Afghanistan and our responsibilities

Afghanistan and our responsibilities
Comment on the Crisis in Afghanistan by Jane Darling, Policies Officer, Folkestone and Hythe Labour

Keir Starmer warns of Afghanistan slipping into hands of terrorists – Labour leader demands that UK shows leadership and calls meetings of Nato and UN security council

Keir Starmer.

Keir Starmer said the timing of the decision to pull out international forces from the country was ‘not right’. Photograph: Ben Birchall/PA

Kevin Rawlinson Guardian Newspaper

Sat 14 Aug 2021 15.19 BST

“The UK government must show leadership over the unfolding crisis in Afghanistan, the Labour leader has said, as a former head of the British army called on the prime minister to launch an urgent humanitarian aid operation.

Keir Starmer said there was a risk of a global terror group taking control of the country after the withdrawal of British and US forces, 

 ‘What I want to see is our government stepping up and leading this, and calling for an urgent meeting of Nato and an urgent UN security council meeting,’ said Starmer.

‘We have obligations to Afghanistan, we made promises to Afghanistan and we cannot walk away and let this turn into a humanitarian crisis, probably a refugee crisis as well. There is a real risk that international terrorism will take hold again in Afghanistan, so we can’t walk away and undermine the legacy of the last 20 years.’

He urged the government to respond positively to the latest call by the Afghan president, Ashraf Ghani, for international assistance to end the conflict in his country.

And he said the timing of the decision to pull out international forces from the country was “not right”, adding: ‘There appears to have been a miscalculation of the strength of the Taliban on the one side and the resilience of the Afghan troops and government on the other.’

Thousands of refugees fleeing the Taliban have been pouring into the capital Kabul as the militants continued their lightning advance across the country.

The collapse of Afghan government forces followed the decision of the Biden administration to withdraw all remaining US forces, prompting other allies – including the UK – to follow suit.”

This was Keir Starmer’s position on 14th August. By 1st September all US and NATO troops had flown out from Kabul airport and the Taliban were celebrating their victory over these mighty Western forces.

Responding to events in recent weeks….

My own reading of media coverage and interviews with correspondents, former soldiers, NGO and charity workers engaged in humanitarian work is that there are competing agendas and assessments of the future for the country and its people. The way forward for countries like ours, who have played a greater or lesser part in creating the chaotic and frightening situation which faces not just Afghans but the people of the wider world, can seem relatively simple and straightforward or fraught with problems and impossibilities. There is so much we do not know about how the Taliban will rule the country, whether they mean what they say; whether the current leaders will be able to control their own forces and how repressive and isolationist a regime they are going to be.

One aspect upon which there is general agreement is that the UK owes Afghanistan continuing support because we joined others in occupying and fighting a war to protect against terrorism for twenty years, at huge cost in terms of loss of life (457 soldiers killed and many more suffering life-changing injuries) with the financial cost running into billions of pounds. And now we are responsible, with the US and other NATO countries, for failing to foresee what would happen subsequent to the deal President Trump made with the Taliban regarding the withdrawal of troops. There is no doubt we were caught, unforgivably some might say, with our trousers down and our Prime Minister and our Foreign Secretary don’t seem able to agree on whether we were prepared or whether the advance of the Taliban and the collapse of the Afghan government all happened so unexpectedly rapidly that Dominic Raab, our Foreign Secretary, could legitimately have been allowed to go away on holiday.

There is also general agreement that our presence, along with other nations, underpinned by the hundreds of NGO’s like UNICEF and the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), have changed the way of life for many in Afghanistan, particularly those living in cities. Women and girls have been able to access Ministerial positions in the government and go to university and school in some parts of the country. 

Through sitting down and talking to the Taliban carefully and respectfully, where they have been able to gain access, many NGOs have forged links with the Taliban and have been supported, or at least tolerated by them. Many people who have come to work with the Afghani people are committed to staying there, even though they know that they may be placing themselves in harm’s way.

In this continuing work, perhaps lies the hope for the future of this beleaguered country. Many leaders of NGOs are stressing the need for humanitarian aid to continue, as the country faces famine and the vacuum left by the collapse of the previous administration. This support may help to avoid an escalation in instability and an unsustainable exodus of desperate people fleeing the country by whatever means they can.  

Tragically, the lack of proper preparation for the withdrawal of troops has resulted in a currently unknown number of people to whom our government has responsibility, made vulnerable to punishment by the Taliban for working for the previous government and for supporting NATO operations, such as acting as interpreters.

We have apparently airlifted around 15,000 people in the window available before August 31. Many of these are professional, university educated people, experienced in government, CEOs of businesses, doctors, nurses and so on. This represents a ‘brain drain’ for Afghanistan, very much like the situation in Uganda when around 62 thousand Ugandan Asians came to Britain when they were expelled from Uganda in 1972. Interestingly, Priti Patel’s parents emigrated to Britain from Uganda in the 1960’s. 

The UK response to refugees

It is worthy of note that, prior to this current crisis, Britain and the US were at the bottom of a table compiled by the UNHCR comparing the numbers of refugees accepted by neighbouring states, Pakistan being way out in front with around 1.5 million, followed by Iran, and then the European nations and Australia. Germany was third with 147,994 while the UK (in 11th place) took 9,351 and the US 1,592.

These people who have come here could be considered the lucky ones, having the documentation to be considered eligible and to have managed to get into the airport. For many these conditions could not be met. Those who have arrived here are being looked after by a newly created government minister for Afghan resettlement, Victoria Atkins. They are currently being accommodated in hotels whilst local government areas are being asked to find accommodation for them. Somewhat surprisingly, and concerning is that the councils who have already come forward are situated in the North East and North West of the country, where some of the most deprived areas of England are to be found.

I heard the leader of Walsall Council on the World At One (BBC Radio4) yesterday lunch time interviewed about why they were offering to accommodate a number of newly arrived Afghans. He said simply, “because it’s the right thing to do”. Asked whether it was going to be difficult, he replied without hesitation that it was because there are many people in Walsall without decent accommodation and jobs, and here was the council giving a welcome to people from another country.

Morally it is the right thing to do, but it begs the question as to how it is that we have homeless people in this country, who are sofa surfing, living on the street, or bringing up their children in cramped bed and breakfast accommodation or insanitary and expensive rentals because there isn’t enough housing, and yet councils are being expected to magic up homes for these new families.  

Perhaps councils may decide to do something about the hundreds of empty properties in their areas, some of which have been empty for over ten years.

Local response in the context of Home Office policy

 It is pleasing that the Folkestone and Hythe District Council has offered to house five Afghan families under the Afghanistan Relocations and Assistance Policy. The homes will come from the private rented sector, and ongoing support will be provided by voluntary agencies. The Council clearly state that families currently on the housing list will not be disadvantaged.

It is to be hoped that the Home Office may decide to change their approach to the asylum seekers from war ravaged, unstable and tyrannical regimes, such as Afghanistan: stop wrongly labelling them as “illegals”  who should be imprisoned; stop wasting millions of tax payers’ money on paying the French police to try to stop them from crossing the Channel, and save a great deal of public money by radically improving the processing of asylum claims so that asylum seekers/refugees can begin to contribute to the economy of this country; the country they have fought so hard to get to.

Priti Patel’s Home Office is using a Special Development Order which allows her to sidestep the objections from FHDC Council and Damian Collins, local MP, and continue the use of Napier Barracks to house those she deems have illegally entered the country illegally, until September 2025. She says that those who have been brought here under the re-settlement scheme will not be housed there. It may be that a legal challenge to this can be brought on the grounds of the inadequacy of the accommodation. The impossibility of achieving privacy and social distancing, as well as the squalid conditions reported by inspection teams who have visited the barracks may constitute a breach of Human Rights. 

The situation in many countries in the Middle East is unstable; we are in a climate change crisis which is likely to render many parts of the world uninhabitable. It is time that countries of the world came together to forge solutions and to share responsibility. The Western world has much to answer for, from our imperialist behaviour and arrogance about our influence and power to teach other countries how they should be run, to our profligate abuse of the natural resources of our world.

If we want to be a global power, it should, perhaps, come not through setting the Taliban tests to pass, but through taking a lead in providing humanitarian aid; supporting the NGOs; working to continue a dialogue with the Taliban; and collaborating with other nations to help developing countries to become more stable through education and international aid; and, most urgently, in forging solutions to climate change.

In the immediate future we must make every effort to get the vulnerable people out of of Afghanistan, and feed those who are facing starvation. As the BBC’s Chief Foreign Correspondent, Lise Doucet said yesterday, many people in Afghanistan do not care who they are being governed by. They just need to be fed.

If you would like to offer support or help….

Please see our social media pages or the Aghanistan page on our website for information about how you can help in this current crisis.

Jane Darling : Policy Officer : 2nd September 2021


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