UK wants to work with ‘challenging’ China and Russia on Afghanistan response

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Boris Johnson hopes to convene a meeting of world leaders at the “earliest opportunity” as he looks to co-ordinate the international response to the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan.

The Prime Minister is pushing for a virtual G7 meeting to be arranged, raising the idea with German Chancellor Angela Merkel during a call on Tuesday and doing the same during talks with French President Emmanuel Macron on Monday.

And in a signal that Mr Johnson wants to draw together a broad coalition, Downing Street confirmed the UK wants the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) – which, as well as Britain, includes the US, China, France and Russia – to meet this week.

The gathering would extend even further than the G7 alliance of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK and US, with the Prime Minister keen for leading economies to act together on choosing how to broach relations with a Taliban-led state in Afghanistan.

A Downing Street spokeswoman said Mr Johnson and Mrs Merkel agreed that “global co-operation was crucial”.

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab confirmed the UK would have to work with “challenging” partners on its approach to dealing with the Taliban following their capture of Kabul.

UK relations with Moscow have been strained in recent years, particularly since the Salisbury Novichok attack in 2018, while Beijing and London have been at loggerheads over China’s growing technological influence amid security and spying fears.

Mr Raab, who admitted that the speed of Afghanistan’s fall took the Government by surprise, told ITV’s Good Morning Britain: “We’ll need a contact group I believe, of not just like-minded Western countries, but countries with direct influence even if we find it challenging dealing with them.

“The permanent members of the Security Council, including China and Russia, will need to be, I think, part of the solution, so it’s not going to be easy.”

Mr Raab said he thought the international community must “test” the Taliban’s resolve to hold to promises previously made in their Doha agreement with the US, including ensuring terrorists do not take hold again in Afghanistan and leading a more “inclusive” government.

“Now the Taliban have never kept a promise so far, but I think given that they have those set of undertakings, we must test it and make sure that there’s a cost if they don’t live up to those responsibilities,” he added.

Hundreds of people gather outside the international airport in Kabul, Afghanistan
Hundreds of people gather outside the international airport in Kabul, Afghanistan (AP)

“It is going to be exceptionally challenging, but that is already what we’re looking to do and to try and galvanise some international action with that in mind.”

Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen said the group intended to uphold the Doha agreement, including ensuring women could continue to work and access education amid fears females could lose the rights they have gained over the past two decades.

Mr Shaheen, asked whether he had a message for Mr Johnson, told Sky News that for the “UK Prime Minister and all leaders of the world”, they had a “moral obligation to also help to reconstruct Afghanistan and to help the people to start a new life”.

No 10 said the Prime Minister plans to use a G7 meeting to focus on ensuring Afghanistan does not once again become a source of international terrorist threats, as it did in the 1990s when it harboured al Qaida founder Osama bin Laden.

But politicians and defence experts warned that terrorists will be free to operate under the new administration in Kabul.

Liberal Democrat defence spokesman Jamie Stone said jailed terrorists were “now freely roaming the streets of Afghanistan” after the Taliban’s victory and predicted that backers of so-called Islamic State and al Qaida “will begin plotting their revenge on countries such as Britain”.

Mr Stone is calling on ministers to publish the national security assessment it conducted before pulling British troops out of the central Asian country, pushing for a vote when Parliament is recalled on Wednesday if they refuse.

Emily Winterbotham, a specialist in terrorism at the Royal United Services Institute think tank, said it was “pointless” to demand that Afghanistan should be free of international terrorists.

“Let’s not forget that al Qaida never really left the country whilst Isis already has a foothold,” she said.

“The focus right now needs to be on refugees and humanitarian assistance.”

British troops are racing against the clock to get remaining UK nationals and their local allies out of Afghanistan following the dramatic fall of the country’s Western-backed government to the Taliban
British troops are racing against the clock to get remaining UK nationals and their local allies out of Afghanistan (LPhot Ben Shread/PA)

The warnings come as Downing Street said Mr Johnson is planning to unveil a “bespoke” resettlement scheme to allow fleeing Afghans to set up home in the UK shortly.

The Telegraph reported the concept could be similar to that used to take in Syrian refugees in 2015, which saw women with children, people with serious medical conditions and survivors of torture prioritised.

Mr Raab – who has faced criticism after reportedly being spotted on a beach in Crete on the day Kabul was seized by insurgents – said he was unable to confirm how many refugees would be coming to the UK from Afghanistan, but added it was “right” to consider a bespoke process for Afghan nationals.

Around 900 armed forces are in Afghanistan helping to bring UK nationals home and secure the safety of selected Afghans.

Royal Navy Vice Admiral Sir Ben Key, in an interview with Sky News, said British armed forces “can’t afford to pause” as they work with US troops to help get about 6,000 people out of Afghanistan via Kabul.

Sir Ben also told BBC Radio 4’s World At One programme the Taliban seemed “acquiescent” about allowing people to reach the city’s airport but stressed that Britain could not take that position for granted as repatriation efforts gather pace.

The Foreign Secretary said 150 British nationals were flown out on Sunday while 289 Afghan nationals were taken out last week.

A further 350 British and Afghans will be taken out of the country in the next 24 hours.

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