The United Kingdom has opened talks with the Taliban to secure “safe passage” out of Afghanistan for its citizens and Afghans who have worked for the British government.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s special representative for Afghan transition, Simon Gass, flew to Doha, Qatar, to meet Taliban representatives, according to a government statement late on Tuesday.
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Much of the Taliban’s senior leadership lived in exile in the Qatari capital until the overthrow of Afghanistan’s Western-backed government after 20 years of war.
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 over the past twenty years,” the statement said.
It is the first publicly disclosed statement about diplomacy between London and the Taliban since UK joined the United States in the 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 honour that commitment in the days after the US 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 Johnson has come under fire after many Afghans who helped NATO – and are eligible to move to the UK – were believed to have been left stranded in Afghanistan, where they are at the mercy of the Taliban.
An unnamed British minister told the Sunday Times newspaper that he believed the UK could have evacuated “800-1,000 more people” in the chaotic airlift.
Johnson’s government sought to extend the US withdrawal deadline of August 31 but ultimately failed to persuade President Joe Biden.
After the Taliban swept into Kabul in mid-August, the British prime minister said the Taliban must be judged on its “actions rather than by its words” and insisted the UK could not have remained in Afghanistan without American support.
British foreign minister Dominic Raab was also condemned by the opposition Labour party for not immediately leaving a beach holiday when the Taliban took control.