Afghanistan: My speech in the debate
Below is the text from my speech, prepared in advance of the Parliamentary debate on the 18th August. I was not called to speak at the debate though I did manage to intervene. Some events mentioned in the speech have since changed or developed.
Thank You Mr Speaker
This weekend I looked with dismay and apprehension at the advance of Taliban Forces in Afghanistan.
On July 8th President Biden said, ‘The likelihood there’s going to be the Taliban overrunning everything and owning the whole country is highly unlikely.’ An analysis this Government didn’t seem to disagree with.
It didn’t have to be like this. The UK and US Government should have planned for the worst rather than the best case scenario. Instead, our Government are in part responsible for the speed of the collapse of the Afghan Government and therefore there is now an urgent duty of care for the United Kingdom and the international community to offer support to the people of Afghanistan.
The US and NATO have more troops at present in Afghanistan than they had six months ago. Yet they seem to be struggling to secure the airport. If the whole world can see the error, it doesn’t take someone with the nous of Otto Von Bismark to realise it.
The world must not look away and allow a grave international security crisis, refugee and humanitarian catastrophe to unfold. We must extend our support for the Afghan people and mourn the loss of human life and the displacement of people fleeing the Taliban offensive.
There will be time in this chamber in future to analyse over 40 years of strategic and tactical failures which have led the events we are seeing now. This includes the 2001 invasion. I opposed this offensive as, although the destruction of the World Trade Center was a horrific act of terrorism, I felt then that it would have been far better to use security and intelligence rather than a ground war to tackle Al Qaeda. But, having invaded the country, NATO has a responsibility towards Afghan citizens and must not now hold up the humanitarian effort.
It was clear days ago that the rapid withdrawal of Military support was a strategic error, and the UK must now use all its international influence through NATO and the UN Security Council to support the creation of create safe havens and safe routes for those internally displaced, with the Panjshir Valley still free of the Taliban. It is also vital that the UK Government announce that all processes which could lead to the deportation of Afghan nationals from the UK to Afghanistan will stop immediately.
The Government must work with international partners to ensure all borders around Afghanistan remain open and the UK must provide support for refugees including safe, legal routes to the UK for those fleeing as part of a co-ordinated international effort. Reassurance, including financial aid, must be issued to support those seeking refuge and in camps in third countries.
The decision by the UK Government to slash aid spending and shut down the Department for International Development must not be an impediment to providing aid.
Targets for assassination in Afghanistan such as women’s rights campaigners, interpreters, academics, journalists, trade unionists, civil servants, and civil society leaders must be protected. The UK should call for immediate protection of all vulnerable groups and grant humanitarian protection VISAs as a matter of urgency to all these groups not a measly 5000 people.
The UK needs to consider carefully any recognition of the Taliban as the Government of Afghanistan, and all that entails in terms of diplomatic access.
There is also the delivery of humanitarian aid during the continuing Covid epidemic which means Afghanistan needs both food and medical aid. The UK must work with NGOs and international agencies to create secure areas where support can be delivered. Having failed the Afghan people militarily, failing to rapidly intervene to prevent a humanitarian disaster, creating greater instability and insecurity is simply not an option.
The Prime Minister needs to use what influence he has left to beseech Afghanistan’s neighbours to use any leverage they have to seek to protect civilian life. The UK and international community must seek to freeze the assets and apply sanctions to those who, overtly or covertly, support the Taliban.
Afghanistan must never be allowed to return to being a training ground and support base for international terrorism.
Rapid co-ordinated international action is needed now and the UK has a moral and historical duty to act. This is not the time to be distracted by blame games or finger-pointing, we need to save lives.