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By Baroness Smith of Llanfaes
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Afghanistan will not see a peaceful transition of power – history will judge the West harshly for this failing

United States President Joe Biden delivers remarks on Afghanistan in the East Room of the White House in Washington DC on Monday, August 16, 2021 | Alamy

3 min read

Afghanistan soldiers have melted away, the once busy streets now form a ghost town. Beauty salons closed, and their advertisements painted over signifying the erasure of a culture that offered female autonomy. There are no jeans or T-shirts being worn – traded for traditional dress.

“We think like the people want what we want…our demands are similar” was the response given by a Taliban spokesman on explaining why victory was easy.  Framing a “Party of the people” narrative, it is easy to forget those who support a Taliban-controlled Afghanistan make up only 10 per cent of the population.

But none of us will forget the day the Taliban returned.

Young men and women have seen what is possible, they have seen the freedoms they can enjoy and seen the opportunities available to their children – regardless of their gender.  It will be difficult for the Taliban to close Pandora’s Box and revert back to the old ways. Which raises the question – what will a 2021 Taliban look like?  

Despite the ugliness of the conflict and war, Afghanistan was and still is a beautiful country, rich in culture, history, and resilience. Something we failed to see 20 years ago when we rejected the opportunity of offering the Taliban a seat at the table. The recent descent into what will be extremely dark times for Afghanistan only serves to prove why we should take stock of our previous mistakes and grow as a global leader. 

Today MPs will return to Westminster for a debate on the ongoing crisis, but we return voluntarily on the back of a one-line whip. Following the Prime Minister’s third COBRA meeting on Monday 16 August we would have expected to see more action at this stage. I hope Parliament will today take this voluntary opportunity to hold the government to account over the appalling decision to withdraw from Afghanistan and its subsequent inaction. 

This will not be a peaceful transition of power. A new Northern Alliance will soon form and the civil war will start in earnest

“Was it worth it, probably not. Did I lose my legs for nothing, looks like it. Did my mates die in vain. Yep.”

These are the sombre words tweeted by Afghanistan veteran, Jack Cummings as he reflects on the lives of the Afghan citizens; he thought he was leaving with a better society and protected by NATO allies.

But country now faces a dark chapter under the Taliban. Locals are so terrified they are prepared to hang on to a departing aircraft then retreat back into their homes. This will not be a peaceful transition of power. A new Northern Alliance will soon form and the civil war will start in earnest.

The irony of both Trump’s and Biden’s desire to withdraw troops was to miss the bigger picture. Afghanistan sits between the West’s three biggest competitors, China, Russia and Iran. History will not judge us kindly on this strategic error. President Biden took to the podium on Monday night to tell the world he was prepared to take criticism for his decision to leave Afghanistan – while simultaneously pointing blame to any other factor, rather than his own exit strategy and playing down the heavily documented US commitment to nation building.

The timeline in our ability to react is slowly collapsing. Our failure to react will see the ripples of this sad day felt across the world.  

I came into politics to see the UK play a more significant role on the international stage. To be a global leader and not retreat backwards waiting for a signal from our allies. 

It’s difficult to think of a more demanding call for leadership than this. 

Tobias Ellwood is Conservative MP for Bournemouth East, chair of the Defence Select committee and former Captain in the Royal Green Jackets

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