The recent events in Afghanistan have been heart breaking and infuriating to watch in equal measure. To see the Taliban regain control of most of the country after twenty years of progress is a dreadful prospect.
Chester is a garrison city and I know personally several ex-servicemen and women from our area who saw active service in Afghanistan. They and their families may well feel aggrieved right now, asking what it was all for.
But their service is never in vain, and gave Afghans – and particularly Afghan women and girls – a sense of freedom and a sense of what is possible. The Taliban may kill people, but they can’t kill an idea, a principle.
The disastrous deal with the Taliban agreed by President Trump last year pretty much sealed the fate of the country, and President Biden is not covered in glory either. It seems the Taliban spent the intervening months buying the support of the local tribal leaders meaning their march to Kabul was swift and unopposed. Apparently nobody picked up on this.
So immediately after the Americans withdrew, we and other allies had to follow. But we have had months to prepare for this and to get people out of the country and it should not have been left until a couple of weeks before the deadline before a major operation was finally launched.
Ministers were also criticised for being on holiday and not staying in touch by phone. Well, ministers need a holiday like everyone, but I would have thought that if Boris Johnson is taking a break, then his deputy Dominic Raab might make sure he takes a different week off.
There are plenty of Afghans who supported the UK over the last twenty years and we have to help them get out. The example of the military and diplomatic interpreters is a good one but there are many more. And now we as a country must support them by providing a safe haven for anyone who needs it and who had supported the UK. We can’t cut them adrift.
Locally, the churches, the mosque and groups such as Chester’s excellent City of Sanctuary have long provided support for refugees and I hope we will now play our part in Chester in providing that safe haven.
The grim reality is that the Taliban are now back in charge of Afghanistan. Last time they were little more than stone age fascists, killing women and girls for getting an education and providing bases for terrorist training camps. How we engage with them now is one of the great challenges of the day.