Keir Starmer has declared that he is “deeply concerned” by US President Joe Biden’s speech on Monday, that the Afghan troops should not be blamed for the Taliban’s return to power and that the Taliban should not be recognised as a legitimate government.
Asked whether the Taliban should be recognised as a legitimate government, the Labour leader replied: “No.” He explained: “Because they’ve just swept in by force. So the Prime Minister is absolutely right on the question of non-recognition.”
He then added: “But, obviously, as we’re dealing with the evacuation, it’s important we engage with all relevant parties to make sure we can get everybody out just as quickly and safely as possible.”
Biden said in a speech on Monday that the purpose of the US intervention in Afghanistan had “always been preventing a terrorist attack on American homeland” and “never supposed to be creating a unified centralised democracy”.
The US President, who has attracted much praise from the UK Labour Party until now, also said: “Afghanistan political leaders gave up and fled the country. The Afghan military collapsed, sometimes without trying to fight.”
Reacting to these comments today, Starmer said: “I was deeply concerned that he didn’t recognise the wider consequences of the action that he’s taken in withdrawing the way he has withdrawn.”
Asked whether it was appropriate to blame Afghans for recent developments, the UK opposition leader replied: “No, I don’t. I think the big question that’s going to have to be answered sooner or later is why was there this catastrophic miscalculation of the strength of the Taliban on the one hand, and the resilience – or lack of resilience – of the Afghan troops and forces on the other.
“That may not be the question immediately, but it’s got to be answered because it seems to me there was a catastrophic error of judgement in this action.”
More broadly, the Labour leader said: “The situation in Afghanistan is obviously very fast-moving and very concerning. The immediate priority is getting out of Afghanistan our own nationals and all those eligible Afghans just as quickly and safely as possible.”
Asked whether he was worried about the increased risk following the Taliban regaining control in Afghanistan, he replied: “Yes, I am concerned about that terrorism risk – and the concern, I think, generally is that Afghanistan could become a place where international terrorism emanates again.
“Everything needs to be done to guard against that. And that’s why it’s very important the Prime Minister and our government step up to the role of leading and bringing countries together to have a concerted approach to that very question.
“But there are broader questions than that. We can’t have as our goal here simply that Afghanistan doesn’t slip back to a hotbed for international terrorism.
“There have been important developments over the last 20 years, particularly for women and girls and for advancement throughout the country. We must do what we can, working with our partners, to ensure that we safeguard some of that progress.”
Starmer added that it was “completely wrong” for Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab to have been on holiday until Sunday. “Speak to anybody who has any experience of Afghanistan and they will tell you that it was obvious last week that we were heading to a very serious situation,” he said.
“For the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary to be missing in action at this vital time I think is something which everybody thinks is wrong. And I hope they will answer for that tomorrow in the recall debate as well.”
Nick Thomas-Symonds has called for the urgent establishment of a British Afghanistan resettlement programme that would include “Afghans who served alongside UK representatives”, those “who are targets having stepped up to areas of public life” and “civilians who face being driven from their homes by violence and persecution”.
The Shadow Home Secretary said: “The fallout from Afghanistan will need an international solution and all partners must play their part. However, Britain must step up and urgently provide the moral, global leadership needed on this humanitarian crisis”.
The Taliban has given a press conference from the Afghan capital Kabul this afternoon. “We have pardoned all those who have fought against us,” their spokesman said. We don’t want any external or internal enemies.”
Asked about how women will be treated, the spokesman said: “They are going to be working shoulder to shoulder with us. We would like to assure the international community that there will be no discrimination.”