Afghanistan, necessary to negotiate with the Taliban


by Roberto Ridolfi for

Various NGOs have tried to respond to the needs of a population that was building its own path of freedom and progress over the past two decades. They did so by working together with Afghan organizations and communities. It is precisely this experience, first of all human, of intensely lived cooperation and partnerships that allowed us to express ourselves and to converse frankly with politics in those years, which has now prompted the three networks of Italian NGOs to ask Minister Di Maio, who a coordinated action for the evacuation and reception of people at risk is made available for discussion, which legitimizes us to share some reflections and requests that we address to the government, the Italian parties and the European institutions.

What an immediate European mission to Kabul ,  led by the High Representative Josep Borrell , could have produced to verify the intentions of the new Taliban leaders, to negotiate a negotiation on the orderly evacuation of desperate people, on the application of the openings and publicly announced freedoms in the first television interview of their spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid and on the interpretation of sharia compared to past years and other countries that apply it and with which Italy maintains relations? “We will not take revenge with anyone… our territory will not be used to threaten any country… we will make an amnesty and the embassies and NGOs will be safe… we will respect women’s rights under the sharia system and they will work shoulder to shoulder with us”:  these are words that should not be underestimated, despite the first signs of widespread brutal reprisals and the lack of credibility of the interlocutors .

What would have resulted in a choice by the EU and the European governments to continue all together to keep their embassies open in Kabul, recalling the ambassadors but leaving the chargés d’affaires, as is normally done in countries with unrecognized governments? In addition to being relevant witnesses and expressing a European role (which does not exist) in the new complicated situation, could they not have immediately created opportunities for dialogue, negotiation and pressure on the new rulers? For the protection of people at risk, support for those who have worked for a freer Afghanistan over the past twenty years, the planning of aid to the most vulnerable communities by UN agencies and humanitarian NGOs together with the continuation of essential services, up to the support of the requests of many Afghans and Afghans who ask not to be excluded and marginalized by the new rulers. Afghan society has changed a lot since 2001, with a new generation that has established itself, has developed international relationships and is able to dialogue and gain respect. The Taliban – many of them also of a new generation – can hardly fail to take this into account.

Of course, what Afghans have suffered under the Taliban regime and as a result of their reprisals on innocent people, even schools and hospitals, is horrific and unacceptable. As are the current episodes of daily violence, harassment and the hunt for women and men arbitrarily deemed traitors. Horror. They should definitely be condemned, hoping that they will not happen again. But “ how to make the wishes come true? ” asked Josep Borrell in front of the European Parliament.

Dialogue, negotiation, opening channels of confrontation  with all parties in conflict is an exercise that humanitarian organizations are used to carrying out whenever possible. For Afghanistan, which has suddenly revealed itself to be much more complex and complicated than any possible prediction,  it would have been useful in our opinion for politics too to understand its importance and the immediate dutiful feasibility , with some certain risks, but far more acceptable than humiliation that the images of suffering, anguish and desperation of thousands of people fleeing have so forcefully conveyed.

Dialogue, negotiation with the Taliban (this is nothing new, it has been done for a long time anyway, recognizing the degree of consensus they enjoy) does not mean  recognizing or legitimizing them politically but could mean some important immediate progress for the protection and freedom of people  that we unanimously affirm that we want to protect. We share, because we have experienced them firsthand, the words of Filippo Grandi, High Commissioner for Refugees: “We don’t like all of our interlocutors, but they are the ones we have and we have to work with them. At this moment we are grappling, with a little opportunism, to evacuations, I repeat due and sacrosanct, but they will soon end. After that it will be necessary to build this relationship and use it to put pressure on the things we care about ”.

Some activities started in Afghanistan, such as those in the health sector, are still continuing, also because they have always been open to all, but health professionals, women and men, must be supported. It is difficult to know if and how the partner organizations will be able to continue to operate in order not to disperse the important progress made but we must support them as they will indicate to us as soon as this phase of great uncertainties has passed. Directly and perhaps even supporting them as far as possible in the face of the new national and territorial institutional figures, without fear of opening channels of dialogue with them. We will have to talk to them: we like it or not.

Politics is now required to make itself heard, with courage, showing capacity for initiative , with intelligence and without fear, opening channels of dialogue, leaving behind immediate partisan interests. President Mario Draghi can give a signal in this sense, in the government and in the EU. Your initiative for a G20 meeting on Afghanistan – where countries with different relations with the new regime are present – in order to be able to pick up some of the threads that international relations have torn away from multilateralism is of great importance and represents a leadership capacity of which is greatly needed.

The evacuation of Afghan staff from embassies, military contingents, NGOs or human rights organizations, information, women’s promotion and other activities disliked by the new regime, the scenes of thousands of people looking for a way out flight at Kabul airport and the forecast of tens of thousands who will leave the country as soon as possible,  bring the question of migration and international protection back to the political attention in Italy and in Europe .

To welcome, not to welcome. Welcoming but only women and children by breaking up families (which however remain central to national policies). Welcoming in neighboring countries (which already welcome five million Afghans). And so on. Both in Italy and in Europe the disagreements are amplifying, together with those regarding the reception of Afghans who have been pressing our borders for years in inhumane conditions, the suspension of expulsions to Afghanistan, the acceptance of pending asylum requests. Thus, once again, the political confrontation runs the risk of taking precedence over the heart of the problem : the protection, acceptance, dignity of people and the common commitment to be able to guarantee them.

Our Europe needs to decide to face today’s migratory reality in all its complexity, defining the indispensable shared rules for safe, orderly, regular migration, definitively exiting the instrumental and shamelessly electoral measures that have been caging it for too long. European governments, starting with the Italian one, must  take the necessary political decisions in the EU Council in order not to find themselves having to face a reality that concerns us permanently in an impromptu and emergency way. And in order not to continue to make incomplete decisions, sometimes instrumental, without coordination, without a common vision and planning, closing oneself within one’s own borders and communicating the hypocrisy of safeguarding one’s own values ​​and culture.

This is  a vital issue for our societies which should push everyone to  find a common denominator to define a comprehensive and forward-looking policy for the management of migratory movements, including the request for protection and asylum, which is not limited to security, control, rejections. A common denominator which guarantees on the one hand the legitimate different beliefs, sensitivities, priorities and political choices, and on the other which maintains them along a common thread regardless of the options of the alternating governments, contributing to the definition of coherent European and national regulations, starting from Italy which urgently needs it.

If human mobility cannot be eliminated, it can however be governed and regulated . In the current state of multilateralism and certainly misunderstood sovereignty, it does not seem conceivable to define binding provisions. However, it is possible to adopt a common, coherent approach that takes up the fundamental principles and conventions that the international community has adopted, which represent the foundations and legal basis of common coexistence.

Within the United Nations, after two years of intense consultation and intergovernmental negotiations, in 2018 – in parallel with the “Global Pact on Refugees” to which Italy has adhered – the “Global Pact for Safe Migration , orderly and regular ”. The Italian government and parliament have taken time to be able to investigate and decide. In our opinion,  the time has come to take it up again and adopt it as almost all European countries have already done and we ask the government and all political forces for it. It is not mandatory but indicates a possible common path and is convenient for Italy: as a reference for an overall and forward-looking definition of its migration policy; as a tool to strengthen one’s reasons in negotiations with other European countries and in the definition of a common European policy; as a means of facilitating negotiations in the definition of bilateral agreements with countries of origin and transit which need to be multiplied in the near future.

In the face of what Afghanistan and its people are experiencing, in the face of the world that ‘burns’ with ever new political fires and new exoduses of people, to Politics – to the Italian one in primis, also to have a better impact on the European one – a jolt is required and that indispensable assumption of responsibility is required which until now it has not been able to express, making our country sick. Civil society will continue to play its part, ready to contribute to any initiative in this sense.