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Yesterday’s barbaric attacks in Kabul have thrown into cruel relief not just the storm of chaos that is sweeping across Afghanistan, but the impotence of the West in dealing with it. President Biden has promised the perpetrators — the local franchise of Islamic State has claimed responsibility — that “we will hunt you down and make you pay”. Really? How? Does that mean sending US special forces back into Afghanistan? It’s worth reflecting that until President Biden’s decision to withdraw, there had been no US casualties for 18 months; 13 US solders were among 90 people who died yesterday.
The attacks may be just the precursor to a larger civil war both between extremist Islamist groups and between them and the wider population. Boris Johnson — and the G7 — vowed to judge the Taliban on their actions, not their words. So what is Mr Johnson’s, and the UK’s allies’, plan of action given what has happened so far? Already we have seen predictable consequences of the Taliban triumph — there are areas where they have banned music and prohibited women from going out without chaperones. What influence can we exert in these circumstances? The evacuation continues as planned but today the last British civilian flights leave Kabul and Ben Wallace, the Defence Secretary, has said no further applications to leave will be processed. Some people, then, who have a good claim to be evacuated will be left behind. We are leaving this battlefield on the most humiliating terms. But beyond evacuating its citizens and dependants, the West’s response to the debacle is unclear at best, naive at worst.
Dominic Raab, our sunbathing Foreign Secretary, says the West will need China and Russia to exert a “moderating influence” on the Taliban. Why will these nations, hardly sympathetic to the West, do its bidding now? And if the West wishes to moderate the Taliban, how does that square with freezing Afghanistan’s financial assets and denying it aid? The chaos of the West’s policy towards Afghanistan is reflected in the chaos across the country. And that chaos is an entirely predictable consequence of the manner of the US withdrawal. It all reflects a sense of powerlessness and weakness that the West’s enemies will undoubtedly exploit.
Back on the Tube
Today Transport for London tells us that passenger numbers on the Tube are regularly exceeding 50 per cent of normal capacity on weekdays for the first time since the start of the pandemic. It’s hoping for even greater numbers from September, when schools return. This is a welcome sign that people are returning to the office in greater numbers and that we’re getting back to normal.
Oxford Circus station regularly has more than 100,000 people entering and leaving, which suggests that the West End and theatreland is coming back to life. This is all hopeful news. We need to return to theatres, museums, restaurants, galleries — and offices, building sites and shops — if the economy is to begin to recover. The Tube is safe; mask-wearing is still obligatory. If we take all the necessary precautions, we can start to enjoy the city — London really is open again.