DUSHANBE – A high-level EU delegation has held talks in the Tajik capital with foreign ministers from Central Asia to discuss issues such as regional cooperation, human rights, and the situation in neighboring Afghanistan. Turkmenistan was represented by a deputy foreign minister.
After the 17th EU-Central Asia ministerial meeting was held behind closed doors in Dushanbe on November 22, the EU foreign policy chief said recent developments in Afghanistan, where the Taliban took control in August, require new approaches to the issue of security in Central Asia.
The European Union's High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Josep Borrel, also expressed hope that the relations between the EU and the five countries of Central Asia will intensify further in future.
"Resilience, prosperity & supporting regional cooperation - these are the priorities set out in the EU-Central Asia Strategy, which remain today more relevant than ever to guide our regional engagement for post-pandemic recovery," he said in a tweet.
In a joint communique issued by the EU after the talks, the participants “reaffirmed their joint commitment to forge a strong, ambitious and forward-looking partnership," as well as “the importance of progressing on the rule of law, democracy, governance, gender equality, and universal human rights” in a region where governments are often criticized by human rights groups for their repressive policies.
The participants vowed to intensify cooperation between the EU and Central Asia in areas such as the fight against terrorism, organized crime, human trafficking, and migrant smuggling.
They also “expressed shared concern about the regional repercussions of developments in Afghanistan," stressed the importance of "preventing the Afghan territory from being used as a base for hosting, financing, or exporting terrorism to other countries,” and called for the establishment of an “inclusive and representative” government in Kabul.
According to the United Nations, millions in Afghanistan may face famine, with almost all of the population living in poverty as the economy collapses following the Taliban takeover.
Last month, the president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, said the EU plans to provide Afghanistan with a 1 billion euro ($1.2 billion) support package.
Ahead of the Dushanbe meeting, Human Rights Watch (HRW) called on the EU to press Central Asian governments to end rights violations and engage in meaningful reform at a time when the crisis in Afghanistan is high on the agenda, with security and migration dominating public engagement by the bloc and some European governments with the region.
In a statement on November 19, the New York-based human rights watchdog noted that “promises of reforms have stalled or backtracked in countries like Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan, while Tajikistan and Turkmenistan’s repressive human rights records have continued to worsen.”