Chief of the Defence Staff General Sir Nick Carter said on Wednesday that the world needs to be patient and “hold its nerve” to see what the future will look like in Afghanistan under a Taliban-led government.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I think we also have to be patient. We have heard a lot from the Taliban over the last 24 hours and it maybe that this Taliban is a different Taliban to the one that people remember from the 1990s.
“It may well be a Taliban that is more reasonable, less repressive and if you look at the way it is governing Kabul at the moment, there are some indications that it is more reasonable.”
Downing Street would not be drawn on whether the UK would recognise any government formed by the Taliban in Afghanistan.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said any decision would need a “unified approach” internationally.
“We’ll have to see what unfolds,” he said.
But Gen Sir Nick told the Today programme: “It may well be that they have learned from the last 20 years in the same way that we have learned from the last 20 years.
“It may be that they believe the civil society that has been created in Afghanistan over the last 20 years should be given a chance to carry on but under their terms to one degree or another, but I think we need to be patient and we need to hold our nerve and let’s see what happens.”
While he told Sky News: “I do think that they have changed. I think they recognise that over the course of the last 20 years that Afghanistan has evolved. They recognise the fundamental role women have played in that evolution.
“And yes, they at the moment will undoubtedly say they want to respect women’s rights under Islamic law and that will be a Sharia law, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they won’t allow them to be involved in government, education and medicine and in those things they need them to be involved in.
“So I think we have to be patient. We have to give them the space to show how they are going to step up to the plate. Whether or not we can work with them will depend very much on how they treat all Afghans.”
The Taliban will be judged on their actions, not their words
Asked about the comments, the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said Gen Sir Nick was “simply reflecting on what had been claimed by the Taliban yesterday”.
He said: “The Taliban will be judged on their actions, not their words.”
But Labour’s shadow foreign secretary Lisa Nandy appearing on Sky News directly after Gen Sir Nick, said it was a “very difficult and unpalatable message” especially to women and girls in the country.
She said: “I think we ought to be talking to the Taliban, but we ought to be talking to the Taliban about getting guarantees around human rights and about the future for women and girls.
“We ought to be talking to them about safeguarding the airport because we’ve got a very precarious agreement at the moment and we’ve got to be talking to them about allowing access for humanitarian assistance to go directly to the Afghan people. None of those guarantees have yet been given.”
She said: “So if there is a sense from military leaders that the Taliban may turn out to be different in their behaviour than what we’ve seen in recent weeks then we need to see some evidence of that from the Taliban, and they ought to be pushing them for those guarantees.”
Ms Nandy also said that even if the Taliban made guarantees, it would be “difficult” to trust the group.
“I think it’s difficult to judge people by their words when their actions are so at odds with the reality,” she said, adding it is “very clear they don’t see a role for women in public life”.
She added: “We’re dealing with a very repressive regime, we need to be clear-eyed about.”