UK general: West must recognise Taliban and accept it won to save Afghans

Former head of British military urges governments to be "magnanimous in defeat" to prevent starvation

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The West needs to accept it lost the war in Afghanistan and start working with the Taliban to prevent mass starvation, a former head of the British military has said.

Gen Lord David Richards urged governments to be “magnanimous in defeat” and show compassion for the welfare of 40 million people living under the extremist regime.

Former British foreign secretary David Miliband also warned that innocent civilians were being punished by the denial of aid.

Gen Richards, who commanded Nato troops in Afghanistan in 2006, said there were people within the Taliban regime that Britain and other countries could deal with.

“I think the West is going to end up recognising the Taliban government,” he told the BBC's Panorama programme. “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.”

In early August last year, the former Chief of the Defence Staff told The National that if Britain and America did nothing to stop the insurgents' advance “a return to Taliban rule” was inevitable.

But in his latest interview he urged governments to accept the reality of a Taliban victory. “The fact is, they defeated us,” he said. “And we have to come to terms with that inconvenient fact. They are now the government of Afghanistan. They are responsible for about 40 million people.”

General David Richards meeting former Afghan president Hamid Karzai. Alamy

Out of that population it is estimated that eight million are at risk of starvation, including one million children.

With 40 per cent of the country’s gross domestic product reliant on foreign aid, the restriction of cash has led to the economy collapsing since the Taliban took control six months ago.

With some Taliban members still classified by the US as terrorists the international community has frozen billions in assets.

But Western powers now face a “catastrophe of choice in Afghanistan” with the freeze on payments condemning ordinary working people, said Mr Miliband, now president of the International Rescue Committee.

“It's been a freeze on the payments to Afghan civil servants, teachers, nurses and engineers and there are ongoing sanctions that are putting a chill on the private sector's activity,” he told BBC Radio 4. “There's a freeze on the $9 billion worth of international assets of the Afghan Central Bank.”

He said the country was on a “downwards economic escalator that threatens to overwhelm the humanitarian effort” which the UN has stated requires $4 billion of immediate funding.

Without the money there will be a greater crisis next year, he added, which will cost an estimated $10bn to remedy “unless we can get the economy going”.

“It's essential to get that economy going to give Afghan people the chance to feed themselves,” he said.

Sir Mark Lowcock, a former UN humanitarian affairs secretary, called for a policy change, saying sanctions were harming Afghans. “The world does have to work out what its 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,” he said.

The Foreign Office said Britain is committed to the Afghan people and is providing £286 million in aid this year.

“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,” a spokesman said.

Updated: February 07, 2022, 1:11 PM