Evacuations from Kabul airport may be able to resume ‘in the near future’, Dominic Raab has said, following discussions on the situation in Afghanistan with his Qatari counterpart.
At a news conference with foreign minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani, Mr Raab raised hopes that those British nationals and Afghans left behind may be able to leave on flights out of the Afghan capital shortly.
But he stressed that he is, at present, unable to “say anything formal”.
The foreign secretary also said in Qatar that the UK will not recognise the Taliban in the “foreseeable future” but that there is scope for engagement and dialogue with the group.
Sir Simon Gass, the prime minister’s special representative for Afghan transition, had earlier travelled to Qatar for talks with “senior Taliban representatives” about allowing people to leave Afghanistan.
The last evacuation flights left Kabul last week ahead of the departure of UK troops, ending a 20-year campaign in the country.
Thousands of Afghans who helped British efforts in the nation and their relatives, as well as other vulnerable civilians, are feared to have been left behind.
The possibility of flights being able to resume from the airport gives hope that more people could be transported to safety.
The foreign secretary said he had “good conversations” with Qatar’s foreign minister about the “workability” of evacuations resuming from the airport.
“I don’t think we’re yet able to say anything formal but that’s looking like it may happen at some point in the near future,” he told broadcasters.
Mr Raab later told Sky News: “We want to live up to our responsibilities to those who haven’t made it out yet. Ideally, via Kabul airport, but that has got to be functional, that has got to be safe.”
He said it is “incumbent on the Taliban to live up to the assurances that we have received directly” on allowing the safe passage of British nationals and Afghans out of the country, adding: “If they live up to those undertakings, I am confident that we can get those people back to the UK that we need to.”
Speaking alongside Mr Raab at the conference on Thursday, Qatar’s foreign minister said the Gulf state was talking with the Taliban and working with Turkey to see if it can provide technical support to restart operations at Kabul airport, but he was unable to give any timeline.
Sky News understands this might be weeks rather than days.
Mr Raab announced during an almost two-hour Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on Wednesday that he would be travelling to “the region” that evening.
He said he would use the visit to build a coalition to “exert the maximum moderating influence” on the Taliban and added that there needs to be “wider buy-in” from countries in the region around Afghanistan.
Speaking at a news conference in Doha on Thursday, Mr Raab said: “We need to get wider buy-in, regional countries involved… there’s a lot of countries with a direct stake in what happens in Afghanistan, as well as countries who will feel and be moved by the humanitarian risks and the plight.
“Above all, we need to put a grouping together that can exert maximum moderating influence on what the Taliban does next. And we will certainly be judging them. Yes, on their words. But more importantly, what they’re willing to do to live up to the assurances that they’ve made.”
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Meanwhile, in other developments around Afghanistan:
• Taliban rulers are to unveil their new government, with a ceremony being prepared at the presidential palace
• Prices are soaring, the currency has plunged, shops are closed and the Taliban is struggling to keep banks and essential services running
• Humanitarian organisations have warned of catastrophe as severe drought and the war have forced thousands of families to flee their homes
• The EU has said it is still far from deciding whether it will recognise the Taliban
At the news conference, Mr Raab said four key points for the future were stopping Afghanistan becoming a “haven” for terrorists, preventing a humanitarian crisis, preserving regional stability and holding the Taliban to account over its claims it will form a more inclusive government.
He added that Qatar was a “lynchpin” in dealing with the Afghanistan crisis.
The foreign secretary was anticipated to go on to meet the Amir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al Thani, and his deputy prime minister.
He will meet Foreign Office officials after the British embassy to Afghanistan was temporarily relocated and is now up and running in Doha.
Mr Raab left the UK hours after he was questioned by MPs in the Foreign Affairs Select Committee on the events in central Asia.
The foreign secretary told the committee the advice from the intelligence community and the military was that Kabul was unlikely to fall this year.
Following his appearance, Defence Secretary Ben Wallace struck back at Mr Raab’s comments, saying in an interview published on Thursday that history shows “it’s not about failure of intelligence, it’s about the limits of intelligence”.
But responding to Mr Wallace’s comments after a news briefing in Doha, the foreign secretary countered the defence secretary’s assertion that he knew the “game was up” in Afghanistan back in July.
“Ben and I were taking the same assessment throughout until very late,” Mr Raab told reporters.
“The central assessment had been that Kabul wouldn’t fall until after the end of August and the evacuation of allied troops, and indeed there would be a steady deterioration throughout the remaining part of the year, so we were all working to the same set of assumptions.”