I’m sure you, like me, watched events unfolding in Afghanistan with both horror and sadness. After 20 years, the immense sacrifices made by our armed forces personnel and decades of hardship faced by the people of Afghanistan, the scenes from Kabul and other Afghan cities over the last week were profoundly difficult to watch. When Kabul was besieged by the Taliban, our own Prime Minister, his Foreign Secretary and the cabinet were silent. At a time of turmoil and chaos across Afghanistan, our own Government has demonstrated a complete failure of leadership, here at home and abroad.
The Taliban’s advance across the country, at such speed, was not inevitable and is the consequence of long-term strategic failures to forge a lasting political settlement, to engage with regional partners and to ensure that the previous Afghan Government could stand on its own two feet with conviction and legitimacy. These failures now put at risk British soldiers and diplomatic personnel, coalition forces and of course, Afghan civilians – particularly women and girls. This miscalculation regarding the resilience of the Afghan forces to the threat of the Taliban has contributed to this disaster.
The fact that people would rather cling to the landing gears of fleeing aircraft, rather than live under the Taliban’s regime, illustrates the desperation of the Afghan people and the extent of the humanitarian crisis which is unfolding across the country. Indeed, of our armed forces, who have served with bravery, distinction and discipline throughout our time in Afghanistan, many will be appalled at the way which we have withdrawn and with the vacuum of leadership within our Government and our cabinet at this crisis unfolds. This is one of the most dire and critical moments for British and NATO foreign policy in decades and it cannot be overstated just how lacking the Boris Johnson, Dominic Raab and the Government have been found.
This situation demands an immediate and coordinated international response which includes a robust refugee programme and guarantees the safety of humanitarian workers and diplomatic missions to Afghanistan. Monday’s United Nations Security Council meeting was long overdue; the current US policy, an implementation of then-President Trump’s negotiations with the Taliban in Doha, has led to an abandonment of the people of Afghanistan and the UK Government should have courage and conviction to say so. There must be a collective call to end conflict and work towards political dialogue. This includes a commitment to the human rights of people across Afghanistan – especially the hard-fought and hard-won advances in women’s rights and those for young girls too.
Over 18 million people in Afghanistan are already in need of humanitarian support. The Government must ensure that the UK plays it parts and makes good on the promise to welcome 20,000 refugees. However, it was with great dismay that I learned that this will amount to only 5,000 this year; what do we expect the remaining 15,000 to do in the meantime? The danger to their lives is urgent and present; our response must reflect this and given all the mistakes made by this Government so far and now is not the time to drag their feet.
The Labour Party and I will continue to work to keep Afghanistan, the plight of its people and the needs of those now under the Taliban, at the top of the agenda and will hold the Government to account every step of the way. Where the Government fails entirely to show leadership, the Opposition must speak out – and that is what I and others across my Party will continue to do.