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What should Liberal Democrats be saying about Afghanistan?

August 15, 2021 8:50 PM
By Caron Lindsay in Lib Dem Voice

Ed Davey called for Parliament to be brought back from its Summer holidays to discuss the growing crisis in Afghanistan. His comments two days ago seem even more urgent now as the Taliban advance on Kabul in an entirely predictable consequence of the withdrawal of US and UK troops from the country.

I am not a fan of military action. There have been very few deployments of our troops I have been in favour of because we often seem to ultimately make things a lot worse. There have been a few exceptions to this, for humanitarian purposes, such as intervention in Kosovo, but it does take a lot to persuade me of the need for it.

On this occasion, our withdrawal before there is a strong enough political and physical infrastructure to bring stability, and a better life for the people has put the population in huge danger. Not only that, but the Taliban has form for stoking international terrorism so their presence makes the world less safe.

Joe Biden is in a difficult position. Surely he must know that Afghanistan and the world have become less safe because of the Trump administration's decision to withdraw US forces, but he is basically worried of Trump in three years' time if he sends them back in. The Trump administration's peace agreement with the Taliban in February last year was a disgrace with no guarantees on human rights or even a mention of women's rights. Subsequent talks aimed at finding a political settlement for Afghanistan between the Government and the Taliban had few women in the room.

The Government of Afghanistan's record on human rights is far from exemplary. Amnesty's 2020 report on the country said:

Women and girls continued to face gender-based discrimination and violence throughout Afghanistan, especially in areas under Taliban control, where their rights were violated with impunity and violent "punishments" were meted out for perceived transgressions of the armed group's interpretation of Islamic law

The report speaks of 2 million girls denied education, people not having access to healthcare or support during the pandemic, children facing harassment and sexual violence. It's a difficult read.

You would have thought that in almost two decades, more progress would have been made on these issues. To leave with so many people vulnerable to abuse is the height of irresponsibility.

Ed said on Friday:

"If Donald Trump had made this decision, the whole world would rightly be calling it out. Joe Biden cannot get a free pass just because he is a Democrat.

"Afghanistan is spiralling towards a devastating civil war. Millions of women and girls are facing medieval brutality. International terrorism will thrive under the Taliban. Given the tragedy unfolding before our eyes, Parliament must now be recalled.

"Every effort must be taken to protect the innocent citizens of Afghanistan who have been betrayed by the nature of this withdrawal. If the US won't, the UN must. The UK Government must use its seat at the table at the UN Security Council to initiate consultations on the deployment of UN peacekeepers in Afghanistan."

Today Ed has written to the Prime Minister asking for urgent talks between the Westminster leaders to discuss the UK response, including protection for interpreters and others who had put themselves at risk to help us. He said:

Dear Prime Minister,

I write to you at a time of crisis.

On 8 July 2021, you made a statement to Parliament ahead of the final withdrawal of British troops from Afghanistan. After twenty years of service - twenty years in which 457 British service personnel tragically lost their lives - you told Members that, "we are not about to turn away" from Afghanistan. You spoke of your desire to, "preserve those vital gains and the legacy of what has been achieved".

Yet just over a month later, that legacy and those gains now face total annihilation at the hands of the Taliban.

With each passing day, they capture more territory and in each city where the white flag of the Taliban is raised, it ushers in a new era of injustice for the women and girls whose liberties we fought for over two decades.

Violence is spreading. Over 1,000 innocent civilians have been killed in the last month alone. Hundreds of thousands of Afghans have been displaced this year already.

Wherever the Taliban takes root, it is likely that a hotbed for international terrorism will start to flourish.

After nearly twenty years in Afghanistan, the coming days mark a crucial point in the history of the country and the legacy of our troops' service there. Making the wrong decisions now risks not just the prospects of millions of innocent Afghan citizens, but the potential destabilisation of the region, a full-blown refugee crisis and the emergence of a new international terrorist threat.

It is without doubt that we face a crucial point in history and, as a nation, we must act together before it is too late.

Over the long duration of the War in Afghanistan, three national parties have been in Government and five Prime Ministers have held office. This is an issue of utmost national importance. It is therefore right that this issue is above party politics and that politicians come together over this issue.

That is why I am asking you as Prime Minister to immediately call a Westminster Leaders Crisis Meeting and hold cross party talks with every leader on the Afghanistan crisis.

Given the tragedy unfolding before our eyes and the grave threat to national security this raises, I urge you to invite all Westminster party leaders from across the UK to meet with you to discuss our nation's response to this crisis. It is also right that Parliament is recalled as soon as possible to discuss the UK's response.

Prime Minister, if we do not act, this moment will be seen as our Suez.

The UK has a responsibility to the people of Afghanistan and to the international community. Every effort must be taken to protect the innocent citizens of Afghanistan who have been betrayed by the nature of this withdrawal. That must include consultations at the United Nations regarding the potential deployment of a peacekeeping force.

There are particular concerns now regarding the estimated 4,000 UK nationals who are still in Afghanistan. I welcome the deployment of paratroopers to help evacuate our citizens. But given the rapidly deteriorating security situation, we need a clear commitment and timescales regarding this deployment. It is vital that no-one is left behind.

We must also take urgent actions to assist those to whom we owe a particular debt. Those brave interpreters, and other locally employed staff, who risked their lives to enable our Armed Forces to do their job must be brought home. It would be a stain on our nation's reputation to abandon those who supported us at a time of crisis.

Now is the time to act - to do the right thing, and bring political parties together in our national interest. It is time to urgently call UK Westminster party leaders to Number 10, recall Parliament and begin forming plans with our international partners.

The stark crisis we are facing right now not only risks threatening our national security for years to come but also shows us failing to meet our responsibilities to the Afghan people.

I look forward to hearing your urgent response on this matter.

Doing nothing should not be an option. We have an obligation to the Afghan people we have let down. What we should do is a much more difficult question.

What do you think?

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

What should Liberal Democrats be saying about Afghanistan? (libdemvoice.org)