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Like many Honourable Members I’m wracked with profound sadness at the catastrophe unfolding in Afghanistan.
It is an unspeakable tragedy for the people of that country, who after generations of conflict now live under a terrible cloud of fear and repression.
Who could fail to be moved by the agonising scenes from Kabul airport this week?
How desperate must you have to be to cling onto a moving aircraft?
These past 20 years have been a struggle for peace.
We tried to break the cycle of war, to give hope to women and girls.
We tried to give the Afghans a different life, one of hope and opportunity.
But the abject failure of international political leadership and the brutality of Taleban has snatched that away from them.
The new administration in Kabul should know that they will be judged by their actions. The world is watching.
Mr Speaker, I also want to reflect on the service and sacrifice of our servicemen and women,
who throughout, showed outstanding professionalism and courage, but recent developments have hit them hard.
They’re grappling with the question about whether all the effort – the sacrifice, was worth it.
They’re again grieving the fallen comrades who didn’t come home.
But whatever the outcome in Afghanistan, those men and women – and their families – should be proud of their service and we must be proud of them.
Many of us who served in Afghanistan have a deep bond of affection for the Afghan people.
I had the honour of serving alongside them in Helmand.
We trained together, fought together, died together.
They were our brothers in arms.
But I shudder to think where those men are now.
Many will be dead – others, I know, now consider themselves to be dead men walking.
Where were we, in their hour of need?
We were nowhere.
So, what’s our next move?
We should understand that the character of our country is defined for better, or worse by moments like this.
And that we are facing a moral and humanitarian crisis of enormous proportions.
The response from the international community and from the British government needs to meet the magnitude of the moment.
Step-up the statecraft:
Engage with international allies and alliances – with regional partners.
And though it is a bitter pill to swallow,
we must engage diplomatically with the new regime in Kabul.
It’s in our cold-headed national interest to do so.
Right now, our armed forces are deployed on an operation to recover UK nationals and other entitled personnel.
It’s in their interests that we engage to ensure the safe passage of those wanting to leave.
But we also know that many, many more will want to get out.
With allies, we need to work to establish safe routes to get them to safety.
We must show compassion and genuine generosity to refuges and accelerate and expand the ARAP scheme to support those who supported us.
We also need to defend the hard-won progress made in the past 20 years;
girls in school,
women in Parliament and the judiciary –
We must ensure Afghanistan doesn’t slide back to where it was pre-911.
Then, when the dust settles, we need to look at what went wrong and learn the lessons of this failure.
Why, despite all the effort we couldn’t build an Afghan state –
free from corruption, with the legitimacy and competence to balance the competing forces within that country?
And what that means for our own Foreign and defence policy.
Regardless, we must remain engaged.
Use whatever influence we have to try and make things better – that’s in our own national interest, it’s in line with our values and it’s the right thing to do.
We owe it to the people of Afghanistan and we owe it to ourselves.