September 11, 2001 : Attack on America
European Commission Statement on the Situation in Afghanistan; October 2, 2001

Commission statement on the situation in Afghanistan

Speech by
The Rt Hon Chris Patten, CH
Member of the European Commission
responsible for External Relations

European Parliament - Plenary session
Strasbourg, 2 October 2001
Check against delivery

I should like to begin the Commission's contribution and then at the end of the discussion ask Commissioner Nielson to say something about the humanitarian situation in which he has been actively involved because of his responsibility for ECHO. If I have to depart before the end of the discussion it is not because for lack of appreciation for the importance of what we are discussing - I believe this issue is going to dominate the international agenda for the next few months - but because I have an important meeting before the EU-Russia summit with the Deputy-Premier of the Russian Federation to discuss the modalities for beginning discussions of a common European economic space. We are trying to agree on the terms of reference of our work this evening before our summit with President Putin tomorrow.

There will be other reports on the Troika visit that I took part in last week, with the Foreign Minister of Belgium in the Presidency, with the Foreign Minister of Spain - the next Presidency - demonstrating our commitment to the issues we were discussing. With my friend and colleague Mr Solana we went to Pakistan, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Syria all in the space of four-and-a-half action-packed, sleep-free days and nights.

I should just like to say two or three words about that visit and make two or three points in particular about the political situation in Afghanistan, leaving the humanitarian issues which are of such compelling importance to Commissioner Nielson. Then I would like to say a word about the draft regulation which the Commission has today adopted.

The main purposes of the Troika visit were three-fold. First of all, to make the point clearly to the Islamic countries that we were visiting that the campaign against terrorism is not a campaign of the West against Islam. It is not a campaign of Europe and North America against the poorer countries of the globe. It is a campaign of decent governments everywhere against those who would try to make their political point through murder and mayhem. It is a fight, in my judgment, between those who stand up in favour of civilisation of a number of different religious bases and those who represent the forces which have always been opposed to civilised values. We made that point strongly in every country we went to.

For me, it is very important to recognise that if we are to make the point around the world that human rights are universally valid, including the right not to be murdered by terrorists - if we are to make that point successfully around the world - it is very important for us not to do so, giving the impression that we have a monopoly of virtue, that we in Europe are perfect when it comes to talking about these matters. It is also exceptionally important for us not to concede that human rights bear a different weight according to the continent you are in. It feels exactly the same to be tortured, whatever sort of country you are in. It is exactly the same if you are locked up as a journalist or editor because you disagree with the government, whatever country you are in. Those sort of rights are universally valid. It seems to me that we dilute the integrity of our argument if we give the impression that somehow different civilisations have fundamentally different approaches to human rights.

The second point we were seeking to make is that out of the appalling events, out of the atrocities of 11 September, we must hope that it is possible for some good to come. Adversity sometimes produces an opportunity to be constructive, positive and to build better for the future. One thing we said in Pakistan, Iran and elsewhere is that we have a chance now - taking account of the awful things that have happened - of opening some doors and windows which have been closed for too long.

Thirdly, we said that it is a cliché to truism when people talk about 11 September to say - rather like the fall of the Berlin Wall - nothing will ever be the same again. It is actually true. Nothing will ever be quite the same again. But one way in which we have to make sure that nothing is ever the same again is to try to ensure this time that multilateralism, that international cooperation works a great deal more effectively in the wake of those awful events than it perhaps has since the 1940s. That is the challenge to us: to make sure that when we discuss in the UN conventions against terrorism that everybody signs them and everybody implements them. Those are the sort of practical challenges that we are going to face for weeks and months and years into the future when these events are no longer on the front pages of the newspapers.

Those were three points that we were making - the only four-person Troika in the business - insistently at each of our stops.

Concerning the political situation in Afghanistan, which we were able to discuss both in Pakistan and Iran, there were different views of the situation. In Iran, for example, there are very strong views about the Taliban. That is not surprising given the number of Iranian diplomats that were killed three or so years ago by the Taliban in Afghanistan. There is a general agreement that the political situation in Afghanistan remains extremely fluid. There are reports from neighbouring countries that the Taliban are in terminal decline. There are also reports that speak of some Taliban military successes and of a return to what passes for a sort of grim normality in Kabul.

The Taliban continue to show no real sign of being ready to give up Osama bin Laden or forcefully to encourage his voluntary departure from the country. The opposition Northern Alliance has declared itself ready and willing to assist the United States and international coalition efforts.

Following the death of Commander Massud on 8 September - and I know he made an important visit to Parliament not long ago - there is greater uncertainty as to the cohesion of this alliance. What is certain is that no wholly military solution is possible in Afghanistan. In both Pakistan and Iran, whereas I said there are very different views of the situation in Afghanistan, in both those countries there was agreement that only a broad-based government made up of representatives of all factions and ethnic groups in the country, taking account of the security concerns of neighbouring countries, can begin the process of restoring Afghanistan to normality and pave the way for reconstruction. The means of doing this may be through the "Loya Jirga" or Grand Assembly mechanism. It would be for the Afghan people to decide what kind of process they want and what role different political personages might have in such a development. I repeat that there is a shared perception of what the outcome should be: a broad-based government. How you get to that broad-based government is incomparably more difficult to work out, but there is also a shared perception that the world outside - even in the shape of the United Nations - cannot impose a political settlement on to Afghanistan. We can and should aim to facilitate a political settlement and having facilitated it we then walk away. We have to make sure that a better government which will emerge from that sad embittered country will be able to count on the long-term support of the international community to rebuild in the ruin of the medieval ferocity which has been unleashed on Afghanistan for the last few years.

I should like to make one other point. We have in the Commission today adopted a draft regulation on specific measures directed against certain persons and entities with a view to combating international terrorism. The draft proposal includes all those individuals and organisations potentially related to the 11 September attack covered by the US Executive Order issued by President Bush last week. But it takes the form of a framework regulation which could serve the vehicle for a wider campaign against terrorist financing. There is a considerable urgency to this regulation which is put forward on the basis of Article 308, considerable urgency for reasons which I am sure I do not have to set out for Parliament. In these circumstances we would be extremely grateful if Parliament would be able to consider an emergency procedure, if possible completing the consultation process during this week's part-session. We would then be able to put the draft regulation to the General Affairs Council next Monday. I know that the President of the Commission will be writing to you on these lines, Madam President. We understand the difficulties. We do not want in any way to curtail examination of this important measure but if it could be done very rapidly it would send the right signals. It would be an opportunity to demonstrate that in exceptional circumstances the Community institutions can act with real dispatch. Not only would we thereby signal the strength of our determination to rise to the challenges presented by the 11 September attack, but we would show that the EU institutions are able to respond to crisis situations.

I will finish my remarks on that point. So far in the proposals brought forward by my friend and colleague, Mr Vitorino, a couple of weeks ago we have demonstrated that though we are sometimes the butt of people's humour about the lack of speed of our reactions, when it really matters we are able to react very rapidly and comprehensively and that we are able to demonstrate in practice what multilateralism should mean. If there is any institution in the world, if there is any group of countries in the world that can demonstrate the benefits of multilateralism, of arguing about fish quotas or budgets, rather than murdering one another, it is the European Union. That seems to me to give us a particular responsibility to show leadership in the coming weeks and months and I hope we will be able to do this with this regulation this week.

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