Afghanistan: Taliban's advances mean UK must press United Nations to send in peacekeepers if US will not act – Christine Jardine MP
Images of Vietnamese nationals at the US Embassy in Saigon, clambering up the compound walls, desperately seeking the sanctuary they had been promised in return for their support against the Viet Cong forces, are seared on my memory.
Half a century later the news is full of startlingly similar pictures. This time of Afghans fleeing from a resurgent Taliban pouring into the vacuum created by US, UK and Nato troop withdrawals. Makeshift camps overflowing with people terrified of the regime’s return, running from each city in turn as it falls to the militants.
But while Vietnam was a withdrawal forced by military defeat, the disaster being wrought in Afghanistan was a tactical, political and needless betrayal.
Military expert after campaign veteran after regional specialist has reiterated that until the decision to withdraw we had made real and valuable progress in nullifying the terrorist threat and improving the lives of the people.
It is, they remind us, five years since a military life was lost in action in Afghanistan and local forces had stepped up to maintain the peace. Civil authorities were in control.
Now, just a few weeks short of 20 years since the horror of 9/11 provoked the world into action, everything that was achieved in the name of those victims and so many others could be lost. Afghanistan is descending into civil war.
The technical support from the USA military which was so important for Afghan forces is gone. The back-up to keep the nascent democracy stable has been pulled.
The commanding officer of the Afghan army has warned that there is a real risk that the return of the Taliban will create a new global threat from international terrorism.
And while our government is sending in a small number of troops to bring our embassy staff out of the country safely, there are also serious concerns for the safety of the very many individuals who worked with our forces as interpreters or support staff.
How is our government proposing to fulfil the commitment we owe them and protect their families?
What of the many millions of women and girls who face the prospect of renewed injustice, inequality and brutality under a Taliban regime they trusted us to protect them from?
Parliament should now be recalled to allow MPs to push for action to prevent the catastrophe we see emerging.
We need the chance to press for the widening of access to relocation schemes so that no-one who helped UK troops is excluded on an arbitrary basis, and for the launching of airlift programmes to help them escape from danger.
For what should have been the next phase in its recovery, Afghanistan should be receiving massive international investment.
Instead this government has slashed international development spending in the country by more than £100 million.
Everywhere you look Boris Johnson’s government is shirking its responsibilities. It’s time to step up to the plate.
There will be those who argue that we should be spending the money here because we are in the midst of a crisis of our own.
But if we allow international terrorism to flourish once more, it will be a false economy on a massive, life-threatening scale.
Neither do I accept the argument that Afghanistan is somehow an irresolvable issue. The idea that the problems of the British empire in the 1800s and the failed Soviet occupation in the 1980s is somehow evidence of this is nonsense.
It is certainly true, however, that if we do not act now it will become a failed state. A rogue, hot-bed of terrorism disrupting the international system and creating a threat to lives across the globe. The lives of its own people, liberated from the brutality of the Taliban two decades ago, will be under their yoke once more.
The UK – and the US – owe a debt of honour to the people of that country who supported us in our quest to stamp out terrorism and protect ourselves.
Their children suffered and died in that cause. The death toll among civilians is estimated to be around 70,000.
More than 450 families in this country are also grieving loved ones whose lives were sacrificed in a war which had, in very real terms, been won.
When Tony Blair’s government declared war on the Taliban in October 2001 he said: “To the Afghan people we make this commitment. We will not walk away, as the outside world has done so many times before.”
That promise was made on our behalf. The people of Afghanistan have fulfilled their side of the bargain. We must stand by ours.
There is very much more at stake than our reputation, although it is on the table in an already damaged state.
Global security from terrorism and the stability of the international system hinge on our reaction to the crisis in Afghanistan.
But more importantly, the future of a people, their country and their children’s lives depend on what happens next.
If the US will not act, then we must ensure that the United Nations does.
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.
No effort should be spared to protect the lives of the innocent citizens who have been betrayed by the nature of this withdrawal.
By the time you read this, I can only hope that common sense has prevailed and that I and every other MP is heading back to Westminster to try to make good on that 20-year-old promise.
Christine Jardine is Scottish Liberal Democrat MP for Edinburgh West
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