Afghanistan: The key questions for Dominic Raab as he faces MPs over Taliban takeover

Politics

The Foreign Secretary will be questioned by MPs later on how the government intends to deal with the fall-out from the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan.

Parliament is still on its summer break, but an emergency session of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee will take evidence from Dominic Raab this afternoon.

Here are some of the key questions he could be asked:

What is being done to get the remaining UK nationals and eligible Afghans out of the country?

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‘Low level’ of Britons left in Afghanistan

The foreign secretary has said the number of British nationals still in Afghanistan was in the “low hundreds” and acknowledged it would be a “challenge” for them to leave.

Mr Raab said it was not possible to put a precise figure on the number of Afghan nationals still in the country who may also be eligible for resettlement in the UK.

The foreign secretary has been keen to emphasise that evacuation efforts so far have seen 17,000 British nationals, Afghans who worked with the UK, and other vulnerable people removed from Afghanistan.

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But MPs will likely press him to put an estimate on how many have been left behind – Labour have suggested there could be a further 7,000 Afghans with a claim for resettlement.

The government has said it is working with neighbouring countries to ensure people who are able to flee Afghanistan via its land borders can still apply for resettlement to the UK from third countries.

MPs will want to know what work, if any, is now being done to make those cross-border journeys viable, as well as what has been done so far to ensure effective processing in third countries is possible.

What is the latest security assessment of the Taliban takeover?

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Taliban members line up at Kabul airport

The prime minister has said any future diplomatic recognition of the new Taliban government would depend on the regime preventing Afghanistan from becoming an incubator for global terror.

But the suicide bombings at the airport in Kabul, US airstrikes on alleged ISIS-K cells, and reports of al Qaeda figures regrouping all suggest extremist activity in the country already presents a tangible counter-terrorism challenge .

Questions are likely to be asked about how internal tension within the Taliban itself – between senior leaders previously involved in the Doha talks with the US, and more traditional hardliners – could exacerbate an already worrying security picture.

With the Taliban now in possession of significant amounts of military hardware left behind by the Afghan army and withdrawing US troops, as well as sensitive documents not destroyed when western embassies were abandoned, MPs will want to hear the latest security assessment in terms of Afghanistan itself and also the impact on the global terror threat.

Yesterday Mr Raab refused to rule out the possibility of the RAF joining US airstrikes against terror cells in the country.

How does the UK government intend to deal with the Taliban?

When it comes to security, humanitarian or human rights issues in Afghanistan, the UK government has said it wants to work with the international community to have a “moderating influence” on the Taliban.

But apart from the tacit acceptance that there will need to be some form of engagement with the Taliban, there remains little detail on how this will be done in practise.

The indications so far suggest the government hopes to use the prospect of humanitarian aid and diplomatic recognition of the new government to encourage the Taliban to refrain from returning to some of its most extreme practices, but there will likely be questions about how sanctions may also be needed to exert influence.

Will the UK reassess its relationship with the US?

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‘It was time to end this war’ – Biden

When he announced this emergency committee hearing last week, chairman Tom Tugendhat made a point of saying the UK’s diplomatic dependence on the US should be reconsidered in light of events in Afghanistan.

He described the Taliban takeover as the “biggest foreign policy failure since Suez and highlights once again the importance of building up networks of allies, not having a single partner”.

In January the Lords Select Committee on International Relations published a report which warned the US withdrawal was likely to have dangerous consequences that ministers appeared not to have properly assessed.

The report claimed the UK government had “shown little inclination to exert an independent voice on policy in Afghanistan” and “instead has followed the lead of the US and has been too reticent in raising its distinctive voice”.

Mr Raab is likely to be asked whether the failure to persuade the US to limit or delay its withdrawal from Afghanistan was the result of a lack of influence, or a lack of effort.

Was this a failure of intelligence, planning or both?

During interviews yesterday Dominic Raab accepted there had been a failure of military intelligence when it came to forecasting the speed at which the Taliban might take over the country.

He said “the best central assessment was that you would see a slow deterioration from the end of the drawdown in September and that Kabul would not have fallen for several months”.

But the foreign secretary is likely to be asked whether this is a sufficient explanation for the chaotic nature of the evacuation in recent weeks, which left ministers forced to accept the reality that some people would not get out.

In July senior military figures wrote a joint letter in The Times which warned of a lack of urgency in efforts to resettle Afghans who had worked with UK forces out of the country.

How culpable is Mr Raab and his department?

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‘With hindsight, I wouldn’t have gone away’

The Foreign Office, Home Office and Ministry of Defence have all been heavily involved in the evacuation efforts, and briefing wars have erupted between them over which department and which ministers are most responsible for failings that have taken place.

But Dominic Raab has come in for more personal criticism than any other minister, with opposition parties demanding he resign or be sacked.

He has acknowledged that “in hindsight” he should have returned early from his holiday on the Greek island of Crete on the weekend Kabul fell to the Taliban, but MPs will no doubt question him on the consequences that may have resulted from that decision.

He has argued his decision to ignore advice to call the Afghan foreign minister on the Friday before the capital fell, which he instead delegated to a junior minister, made no difference because the advice to make the call was “quickly overtaken by events”.

But MPs on the committee will likely want to probe this further, not least due to wider issues about how many other ministers and senior civil servants were absent from Whitehall in those critical days.

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