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Actions not words count, UK PM Johnson says on Taliban

Actions not words count, UK PM Johnson says on Taliban
August 18, 2021 Web Desk

LONDON (Reuters) – British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Wednesday the Taliban would be judged on their actions, not their words, after they sought to convince the world they would not seek revenge after seizing Afghanistan.

Johnson faced questions over what the main opposition Labour Party described as his "complacency" in handling Britain's response as parliament was recalled from its summer break to discuss Afghanistan.

The Taliban have said they want peace, will not take revenge against old enemies and would respect the rights of women within the framework of Islamic law. But thousands of Afghans, many of whom helped foreign forces, are desperate to leave.

"We will judge this regime based on the choices it makes, and by its actions rather than by its words, on its attitude to terrorism, to crime and narcotics, as well as humanitarian access, and the rights of girls to receive an education," Johnson said.

Johnson, who attempted to head for a holiday on Saturday only to return as the Taliban closed in on the Afghan capital, was criticised by Labour leader Starmer for what he described as his 'careless leadership'.

"There's been a major miscalculation of the resilience of the Afghan forces and staggering complacency from our government about the Taliban," Starmer said.

Former prime minister Theresa May, a Conservative Party colleague of Johnson, also asked how Britain could have so miscalculated the strength of the Taliban, which took Kabul on Sunday in a lightning offensive.

"Was our understanding of the Afghan government so weak? Was our knowledge of the position on the ground so inadequate?" she asked her successor. Or, did we just feel that we have to follow the United States, and hope that on a wing and a prayer, it would be all right on the night."

The speed to the Taliban's gains in Afghanistan after US-led forces withdrew the bulk of their troops surprised the West, leaving many nations having to scramble to get their diplomats and those Afghans who had helped them out of the nation.

Britain has said it will welcome up to 5,000 Afghans during the first year of a new resettlement programme that will prioritise women, girls and religious and other minorities.

Labour lawmaker Chris Bryant called on the government to go further.

"The home secretary (interior minister) announced this morning that the UK will be taking 20,000 refugees from Afghanistan, but that only 5,000 will be able to come this year," he asked Johnson. "What are the 15,000 meant to do? Hang around and wait until they've been executed?"

Meanwhile, Nick Carter, Britain's chief of the defence staff, said that the world should give the Taliban the space to form a new government in Afghanistan and may discover that the insurgents cast as militants by the West for decades have become more reasonable, the head of the British army.

He said he was in contact with former Afghan President Hamid Karzai. "We have to be patient, we have to hold our nerve and we have to give them the space to form a government and we have to give them the space to show their credentials," Carter told the BBC. "It may be that this Taliban is a different Taliban to the one that people remember from the 1990s. We may well discover, if we give them the space, that this Taliban is of course more reasonable but what we absolutely have to remember is that they are not a homogenous organisation – the Taliban is a group of disparate tribal figures that come from all over rural Afghanistan."