Afghanistan: FCDO Update - Statement

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 9:24 pm on 7th September 2021.

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Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) 9:24 pm, 7th September 2021

My Lords, simply put, yes, of course there are levers at our disposal, and I have already alluded to a number of them. “Diplomatic” means how we work together with our key partners, such as the United States and others on the Security Council, but also with other key countries that have influence over what will prevail in Afghanistan, which is in a particularly precarious economic situation. The challenges in that country on humanitarian issues is clear.

In that regard, let me assure the noble Lord and all noble Lords that we have the levers of diplomacy by working with partners, including the likes of Russia and China, which will have influence, and the likes of Pakistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, which are near neighbours. Those are important relationships, which we are invested in. As I already said, I have met directly Foreign Ministers across those countries and am engaging directly with them. It is not just about our ask of them, including on the issue of safe passage for those who get to a border; it is also about recognising that, to build relationships, you have to invest in the. That means ensuring that we stand up support for the refugee crisis that they may face on their own borders, and we are doing just that.

In terms of the Taliban specifically, the support of UN agencies is needed. In my discussions with UNICEF, in particular, and other agencies, we have got a sense that some agencies have increased their footprint on the ground within Afghanistan, and therefore we will be working with international partners, particularly UN agencies, to ensure that we continue to support humanitarian efforts not through the Taliban structures but directly through the agencies which are still operating across Afghanistan.

There are other levers about connectivity. I alluded earlier to the fact that we saw the first flight into Kabul. We are also hearing through our channels on the ground and international agencies that certain airports, such as those in Jalalabad and Mazar-i-Sharif, are being perceived as areas which we can look at not just to provide air routes but to deliver humanitarian aid for other parts of the country.

The noble Lord has wide experience, which I fully acknowledge. I can say at the Dispatch Box that of course we are very cognisant that security is important. The decision was made to withdraw NATO forces, but we recognise that we need to prevent terrorism. The UK Security Council resolution was an important fourth element on counterterrorism. I assure him that we are working through all channels and reassessing our capabilities to ensure that we mitigate against threats and future attacks against this country and any of our partners. It requires a big international effort.

I come back to the point that the noble Lord raised about the internal situation with the Taliban. Some would argue that the Taliban is a different Taliban. The jury is out. My view is clear: it is the same Taliban that was there before. However, what has changed, and where we have a glimmer of hope and opportunity, is that the 20 years of investment, which the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, alluded to on the previous Statement, have produced some great gains. I know a lot of the people we have worked with and the phenomenal women leaders who have emerged. They also provide great hope. Through our efforts and those of our international partners, I can now talk about some of them, such as Shukria Barakzai. More recently, I was pleased to see—in an extremely challenging situation—the likes of Fawzia Koofi, who is known to many people across both Houses. It was heartening to see her still very determined to play her part, albeit that for now she has left Afghanistan. We must see how we can sustain international dialogue and provide hope for people who are working for the future of Afghanistan, including those within Afghanistan. There are lots of areas that we still need to develop. I do not shy away from the challenge in front of us, but we will continue to stand with the people of Afghanistan.