Tobias Ellwood repeats call for UK to re-engage with Taliban

MP's comments come weeks after he was criticised for video lauding the group's governance of Afghanistan

Taliban members and supporters in Kabul celebrate the second anniversary of the takeover of the Afghan government. EPA
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Conservative MP Tobias Ellwood has repeated his call to re-engage with the Taliban, weeks after being ridiculed for sharing an “utterly bizarre” clip in which he lauded the group’s leadership of Afghanistan.

The senior Conservative politician urged the government to rethink its strategy, two years after the fall of Kabul and the Taliban takeover with the withdrawal of western forces from Afghanistan.

The chairman of the Commons Defence Select Committee told an event in Feltham in west London, organised by the Afghanistan and Central Asian Association, that the UK should not abandon the people of Afghanistan.

His appearance at the event comes after his release of the video, which claimed that Afghanistan has improved since the Taliban regained power.

The clip was welcomed by Taliban chief spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid, who praised him for the positive report, but drew controversy and criticism from his fellow MPs.

Mark Francois told the House of Commons that his colleague should be “very careful” in expressing his views if he wanted to remain as chair of the committee.

Mr Francois described the video as “utterly bizarre”, and said it was “lauding the Taliban’s management of the country”.

Mr Ellwood is now facing a no-confidence motion as committee chairman as a result of his comments.

He later apologised in the face of a backlash from members of his own committee after claiming that security in Afghanistan has “vastly improved” and “corruption is down” since the group returned to power in 2021.

Mr Ellwood alluded to the row during his speech, emphasising that he was speaking in a purely personal capacity, while also claiming that many do not want to “confront the toughest of questions” on Afghanistan.

The evacuation and plight of the country, he said, has been “conveniently forgotten” during the war in Ukraine and growing tensions with China.

“We don't want to be reminded of our failures, nor the fact that we handed the nation to the very insurgents that we went in to defeat.

“And as I found out after my own visit, no one it seems right now is ready to confront the toughest of questions of whether our current strategy of shouting from afar … is actually working. Or do we dare to consider leveraging greater influence through engagement.”

The MP referred repeatedly to his recent visit, as well as previous trips, to Afghanistan during his address.

“This remains, let's be really clear about this, an ultra-conservative movement with the most ruthless interpretation of Sharia law in the world.

“But what I learnt there are differences of views between [Afghan city] Kandahar … and Kabul, where the practical realities of holding the country together are grappled with.”

Mr Ellwood is pushing for the UK to reopen its embassy in Kabul.

He told the event: “After abandoning the country as we did, we now have the duty to develop a strategy of engagement that moves on our current position of punishing the Afghanistan population for the Taliban's takeover.

“An economic, humanitarian or terrorism crisis is looming. Let's make sure Afghanistan and its people are not forgotten. It's time for a new strategy.”

A spokesman for the Afghan and Central Asian Association told The National: “I think Tobias was great. He did really well and we as an organisation are very pleased that he contributed to the event.

“The audience’s reaction to his comments was positive.

“Some people felt that some level of re-engagement [with the Taliban] is necessary in order to ensure that people don’t die because of poverty.

“It was a panel discussion and there were questions from the audience. There were some people who were asking about the rise of ISIS-K and how they are recruiting people in Afghanistan.”

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Updated: August 16, 2023, 4:49 PM