The United Kingdom has opened talks with the Taliban over the “safe passage” of its remaining nationals and allies out of Afghanistan after the group’s quick-fire takeover of the country last month.
The British government confirmed to Agence France-Presse (AFP) it has dispatched senior civil servant Simon Gass to meet with Taliban representatives in Doha, Qatar. Much of the group’s senior leadership had lived in exile in the Qatari capital until the Taliban’s successful overthrow of Afghanistan’s Western-backed government.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has come under fire after many Afghans who helped NATO – and are eligible to move to the U.K. – were believed to have been left stranded in Afghanistan, where they are at the mercy of the Taliban.
Gass is “meeting with senior Taliban representatives to underline the importance of safe passage out of Afghanistan for British nationals, and those Afghans who have worked with us,” a government spokesperson told AFP on Wednesday.
It is the first publicly disclosed diplomacy between London and the Taliban since the U.K. joined the United States in a mammoth airlift of more than 100,000 people out of the country after the Afghan military’s capitulation. The Taliban has pledged to allow Afghans to come and go, in the face of calls from the international community to honor that commitment in the days after the U.S. withdrawal on Tuesday.
More than 8,000 Afghans who helped NATO forces made it out of Afghanistan and the British government said they would be given indefinite leave to remain. But criticism was leveled at the government for not evacuating hundreds more stuck in the war-torn country as the Taliban took control.
British Foreign Minister Dominic Raab was also condemned by the opposition Labour party for not immediately leaving his beach holiday when the Taliban took control. An unnamed British minister told the Sunday Times that he believed the U.K. could have evacuated “800-1,000 more people” in the chaotic airlift. Johnson’s government sought to extend the U.S. withdrawal deadline of Aug. 31 but ultimately failed to persuade U.S. President Joe Biden.
After the Taliban swept into Kabul in mid-August, the British premier said the Taliban must be judged on its “actions rather than by its words” and insisted the U.K. could not have remained in Afghanistan without American support.