Many constituents have contacted me about the appalling and deteriorating situation in Afghanistan, after the Taliban took control of the capital city of Kabul on Sunday, August 15.
I share your profound concern and distress about the impact this will have on the lives of Afghan people, particularly women and those who have been working alongside NATO forces, NGOs and many others.
I was in the Chamber today to speak not only as the vice-Chair of the Afghanistan APPG, but also on behalf of my co-worker and dear friend Marzia Babakarkhail. Like so many others, Marzia had to flee her home in Afghanistan after the Taliban tried to assassinate her. You can watch my speech in full here.
The present situation on-ground in Afghanistan is shocking and worsening by the hour. The withdrawal of international forces in the country, especially those of the U.S, has lead to the inevitable fall of the Afghani Government, just two weeks before the U.S. was due to complete its troop withdrawal. I remain extremely concerned about the speed with which the insurgents stormed across the country, capturing all major cities in a matter of days.
We now face the tragic rollback of the gains that UK soldiers, diplomats and NGO workers, and their coalition and Afghan partners made over the last twenty years.
Women and girls will lose the freedoms they gained and those speaking out face real threats to their lives alongside members of the LGBT+ community and religious minorities who were viciously targeted under Taliban rule and now face extermination. This is in part due to the catastrophic miscalculation of the capacity and legitimacy of the Afghan government, and the resilience of Afghan security forces trained and equipped by the U.S. and its allies. That the international community has been caught out in this way is quite shocking and speaks volumes about our priorities and the lack of a human rights focus in our foreign policies.
The international community’s response including the UK’s has been absolutely woeful and far too slow considering the immense danger so many are in as the situation is so fast-changing. This is a shameful dereliction of duty.
The immediate focus must be for the government to accelerate efforts to get UK nationals, support staff and the thousands of Afghans nationals who have served and worked alongside coalition forces out of the country. As well as the women activists who are now in grave danger of Taliban reprisals, many of whom have already faced threats. We have already seen reports of Taliban hit squads hunt down those they see as “collaborating” with coalition forces.
We should help lead that effort by committing to a British Afghanistan Resettlement Programme, to create safe and legal routes so those suffering at the hands of the Taliban can make a new life here in Britain. The Government’s proposal to take just an initial 5,000 refugees followed by only 20,000 over 5 years is not enough. Many of those at the highest risk will not survive waiting for five years to escape the Taliban. This policy must urgently be expanded to ensure people to whom we owe a huge debt are not abandoned because of an arbitrary target. And the promises made by ministers in Parliament must be reflected on the ground.
I support the deployment of troops to Kabul to provide security and capacity to carry out the evacuation. Soldiers and diplomats must be given the resources that they need. But it is increasingly clear there was a failure to plan for a safe and swift evacuation process and ministers have serious questions to answer over the lack of preparedness. Having said that I am also very grateful to Ambassador Bristow who is personally processing applications from Afghan nationals for refuge, and to Lord Tariq Ahmad who has been helping me to get a woman activist under threat and her husband out of Kabul.
Our veterans who served in Afghanistan as well as the families of those who died serving our country must know that their sacrifices were not in vain. The differences they have made to women and girls in particular are immense. What they must be feeling must be overwhelming; we must make sure that they get the resources and support they need.
The Taliban must be judged on what they do, not what they say. There are worrying reports of night raids and arrests of suspects by armed men with a number of local journalists and civil rights workers believed to have been detained. Women face obliteration of their rights, despite the warm words of the Taliban that too many have been willing to entertain. There have been reports of women being sent home from work and told to send their male relatives instead. There are reports of girls as young as ten are being sold off to Taliban fighters, mothers are having their eyes gouged out in front of their children, and reprisals against those who helped coalition forces. According to the UNHCR, women and children make up 80% of those fleeing the conflict.
The role of Pakistan in this conflict is absolutely key. During my speech, I called on the Foreign Secretary to restore specific aid funding to Pakistan in response to the influx of Afghan refugees who are crossing into Pakistan, as 350,000 Afghans are on the move inside the country.
The Pakistani Ambassador to the European Union, Zaheer Aslam Janjua recently disclosed that “Pakistan doesn’t have the capacity or the resources to take any more refugees” as Pakistan is already home to more than 1.4 million registered Afghan refugees, according to UN data. However, it is also home to an estimated two million more unregistered Afghan refugees, according to Pakistani government estimates.
Pakistan also has a potential role in moderating the Taliban’s behaviour. I am hopeful that the commitment that Pakistan has expressed to me over human rights in Kashmir will extend across the region – as you know human rights are universal. Pakistan has made clear that they need help from the international community in keeping the region terrorist-free and managing the 1600mile Durand line, which separates Pakistan and Afghanistan. This is something we could do collectively as this porous border poses a threat not just to Pakistan but to us all especially as there are already concerns that the Taliban might begin to question the legitimacy of the border now that it is in power.
The steps that Pakistan now takes will be vitally important as the Taliban’s takeover will affect the country more deeply than any other regional power and it is important that the UK government remains in dialogue with the Pakistani Prime Minister.
In the longer term, global Britain must work with its allies to restore not just our reputation but our role in facilitating a law and rules-based system with human rights across the world.
Please be assured, I will do all I can to continue to highlight the plight of the Afghan people.