London, United Kingdom – Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government is being roundly accused of betraying the Afghan people, with criticism levelled at his administration from across the political spectrum and splashed over national newspapers.
The United Kingdom’s abrupt military withdrawal from Afghanistan has met widespread dismay as deadly chaos unfolds in Taliban-controlled Kabul.
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But the most stinging condemnation has come from within the UK’s Afghan diaspora.
Leading figures within the estimated 80,000-strong population, which has grown in the 20 years since the 2001 US-led invasion of Afghanistan, say London and its allies have effectively abandoned the country to the Taliban by carelessly managing the conclusion of their incursion with a hurried drawback of foreign troops.
“The government has betrayed Afghanistan itself,” Mohammad Hotak, the chairman of the Afghan Council of Great Britain (ACGB), told Al Jazeera.
“This is a moment that our people, the British Afghans, will not forget. We are deeply hurt.”
Johnson’s government has said it had little choice but to follow US President Joe Biden’s lead when he committed to withdrawing American forces by August 31, a promise made on the back of a pre-existing peace deal brokered between the Taliban and Biden’s predecessor, Donald Trump.
Since Biden’s announcement in April, the United States and its NATO allies operating in Afghanistan, including the UK, have reduced their military presence in line with an “in together, out together” mantra.
But 20 years after the Taliban was toppled by the coalition forces after the September 11, 2001, attacks, the group has seized on the pullback of troops.
In a blistering nationwide offensive, it has taken control of all but one of Afghanistan’s provinces in a matter of weeks, forcing elected President Ashraf Ghani to flee the country – a move that effectively symbolised the end of a Western-backed experiment with democracy.
Despite the Taliban’s assurances that it will not seek to punish people who worked for foreign forces – and promises that it will respect human rights more generally – there are huge doubts among Western leaders, international rights groups, observers and many Afghans.
Hotak argued that while Washington was largely responsible for the increasingly precarious situation in the war-torn country, London could have done much more.
He suggested that by working with other allied forces, the UK may have been able to coordinate a more gradual troop withdrawal and safeguard the progress Afghan civil society had made during the past 20 years.
“‘Global Britain’ has been a slogan [of Johnson’s government], but the vision has not been followed at all in Afghanistan,” he said. “Britain could have come up with a different solution … there has been a catastrophic failure at the highest level of our government,” said Hotak.
“There are young women and men in Afghanistan, millions of them, who believe in the slogans of the West, of Britain, Europe and America.
“They were building a new country but, unfortunately, now all of those people have been betrayed.”
The UK currently has about 1,000 Armed Forces personnel deployed in Kabul to help oversee mass evacuations from the capital’s Hamid Karzai International Airport.
Thousands of Afghans and foreigners have flocked to the US-controlled airport since the Taliban captured Kabul on August 15 in a desperate bid to escape the group’s rule.
At least 20 people have reportedly been killed in the turmoil, mostly in shooting incidents and stampedes.
The UK has pledged to resettle 5,000 people this year as part of its Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy scheme, which offers refuge to people who worked alongside UK forces or officials during the Afghanistan intervention, such as translators.
Johnson’s government has also committed to welcoming another 20,000 Afghan refugees across the next few years as part of a new resettlement programme. About 5,000 people are expected to arrive in the UK in the first year of this initiative, which is similar to a British programme established in 2014 for Syrians.
But critics such as British Afghan Shukrullah Ludin, who fled Afghanistan as a 12-year-old in 2012 and later settled in the UK, have dismissed the scheme as inadequate.
“The UK, along with the US, led this war and invaded Afghanistan in the first place,” Ludin, the founder and secretariat of the All-Party Parliamentary Afghanistan Group and executive director of the opposition Labour Party’s Friends of Afghanistan group, told Al Jazeera.
“They have to now accept the responsibility to protect its people, 5,000 is nothing,” he said, citing Afghanistan’s population of 38 million.
Ludin called for the resettlement programme to be expanded, saying 20,000 or more Afghan refugees should be welcomed in the next 12 months alone.
“At the moment, the UK is washing its hands [of Afghanistan],” he said. “If you’re leaving people in chaos, you’re not protecting them – this is abandonment.”