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Continuing crisis in Afghanistan

How has the situation changed in Afghanistan since the withdrawal of British and American forces in the summer of 2021?

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Professor Michael Semple, an expert on Afghanistan and South Asia joins host Tom Tugendhat MP to discuss the continuing crisis, the levels of violence, the proliferation of terrorist groups iand how the UK can assist. In the second part of the episode, host Tom Tugendhat turns to fellow parliamentarians Sarah Champion MP and Royston Smith MP, from the International Development and Foreign Affairs select committees in the House of Commons. The manner of the UK withdrawal has been the subject of recent inquiries by both committees. Together they consider the parallels between the situation in Afghanistan and in Ukraine, and the lessons that can be learned by the UK Government in its approach to managing crises. 

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Tom Tugendhat: Hello, and welcome to Committee Corridor, where we are above all the noise and disruption of the House of Commons chamber and we get to focus on the things that select committees do best, which is putting questions to people who know what they're talking about. Now, I'm Tom Tugendhat, I chair the Foreign Affairs Committee and you're listening to the second episode of our new podcast series offering insight into the role of various select committees here in Westminster. 

We're going to be talking to people across the political spectrum, discussing the ideas, politics, social change, and economics that are facing the UK today.

Today, we're talking about Afghanistan, a country where I worked for four years, and we'll be discussing how the Government engages with the country now and going forward. 

British and American forces withdrew from Afghanistan in the summer of 2021 ending an operation that saw thousands of us serving in that country.

The question is now is how has the security situation changed how should we be responding to the Taliban's takeover of the country and the resulting humanitarian crisis? And what does it mean for the security of us here in the UK? The UK’s role in the withdrawal, and the role of the Government more widely, has been a subject of several committees in the House of Commons.  

In a moment we'll hear from the Chair of the International Development Committee, Sarah Champion, who has also been working on the humanitarian situation and that aspect of the withdrawal. She'll be speaking alongside my colleague from the Foreign Affairs Committee, Royston Smith, a Conservative party member and the MP for Southampton.  But first – Michael Semple – who served as deputy to the European Union special representative for Afghanistan and has an extraordinary depth of knowledge of the country. He’s now a professor at Queen’s University in Belfast.  

Tom Tugendhat: Michael, while we’ve been watching events unfold in Ukraine. What’s been happening in Afghanistan since we last saw you in October? 

Michael Semple: The Taliban had been showing their true colours over the past few months. They have pursued their attempt to set up a government of 1 per cent. In other words, they're appointing their people only, essentially loyal, armed clerics to all positions throughout the state.

And refusing to move, to accommodate any other political interests in the country. They've been taking increasingly ideological positions, consistent with their original sort of 1990s ideology and powering the religious police; clumping down on women's rights. They've been trying to build up their armed forces to give them a chance of staying in power, no matter how many people they alienate.

So they're particularly worried about armed resistance from some of the other, other political forces in the country. They've been spectacularly failing to come up with, any sensible approach to the economic situation. They've been antagonising all and sundry on the international scene, starting from their neighbours.

They've now got border clashes with three of the neighbouring countries. And through their inflexible position, they've been basically alienating even those members of the international community who really wanted to engage with them. They've stayed in power, but they've left lots of people questioning how long they can do so.

Tom Tugendhat: One of the things that really struck many of us when they took over was how slick they looked in the first few hours and how quickly we wondered if they would fall apart. I think for many of us they've managed a little better than we thought, but frankly, not much. And the latest news about their reestablishment of the burka or the veil in various different ways is frankly just another lesson on how this is an organisation that has undermined the individual rights of people in Afghanistan for quite literally decades.

Do you see any change coming? Do you see any reformist elements, any leaders, any younger leaders in the movement who could make a difference to the economy, to human rights, to anything like that? Or is this simply a spiral downwards? 

Michael Semple: There are lots of such people inside the movement and they're completely disempowered, and they'd got weaker over the past eight months rather than stronger. So, yes, there is the prospect of change, with the prospect of change is going to be, as other parts of Afghan society, get themselves organised and start to take back their country.

And although the Taliban have been very good at maintaining their own internal coalition so far, despite them alienating both the Afghan population and the international community. So there, there will be increased pressure on that Taliban coalition, as the rest of the country overcomes this or the shock of the Taliban August takeover.

So yes, I do think that things are going to change. I mean, the vast majority of the Afghan population rejects pretty much everything the Taliban have been doing. But the change is probably not going to come from within the Taliban. That's going to be from outside and then we'll see whether some parts of the Taliban are prepared to get on board with that or not. 

Tom Tugendhat: I mean, that sounds like you're talking about revolution rather than evolution. And I'm just wondering how much will the illegal economy play into that because of course, you know, the drugs haven't gone away, the smuggling hasn't gone away and the reality is that Afghanistan is still sitting on one of the largest resources of rare earths and copper deposits and things like that, that others are trying to get their hands on. So, it's leading to a whole spate of illegal mining and various forms of resource extraction, both over and underground, if you like.

Michael Semple: Yes, Afghanistan definitely is a country that counts. And there's a list of reasons. The natural resources, including rare earths and things like copper or, you know, they're one of the factors which make Afghanistan count. And I think that a lot of people, perhaps even some in the US administration before the Taliban took over, hoped that they could be an unpopular, but an efficient administration and therefore they might be the kind of people that other actors, including even the US could deal with. That they could keep the states together. On this question between evolution and revolution we've had eight months to see if the Taliban could get themselves on this trajectory where they could be ruthless, but efficient administrators.

Absolutely not. I mean, it’s not a formula for administering the state, that you antagonize all the countries of the region under the whole of your population and make no friends. When it comes to the illegal economy. They, funnily enough, the Taliban leader came up with a decree, banning the production and sale of narcotics.

Everybody knows that they are largely dependent upon the illegal economy for their own revenues and for the enrichment of their own commanders.

And I think from the clarifications we got after the issue of the decree, it was pretty clear that they'd got no intention of implementing it, but they pandered to some parts of their constituency by saying, see, you know, Islamic law even applies to narcotics. Except that it doesn't. And that the harvest went ahead uninterrupted. And nobody really believes that they're sufficiently serious about it, to try and clamp down on the next harvest. So the illegal economy thrives and despite having supposedly a tough Islamist regime in charge. 

Tom Tugendhat: Do we not see a very divided country that the Taliban are going to increasingly fail to unite? Do we see a state breakdown coming? 

Michael Semple: Before we get onto the state breakdown, I think we should look at the issue of levels of violence. Part of the contract, which the Taliban might've offered was that you won’t have a representative government, you don't get to choose your leaders, but at least we'll bring security. We'll ensure that violence levels come down. And I mean, the idea of that contract had takers in the international community. I think many of the many people in the US thought, “Yeah, we can live with that. We want an end to the war.” 

And some people in Afghanistan thought, well, at least they can guarantee us security okay we'll say, you know, we'll do nothing against the Taliban. Trouble is that they haven't managed to deliver on that. Violence is already on an upward trend from multiple sources. Inside the Taliban movement.  They’re shooting each other. Partly squabbling over control of those revenue flows, squabbling over power inside the Islamic Emirate.

The hard line Islamist opposition to the Taliban, the Islamic State, the local version. They’ve got a pretty deadly campaign underway and increasingly the national resistance to the Taliban essentially the more nationalist forces, are pushing back against them. Violence is on the up.

And for those who said, oh, we don't want to see another war in Afghanistan. It's a little bit like the Ukraine case: Afghans could turn around and say, “There already is a war. It never went away. And it's getting worse.” I mean, in terms of complete state breakdown, it would be a mistake to jump to predict that the Afghan state is going to completely collapse.

The Taliban have failed to deliver a state, which they can hold on to and which can effectively manage the country that can build on Afghanistan's advantages and opportunities and deal with the threats.They have failed to bring a credible equilibrium; more changes can be expected ahead. 

Tom Tugendhat: So given all these failures, there's a sort of second element of danger isn't there, other than the violence that you're talking about? The second element of danger is the violence that triggered our intervention in Afghanistan in 2001, which is the proliferation of terrorist groups. This time, of course, some of them connected to Western China and to the Xinjiang region, some of them connected to attacks in other parts of the world, including. organisations like ISIS, which are now so prevalent, sadly in Afghanistan. Do we see those spreading? Do you see greater indications of violence against civilians and, and indeed violence against others, perhaps building up as well?

Michael Semple: In short, yes. However, this is a threat, which is perhaps more difficult to assess than some of the political and social failures of the Taliban.

Ironically, the easiest part of the foreign militant threat to monitor is the foreign terrorist threat directed against Pakistan before the Taliban achieved their spectacular victory in August, the leader of the Pakistan Taliban, in hiding in Afghanistan, gave an interview in which he said: ‘We, the Pakistani Taliban will benefit from the eventual Afghan Taliban victory in ways that other people are not in a position to foresee.

That's what he said. Very wise words. If you look at the pattern of, terrorist violence in neighbouring Pakistan, alas, after several years of sharp decline, it's now pushing sharply upwards with attacks which have been delivered from Afghanistan into Pakistan. Taliban Afghanistan is proving to be a safe haven.

My understanding of the Al-Qaeda position is that they're delighted at the Taliban control of Afghanistan. It guarantees their continued personal survival and ability to reorganise the Al Qaeda network. It may be that they do things differently this time that they  don't use Afghanistan, as sort of like an operational headquarters.

Nobody has proven that there's another 9/11 being planned and nobody's proven that any of these militant organisations is in a position to overrun the states that they challenge. They are all active. They're all there. And Taliban promises to deal with them have so far come to nought.

And just to be – final say on this Tom that they, I mean, some people hoped when they thought that the Taliban was a reformed organization, they might potentially be a counter-terrorism partner. I mean you know, the wackier the Taliban internal policies become the more implausible and impossible it is for anybody to consider them a counter-terrorism partner. You basically can’t work with them.

Tom Tugendhat: And so what's the best thing that we can do about it because here in the UK, we've had a lot of support for Afghan refugees who've needed our help, but what can we actually do about Afghanistan today? Is there anything we can do? 

Michael Semple: And I think that the first thing is a change in mindset.

I think that in August and September of last year, many external observers and some Afghans sort of thought ‘this is the story’. This is it. It's, you know, that this regime is going to be around for a long time, your only option is to find some way of accommodating them. I think over the past few months, many people have re-evaluated that. The first thing that I think that the UK can do is get on board with accepting, with realising, that the Taliban in exclusive control of Afghanistan at the head of an Islamic Emirate is a temporary state of affairs, that they are going to be replaced by something else. Things can get worse or things can get better.

First of all, accept they're not going to stay the same. Then once the UK accepts that the Taliban who forced their way into power against all international undertakings, that they're only here for a while, the UK can be using all of its influence to ensure that that which comes after the Taliban should be better both for the Afghan people and for the international community.

Essentially going back to an old formula, which is that a broad-based representative, Afghan political system and a government sitting at the top of it, prepared to act as a responsible actor within the region, and internationally, that is the solution which offers stability inside Afghanistan and more broadly internationally. 

Tom Tugendhat: And Michael, who can we work with to achieve that? What areas of leverage do we have? Because our cooperation with other governments in the regions, it's not always been easy and some of them have been actively hostile to the coalition efforts in the past. Are there still governments that we could work with in the future?

Michael Semple: Yes. well, things are moving on. I think as countries in the region have also been reappraising  the position of the Taliban. Previously, a lot of them who were hostile towards the coalition, that was because they primarily didn't want to see US troops on Afghan soil inside the region, potentially providing a threat to them. Now that that's gone, they're worrying about themselves. And after about six months grace period, when they were prepared to give the Taliban the benefit of the doubt, increasingly they're concluding that their security is being undermined by the continued presence of the Taliban, because it's not just about the shooting war, I mean, it's also about migrants. 

The way the Taliban are running Afghanistan, millions of Afghans are simply waiting for the earliest possible opportunity to flee the country in any direction they can, whether that be out through Iran, out through Pakistan, out through Central Asia. I mean that in itself is a threat to the stability inside the region.

So, firstly, I think we can say that inside the region, it’s time to update who's prepared to cooperate. Some countries like Tajikistan I think have been, more quick on this, being prepared to, to tolerate, you know, non-Taliban forces. But I think that Pakistan, Iran and Uzbekistan are all re-evaluating quickly.

Even China, I think is probably going to get there as they, as they find that the Taliban are not reining in the Uyghurs. And are not offering a stable government and are not offering the kind of framework in which the Chinese investment can go forward. And we're going to find that the Chinese are also going to decide that the Taliban are not a good bet. 

In terms of who we can work with amongst Afghans, there are plenty of people that the UK can work with. It's not like a Ukraine situation where you don't have one charismatic national leader that you, you know, that you get behind because it's people have got behind him. They, there were many problems in Afghan politics in the run-up to the collapse of the Republic.

And to some extent, I mean, the US/UK and allies did help create those problems. So this difficult and rather unpopular, not dysfunctional Republic that collapsed, but also the way that US/UK and allies help essentially, you know, pick up the whole Afghan political class and scatter them around the region and the world, made it really difficult to organize Afghan politics.

So that one of the things that the UK can do is help Afghans convene the next round of politicking. Honestly, the next round of reconciliation, I mean, get behind a peace process. Help convene Afghan peacemakers is the first stage. We're not talking about fomenting a war. We're helping Afghans attain sustainable peace, which they definitely aspire to. 

Tom Tugendhat: One last question. If I may, before we close, is; You've seen UK aid. We've both seen UK aid sometimes not entirely helpfully deployed in Afghanistan, sometimes undermining efforts. What do you think that UK aid can do today? Is there anything that we can do? Because certainly at the time when the Taliban took over the administration, I think you and I were both pretty clear about the fact that we have to be cautious about legitimising the regime because there were many people in Afghanistan who would not look kindly on us giving support to a regime that was so murderous. How do you view aid and legitimisation today? Do you see any ways in which we can cooperate with this administration at all that are even vaguely constructive? What do you think we can do in the immediate sense? 

Michael Semple: Yes, it is possible to assist and offer aid in Afghanistan at the moment, but very difficult. And it is necessary both for humanitarian and pragmatic reasons, not least to reduce the surge of migration out of Afghanistan. The concern that you rightly raised at the start of this phase -do everything in such a way that it avoids legitimising the Taliban regime-- that concern still applies and will continue to apply. So the question is, there, an independent organisation involved, an independent body involved in the delivery of the monitoring of assistance?

You know, That's the key criteria. And I think that whether it was talking about education, whether it was talking about food that can be applied. But also, I mean, putting some of the assistance into supporting a reconciliation process over which the Taliban do not have a veto is also a really high priority.

There are other ideas out there trying to keep some of the national institutions going, but not actually directly under Taliban control, I mean, that clever programmers can find ways of doing this if they are tasked for it. One of the questions I've asked right from the start is, you know, why do we have to let the independent human rights commission sink?

Just because the Taliban are in control in Kabul, if it's independent, you can find a way  of keeping it going. So look for ways of maintaining at least some of the essential national capacity on the basis that the Taliban are not going to be in control of Afghanistan forever, perhaps not for very long, you know - make the transition run as smoothly as possible.

Over the past few months there has been a major humanitarian program delivered largely by the United Nations, with a high degree of cooperation with Taliban officials.  I have sort of documented two trends there: One is that it has been important in helping Afghans survive, an incredibly tough economic situation.

They, you know, the collapse of employment, and this intensification of the drought. So it is making lives better, helping people survive, but we've also seen absolutely consistent Taliban attempts to co-op that assistance and direct it to, you know, people that they deem worthy, essentially their supporters.

Tom Tugendhat: Well, look, thank you very much as always, Michael. It's great to see you.

Tom Tugendhat: Well in this part of the podcast you're used to us now, I hope, talking to members of the committee and the whole point about this is that we're not just our committee, but we work across committees. So I'm very, very pleased to be able to introduce Sarah Champion, who chairs the International Development Committee.

Sarah is a Labour MP and was elected to chair that committee a few years ago. She has also been doing a lot of work on Afghanistan with her committee. And so I look forward to hearing her views. And with me from the Foreign Affairs Committee is Royston Smith. Royston is a Conservative MP and has been on the committee roughly the same time as I have. 

Thank you very much, indeed, both of you for joining us. Sarah, perhaps I can kick off with you and ask: How do you see what's going on in Afghanistan? We've just heard from Michael Semple about the challenges facing the Taliban administration, its failures of governance, and indeed, its inability to deliver the peace that some people hoped that it might even to its regional neighbours.

What's the impact that you're seeing? 

Sarah Champion: Pretty catastrophic to be honest. Partly, we need to look at the impact of climate change. It's a country that has been having incredibly severe flooding, severe winters, crop failure. And, all of that is, compounded by the extremely uncertain, unstable government that it has at the moment.

There's a massive humanitarian crisis going on there, but there's also a massive crisis when it comes to human rights. I mean, if we just take the example of women and girls, we've seen women now told that they have to be fully covered with face covering, which of course is fine, if that is their choice. But it is something which is being imposed upon them. 

We've seen girls being told that they can no longer go to secondary schools only in very limited situations can they go to universities. So everything that, for the last 20, 30 years this generation have been told is their right to expect, has now been rapidly taken away from them.

And the other problem that there is fundamentally is the very, very difficult access for either humanitarian or development aid and support to get into that country. So to be honest, my fear at the moment is it is as bad as it has ever been, but the world is slightly turning its back on it because understandably our attention is focused on Ukraine. 

Sarah Champion: We became very concerned that the same failings that we saw in terms of evacuation and immigration routes in Afghanistan were being replicated with Ukraine. Sadly, we're seeing the same situation in terms of humanitarian aid, getting to the ground in Ukraine.

Only about a third of what's been pledged has actually landed, the same as happening still in Afghanistan. And I think the lesson that we have tried to get the Government to make is that unless there is a comprehensive strategy in place for managing such a seemingly unprecedented, but now two, within a year incidents, we’re always going to be caught on the hoof, and rather than just trying to cobble together a scheme as we go along there ought to be contingency plans for just such disasters happening.

And, and we still haven’t got a development strategy in place. The Integrated Review is looking very outdated at the moment. And I think that's why I really enjoy working in such a collaborative way with your committee and that we keep on finding the same failings and raising them to Government, but unfortunately not getting the shift that we want to see.

Tom Tugendhat: Yes, it's interesting the way we've, I mean, this isn't the only report on which we've done that, but where we've tag-teamed each other and made sure that we come to these coordinated, if not the same conclusions and try and get the changes we need. Perhaps I can move focus on the report that you've actually already put out Sarah.

What are you fundamentally recommending to the Government? And how do you think that the British Government can actually make a difference in Afghanistan in a way that helps not just the Afghan people, but actually our position?

Sarah Champion: I think our fundamental finding was that the UK Government has a moral duty if not a legal duty that could be argued towards the NGO workers who for 20 years we've had in Afghanistan acting on our behalf. 

And then when they needed us most the government stepped away from them. They weren't detailed in the evacuation plans as a priority. 

We have raised the hopes for the last 20 years of women and girls and minorities, and indeed the whole country, supporting them in their progression towards democracy only to effectively make them at risk of the Taliban for believing in us. So we think that the Government really needs to have a deep understanding of its long-term commitments to countries and what our investment in them means when the systems start to break down as dramatically and as rapidly as they did.

Those lessons really should have been learned going forward so that it could have influenced our response to Ukraine. 

Tom Tugendhat: Royston, we've been looking at a lot of those overlaps as well. How are you seeing the way in which the Foreign Office worked in Afghanistan? Are you seeing links between, as Sarah put it between what happened in Afghanistan and Ukraine and other parts of the world, the behaviour, or of the actions of the Foreign Office in both parts, having similar implications?

Royston Smith: Absolutely. And it's not just what we're seeing now in Ukraine. Although I think that we've got over the worst of the problems of bringing people from Ukraine, but we saw that previously and, and in our inquiries previously about trying to bring back British citizens stranded abroad during COVID and already we challenged the Foreign Office on whether it was fit for purpose.

When these emergencies frequently once in a generation, once in a century emergency, if you think the COVID, but there we are, you know, five minutes later with Afghanistan and it all looks horribly the same. And then, you know, a few months later in Ukraine, it doesn't look like lessons have been learned perhaps that perhaps they have not time yet to learn the lessons, but those lessons do need to be learned.

Tom Tugendhat: Let's go on to Britain's role in, in these countries and particularly in Afghanistan, because a lot of people will quite reasonably be asking, why us, why do we have to make such a commitment?

What's the fundamental reason for Britain's involvement? Sarah, perhaps you'd like to kick us off. Why should we still be involved? You talked about women and girls, and it's certainly true that the abuse of women in Afghanistan is the single biggest reversal in women's rights. I think in a generation; it's a horrific instance, but let's also be accurate and say there are pretty vile countries around the world that treat women appallingly where we don't get involved. Why Afghanistan?

Sarah Champion: Well, I think Afghanistan can be seen as a special case because for the last 20, 30 years, we have been making both military and political interventions in that country. We have had a very hands-on approach there, and we've also made significant investments in development and humanitarian support.

So for me, we sold a promise to that country. And therefore, I do think that we have a moral duty to hold good on that. But also what I would say is strategically, if we don't try and maintain at least some degree of cooperation, I am very fearful that we will go back to a situation where it becomes a breeding ground for terror groups.

We're already starting to see that the Taliban does not seem to be holding its word of trying to keep these groups at bay. And it does make me very nervous that, once again, we will be at risk if we don't help support that country as a whole. 

Tom Tugendhat: Well, it's not just us, is it? I mean, Royston, we've looked at this in the past and the incidents across the border with Pakistan demonstrate that the Taliban's already picking a fight with its neighbour there.

The East Turkestan Islamic Movement - ETM, as it's called - is already stirring up trouble. In China, we've seen Uzbek related groups attacking Uzbekistan, you know, is this something that we're going to see spreading? Is this something that you're concerned about? 

Royston Smith: I think we should all be concerned about it. I mean, as I understand it, there are said to be something like 10,000 foreign fighters now in Afghanistan, including Al-Qaida and Daesh and the Pakistani Taliban as they call them. But it's not just those is it? there. There are terror groups that are not affiliated with the Taliban, like IS, ISIS K and, you know, other groups.

So it's a breeding ground. And if there was anything that the West was doing beyond, you know, humanitarian issues and educating girls and giving women more rights and freedoms. And you know, if this wasn't an emergency now in the way that some people see it, it's very likely to become so again, and you can just imagine after 20 years the whole cycle starts again. And we now don't have the ability to prevent it or to see it coming. 

Tom Tugendhat: And is that, fundamentally, the reason why the UK needs to be involved, the connection to Pakistan, the connection to Afghanistan? And let's not forget the 9/11 lesson, the fact that ungoverned terrorist spaces have a horrible way of biting us.

Royston Smith: You have to decide what it is you want to do from the beginning. And in Afghanistan, I would suggest, and other people disagree with me, there was massive mission creep. That wasn't what we went there in the first place to do. We went there in no small part to  support an ally who was basically retaliating and trying to track down the people responsible for the atrocity that happened at the World Trade Centre.

But mission creep there was. And it turned into something other than it started. And once that happens, you know, you, you, you have the, as Sarah said,  the moral obligation to people. Managing expectations is very difficult when you've set their expectations so high and then you leave. But as important is now losing that ability to see what's going on and to prevent a future atrocity.

Tom Tugendhat: Can I just come back then? So there's two major issues that we've touched on that there's terrorism and there's human rights, both of which come back to the simple fact that the Taliban is a not just hostile, but also an incredibly chaotic administration that doesn't seem to be able to govern at all effectively.

What influence can the British Government actually have over them? What can we fundamentally change?

Sarah Champion: Well, we do have cash which normally has quite a strong negotiating position. The merger of the Foreign Office with development, we have argued in our report, Afghanistan is the perfect example to show how that diplomacy and development can work hand in hand to help stabilise a country and build relationships.

What I would say is the Government could be doing a lot more and unfortunately has pushed back on our recommendation to get the UN Security Council to bring forward a new resolution that monies can be released to the Taliban for development work on the condition that they observe international law. I think it's a mistake not to be doing that because to be quite honest, it is the people of Afghanistan who are suffering at the hands of their, I don't really want to call them politicians, but of their governors at the moment and I think that to step away completely leaves them totally at the mercy of the Taliban.

It's not a group that we would choose to have in power, but we have to be realistic that they are. There are also some very, very good, both local NGOs and international aid organisations that we could be getting more direct support to, to enable the country, to not lose all of the ground that it has gained, to give those people hope, because to be quite realistic, if you want a different organization than the Taliban, you need to be giving people hope that there is an alternative.

And unless we do something quite proactive to give them that a ray of hope I'm not sure how we get out of the situation we're in at the moment, 

Tom Tugendhat: Just touching on one of your other reports. You spoke, you published a report about Pakistan, didn't you, and the relationship between Pakistan, Afghanistan and the United Kingdom. Maybe you'd like to touch on a few issues that that raised. 

Sarah Champion: Yeah. I mean, we have a very strong, we've always had a very strong relationship with Pakistan. Not least that we have 1.6 million Pakistani people who live in this country and that's always been a very productive relationship.

What we've seen very recently is Pakistan has gone from the sort of number one beneficiary of bilateral UK aid. They were the biggest casualty I think of the cuts and they are now the seventh sort of biggest beneficiary. And what that means is whilst Pakistan is a middle-income country, there are huge, areas of poverty. It's well, a third of their population is living in poverty and only 85% of adults have literacy.

There's also a key link between the two countries, Afghanistan and Pakistan in that by December 2020 Pakistan was already hosting 3 million Afghanis and that went up by nearly half a million by December ‘21. So by dropping the level of support we've got, that’s punishing some of the most vulnerable people, but also what it's doing is Pakistan is looking to invest in its country and because the west isn't that keen on investing with them at the moment, where are they going to? China. 

And I would say strategically to keep Pakistan close to us, creates a very useful ally in a time when the world is becoming more and more turbulent. 

Tom Tugendhat: That was Sarah Champion, the Labour MP for  Rotherham who chairs the International Development Committee and Royston Smith, my colleague from the Foreign Affairs Committee and the Conservative MP for Southampton, Itchen. The Foreign Affairs Committee has now published its report on the UK Government's role in the withdrawal from Afghanistan. 

And it doesn't make for easy reading. You can find our views on the select committee website and the Twitter feeds. Thank you for joining us on this podcast. I'm Tom Tugendhat. I chair the Foreign Affairs Committee in the House of Commons, and you've been listening to Committee Corridor.  

Every two weeks. While Parliament is sitting, we will be hearing from the figures at the heart of our inquiries. Next time. I'll be speaking to Foreign Minister, Joseph Wu of Taiwan. And he's going to be talking to us about the relationship with China and the way in which the situation in Taiwan is changing. Thank you for listening.


Image: UK Parliament/Andy Bailey


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