Unfortunately, I wasn’t chosen to speak in the recall debate on the horrific situation we are currently seeing in Afghanistan. Below are some of the points I had hoped to make, as well as practical information and links for those who require further information and support.
Following the tragic event of 9/11, the USA triggered Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty, the first and only time in history. Under Article 5, an attack on one member state is an attack on all member states but it was never expected that America would be the one to trigger it. NATO members responded, with the UK sending the second largest contingent of troops to Afghanistan and Al Qaeda were removed from power.
We went into Afghanistan for the right reason which was to protect ourselves from Al Qaeda inspired attacks. The mission then seems to have morphed into trying to change Afghanistan into a western style democracy - a laudable aim but one which flew in the face of political and cultural realities. Worse still we appear to have thought we could achieve that aim in a few short years - something which history ought to have taught us was unlikely to be a successful strategy. Furthermore, there doesn’t seem to have been a clear exit strategy and the people of Afghanistan are now paying the price for this.
The reality is, of course, that the NATO presence was always going to end at some point in time, which was something most people accepted and understood. However, quite rightly, it was expected that the withdrawal would be planned and in an orderly manner. As colleagues pointed out in the House, it has been neither of those things.
Given the assessment by the US Government earlier this year that they did not “think that the Taliban were ready or able to take over control of the country”, the chaos and the speed by which the Taliban took over has been shocking. Why was this? Was there a failure to understand the geopolitics of Afghanistan? Was the intelligence poor? Further down the line, these are questions that must be formally answered.
We should have been developing a coherent strategy with our allies and assign resources so that Afghanistan didn’t became a haven for terrorists. Instead, they have simply just taken over the country again. Regrettably, the actions of the Biden administration and the slow reaction of our own government have had serious knock-on consequences for people on the ground in Afghanistan.
I strongly praise the amazing work being done by the British Ambassador in Afghanistan, Sir Laurie Bristow, and his team from the FCDO and MoD to try and process as many visas as possible for those who need to leave. But they can only do this if people are able to get to the airport in the first place. The Government needs to be doing as much as it possibly can to ensure that those who need to get to the airport can do because the reality is, once the Americans leave the airport, time will be up.
Fundamentally, we have a moral obligation to help and support those who worked so hard to support UK interests in Afghanistan over the last 20 years. Currently, we have let those people down and it is having a number of very real and deadly consequences. On that basis, I welcome the announcement earlier of the Government’s plans to support the resettlement of thousands of Afghans via the Afghan Citizens’ Resettlement Scheme (ACRS).
As a result of this action, thousands of Afghan women, children and others most in need will be welcomed to the UK under one of the most generous resettlement schemes in our country’s history. Those who have been forced to flee their home or face threats of persecution from the Taliban will be offered a route to set up home in the UK permanently. However, a scheme like this will all be about the specific details so we await further information on how exactly the scheme will work.
The new route is separate from, and in addition to, the Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy (ARAP), which offers any current or former locally employed staff who are assessed to be under serious threat to life priority relocation to the UK. So far under this programme, 2,052 people have already been relocated to the UK, with a further 2,000 Afghan applications completed and many more being processed.
Being ‘Global Britain’ means promoting democracy and good governance around the world and is something we need to be doing now, more than ever. Irrespective of the rights and wrongs of going into Afghanistan 20 years ago, part of the role was obviously, in part, to re-build what was a failing state. We therefore have a moral obligation to protect those who worked alongside our troops by offering them a safe haven. Leaving behind those who are in danger due to their association with us is a shameful dereliction of duty and humanity. If we want to be a global promoter of democratic values and alliances, then we need to act like one. The government needs to recognise this and act accordingly.
Furthermore, the brutal reality is that the rights of women and girls in Afghanistan has taken a colossal step backwards with the Taliban back in charge. Whereas 20 years ago, almost no girls went to school and women were banned from positions of governance, now 3.6 million girls have been in school this year alone and women hold over a quarter of the seats in the Afghan Parliament. This will inevitably now revert back to the way it was. This is a horrendous backwards step and one which will have serious consequences. Let’s be clear – the statement from western governments asking the Taliban to ‘respect rights and freedoms for women and girls’ is just lip service. It won’t achieve anything.
I agree with others that there needs to be some form of inquiry, be it independent or select committee led. It’s no use the Prime Minister saying that a number of questions that would be raised were answered in 2014. If that were true, then we wouldn’t be in this mess. We need to understand why the withdrawal policy was such an abject failure so that we never repeat the same mistakes ever again.
Twenty years on, 457 British military personnel have died in Afghanistan, and many more have suffered life-changing injuries. Therefore, we must ensure that we continue to support our veterans who fought so gallantly on our behalf and especially strengthen the support available to bereaved military families who will be feeling their loss even more keenly right now.
Today, because of the (in)actions of the last week, the world is less safe, and people are worse off. This is massive failure of policy and leadership and people of Britain and Afghanistan will have to live with the consequences of this. If we are to build a world based on freedom, liberal values and democracy we have to be better than this. We must be better than this.
British nationals still in Afghanistan that have not already registered with the FCDO should contact them on +44 (0)1908 516666 and select the option “Consular services for British nationals”. They can also email email@example.com. All those who register will be contacted by one of the FCDO consular staff and they will contact British nationals who they have details for as soon as flights from Kabul are confirmed. This phone number and the email address are monitored 24/7 by consular officers in the network.
If constituents have concerns about specific individuals, then please get in contact with the team (firstname.lastname@example.org / 01626368277) and we can escalate the case with the FCDO.