In a DW interview, Franz-Michael Mellbin, the EU ambassador to Afghanistan, talks about the prospects of peace talks with the Taliban and the incoming US administration's potential Afghan policy.
DW: How do you look at the Afghan conflict in 2016?
Franz-Michael Mellbin: Afghanistan is facing a war. There is a determined enemy, which is challenging the state and which has a military ambition. It has not been able to fulfill this ambition by taking over parts of Afghanistan.
But many observers would use the terms "war-like conditions" or "armed conflict" for what is happening in Afghanistan.
The enemy decides what is going on there. The enemy's ambition is to gain permanent territorial control.
Last month, Taliban militants attacked the German consulate in Mazar-i-Sharif. As a consequence, the diplomats have permanently shifted to NATO's Resolute Support mission's Camp Pamir. What signal does that send to the Afghan public?
I think it sends a very positive signal that Germany has decided to keep the consulate running in Mazar. It would have been preferable to move back in the same premises, but the attack has made that impossible. It is clearly not possible to continue working there because of the damage to the building. It is less than an ideal situation though.
After so much effort and billions of euros spent, how could this mission go so wrong?
I would not say it went wrong. I think it has been a very important international effort in Afghanistan. We could have achieved more with the enormous resources that we had. Certainly, the results do not measure up to the resources that we put into Afghanistan.
For a long time, the emphasis from the international side was on who was winning the war. But at the recent Brussels conference, we made a shift; now we are trying to "win" peace. The new strategy will allow Afghanistan to move decisively towards peace. We are now trying to align our security, economic, developmental and regional efforts towards the goal of peace.
Do you think Afghanistan is safe enough for Afghan refugees and migrants to return to from Europe?
The security situation varies from place to place in Afghanistan. You cannot go everywhere, but you can certainly go to a lot of places, especially the bigger cities, and of course the capital Kabul, which has attracted a huge number of people, including the internally-displaced persons.
Pakistan and Iran are sending Afghan refugees and asylum seekers back to Afghanistan in big numbers. It is likely to increase the problems for the Afghan government. Is it a wise thing to do for the EU to send the refugees and asylum seekers back to their home country?
The reality is that we support Afghanistan immensely. The returnees from Europe will not even reach the one percent of the total influx the country is experiencing right now. It is a very marginal issue, but it has become a political issue.
Afghans claim they are discriminated against by EU states as compared to Syrian and Iraqi refugees. Is their complaint justified?
I haven't heard about any such discrimination. To my knowledge, each and every single individual who has been sent back to Afghanistan has gone through proper vetting in Europe. It is easy to complain that there is some kind of discrimination going on unless you have a solid evidence to prove that.
What are your expectations from the incoming US administration?
What I expect from the next administration is less changes on Afghanistan and more changes towards the regional actors. This can have a huge influence on Afghanistan. There is a geostrategic competition going on between Iran and Pakistan, between India and China, between India and Pakistan. If the incoming US administration starts changing these dynamics, it will bring minor changes towards the Afghan policies but it could easily bring significant changes towards the Pakistani, Iranian and Chinese policies. I am certainly very eager to engage with the next administration.
What is the EU's red line vis-à-vis potential peace negotiation with the Taliban?
The Afghan government has made very clear that it is willing to enter peace negotiations without any preconditions. That is a very important shift of position because preconditions make it difficult to have peace talks and we simply needed to take that step. But when it comes to the outcome of the talks, we definitely have ambitions. We want to make sure that the progress we have made regarding human rights and women rights in Afghanistan are preserved. Actually we need to extend them; there can be no talk about rolling them back. We expect the parties in the peace talks to renounce terrorism and ties with terrorist organizations. We saw Hezb-e-Islami did that in a positive way.
Franz-Michael Mellbin is the EU ambassador to Afghanistan.
The interview was conducted by Sandra Petersmann in Afghanistan.