In 2001 the UK government joined the United States in its ‘nation-building intervention’ in Afghanistan. This intervention meant that both governments embarked on a moral responsibility to ensure decisions made on withdrawing military and other forms of support from Afghanistan should not cause harm and suffering to the Afghan people, and that the gradual growth of human rights and the rule of law which the Afghan people have achieved would not be threatened, undermined, or destroyed. The scenes of the Taliban making advances through towns and cities, and the eventual taking of Kabul on 15th August 2021 through armed force requires the British and American governments to make their moral responsibility real, effective, and sufficient to help and protect all Afghan people.
For the British government this must include receiving refugees without the unending bureaucratic processes created by immigration policy and to urgently consider increasing the proposed intake of 20,000 refugees. It is the responsibility of the government to use every means to protect and advocate human rights, particularly those of women and girls. Any UK aid given must be part of a UN-backed plan which ensures that it is only used for humanitarian purposes and not to fund the Taliban. And the commitment given by Boris Johnson in last week’s Parliamentary debate that the UK will not recognise the Taliban as the official government must remain in place until the Taliban have demonstrated that they are committed to providing justice and human rights for the people of Afghanistan.
Any moral responsibility to others requires courage, determination, and commitment. In the context of the current Afghan situation this also requires a level of leadership and political will that provides meaning for people to live, inspiration to act, demonstrates unselfishness and the need to hold oneself accountable. The question to ask: Can the UK government fulfil these requirements and demonstrate its moral responsibility to the people of Afghanistan?
Pauline Kollontai, Professor Emerita, York St John University, UK