Dominic Raab bids to restart airlifts from Kabul we must engage with Taliban

Afghanistan: Seely says ‘we don’t have a duty to save the world’

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The Foreign Secretary ruled out formally recognising the regime but said he aims to secure a “pragmatic and realistic” relationship. Mr Raab was speaking in Qatar, which has become a mediator between the West and the Taliban. He said the UK must adapt to the “new reality” and needs to have “direct engagement” with the Afghan group. He added: “Our immediate priority is to secure the safe passage of those remaining British nationals but also Afghans who worked for the United Kingdom and ­others who may be at most risk.”

Constructive relations are also seen as crucial for allowing aid to enter the country to prevent a ­spiralling humanitarian crisis.

Mr Raab said evacuations may be able to resume from Kabul ­airport “in the near future” after “good conversations” with Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani about the “workability” ­ of the plan.

The Foreign Secretary added: “I don’t think we’re yet able to say anything formal but that’s looking like it may happen at some point in the near future.”

Qatar will be the linchpin in dealings with the Taliban as the UK tries to prevent Afghanistan from becoming a “haven” for terrorists, preserve regional stability and hold the ­rulers to account.

The RAF’s last civilian airlift left Kabul last Saturday ahead of British troops leaving in anticipation of the US deadline for withdrawal on Tuesday.

Thousands of Afghans who helped British efforts in the nation and their relatives, as well as other vulnerable civilians, are feared to have been left behind.

Reopening the airport would allow for a greater scale of evacuations, with those trying to flee the Taliban currently being told to cross into neighbouring countries.

Qatari foreign minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani said he is hopeful the airport will reopen soon. He said: “There is no clear indication when it is going to be fully operational yet but we are working very hard and also engaging with the Taliban to identify what are the gaps and the risks for having the airport back up and running.”

Mr Raab is expected to head next to Pakistan, which shares a land ­border with Afghanistan.

Sir Simon Gass, the Prime Minister’s special representative for Afghan transition, had already travelled to Qatar for talks with “senior Taliban representatives” about allowing people to leave.

The UK embassy is now operating from Qatar. But Sir Nick Kay, the former British ambassador to Afghanistan, believes there will be discussions “soon” about restoring a diplomatic presence in Kabul.

He said: “We’ve got an embassy set up in Doha for Afghanistan, but it won’t be a substitute in the end for having people on the ground who can advocate for human rights, support civil society, liaise with others for humanitarian assistance and crucially oversee what we hope will be a safe passage programme.”

Foreign Office minister Lord Ahmad is visiting Tajikistan as part of efforts to secure safe passages.

Mr Raab announced a £30million aid package that includes shelters and sanitation facilities for those who have fled Afghanistan.

It is expected £1million will be made available immediately to humanitarian organisations to despatch supplies to Afghan borders.

The Government has faced intense criticism from some of its own backbenchers over its role in the chaotic Western withdrawal.

Tom Tugendhat, who served in Afghanistan and is chairman of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, said: “Let’s not pretend this is only an American failure, because the reality is that this was a Nato operation.”

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