Opinion: ‘The horrifying scenes from Afghanistan are rightly our priority’

Peterborough MP Paul Bristow writes his regular column for the Peterborough Telegraph...

Saturday, 21st August 2021, 2:10 pm
Protesters gather on Parliament Square to protest against the Taliban take over of Afghanistan on August 18, 2021 in London. House of Commons Speaker, Sir Lindsay Hoyle, recalled parliament from its summer recess to debate the situation in Afghanistan after a request from the government. (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

I’d wanted to write about exam results this week, but after the fall of Kabul to the Taliban, everything has been overshadowed.

The horrifying scenes from Afghanistan are rightly our priority.

What’s happening affects Peterborough.

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We have many Hazara and others from Afghanistan, whose families and friends are caught in the chaos. This is an incredibly difficult time for them.

My frustration is that 20 years of sacrifice has been thrown away. When the Americans insisted on withdrawing, against our advice, only the UK and Turkey were prepared to support the stabilisation mission. We couldn’t keep British forces engaged when other allies weren’t willing.

Our initial efforts to remove the threat of terrorism from Afghanistan cost the lives of 454 UK personnel, with many more seriously injured. The stabilisation mission since 2014 has not.

The same low casualty rate has held for the US forces.

President Biden’s decision to hastily withdraw all American support was a huge error. Trump parleyed with the Taliban and Biden has followed by removing the barriers.

The sad truth is that America no longer wants to be responsible for protecting Afghan women from abuse, or keeping girls in school, or avoiding power being seized by dangerous fundamentalists, or maintaining the legacy of the US and UK soldiers who died. They don’t see it as their problem.

Those who complain about ‘American imperialism’ should take a good look at where American isolationism ends. And this is only the beginning of the end, as far as China, Russia and the world’s assortment of extremists and dictators are concerned.

Britain can’t stand alone in Afghanistan, but it’s our duty to help people who risked their lives helping our forces. We owe a debt to the local translators and many others.

We have already brought back more than 3,400 Afghan staff and their families.

As our Defence Secretary says: “We shall keep going until we can’t. And after we have left, we shall keep the scheme open from abroad.”

The UK ambassador is currently at Kabul Airport, personally processing travel documents.

Beyond those who helped us, we will also take an additional 20,000 refugees, under the resettlement scheme announced this week.

My office is working very hard to support local constituents and help their family members. You can get in touch by emailing: [email protected]

I shall also be meeting local campaigners this week to discuss the ongoing situation.

Meanwhile, I’ll still say something about the A Level and GCSE results, simply because our young people deserve it, after two years of perseverance.

They lost months of education and much of their regular face-to-face contact with teachers. Being isolated at home with a computer screen, during this critical period for their futures, was really tough for them.

A Level student Elicia D’Ambrosio shadowed me recently. She explained that “the closest point of contact was through an email and having the motivation to sit at my laptop for eight hours a day was really difficult”.

Seeing students’ happiness this month, with so many getting apprenticeship placements and offers from universities, means their struggle has been worth it.

I know some teaching staff went above and beyond too. They should be very proud of their efforts. All of this amazing work from students and teachers deserves to be celebrated.

Our next generation, here in Peterborough, is a reason to be optimistic about the future. And we need those reasons right now.