the absence of essential security conditions for our continued diplomatic presence. It will be difficult to keep it. We need hospitals and airports if we want to continue being there. This comes on top of the pledges of NATO partners to continue their support to the Afghan National Defence Forces under the Afghan National Army Trust Fund.
Let us go back to the peace process. We are clear on that: there is no alternative to a negotiated political settlement, through inclusive peace talks. This also means that there can be no sanctions relief for members of the Taliban at the United Nations Security Council without a genuine commitment on their part to the peace process, through a permanent and comprehensive ceasefire and substantial progress in the peace negotiations.
I do not have to stress our interest in a stable Afghanistan with development perspectives being shared by all the countries of the region, who also need to play a constructive role in this peace process and with whom we will step up our cooperation.
What is our main leverage in the current situation? Well, this is our continuing political and financial support. It has to be made clear to the Afghan government and the Taliban that this support is and will continue to be conditional upon the preservation of the country’s human rights and democratic achievements. And this support is not pennies: during the last 20 years it has represented €3.5 billion of development assistance. This support has to be conditional – I insist - on the preservation of human rights and democratic achievements, tangible progress on improving governance, in particular anti-corruption, but also on the access of women to education and to the political and social life.
The challenges are massive. We know it. That is why we have to continue with our engagement to the Afghan people in order to prevent losing all what they have been winning in these last 20 years. And I want to insist especially on what the Afghan women have won.
I was looking at a video, before coming to this debate, with Staffan de Mistura, one of the people who have done the most for Afghanistan, because he has been the Special Envoy of the United Nations there, where young women and girls in Afghanistan were trying to counterbalance the Taliban raising their Kalashnikovs, by raising their pens in order to claim for their right to school, for their right to education. Because education of women is the basis of a civilised society. When you educate a human being, you educate a human being. When you educate a woman, you educate a family; you educate more than one human being. The multiplier effect of education for women is impressive. And when I see these young girls raising their pencils, I think that all of us, we should raise our pencils and our engagement with the Afghan people and, especially, with Afghan women.
Link to the video: https://audiovisual.ec.europa.eu/en/video/I-206967
Thank you President.
Once again, I agree with all of you. It is difficult to say a different thing, but let us be realistic: it is going to be hard and we will have to show political will if we want to continue engaging with Afghanistan. Because once the Western troops will be withdrawn, it is going to be a difficult situation for the Afghan people. We have to be engaging with them and to give support in the way that you have been asking in this debate today.
Let us try to be able, let us try to be committed with these people, because it is true, 20 years of war, a lot of lives lost, a lot of money invested for nothing. We have to try to avoid that all the social progress that the Afghan people have been making will be lost.
Once again I want to express the importance and the interest of the situation of women. I see a lot of women in the Parliament, I see a lot of women in the government, I see a lot of women working, practising sports. I see three million girls at the school, but there are still 2 million girls that do not go to school. 2 million, can you imagine? Half of the female child population do not go to school. Let us try to avoid that the other half that is now going to school will lose this, because in this case Afghanistan will go back to the medieval ages. It is our responsibility to try to avoid it.
Link to the video: https://audiovisual.ec.europa.eu/en/video/I-206969