Tory MP Tobias Ellwood has apologised and deleted a video "lauding" the Taliban's rule in Afghanistan after he was slammed by fellow MPs.
The former army officer is facing a no-confidence motion in his chairmanship of the Commons Defence Committee, which was described by a fellow Conservative member as "utterly bizarre". Ellwood posted a video on his Twitter praised the religious fundamentalists for tackling opium and corruption.
Taliban chief spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid praised Ellwood’s “positive” report from Helmand province, which the MP has now removed from Twitter. Since violently taking control of the country in August 2021, the Taliban have brought in some of the most repressive laws against women in the world.
Girls older than 11 have no access to an education; all women are banned from universities, parks, and gyms; and it’s mandatory to wear a head-to-toe burqa while out in public.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said on Wednesday he will “look into” the video filmed during a visit to the nation. In an interview with Piers Morgan on TalkTV, Ellwood conceded that the “video could be done better”.
What did Tobias Ellwood say about the Taliban in his Afghanistan video?
Ellwood posted a video from a recent trip to Afghanistan's capital Kabul, in which he said it was a "country transformed". Ellwood said that “security has vastly improved, corruption is down and the opium trade has all but disappeared”.
He suggested western countries should “incrementally” encourage the uptake of women’s rights by engaging with the new regime, and said there was “a calm to the country that local elders say they’ve not experienced since the 1970s”.
“After Nato’s dramatic departure, should the West now engage with the Taliban? You quickly appreciate this war-weary nation is for the moment accepting a more authoritarian leadership in exchange for stability,” he added.
What is the situation in Afghanistan under Taliban rule?
When the Taliban took back control of Afghanistan in August 2021, it promised to protect women’s rights. It promised that women would not suffer under its regime. This, understandably, was a pledge many viewed with suspicion - and now, nearly two years into its rule, it is clearer than ever that the Taliban never intended to keep its word.
Women in Afghanistan have experienced an extreme crackdown on their rights and freedom. Girls older than 11 have no access to an education; all women are banned from universities, parks, and gyms; and it’s mandatory to wear a head-to-toe burqa while out in public.
Under the Taliban’s harsh interpretation of Islamic Law, or Sharia, women are also blocked from most fields of employment and can’t leave home unless accompanied by a male escort. In the words of Alison Davidian, the United Nations’ special representative for women in Afghanistan, “the Taliban have continually and systematically erased women from public life.”
The consequences for ‘breaking’ these rules - or doing something the Taliban deems to be in breach of its regime - are severe. Afghan women have been imprisoned, tortured, and subjected to forced disappearance when they have been spotted near public areas they are excluded from.
According to a report by Amnesty International, there’s been a “sharp increase” in the number of women arrested or detained for appearing outside without a male escort - or with a man who the Taliban decides does not qualify as a ‘mahram’. These women are then charged with ‘zina’, meaning trying to engage in sex outside marriage.
Women are also frequently being arrested for ‘moral’ crimes after taking part in peaceful protests - then detained without any access to legal aid. The Taliban subsequently denies any knowledge of these women’s whereabouts to their families and friends.
Once in prison, the conditions are said to be “cruel, inhumane and degrading”. Testimonies collected by Amnesty reveal that women are subjected to torture - such as being chained up, beaten, given electric shocks, and threatened with death.
What have MPs said about the video?
Fellow Defence Committee Mark Francois told the Commons his colleague should be “very careful” in expressing his views if he wanted to remain as chair of the committee.
He described the video as “utterly bizarre”, arguing it was “lauding the Taliban’s management of the country”. Committee members were describing it as a “wish-you-were-here video”, Francois said.
He added: “I wish to make plain on behalf of the committee he was speaking for himself, even though he used the title of chairman of our committee in a number of associated articles. Not in our name.”
Francois along with three other members of the Committee, Kevan Jones, Derek Twigg and Richard Drax, have started a motion of no confidence against Ellwood.
What has Tobias Ellwood said about the Afghanistan video?
The MP for Bournemouth East told TalkTV’s Piers Morgan Uncensored: “It’s important to put your hand up and acknowledge errors, however well intentioned.
"I stand up, I speak my mind. I try and find solutions especially on the international stage, and I’m very, very sorry that my reflection of my visit could have been much better worded and have been taken out of context.”
He Ellwood added: “I’ll be very clear the last couple of days have probably been the most miserable as a Member of Parliament. I got it wrong.”
In a separate statement posted on his Twitter account, Ellwood said: "However well intentioned, reflections of my personal visit could have been better worded."
He said: "During my visit last week, I witnessed something I did not expect to see - an eerie calm and visible change in security, corruption and opium growth which I felt obliged to report. But I also saw a very vulnerable economy that will soon collapse without international intervention, turning this country into a failed state, with terrorist camps no doubt returning and triggering mass migration.
"I also saw the the increasing restrictions on women and girls. This suggests our current strategy of shouting from afar, after abruptly abandoning the country in 2021, is not working. My simple call to action was to see our embassy reopen again and pursue a more direct strategy to help the 40 million people we abandoned."