THE AFGHANISTAN debate last week was totally surreal. The Prime Minister Boris Johnson claimed ‘this (situation) was always the plan’ and the Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab insisted he was ‘engaged in COBRA meetings’ while on the beach and at the five-star resort he was vacationing at in Crete. But the simple truth is the Government was missing in action. Again.
To witness Afghanistan fall to the Taliban has shocked us all. Irrespective of the US position, I fear the UK has deserted the Afghan people – many of whom worked with the British Army and NATO in the last 20 years. In 2001, I feared intervention would end badly but it is clear we have a moral responsibility to the Afghan people to leave them in a better position than when we invaded. And the Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary have utterly failed to uphold their side of the bargain. It is a failure on the scale of the Suez Crisis in 1956.
Such a catastrophic failure was unimaginable particularly as the Government had 18 months to plan for different outcomes. In response, and after the PM and Raab returned from their holidays, the Government pledged to welcome 5,000 Afghan refugees to the UK this year. This is nowhere near enough and pales in comparison to commitments made by other European nations such as Germany. And as for the pledge to take a further 15,000 over the next five years, we can only hope they will still be there to save, as the Taliban strengthens its hold over the country.
Meanwhile Warwickshire County Council has agreed to re-home up to 100 Afghan refugees – and Warwick District Council just three families. Until Labour and certain other councillors lobbied the leadership, the district council only committed to taking one family. This is a shameful response. And all credit to local activists for organising a petition to increase this number.
It is unimaginable to find yourself forced from your home country by the threat of violence and war. To get on a plane with a single small bag of a few possessions – leave your lives, families, friends, jobs, and homes behind – and to survive in a different world with practically nothing. That is the reality for Afghan people fleeing their country.
So many people face violence and death if they we desert them. We cannot delay if we want to save lives. We must play our part.
On a lighter note, I am delighted many of the Afghan students with Chevening Scholarships at UK universities – whose lives were in great danger – have been granted safe passage to our shores. But the remaining students will still need to make a dangerous journey to Kabul airport and leave their families behind. The Chevening programme is a microcosm of the wider issues surrounding Afghanistan and this Government’s failure to plan for withdrawal. A fortnight ago, the Government was saying the students could defer their places until September 2022! It displays ministers’ utter naivety and failure to grasp the seriousness of the situation. But their arrival has been a flicker of light amid the darkness.