The UK risks sending the image that it is backing a “violent terrorist group” by engaging with the Taliban, Tom Tugendhat has warned.
Tugendhat, an Afghanistan veteran who chairs the foreign affairs select committee, said the decision to send Boris Johnson’s envoy for talks with the Taliban “risks looking exceptionally short-term”.
He told HuffPost UK: “Engaging with the Taliban today risks looking exceptionally short term as the chance of it failing is very high.
“The vast majority of Afghans do not see it [the Taliban] as in any way legitimate.
“We could end up looking like we’re backing a violent terrorist group that is oppressing the Afghan people in an expedient move, when we should be supporting the Afghan people to find a long-term solution.”
Simon Gass, the prime minister’s high representative for Afghan transition, travelled to Afghanistan on Monday to meet senior members of the Taliban, including deputy prime ministers Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar Akhund and Mawlawi Abdul-Salam Hanafi, and foreign minister Mawlawi Amir Khan Muttaqi.
The government said the meeting was to discuss issues such as how to prevent Afghanistan from “becoming an incubator for terrorism” and facilitating the safe passage of those who wish to leave.
The Taliban has sought to portray a softer image since the UK and US withdrew from Afghanistan at the end of August, promising that there would be no “revenge” against civilians and that all Afghans would be “forgiven”.
But reports have since emerged of the Taliban’s brutality, including a crackdown on women’s protests and massacres of ethnic minorities.
Last month former judge Marzia Babakarkhail, who fled Afghanistan in the 1990s, warned the West not to trust the Taliban in an interview with HuffPost UK, saying the group “has not changed”.
“Now their PR is very tricky,” she said.
“They became very clever. They were taught by the leaders how to play the game with people’s minds, with the United Nations and with communities who want to help Afghanistan because of the global recognition.
“It’s not the reality. I’m involved in Afghanistan – every minute they are going to women judges’ houses. They escaped and are going from house to house – where is the amnesty?”
A government spokesperson said: “The prime minister’s high representative for Afghan transition, Sir Simon Gass, and Chargé d’Affaires of the UK mission to Afghanistan in Doha, Dr Martin Longden, travelled to Afghanistan today to hold talks with the Taliban.
“They met senior members of the Taliban, including Mawlawi Amir Khan Muttaqi, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar Akhund and Mawlawi Abdul-Salam Hanafi.
“Sir Simon and Dr Longden discussed how the UK could help Afghanistan to address the humanitarian crisis, the importance of preventing the country from becoming an incubator for terrorism, and the need for continued safe passage for those who want to leave the country.
“They also raised the treatment of minorities and the rights of women and girls.
“The government continues to do all it can to ensure safe passage for those who wish to leave, and is committed to supporting the people of Afghanistan.”