Afghanistan: Lessons learnt from 20 years of supporting democracy, development and security

Study 01-02-2023

The Taliban’s rapid seizure of power in August 2021 took the European Union (EU) by surprise. In response, the EU developed a ‘Basic Needs’ approach and now supports the United Nations’ initiatives to alleviate human suffering and support non-governmental organisations’ activity on the ground. This study asks how, with over 20 years of international action, the EU finds itself in this situation. Significantly, the EU was but one international actor supporting actions initiated by the United States of America (USA) after the terrorist attacks on 11 September 2001. Yet the EU’s external action has now been recognised as having been inadequate and deeply flawed. Afghanistan may have been the largest recipient of EU development and humanitarian aid over the last two decades, but EU state-building exercises failed to account for the growing insecurity within Afghanistan and changes in the US strategy. The country should not have been treated as a ‘blank slate’ upon which a new modern state could be erected; nor should peacebuilding have been rejected because it involved negotiating with the Taliban. The EU did have successes during this time, including the establishment of a peace deal that held for some time. Yet, regrettably, the EU was too slow to recognise the impact of corruption, and it worked at cross-purposes with the USA’s shorter-term commitments.