French president Emmanuel Macron warned on Monday night that the Taliban victory in Afghanistan is likely to propel a substantial flow of migrants towards Europe. This must be confronted, he said, through a harmonised European response and by attempting to contain the flow in countries of transit such as Pakistan, Turkey and Iran.
In a televised address from his summer residence on the Côte d’Azur, Mr Macron also called for an international initiative to prevent Afghanistan “becoming again the sanctuary for terrorism that it was in the past”.
Mr Macron said he had just discussed an initiative with German chancellor Angela Merkel "to build without delay a robust, co-ordinated and united response in the struggle against irregular flows [of migrants].
He promised asylum to Afghans who worked for the French, and to protect "those who are most threatened": human rights defenders, artists, journalists and militants. France would do its share "in the framework of a fair, organised international effort".
But at the same time, Mr Macron cautioned, Afghanistan needs “its lifeblood” to face difficult times ahead. “Europe cannot alone confront the consequences of the present situation. We must anticipate and protect against substantial, irregular flows of migrants which would endanger those involved and foster all sorts of trafficking.”
Mr Macron said “terrorist groups are present in Afghanistan and will seek to take advantage of the destabilisation.” It is unclear how closely the Taliban are allied with the remnants of the al-Qaeda and Islamic State terror groups.
He said that he and British prime minister Boris Johnson would take joint initiatives within hours regarding the "terrorist threat" and that the UN Security Council "must provide a responsible, united response". International peace and stability were at stake, he said. "Terrorism and those who support it" were a shared enemy. "We will do everything so that Russia, the US and Europe co-operate efficiently, for we have the same interests."
But Russia seems to have a very different reading of events in Kabul. Unlike western countries, Moscow has kept its embassy there open. “The situation in Kabul and Afghanistan is stabilising,” the Russian foreign ministry said on Monday. “The Taliban are restoring public order and have offered security guarantees for local civilians and diplomatic missions.”
Mr Macron outlined the history of French intervention in Afghanistan. France’s military involvement ceased at the end of 2014, after 13 years. Ninety French soldiers died there. “In Afghanistan, our fight was just and it is to the honour of France to have been engaged there,” he said.
Unlike other close US allies, including Germany and the UK, Mr Macron did not criticise US handling of the withdrawal. He thanked US forces for co-ordinating the evacuation, hours after Kabul airport was overrun by fleeing Afghans, forcing all flights to stop.
Armin Laschet, who heads Dr Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU), and who may succeed her as chancellor after next month's election, called it "the greatest debacle endured by Nato since its creation", adding that "this engagement of the international community was obviously not crowned with success".
Mr Laschet demanded “a tough analysis of the errors . . . in Germany, with the partners of the alliance [Nato] and within the international community.”
Germany was the second largest contributor of foreign troops in Afghanistan after the US, with 150,000 Germans deployed there over two decades.
Dr Merkel expressed her frustration over the scenes of panic in Kabul and blamed US “domestic policy” for the withdrawal. “For all those who worked for liberty and progress . . . especially women, these are bitter events,” Dr Merkel told CDU officials quoted by the AFP.
British defence secretary Ben Wallace, a former British army officer, continued his criticism of the US handling of the crisis. Last week, Mr Wallace accused Donald Trump of having concluded a "rotten deal" with the Taliban.
“It’s a failure, it’s a failure of the international community to not realise that you don’t fix things overnight,” Mr Wallace told BBC television on Monday.
Josep Borrell, the EU's high representative for foreign policy, has called a video conference of EU foreign ministers this afternoon. Ambassadors of member nations to Nato headquarters will also convene an emergency meeting to discuss the situation in Afghanistan.