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View from Westminster: Our government didn’t care enough and wasn’t prepared enough

Twenty years of progress for the people of Afghanistan is now swept away, writes Harriet Harman…

Two decades which, after the ending of the previous Taliban rule, saw a measure of social and political progress including girls going to school, women going to work and able to play their part in public life. Now, the barbarity of the Taliban regime is back with public executions, beating of women accused of adultery, snatching of young girls to be raped as “child brides”, stoning of gay people and silencing of journalists.

They’ve pledged not to return to their former ways. But no-one believes them.

It is inexplicable that our government were taken completely by surprise by the speed of the Taliban advance and the collapse of the Afghan army.

Why was our intelligence so inadequate?

And it is inexcusable that, as the Taliban closed in on Kabul, the foreign secretary was on holiday in Greece. It is incomprehensible that, in the preceding months, he and his ministerial team had failed to work with countries in the region, particularly Pakistan, to prepare to provide safe passage for the refugees and forge a strategy to put pressure on the Taliban for the future.

It is shocking to now hear reports that the thousands of emails from me and other MPs about our constituents who desperately needed evacuation were not even opened and read, let alone acted on. And it is unforgivable that the government is cutting our overseas aid budget at a time when so many in Afghanistan now face hardship and even starvation.

The government will have to give their answers to an emergency session of parliament’s foreign affairs select committee.

Amidst the misery and darkness of unfolding events in Afghanistan we can’t just wring our hands and despair. So many people have expressed their backing for the refugees. I’ve received nearly 600 supportive emails and people are donating to charities working both here and in Afghanistan.

St Giles Church threw open their doors for a meeting for the anxious Southwark Afghan community who came to tell me, Helen Hayes MP and leading councillors, what was happening to their relatives in Kabul and Jalalabad.

Southwark council have swung into action to issue a declaration of solidarity and make plans to welcome and resettle refugees who come to our borough.

Women MPs have put party considerations aside to express their solidarity with the 69 Afghan women MPs and the brave women activists.

I will continue to work with the Afghan community here, press the government for more support for them and press our ministers to work internationally to do what they can to protect the Afghan people from the terrible actions of the Taliban.

The blame for the horrific suicide bomb killings at the gates of Kabul Airport lies squarely with the terrorist group ISIS. The fear gripping those left behind in Kabul is because of the Taliban. But the government too, bare some responsibility. They didn’t care enough and they weren’t prepared enough. And for that, they must be held to account.

Our hearts go out to the families in our armed services who lost their lives in Afghanistan and those who sustained terrible injuries. They fearlessly played their part in enabling 20 years of progress and faced great danger evacuating tens of thousands of refugees. They deserve nothing but our admiration and gratitude.


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