In tonight’s BBC Panorama episode ‘Afghanistan: A Country at Breaking Point’, General Sir David Richards said the West needs to come to terms with the fact that the Taliban is “now the government of Afghanistan”.
He said: “The fact is, they defeated us. And we have to come to terms with that inconvenient fact. They are now the government of Afghanistan. They are responsible for 40 million odd people”.
Sir David, who commanded British troops in Afghanistan before becoming chief of the defence staff, says there were elements within the Taliban that the UK could deal with.
He said: “I think the West is going to end up recognising the Taliban government. If that's the case, then we'd better get on with it quicker, sooner rather than later. There's a great phrase to be magnanimous in victory. I think this is an occasion for us to be magnanimous in defeat”.
The General’s call for recognition of the Taliban comes as Afghanistan is facing a humanitarian disaster. Eight million people are thought to be at risk of starvation, including a million children. The Afghan economy has collapsed since the Taliban regained control of the country six months ago.
Some of those now in charge of the country are still classified by the US as terrorists and sanctions against them have stopped almost all foreign investment. The international community has also frozen around $10 billion of Afghanistan’s assets.
Former UN official Sir Mark Lowcock told Panorama that while nobody wants to support the Taliban, something has to change.
He said: “The issue with the sanctions is whether the people you're harming are the people you want to harm, and that's the difficulty with what's happening in Afghanistan right now. The world does have to work out what it's way of engaging with the Taliban is going to be. But whatever the solution to that question is, it can't be the collective punishment, into starvation, of a population of 40 million”.
In the programme, Panorama reporter John Simpson also speaks to a minister in the old Afghan government who has stayed to work with the country’s new leaders.
Nazir Kabiri, who is now Deputy Finance Minister in the Taliban Government, says he has remained in post to try to prevent a humanitarian disaster.
He said: “I did this and the basic motivation came from the fact that we can’t turn our back on the people. And that of course requires understanding, that requires negotiation, that requires dialogue”.
A spokesperson for the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office said the UK is providing £286 million of aid this financial year.
He said: “If the Taliban wants international acceptance, then they need to abide by international norms, to ensure safe passage for those who wish to leave the country, respect the rights of women and girls and prevent Afghanistan from again becoming a place where terrorism flourishes. The UK will continue to use every economic, political and diplomatic lever to protect ourselves from harm and to help the Afghan people.”