I believe the Taliban have changed, Boris Johnson tells MPs
The West must encourage moderate members of the Taliban to get the “upper hand” over extremist colleagues, Boris Johnson has said. He told MPs that he believed the Taliban were different from when the group ruled Afghanistan in the 1990s.
The UK and its allies must put “maximum pressure” on moderates to ensure they gain control of the government and “not allow the more retrograde elements to have the upper hand”, the prime minister said.
In another sign that the UK is softening its rhetoric on the new Afghan rulers, Dominic Raab, the foreign secretary, said there was a “clear difference” between the Taliban and terrorist groups such as Isis-K and al-Qaeda.
In an update to the Commons yesterday, the prime minister admitted that 311 Afghans who helped the UK in its 20 years in the country were left behind. He said they and their families qualified for the emergency resettlement scheme. Johnson told MPs that 192 of them had responded to contact from the Foreign Office but that left a further 119 for whom the UK does not know their whereabouts. He promised those stuck in Afghanistan that the UK was working to get them out.
Johnson said: “Let me say to anyone to whom we have made commitments — and who is in Afghanistan — we are working urgently with our friends in the region to secure safe passage and as soon as routes are available we will do everything possible to help you.”
Last night the Home Office said a separate resettlement scheme would prioritise lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Afghans and those who are in danger from the Taliban because of their gender or religion.
The criteria for the resettlement scheme, which will offer a permanent home to 20,000 people over the next five years, will include those who have stood up for democracy and human rights. It has emerged that members of the Taliban have posed as refugees trying to flee Afghanistan in emails to MPs. A Home Office source said: “That is why we have strong vetting in place.”
Johnson used his statement in the Commons to defend the UK’s 20 years of action in Afghanistan, listing achievements that the military can be proud of. He said: “On Saturday we mark the 20th anniversary of the reason why we went into Afghanistan in the first place: the terrorist attacks on the United States which claimed 2,977 lives including those of 67 Britons.
“If anyone is tempted to say that we have achieved nothing in that country — or still tempted to say that we have achieved nothing in that country in 20 years — tell them that our armed forces and those of our allies enabled 3.6 million girls to go to school, tell them that this country and the western world were protected from al-Qaeda in Afghanistan throughout that period, and tell them that we have just mounted the biggest humanitarian airlift in recent history.”
Johnson also insisted that there had been “no direct information as yet of any increase to the threat” of terrorism to the UK. He reiterated his warning to the Taliban that the UK would hold them to their commitment to stop Afghanistan again becoming a breeding ground for terrorists, which triggered the West’s invasion 20 years ago.
He said: “What we need to do is to make sure that those elements of the Taliban who are different — and I believe different from the Taliban of 1996 — are encouraged and we put the maximum pressure on them not to allow the more retrograde elements to have the upper hand and that is what this government and other government around the world are going to do.”
Raab added that if the Taliban wanted to be an effective administration, they would have to live up to the assurances they have made.