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Former Military MP Says UK Has 72 Hours To Avert Humanitarian Catastrophe In Afghanistan

4 min read

The UK must “salvage its reputation” after failing to convince the US to extend the deadline for withdrawing troops from Afghanistan at today’s G7 summit, former soldier and MP Dan Jarvis has said.

He insisted G7 countries now have just days to open dialogue with the Taliban and ensure charities can get to those in need long term, and accused the worlds wealthiest nations of being in “catch up” mode over the rapid collapse of Afghanistan. 

Following an emergency G7 summit on Tuesday, Boris Johnson insisted they can engage with the Taliban, after he failed to persuade US President Joe Biden to extend the deadline for pulling US troops out of Afghanistan beyond 31 August. 

Jarvis, a former Labour frontbencher, who served in Helmand province, told PoliticsHome the G7 and Britain has the power to avert a humanitarian catastrophe in the country if it works on establishing charity access to the vulnerable and engaging with the new regime. 

“The next 48 to 72 hours are absolutely critical," he said. "It’s about saving lives, getting people out needs to be the immediate priority.

"I don't want to feel like the British government is on holiday."

Jarvis said beyond airlifting people out, there "collectively is a need for meaningful dialogue with the Taliban" and to pick up the pace of work with neighbouring countries like Pakistan. 

“There [also] needs to be a particular focus on enabling aid and development [groups] time and activity within the country,” he said.

“The [G7 leaders] need to be flexing their collective muscle in order to reach an agreement where organisations like Save the Children can continue to provide humanitarian support for those who will desperately need it.”

Jarvis' comments to PoliticsHome follow a meeting between Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab and opposition MPs on Tuesday. Raab updated them about the situation in Afghanistan and took questions on how MPs can help the many Afghan families or British families in the country who are now contacting them for help.Jarvis believed an “international contact group” should also be established, involving a larger group of countries beyond the G7 that are prepared to cooperate and speak with the Taliban.

Pressure on them to respect human rights and international law could be in return for allowing a recognised Taliban government access to international financial systems and other benefits of “statehood” he suggested.

“You can have a debate about how effective that may or may not be but these are the sorts of things that need to be thrashed out – exploring at pace the art of the possible,” Jarvis continued. 

Urgent work on preventing international terrorism and being alive to the shifting risk in the country is also crucial, he said.

Jarvis was part of a group of MPs – all former soldiers who served in Afghanistan – who spoke movingly last week in an emergency Commons debate on the crisis

He warned the return of the Islamist militia could lead to dire consequences for those who had served with the British armed forces.

“They were our brothers in arms. I shudder to think where those men are now. Many will be dead, and I know others now consider themselves to be dead men walking,” he told the Commons.

Reputational damage done to the UK by its decision to cut its aid budget from 0.7% to 0.5% of GDP means the UK's prominence in the G7 is not what it once was, Jarvis said.

But he added: “There is an opportunity to salvage some of that reputation with how we collectively conduct ourselves in the next few days.

“When this deadline ends, which is currently August 31, that is the door closing. And we don’t know when that door is going to open again.

"I don’t want to feel like the British government is on holiday. I want to feel like the British government is playing a leading role in coordinating the international community to galvanise action to save lives.”

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