Afghanistan: Even Taliban ‘surprised’ by speed of takeover, claims Dominic Raab

Foreign secretary says ‘common widespread surprise’ at militants’ success, as he holds talks in Pakistan

Adam Forrest
Friday 03 September 2021 19:35
UK will not recognise Taliban, Dominic Raab says

Dominic Raab has begun a two-day visit to Pakistan in an effort to secure safe passage for Britons and Afghans with ties to the UK who remain stuck in Afghanistan.

The foreign secretary insisted there was “common widespread surprise” – even among the Taliban – at the speed in which the militants took over the country.

Speaking in Islamabad, Mr Raab said: “I suspect the Taliban and ordinary Afghans were taken by surprise. I think there was a common widespread surprise at the speed with which the consolidation of power happened.”

Mr Raab is under pressure over a Foreign Office document from 22 July – issued weeks before his recent holiday in Crete – which suggested that the Taliban could advance rapidly across Afghanistan.

The foreign secretary also insisted that UK aid funding aimed at reaching people in Afghanistan would not go directly to the Taliban.

“We would be willing not to fund aid via the Taliban, but through the humanitarian organisations that operate inside Afghanistan – for that to happen, there needs to be a safe and secure environment,” said Mr Raab.

The foreign secretary visited the Afghan border crossing at Torkham in northeast Pakistan to see the situation on the ground and met members of the team supporting the current crisis response.

The Foreign Office announced a £30m UK aid package for Afghan refugees fleeing to neighbouring countries – with £10m going to relief efforts coordinated by bodies such as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

Countries predicted to experience a significant increase in refugees will also receive £20m to help with processing new arrivals and to provide essential services and supplies.

Mr Raab said Pakistan and the UK had a “shared interest” in creating a stable and peaceful future for Afghanistan – and spoke again about forming a coalition to act as a “moderating” force on the group.

He said it would not have been possible to evacuate 15,000 people from Kabul without some cooperation with the Taliban. “We do see the importance of being able to engage and having a direct line of communication,” he said.

The foreign secretary said on Thursday that evacuations may be able to resume from Kabul airport “in the near future” and expressed a need for direct engagement with the Taliban.

More than 8,000 former Afghan staff and their family members eligible under the British government’s Afghan relocations and assistance policy (Arap) were among the 15,000-plus people evacuated by the UK after 13 August.

But thousands of Afghans who helped British efforts in the nation, as well as their relatives and other vulnerable civilians, are feared to have been left behind.

As part of our Refugees Welcome campaign, The Independent has launched a petition urging the UK government to be more ambitious in its plans to take in Afghan refugees following the Taliban seizing power.

Mr Raab’s comments in Pakistan came after the former cabinet secretary Sir Mark Sedwill warned on Thursday that the UK and its allies still had no coherent plan to deal with the looming refugee crisis.

Sir Mark said the emergency airlift over the past two weeks “can’t and shouldn’t conceal that overall we do not yet have a coherent policy and plan in place to deal with refugee flows out of Afghanistan”.

The Conservative MP Tom Tugendhat, chair of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, warned that the end of the evacuation operation in Afghanistan was “only the beginning of a new stage of chaos”.

The justice secretary, Robert Buckland, said he was working to help more female judges in Afghanistan get out of the country. “So far we have managed to get nine female judges here to the UK,” he told Sky News on Friday.

Mr Buckland said: “A lot of these judges were responsible for administering the rule of law, and quite rightly they are fearful for the consequences from the rise of the Taliban.”

The cabinet minister added: “I’m making sure that my officials are working hand in glove with the Foreign Office to identify as many as possible … and communicate with them to establish how to get safe passage for these very vulnerable people.”

But local councils in the UK have said they have been “left in the dark” about how they can help, as thousands of Afghans evacuated to Britain in recent weeks are set to be placed in temporary hotel accommodation for an indefinite period.

Cllr David Rouane, of South Oxfordshire District Council, said: “Many councils are ready to help, but we are in the dark about what it is precisely that government wants us to provide.”

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