THE FOREIGN Secretary has pledged to hold the Taliban to account in his first statement since the Afghan capital fell yesterday.
Dominic Raab, who was on holiday abroad until last night, said he had been surprised by the scale of the Taliban takeover.
Speaking after an emergency Cobra meeting this afternoon, Mr Raab said: “Everyone, I think, has been surprised by the scale and the pace at which the Taliban have taken over in Afghanistan, and that’s a lesson that we’ve all got to learn from.
“But the truth is what matters right now is focusing on getting British nationals out, getting out those who have so loyally served the UK, and making sure that the gains that we’ve made over 20 years are not lost.”
Opposition politicians accused him of being missing in action, questioning why Mr Raab only returned from his holiday last night and why both he and the Prime Minister were off work on Saturday, just hours before the Taliban gained control of Kabul.
The Foreign Secretary said the UK would hold the Taliban to account, and emphasised the work the British military had done in removing land mines and reducing the mortality rate for mothers over the past two decades of occupation.
He said: “We’re using our G7 presidency to make very clear to the Taliban, that we will hold them to account for their commitment never to allow Afghanistan to be used as a base for terror, to hold a more inclusive government, and to protect the most essential human rights including respecting the rights of women.”
Asked how he would achieve this if British troops are being withdrawn, Mr Raab said it would be through “working with our partners”, possibly applying sanctions or withholding Official Development Assistance (ODA) “pending reform and a more inclusive government”.
He added: “I think there are levers.”
Mr Raab acknowledged that the situation in Afghanistan is “not what we wanted”, saying: “The situation on the ground, and the Taliban takeover, is a new reality. It is not what we wanted but we have to deal with a new reality.”
He said the UK could have a “moderating influence” on the new regime, adding: “ We’re making it clear with our partners, with all the means at our disposal, that we will hold the Taliban to account… to its commitments to have a new start in Afghanistan.
“It’s clearly not going to be to the values that the UK, the West, the European Union, the Americans believe in, but we can have a moderating influence, and I think it’s important we use all of the policy tools at our disposal, working with our partners to try and achieve that.”