Afghanistan Webinar 22/9/21
Welcome to today’s webinar on Afghanistan which will address the ongoing humanitarian and refugee crisis that confront civilians, as well as the impact on regional security.
The situation in Afghanistan is worsening by the hour. It reflects a catastrophic miscalculation by the US and UK of the capacity and legitimacy of the Afghan government, and the resilience of Afghan forces. The country now faces a tragic step backwards. There are very serious questions about the failed political and development strategy of the last few decades, and we are now confronted with a dire humanitarian and refugee crisis, which we will be exploring in greater detail today. I hope, for the sake of the people of Afghanistan we can work towards building a coalition for peace that will help build much needed stability, which includes economic prosperity and harmony.
Ethnic and religious minorities are now at risk of persecution, in fact I raised the plight of Afghan Uyghurs who are in an impossibly precarious position, facing threats from both the Taliban and China.
Targeted violence against journalists, activists and human rights defenders also increased in 2020. Human Rights Watch says the targeting of journalists and women in the media highlighted the need to uphold press freedom in any peace settlement.
The UK government has overseen a series of chaotic failures and miscalculations in Afghanistan that have damaged our international reputation, weakened our security and tragically meant Brits and Afghans who worked alongside us have been left behind.
Despite having 18 months to prepare for withdrawal, their failure to plan, their inability to influence others and the complacency they have shown towards the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan has resulted in the chaos we have seen over the past weeks.
Britain has an obligation to help people who have been left in Afghanistan. The total cost of British military operations in Afghanistan since 2001 was £22.7 billion according to the Government, a stunning figure. We need to pull out all the stops to help those Brits and Afghans still in danger to flee. We should also play a leading role in focusing international efforts to address the humanitarian and refugee crisis.
These are immediate concerns, but we are also concerned that for a generation of young Afghans, the future that they had expected is unravelling in front of their eyes. It is important that we focus our efforts on helping the Afghan people.
Today I invite our esteemed speakers to offer insights into the ongoing crises and look ahead to find ways for long-lasting peace in Afghanistan. Each speaker has approximately 5 minutes. Without further ado,
- I am pleased to welcome our first guest who is a former Afghan diplomat and current researcher at SOAS University, Nazifa Haqpal. Nazifa has also worked at the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan.
- I am pleased to introduce our next speaker, Major General James Cowan, CEO of the Halo Trust, a non-profit organisation who have done significant humanitarian work in Afghanistan.
- Our next speaker is the UK Director of Human Rights Watch, Yasmine Ahmed.
- Please welcome Dr Farzana Sheikh, associate fellow at Chatham House at the Asia-Pacific Programme who will be looking at the impact on regional security.
- Our next speaker is Leo Verity, Senior Parliamentary Officer at Refugee Action, who will be addressing the refugee crisis that is underway.
- Please give a warm welcome to my good friend and colleague, the Shadow Foreign Minister for Asia, Stephen Kinnock MP.
I would like to thank our wonderful panel for their exceptional insights today.
It is clear that the international community is adjusting, and must adjust, to the new reality in Afghanistan and is recalibrating its approach. We urgently need a global coalition working towards stability, peace and helping the Afghan people.
First, we must prevent Afghanistan from ever again becoming a safe haven or harbour for terrorists. Secondly, we must prevent a humanitarian disaster and support refugees, wherever possible, in the region. Thirdly, we must preserve regional stability, which risks being shattered by the combination of renewed terrorist threat and an exodus of refugees.
Afghanistan sits between the three-primary state-based threats identified by the Government’s own Integrated Review – Russia, China and Iran. The withdrawal of NATO and the inability of the Afghan government to maintain internal security provides an opportunity for malign actors who may threaten and ultimately undermine our interests abroad. We have already seen reports indicating that China has made headway in striking a deal with the Taliban.
We must hold the Taliban and other factions to account for their conduct, including and in particular on human rights and on their treatment of women and girls. Ethnic and religious minorities also face an uncertain future. Just last week I was elected Vice Chair of the newly founded APPG on lawyers and judges at risk globally which addressed the dire situation of female judges and lawyers in Afghanistan and the needed responses. I hope this webinar has renewed our commitment to helping the people of Afghanistan.