NEWS
16/08/2021 16:44 BST | Updated 17/08/2021 08:50 BST

What Is The UK Doing To Help People In Afghanistan?

The Taliban has taken control of the country as foreign forces arrange a hasty exit.

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The escalating situation in Afghanistan has left the west scrambling for a response

The Taliban has seized Afghanistan’s capital Kabul, meaning the Islamist group effectively runs the country. 

At least five people have been killed in the furore at Kabul airport as Afghans flock to the area in a desperate attempt to escape, while the country’s president has fled abroad.

The rapid takeover has even triggered fears of an international terrorist group forming.

Many blame western forces for leaving Afghan forces vulnerable, especially after US President Joe Biden ordered the withdrawal of American troops from the war-torn area following 20 years in the country, leaving a power vacuum.

Western leaders are without a doubt shocked at the strength and speed of the Taliban’s resurgence – but just what does the UK plan to do about it?

WAKIL KOHSAR via Getty Images
US soldiers stand guard as Afghan people wait at the Kabul airport in Kabul on August 16, 2021

Certain Afghans can now enter the UK without a passport

The UK is attempting to evacuate hundreds of Afghans from the country each day, according to the prime minister’s spokesman.

British diplomats, including the UK ambassador Sir Lawrie Bristow, home office staff and some UK embassy staff, have been attempting to process visas to interpreters at Kabul airport and get UK nationals back to Britain.

It remains unclear how many British embassy staff are still in Afghanistan.

The UK is also allowing certain Afghans to flee without a passport, in a desperate attempt to fly potential Taliban targets out of the country.

Any Afghans who have assisted British troops but have not been able to obtain paperwork are now permitted to enter the UK.

But this only applies to those who are already known to British forces and have passed security checks.

Downing Street is now keen to get 35 Afghan students, the Chevening scholars, to the UK as well, despite previously telling them their places had been deferred for a year, as there are concerns they are Taliban targets.

The prime minister’s spokesman said: “We want to get as many people out as we can.

“We want to continue to do this as long as we are able to do so and as long as it is safe to do so.”

No.10 has refused to announce a target for Afghan refugees

While the US is planning to relocate 30,000 Afghans and Canada setting its own target at 20,000, the UK has remained tight-lipped when it comes to confirming its own targets.

No.10 said it would be “very hard” to guess how many Afghans won’t be able to make it to the UK.

Emergency military flights from Kabul could continue until the end of August.

The UK does already have a scheme in place, but it is only for military personnel and embassy workers, meaning about 2,000 people have settled to date, according to the prime minister.

But the Foreign Office claims 4,400 Afghan nationals have been expatriated to the UK since April.

There are still fears that the current programme does not cover staff from the British Council or other organisations with UK links which could be targeted by the Taliban.

A Home Office source confirmed that a new asylum programme was “in the works” but the details were still being hashed out.

Its thought a new scheme could replicate the one created for Syrian refugees which took in 20,000 people over five years.

The spokesperson said the UK wants “to talk to other international leaders” before deciding on a set number of refugees.

Defence secretary Ben Wallace choked up on Monday when speaking to LBC and admitted: “Some people won’t get back [from Afghanistan].”

Foreign aid cuts to Afghanistan will not be reversed

Earlier this year the government decided to reduce annual aid budget to 0.5 percent of national income – it was previously at 0.7 percent.

The reduction was the equivalent to around £4 billion.

The government promised the reduction was temporary.

When asked if Downing Street will increase foreign aid to Afghanistan in light of recent events, a spokesperson for the prime minister said: “We have a significant aid budget as we’ve talked about before – there’s no plans to change that at the moment.”

A military-led rebuttal is unlikely at the moment

Six hundreds troops were sent in last week to help evacuate UK citizens.

The prime minister said last week: “I think we’ve got to be realistic about the abilities of the UK or any power to impose a military solution, a combat solution, in Afghanistan.

“What we certainly can do is work with all our partners in the region and around the world who share an interest with us in preventing Afghanistan from once again becoming a breeding ground for terror.”

Wallace also told LBC: “We’re not doing other diplomatic functions, we are simply there to process all those British passport holders, and all those other people we have an obligation to.”

He also warned that Al Qaida could subsequently gain a foothold in Afghanistan through the Taliban, and suggested that further military intervention may occur down the road.

When asked if UK troops could return en masse to the country, he said: “I’m going to leave every option open.

“If the Taliban have a message from last time, you start hosting Al Qaida, you start attacking the west or countries at that we could be back.”

However, the UK relies on US firepower and it would unable to act on its own.

Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
Taliban members are seen near Hamid Karzai International Airport as thousands of Afghans rush to Kabul

Is the UK doing enough?

Many have expressed despair at the west’s current course of action.

Former Tory MP and now senior fellow of the Jackson Institute Rory Stewart tweeted: “We need to build an international coalition around this, matching the UK commitment with commitment from all our allies – we have a deep moral obligation here.”

He also retweeted a former government adviser Daniel Korski, who said: “Time to step up in Afghanistan. We need at least a large Afghan settlement programme to help afghans come to the UK, a massive neighbourhood programme to support frontline states, programmes to support students remotely who now can’t attend school.”

He also appealed for a rethink on aid cuts and an appointment of a human rights envoy.

Commenting on the waves of panic gripping Afghans at Kabul airport as citizens try to hold onto planes during takeoff, Conservative MP Tom Tugendhat tweeted: “These people aren’t stupid. They know the danger. They also know the alternative.

“We need to choose to stand by our allies or we will find ourselves standing alone. This is shaming.”

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has also demanded that the UK show leadership amid the escalating situation in Afghanistan.

Last week he called for an urgent meeting of Nato, and said: “What I want to see is our government stepping up and leading this.”

He continued: “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.”

Kirsty O'Connor - PA Images via Getty Images
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab leaving 10 Downing Street, London, after attending a Cobra meeting

Politicians are preparing their future strategy

The escalating emergency saw prime minister Boris Johnson cut his holiday short on Monday to host a Cobra meeting.

MPs are set to debate the crisis in Parliament on Wednesday, although the prime minister may not take detailed questions on strategy and may even have resumed his holiday by that point.

Foreign secretary Dominic Raab returned from his own holiday on Sunday and is expected to handle the crisis, while the UN Security Council will meet at 3pm on Monday.

Those on the council will be discussing how to handle a future Afghan government in the hands of the Taliban and how to approach the emerging humanitarian dilemma.

Downing Street has not yet ruled out recognising the group as the official leaders of Afghanistan.

The spokesperson did point out that the recognition of such a government “would have to happen on a joint rather than a unilateral basis”.