The Prime Minister spoke to President Biden and other world leaders yesterday, ahead of chairing a G7 Leader’s meeting on Afghanistan today where he will urge fellow world leaders to match the UK’s commitments on aid and resettlement and agree a unified response to the crisis.

  • Britain's first priority in Afghanistan remains the safe evacuation of British citizens and Afghan staff – but it is also vital that the international community comes together to agree a joint approach to the crisis and support the Afghan people.
  • That is why the Prime Minister has called an emergency meeting of the G7, where he will urge fellow world leaders to coordinate their response to the crisis, reaffirm their commitment to the Afghan people, and match the UK’s commitments to support those in need – as well as discussing ongoing collaboration on evacuation efforts at Kabul airport.
  • Together with our partners and allies, Britain will continue to use every humanitarian and diplomatic lever to safeguard human rights and protect the gains made over the last two decades. 

The above is the "official line" - which I would not be repeating if I thought any of it was untrue. Obviously the government has to tone down the rhetoric against the Taleban at the moment and cannot publicly criticise the Biden administration while we are trying to get as many of our citizens and vulnerable people in Afghanistan to whom we owe a debt out of the country as possible.

Since I am not a member of the government I can write more frankly. I don't believe for one nanosecond the assurances the Taleban are giving that they have changed. They are clever enough to realise that letting at least some of the people who have no place in their vision of Afghanistan escape makes them look a lot better than killing all those people. But anyone in that country who has worked with the West, anyone who has helped to educate women, members of ethnic minorities and anyone else who does not conform will be in mortal danger once the last Western troops have gone.

There was an argument for the West as a whole (not Britain on our own) staying in Afghanistan: there was an argument for a properly planned and staged withdrawal which got the vulnerable people out before the troops and did not pull the rug out from under the Afghan armed forces. There was no argument for the disastrous shambles we have seen. Trump's deal with the Taleban was flawed: Biden's catastrophically incompetent execution of it was worse.  Between them they left the UK government with no good options. 

The collapse of the former Afghan government is not the end of the story and does not mean either that there has been a "military solution" or that there will be peace, even in the sense of that word used by Tacitus in today's "quote of the day." 

This is not a country on which even the greatest of great powers can permanently impose their will if the inhabitants do not wish it - and nor can any one faction within Afghanistan easily impose their will on the others. 

When Britain was the most powerful country in the world we once sent an expeditionary force of 30,000 men into Afghanistan, of whom only a single man returned. The Russians tried to conquer Afghanistan in the eighties and failed - and if Putin tries to persuade the Taleban that he is their friend in the hope that they will have forgotten this, I suspect he will find they have not.

The Western presence in Afghanistan over the last 20 years was only possible because a substantial part of the country actually did want us there, though whether they ever will again is now open to doubt: it was difficult and costly because another substantial part of the country did not want us.

There will be more distressing scenes outside Kabul airport as the final withdrawal takes place. Within a few months I suspect we will see the start of a low level, or possibly even high level civil war in Afghanistan which will kill far more people than died by violence in the country over the last few years. 

Britain should do what we can to help but the sad reality is that there is not a great deal we can do about it.


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