UK officials hold meeting with Taliban in first visit since withdrawal

A former British soldier, who had been captured while trying to flee Afghanistan, was also freed and flew out to Qatar with the diplomats

Kim Sengupta
Diplomatic editor
Tuesday 05 October 2021 18:08
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<p>Simon Gass, Britain’s high representative for Afghanistan, meets with Taliban acting foreign minister Amir Khan Muttaqi</p>

Simon Gass, Britain’s high representative for Afghanistan, meets with Taliban acting foreign minister Amir Khan Muttaqi

The UK’s special envoy to Afghanistan met senior Taliban leaders on Tuesday in their first visit back to Afghanistan since the Islamist group seized power at the end of August.

Sir Simon Gass, the UK’s high representative for Afghanistan, and Martin Longden, the charge d’affaires in Doha, met senior Taliban leaders to talk about a range of issues including safe passage for those who are entitled to go to Britain, the unfolding humanitarian crisis and the rise in the number of attacks carried out by Isis in the country.

Senior British diplomatic sources wanted to stress that the visit, among the first by western officials since the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, did not signify that the UK was recognising the Islamists as the legitimate government of the country.

While backers of the Taliban, like Pakistan and Qatar, have been calling for broad international recognition of the Taliban regime, there is reluctance among western states to do so, with the Islamists failing to put forward an inclusive administration, carrying out revenge attacks on opponents and practising widespread discrimination against women.

Abdul Qahar Balkhi, the Taliban’s foreign ministry spokesman, said the British officials were asked to help release hundreds of millions of dollars of Afghan assets which have been frozen abroad. He added that his government wanted Britain to “begin a new chapter of constructive relations” and talks had “focused on detailed discussions about reviving diplomatic relations between both countries”.

A former British soldier, Ben Slater, who had been detained in Afghanistan, has also been freed and flew to Qatar along with the senior UK diplomats returning from their visit. He had been arrested at the Pakistani border while trying to evacuate 50 employees of the company he ran, along with their families.

The 37-year-old former soldier, who had worked in the past as a bodyguard to British ambassadors abroad, had tried to cross into Pakistan with 400 Afghan nationals. It is not known whether any of the Afghan employees or their families had subsequently managed to leave the country.

It is believed the Qatari government helped to facilitate the release of Mr Slater, a former member of the Royal Military Police and CEO of an Afghanistan-based consultancy, Nomads Concept Group, after he was arrested last month.

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