UK’s withdrawal from Afghanistan ‘very stupid’, says John Major

Hasty withdrawal of troops will be a ‘stain on the West’s reputation’ for at least a lifetime, says ex-Tory leader

Sam Hancock
Saturday 04 September 2021 23:21
<p>Sir John Major speaks to the FTWeekend’s editor Alec Russell earlier today</p>

Sir John Major speaks to the FTWeekend’s editor Alec Russell earlier today

Former prime minister Sir John Major has branded the government’s failure to evacuate all Afghans who worked for Britain “shameful”, and said withdrawing troops from the country was “strategically very stupid”.

The former Tory leader made the remarks on Saturday at the FTWeekend Festival, where he said the decision to leave Afghanistan was “wrong morally but … also wrong practically”.

It comes after Dominic Raab, the foreign secretary, returned to the UK from an emergency diplomatic tour to Qatar and Pakistan where he attempted to secure the safe passage of those left behind in Kabul.

Sir John launched an attack on the current Cabinet, telling those at the London event that it was “shameful we weren’t able to take out those who had worked for us in one capacity or another, or who had worked carrying out the changes to Afghanistan that the Taliban won’t approve of”.

In addition, he said, the move to pull out allied troops “abruptly and in my view unnecessarily” will be a “stain on the reputation of the West” for at least a lifetime.

Mr Raab told an emergency session of the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee on Wednesday that he did not know exactly how many British people and Afghans eligible for the Arap (Afghan relocations and assistance policy) scheme had been left in Afghanistan after Britain’s airlift mission ended.

It is feared thousands of Afghans who helped British forces in the south-central nation, their relatives and other vulnerable civilians are stranded as a result of the US deciding to pull out its troops.

Sir John also rebuked US president Joe Biden for insisting his troops had to leave the nation so swiftly by the 31 August deadline he sent after two decades in Afghanistan.

“The fact that it was left in that fashion will leave a stain on the reputation of the West that will last for a very long time and certainly through the whole of the lifetime of those people in Afghanistan whom we have returned to Taliban rule,” the former PM said.

More than 8,000 former Afghan staff and their family members were among the 15,000-plus people evacuated by the UK since 13 August. However, up to 1,100 Afghans deemed eligible were estimated to have been left behind, though that figure will fall short of the true number the UK would wish to help.

Foreign secretary Mr Raab held talks in Pakistan in order to discuss British nationals and Afghan citizens crossing the land border in order to find safety. He also visited Qatar for talks about reopening Kabul airport in order to resume evacuations.

In a tweet on Friday night, Mr Raab wrote: “I have held meetings with key partners in Qatar and Pakistan to support the people of Afghanistan, prevent it from becoming a safe haven for terrorists and respond to the humanitarian situation and safeguard regional stability.”

With the House of Commons returning from its summer recess on Monday, he and Boris Johnson are expected to come under renewed pressure to explain their response to the crisis and how they will help more people leave the country.

Mr Raab has been criticised for holidaying in Crete at the same time the Taliban swept to power in Afghanistan last month. The PM was also called out for being on vacation in Somerset, in the southwest of England – where he returned when the crisis died down – though a No 10 spokesperson later said it was not a vacation and Mr Johnson was in fact “continuing to work”.

When cross-party MPs attempted to quiz the foreign secretary about his trip during the recent Foreign Affairs Committee meeting, Mr Raab repeatedly refused to provide details about when he flew to Greece.

Additional reporting by PA

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