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News blog17 February 2021Directorate-General for Communication

My Visit to Afghanistan : A country at a turning point in its search for peace

Given the intensity of the conflict and the worrying level of humanitarian needs, I have just recently visited Afghanistan – as the first European Commissioner responsible for humanitarian aid in almost twenty years.

The main mission of my visit was foremost to listen to and speak with different representatives from across Afghan society, to discuss the main challenges facing the population. In a country, where almost half of its population is in some sort of humanitarian need, it was also of great significance for me to be able to hear directly from our humanitarian partners on the ground about the lifesaving support they are providing to the people in need and the challenges they are facing in their daily relief efforts. It is important to bear in mind that Afghanistan is one of the most risky environments worldwide for humanitarian operations. In this respect, I commend the dedication of all our humanitarian partners even more.

In Afghanistan

The visit only underlined the most outstanding verity: Afghanistan is now once again at a turning point in its history. And this is not just a phrase. After decades of one of the deadliest conflict in the world, there is a clear window of opportunity for all parties to come together and open a new chapter in the country’s history. The coming months will demonstrate whether the political will is there to seize this unique opportunity, one which might not return anytime soon. This time, the course of history will depend to the largest extent on the Afghans themselves. The EU will be there to support this Afghan-led process.

In this view, I commended the Afghan government for its commitment to the national peace process launched last year. In meetings with the Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and the Chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation Abdullah Abdullah, I expressed the EU’s support for the peace efforts made to date. Nevertheless, this ambition will only be fulfilled if the interests of all Afghan people are put at the centre of everyone's efforts in these peace talks. Political unity in Kabul is one of the preconditions for the success of this process.

Despite the start of the intra-Afghan peace talks in September, the challenges this sensitive process faces are striking. Afghanistan is experiencing the highest level of violence since 2001. With conflict spread throughout every province in the country, millions of innocent civilians are fleeing their homes, both internally and across the border into neighbouring countries. At the same time, we are witnessing a deterioration in the humanitarian space – almost half of the country’s population is in need of urgent humanitarian assistance. And challenges to delivering aid to those who need it most are substantial. All of this is being further compounded by the economic and social consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic, as well as natural disasters.

If Afghanistan is to turn a page in its story, a lasting, sustainable and inclusive peace is the only choice ahead. And every effort must be made to attain it.  I believe that this can be achieved through three means:

First, all parties to the peace talks must support an immediate and unconditional ceasefire. The ‘talk and fight’ approach, with daily violence accompanying the discussions around the negotiating table, is detrimental to this process. During my meetings in Kabul, I asked for this issue to remain top of the agenda for the peace discussions. In meetings with the Afghan authorities, I stressed the obligation to respect the International Humanitarian Law and protect the civilians, including humanitarians, by all parties to the conflict. Civilians have no luxury to wait for peace, nor should they need to.

Second, for peace to be sustainable, Afghanistan needs to preserve to the largest extent possible the core democratic and societal achievements of the last two decades. We have already witnessed solid achievements for girls’ education, women’s empowerment, healthcare, press freedom and civil society. These meaningful gains need to be protected. Further efforts are needed on a number of fronts, including anti-corruption. The EU will continue to support this work and the many reforms ahead, including in the framework of our future development cooperation.

Women’s rights, in particular, were strongly highlighted in the meetings I held with the Afghan civil society representatives and with other stakeholders. It is simply not acceptable that parents should be worried each and every day when bringing their daughter to school whether she will return home safe and sound – which was one of the deep and very moving personal concerns expressed in one of the meetings I had.

Finally, it is clear that regardless of the outcome that may emerge from the peace discussions, humanitarian needs will continue to be on the rise. The country is simultaneously affected by conflict and the world’s third-biggest food crisis. It has the world’s second largest refugee and internally displaced population in the world, and is severely prone to natural disasters of many types. In this context, EU humanitarian aid funding has to and will continue to remain strong. At the same time, we will work to expand our assistance across the entire country with our partners, delivering directly to those in need. That is why I have announced that the EU will be stepping up its humanitarian aid with the initial €32 million in additional support for this year.

The EU is committed to a principled, impartial and needs-based humanitarian response – one that ensures aid is delivered directly to all civilians affected by hardship in Afghanistan, wherever in the country they may be. In the current context, humanitarian aid is often the only one that can reach the people in need across Afghanistan as a whole, including places where there are no other state services or development support. Which makes it all the more critical.

After years of violence, I do believe there is a possibility for a new peaceful beginning in Afghanistan. And the Afghan people are in dire need of peace. Afghanistan need not remain one of the deadliest and most conflict affected country in the world. It is a country of rich historic and cultural heritage, resilient and talented people and immense richness of natural landscapes. It has all the means to prosper and thrive. While this is ultimately in the hands of Afghans themselves, the international community has a responsibility to support this process to succeed. Strong humanitarian funding is an essential part and parcel of this. As EU Commissioner with responsibility for humanitarian aid, I will do my utmost to deliver on this and will continue to advocate for peace, stability and a brighter future of Afghanistan.

Details

Publication date
17 February 2021
Author
Directorate-General for Communication