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UK Foreign Minister Travels to Qatar for Afghan Safe Passage Talks

Britain's Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab  will seek Qatari views on the feasibility of a functioning airport in Kabul. (Reuters)

Britain's Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab will seek Qatari views on the feasibility of a functioning airport in Kabul. (Reuters)

The prospect of getting Kabul airport up and running and safe passage for foreign nationals and Afghans across land borders is said to be on top of the agenda for his visit to Qatar.

UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab will meet the Amir of Qatar and the Qatari Foreign Minister in Doha on Thursday to discuss the situation in Afghanistan and secure safe passage for British nationals and Afghan supporters from the conflict-torn country, the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) said. The FCDO said the Cabinet minister's decision to visit Doha first on a trip to the region reflects the "high-profile" role the Qataris have played with regard to Afghanistan in recent years, including hosting the Taliban political office in Doha since 2013. The prospect of getting Kabul airport up and running and safe passage for foreign nationals and Afghans across land borders is said to be on top of the agenda for his visit to Qatar. The Gulf state has already begun discussions about how best to ensure security at Kabul airport.

In Doha, Raab will meet the Amir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al Thani, and deputy prime minister and foreign minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al Thani. The Foreign Secretary will seek Qatari views on the feasibility of a functioning airport in Kabul, either for charter or commercial flights, which would provide a vital route for remaining UK nationals and Afghans most at risk to leave the country, the FCDO said.

The UK is keen to work with Qatar and other international partners to help deliver our priorities ensuring that the Taliban government will bear down on the threat from ISKP (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant Khorasan Province] and Al Qaeda and honouring their commitment in the Doha agreement to prevent Afghanistan soil being used to threaten the security of other countries; facilitating humanitarian access; and protecting human rights, especially those of women and girls, it noted. Raab's travel to Doha comes a day after he faced intense questioning by British MPs on the parliamentary Foreign Affairs Committee (FAC) about the UK's withdrawal from Afghanistan and his own decisions in the lead up to the Taliban takeover last month.

The Foreign Secretary defended his handling of the crisis, saying the UK was "caught out" by the speed of the fall of Kabul to the Taliban, with intelligence at the time suggesting it would hold out until the end of the year. The British Embassy to Afghanistan, which has been temporarily relocated to Qatar until it can be re-established in Afghanistan, is now up and running in Doha. During his visit, Raab will meet Dr Martin Longden, who arrived in Doha on Wednesday and is temporarily in charge while the Ambassador, Laurie Bristow, takes a short time off following an intensive and sustained period of work on the UK evacuation effort.

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Longden's immediate priorities are to meet international partners in Qatar and build up the Embassy team, the FCDO said. Longden is working alongside British Prime Minister Boris Johnson's Special Envoy for Afghan Transition, Sir Simon Gass, who has been based in the region for the last couple of weeks.

Gass will debrief the Foreign Secretary on the talks he has held in recent days with senior Taliban political representatives. He will also update him on a meeting of G7 Special Representatives convened by Gass in Doha earlier this week and on his meeting with the Chinese Special Representative on Wednesday. In talks with the Taliban, Gass is said to have emphasised the importance of them allowing safe passage for those seeking to leave Afghanistan; of standing by their commitments to address the threat from terrorism; and of the importance of an inclusive government that respects human rights, particularly those of women and girls.

The last UK plane flying people out of Kabul took off on Saturday, with the US following on days later to stick to the 31 August deadline pledged by US President Joe Biden. The UK government has said more than 17,000 people had been evacuated by the UK from Afghanistan so far, including over 5,000 UK nationals. But it is feared hundreds eligible for relocation were left behind, although Raab said he believed the number of UK nationals still in Afghanistan was in the "low hundreds".

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first published:September 02, 2021, 15:48 IST