The US-led military operation in Afghanistan has ended after 20 years with the international community now facing major decisions over how to deal with the Taliban.
The new regime in Afghanistan faces pressure to respect human rights and provide safe passage for those who wish to escape its rule following the passage of a UN Security Council resolution.
The council adopted a resolution in New York – with Russia and China abstaining rather than wielding their vetoes – in what the UK hopes is a step towards a unified international response.
But the resolution effectively acknowledges that it is now up to the Taliban to decide whether people can leave Afghanistan after the conclusion of the US evacuation effort brought America’s military presence to an end, two decades after the 2001 invasion.
– No safe haven for terrorists
– Safe passage for those who wish to leave
– Access for @UN & humanitarian agencies
– Respect for human rights pic.twitter.com/klzQI6NEDB
— UK at the UN 🇬🇧 (@UKUN_NewYork) August 30, 2021
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said: “Tonight’s UN Security Council resolution, led by the UK with our allies, makes clear that the international community stands with Afghans.
“There can be no return to repression or terror. We will push as one voice for safe passage, humanitarian access and respect for human rights.”
The UK’s ambassador to the UN, Dame Barbara Woodward, stressed that “a co-ordinated approach will be vital to counter any extremist threat emanating from Afghanistan”.
The humanitarian situation also needs to be urgently addressed – with complete access for UN agencies and aid organisations – and the progress made on human rights in the 20 years since the US-led coalition became involved in Afghanistan must also be protected, she said.
Tonight’s UN Security Council resolution, led by the UK with our allies, makes clear that the international community stands with Afghans.
There can be no return to repression or terror. We will push as one voice for safe passage, humanitarian access & respect for human rights.
— Boris Johnson (@BorisJohnson) August 30, 2021
“Today’s resolution is an important step towards a unified international response to the situation in Afghanistan,” Dame Barbara said.
“We will continue to build on this to ensure the council holds the Taliban accountable on its commitments.
“The Taliban will be judged by the international community on the basis of their actions on the ground, not their words.”
Although Russia and China did not back the resolution, their decisions not to block it will be a relief in the West.
The UK hopes Russia and China could wield some influence over the new Afghan government on issues including countering terrorism and the trade in narcotics, preventing a refugee crisis and further economic collapse.
— Ministry of Defence 🇬🇧 (@DefenceHQ) August 29, 2021
Dame Barbara said there was a shared goal that Afghanistan should not be “in a position to disrupt its neighbours”.
“There is a lot of shared ground for us to work from although, in this case, Russia and China abstained rather than voted for the resolution.”
Earlier, on a day of intense diplomatic activity, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab set out his hopes for international alliances to be formed to exert a “moderating influence” on the Taliban.
Mr Raab’s intervention came at a US-convened meeting for the G7 group of industrialised democracies: the UK, US, Canada, Japan, Germany, France and Italy, along with representatives from the EU, Turkey, Qatar and the Nato alliance.
The focus on ensuring safe passage for eligible Afghans comes with uncertainty about how many might seek to reach the UK and how they can hope to make the journey following the end of the airlift.
Foreign Office Minister James Cleverly said it was impossible to estimate how many people eligible to come to the UK had been left behind after evacuation flights finished.
About 15,000 people had been evacuated from Afghanistan in a “herculean” effort, Mr Cleverly said, but Labour has claimed about 5,000 may have been left behind.
Mr Cleverly acknowledged some emails about desperate Afghans seeking to leave may not have been read in the Foreign Office as priority in the evacuation effort was given to people who could be processed and reached Kabul airport before the airlift ended.
The “vast, vast bulk” of British nationals had left Afghanistan, he told Sky News, but there were also eligible people under the Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy (Arap) scheme – for people who helped UK forces – and others who could be under threat from the Taliban.
Asked if he had unread emails about Afghans seeking to leave the country in his inbox, Mr Cleverly told the BBC: “I suspect everybody has.”
The Government had received a “huge number of emails directly from Afghanistan and from third parties” after announcing it would help Afghans at risk of reprisals from the Taliban.
“We have been and will continue to work through the significant number of emails that we have received to try to get as many other people out of Afghanistan as possible.”