The UK’s former ambassador to Afghanistan has suggested Dominic Raab is “playing catch-up” with EU counterparts with his latest visit to the Middle East .
Sir Nick Kay spoke after MPs criticised the foreign secretary for failing to make any trips to the country or neighbouring states that were now vital in efforts to gain safe passage for those who wanted to leave.
Asked by BBC Radio 4’s Today programme whether the UK had been too slow to react, compared to Raab’s counterparts in Germany and France, Kay said that the important issue was that the wheels of British diplomacy were now “turning rapidly”.
But he added: “It’s good that the foreign secretary is out and engaging face to face with these countries in the region. There isn’t obviously any time to lose at all, and to some extent we are, yes, playing catch-up”.
Raab arrived in Qatar on Thursday morning for talks with its foreign minister on efforts to engage with the Taliban.
The trip came just hours after the foreign affairs committee accused the foreign secretary of being “asleep at the wheel” during recent weeks of chaos in Afghanistan.
Committee chair Tom Tugendhat had pointed out that France had started evacuating people much earlier than Britain and that Germany’s foreign minister had visited states like Uzbekistan to work on safe passage through borders.
Raab, who has not visited Pakistan or Afghanistan since he took his job in 2019, used a press conference in Doha to call for a “new grouping” of nations “that can exert the maximum moderating influence on what the Taliban does next”.
Amid reports that Kabul airport could resume domestic flights within days, Qatari foreign minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim Al Thani said that with technical help from countries like Turkey he hoped international flights could resume ‘as soon as possible’
“Hopefully in the next few days we will hear some good news,” the minister said.
Raab said: “We have secured safe passage out of a Afghanistan for over 17,000 British nationals, Afghan workers and other special cases since April, but I do think we feel responsibility to make sure that the remaining British nationals and Afghan workers can come to the UK, that is why we watch with great interest what may be possible at Kabul airport.
“But we are also here and I am here – not just in Qatar but moving on afterwards – to talk to regional countries about how we can ensure safe passage through third countries.”
Raab added: “We will not be recognising the Taliban anytime in the foreseeable future. But I think there is an important scope for engagement and dialogue.”
On safe passage of refugees, terrorism, protecting aid workers and creating an inclusive government he said he will “judge them by what they do, not just by what they say”.
Sir Nick said that reopening the airport to international travel would be a big focus of the British effort.
He also appeared to back growing calls among former veterans, MPs and others for a public inquiry into the UK’s role in the Afghanistan war.
“Nobody could look at this and think there are not lessons to learn about the handling in the last several months, but also severe lessons to learn about the last 20 years. I’m sure there will be some mechanism, [an] inquiry, to do that.”
He also suggested that over time the UK should try to get a diplomatic presence restored in Kabul because there was ultimately no “substitute” for diplomats on the ground to advocate for human rights, support civil society, liaise on humanitarian assistance and crucially oversee a safe passage programme.