MP calls for UK to 'wake up' and reopen embassy in Kabul

Tobias Ellwood urges government to open talks with Taliban rulers, to dismay of Afghanistan opposition group

The British embassy in Kabul remains closed. Getty
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The chairman of the defence select committee has called on the UK to reopen its embassy in Kabul and negotiate with the Taliban, leading to a withering response from Afghanistan's leading opposition group.

Conservative MP Tobias Ellwood, who is also a lieutenant colonel in the Army Reserve, said he “witnessed unreported compromises the war-exhausted nation is currently willing to accept” on a recent trip to Afghanistan.

Writing in The Telegraph, Mr Ellwood denied being a “Taliban appeaser” and said his brother was killed by Islamic extremists 20 years ago.

He said he saw improved security, free travel and the disappearance of widespread corruption in Afghanistan, with the black market opium trade “seemingly gone”.

He said: “This war-torn nation has not experienced relative peace like this since the 1970s.

“This, to put it mildly, was not what I was expecting.

“After a dozen visits to the country urging Nato and the UN to do exactly what the Taliban have now achieved, I had to grapple with the harsh reality of the West's strategic missteps.”

The MP for Bournemouth East said it was time for Britain to “rethink and re-engage” with Afghanistan and the Taliban.

He said: “The first step is reopening our embassy.

“The second is to get real. Afghanistan's future could be war again or life as a Chinese vassal.”

Khalid Noor, who represented the Republic of Afghanistan in the ultimately failed peace talks with the Taliban prior to the 2021 regime change, responded by saying: “We hold Mr Ellwood in the highest regard but in our view his assessment of the current situation in Afghanistan does not give the real picture of the nation – how can you, if you spend a day or two in one province and a short time in the capital?

“To conclude all of Afghanistan is safe and prosperous from a visit to the part of the country where the Taliban was born, where it enjoys its greatest public support, is as mistaken as saying Iraq under Saddam Hussein was a success after speaking to loyalists around his birthplace in Tikrit.”

Mr Noor – who, like many Afghan opposition figures, has lived in exile since the Taliban came to power, in his case making a home in Dubai – took issue with Mr Ellwood’s assessment that the people of Afghanistan are willing to trade a loss of human rights under an autocracy for an improvement in stability.

Nato left Afghanistan nearly two years ago, opening the door for the Taliban to regain power in the country.

The Taliban brought back bans on education for girls and laws stopping women from going to work.

They also banned women's beauty salons, adding on laws that prevent women from being in public spaces such as parks and gyms.

Mr Elwood said: “The British embassy is closed for political rather than security reasons.

“Of course, this boycott endures because of the Taliban's regressive laws against women's education and employment.

“If the West continues to sulk, we could be making another blunder, which pushes the nation to a fiscal cliff, potentially igniting another cycle of instability, terrorism and mass migration.

“A more pragmatic strategy is needed. The Taliban's restrictions on women's rights may well serve as a negotiation tool for shared understanding. But such a possibility will remain unknown until we wake up.”

Updated: July 18, 2023, 2:52 PM