26 August 2021

Barely two weeks on from the early news of the final US withdrawal from Afghanistan, the scenes of suffering and bloodshed, and the fears of local people for the future, have been absolutely heartbreaking.

The situation across the country is already looking like a security and humanitarian catastrophe. Thar was the overwhelming consensus across the House of Commons last week, when I travelled back to London to attend the emergency debate on Afghanistan. Dozens of my colleagues across the House, some with considerable experience of war, made their feelings and concerns clear. 

But of course, there are also much wider implications, in the hundreds of thousands of refugees expected to go to Pakistan, in the heightened threat to global security from terrorism, and in a shift in the wider balance of power and national prestige across Central Asia and the Middle East. 

We must await the inevitable inquiries in the USA before the full picture can be assembled, but it is already clear that the Administration gravely underestimated the potential for a rapid takeover by the Taliban, following the ceasefire agreed last year. 

As a nation, the U.K. must continue to move swiftly and effectively to protect our citizens and those who have depended on us, and to lead international efforts of relief and peace-building.  Attention has naturally and rightly focused on Kabul airport; but people are at grave potential risk in cities and communities across the country. 

The historical record suggests that the Taliban has no interest in preserving the gains to civil society, the new rights and freedoms, the wider education of children, the improved position of many women, all things that have been achieved over the last twenty years. 

But whether the Afghan people are willing to let them go is quite another matter. One thing is for sure:  the world understands better than ever now what the sacrifices of the last two decades have achieved. For that we must be profoundly grateful to the work of our armed forces, in which many Herefordians have played a vital part. 

The Government’s commitment to resettle up to 20,000 refugees is an important commitment. Now it is seeking to shape the broader international response through the U.K. G7 presidency and the UN Security Council:  to complete the immediate work in hand, and to help Afghanistan make a transition to a peaceful, humane and stable future.  

Jesse Norman writes for the Hereford Times