'Don't Give Up On Us': Afghanistan's Women Tell The West After Withdrawal

Preet Gill, Labour's shadow international development secretary, says the UK must have "dialogue" with the Taliban.
Preet Gill meets with Afghan women during her visit to the country.
Preet Gill meets with Afghan women during her visit to the country.
Preet Gill

Things are so bad for many women in Afghanistan that one planned to sell her kidney in order to buy food for her family.

Parents of dying children show “no emotion” as they often have to accept there is nothing they can do to save them.

Returning from a visit to Afghanistan, Preet Gill, Labour’s shadow international development secretary, says the UK needs to do more to help following the West’s withdrawal from the country last year. Including talking to the Taliban.

“We went to the World Food Programme distribution centre. And there were huge lines of people,” she tells HuffPost UK.

“They are provided with a bag of wheat, a bottle of water, sunflower oil, a packet of salt and red kidney beans. That is it for a family for one month.”

Gill warns there is a risk Afghans, especially women and girls, will “lose hope” if the UK washes its hands of the deepening crisis.

“I was blown away by the humility of Afghan people. So many people said to me: ‘Britain is like an angel for us, what you are doing has made a difference, it means we can survive, it means my kids are not going to die.’

“They weren’t seeking handouts. They were saying: ‘we want to work, we want a job, we want to be part of rebuilding our society.’

Afghanistan was heavily reliant on development assistance.“You can’t just immediately pull that and think everything’s going to be okay.” she says, calling for it to be reinstated.

Preet Gill
Preet Gill
Preet Gill

The rebuilding will require an uncomfortable choice for the West, Gill says. Talking with the Taliban. “You’ve got to have engagement and dialogue,” she says.

“Let’s not forget, there are lots of younger Taliban who are a lot more moderate.

“You’ve got to have those difficult conversations. Of course it’s going to be difficult. But isn’t that what politics is about? It’s about showing that level of leadership.”

But the British government is not showing that leadership, she says.

Last month the Commons foreign affairs committee published a damning report into the government’s handling of the Afghanistan withdrawal, concluding the “mismanagement” of the evacuation “likely cost lives”.

Afghans, the MPs said, were “utterly let down by deep failures of leadership” at the top of government.

Gill says: “It’s been a year since the fall of Afghanistan. Why is our government behaving in the manner that they are? Not with a sense of urgency. I think it’s pretty shameful that no government minister has visited.”

In 2020 the government shut down the department for international development, merging it into the Foreign Office.

“We had one of the best diplomatic services and the best development services, and we now have neither, it is actually shocking,” Gill says. ”The government just lurches from crisis to crisis.

“What was the purpose of the last three decades of being there? It’s really important that we act. Because honestly, not acting is going to cost us much more, but it’s going to not be in our best interest or anybody else’s interests.”

The women of Afghanistan are “not prepared to just be silent,” Gill says. “They are prepared to fight for their future. We’ve got to be the voice for them.

“Their message is: ‘don’t give up on us.’