There are few signs that the Taliban are willing to engage in peace talks, Alison Blake, the British ambassador to Kabul, has admitted.
With the UK joining the US in a military exit from Afghanistan by September, she told a Chatham House conference that the Taliban were engaged in psychological warfare and were ignoring western voices calling for power sharing and a commitment to protect women’s rights.
International terrorist groups were still active in Afghanistan as evidenced by the “terrible bombing” on a school in Kabul that left more than 80 dead, she also admitted.
“The Doha talks are clearly becalmed. We are nowhere near where we hoped to be at this point,” she said, referring to the negotiations in the Qatari capital between the Afghan government and the Taliban to try and reach a power-sharing deal.
“We are still committed to an international conference in Istanbul to inject momentum into the Doha process, and not replace it. But there as yet few signs that the Taliban are transforming in a political partner that we hoped would be capable of engaging in a political process in good faith.”
She also admitted “the Taliban have, as yet, given us a few headlines saying ‘of course girls can be educated’ but they have not begun to sit down with the Afghans to explain what that looks like”.
Her remarks show the challenge the British government faces in proving that Nato’s 20-year intervention will leave a permanent legacy in Afghanistan. There are still 10,000 Nato troops in the country, including about 700 British personnel.
“They may be tempted to discount western voices because at the moment they think we are going because they have won,” she said. “It’s really important they understand that although the international troops are going, the field is not being left open to them”.
She claimed it would be a point of some danger for the Taliban “when they bump into the new reality” that they must share power. Future aid would be dependent on that power sharing, she said.
She insisted there was “a window for peace” due to the unprecedented willingness, inconceivable a year ago, for the Afghan government to share power with the Taliban on the right terms.
At the same time there was stronger regional support, including in Pakistan, for an orderly withdrawal from Afghanistan leading to a stable peaceful neighbourhood. “This is not the moment where we abandon Afghanistan to retrograde forces or walk away to allow it to implode or struggle, or for proxy wars to rage under the surface,” she insisted.
Her remarks came as reports circulated in Whitehall that overseas aid to the Afghan security forces is set to be cut, and that NGOs operating in Afghanistan are being forced to work with two-month budgets pending government decisions. As recently as November 2020 the UK had promised £155m for 2021, and £70m in overseas aid for the Afghan security forces.
Blake gave no specific promises on future aid but said the Afghan state was “still critically dependent on support from international financial institutions and the donors. It would be challenging for them if that was to decline dramatically or stop”.