FASC to hold enquiry
on UK Afghan policy


LONDON: Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab says the UK and Pakistan have a “shared interest” in securing a “stable and peaceful future for Afghanistan”.

Mr Raab has met his Pakistani counterpart and the country’s prime minister as part of his regional tour. The foreign secretary’s visit is part of efforts to secure safe passage for Britons and others trying to leave Afghanistan.

It comes as the UK announced £30m in aid to bordering countries. The funding will help provide shelter and sanitation for the tens of thousands of refugees expected to flee the Taliban regime.

Mr Raab promised the UK would be “shouldering our humanitarian responsibilities” to help Afghans, as well as neighbouring countries who are taking in the majority of refugees.

ISLAMABAD: British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab discussing issues of mutual concern with Prime Minister Imran Khan during a meeting at PM House on Friday.

Meanwhile, according to BBC report, the Foreign Affairs Select Committee – which questioned Mr Raab earlier this week – has announced it will hold an inquiry on UK policy towards Afghanistan.

Its chair, Tory MP Tom Tugendhat, said “big questions remain” over the UK’s withdrawal from the country and its future approach to the region.

He added: “The true extent of the damage done will only become clear in the coming months and years. However, it is already clear that the world has become more dangerous and unstable.”

In his first visit to Pakistan as foreign secretary, Mr Raab met the country’s foreign minister, Shah Mahmood Qureshi, before holding talks with Prime Minister Imran Khan.

ISLAMABAD: British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab (L) and Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi address a press conference in Islamabad.

In a joint press conference with Mr Qureshi, the foreign secretary said the UK would be “supporting those countries who face greatest demands from those who may be displaced in the weeks ahead”.

Pakistan, which shares a border with Afghanistan, is a key player in the crisis and already hosts about three million Afghan refugees.

Mr Raab said “no-one wants to see the economic and social fabric of Afghanistan collapse”, but the UK wanted to work with humanitarian agencies to help, rather than the Taliban itself.

The two-days of discussions were also expected to focus on how to encourage the Taliban to allow safe passage for refugees and prevent Afghanistan becoming a hub for terrorist groups.

The Foreign Office has already sent officials to help process those crossing the border. But Mr Raab has been criticised by MPs for not focusing more on the country.

An Afghan refugee girl with her sister at a refugee camp in Pakistan.

This week, he has been visiting the region to build a coalition with neighbouring countries to “exert the maximum moderating influence” on the Taliban.

After talks with leaders in Qatar on Thursday, the foreign secretary said evacuations may be able to resume from Kabul airport “in the near future”.

The Afghan capital’s airport is out of action following the withdrawal of US troops last week.

And on Thursday evening he said he had spoken to Tajikistan foreign minister Sirojiddin Muhriddin about “how our countries can help maintain stability in the region, and tackle the humanitarian situation in Afghanistan”.

Of the £30m in aid offered to neighbouring countries, Mr Raab said £10m would be made available immediately to humanitarian organisations in order to get supplies to Afghanistan’s borders.

Countries predicted to experience a significant increase in refugees will also receive £20m to help with processing new arrivals and to provide essential services and supplies.

UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, has estimated a worst-case scenario of more than 500,000 refugees fleeing Afghanistan to Pakistan, Tajikistan, Iran, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan in the coming months.

More than 15,000 people have been evacuated by the UK from Afghanistan so far, including more than 5,000 British nationals. The last British plane flying people out of Kabul took off on Saturday, as the remaining foreign troops withdrew from the country.

It is feared thousands of people eligible for relocation, including Afghans who worked for the British and their families, have been left behind.

Mr Raab has estimated the number of UK nationals still in the country is in the “low hundreds” but he was unable to give a precise figure of the number of eligible Afghans who were unable to get on evacuation flights.

Last month, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced an increase in aid to Afghanistan to £286m, amid a policy to cut spending on overseas assistance.

The UK sent £290m of aid to Afghanistan in 2019, according to a briefing from the House of Commons Library, and the government pledged £155m in aid for 2021 at the Afghanistan Conference in November 2020.