Britain, Taliban in Talks on 'Safe Passage Out of Afghanistan' for UK Nationals, Allied Afghans
05:58 GMT 01.09.2021 (Updated: 06:32 GMT 01.09.2021)
Britain completed its troop withdrawal from Afghanistan on Saturday, evacuating 15,000 people in two weeks since the Taliban's takeover of Kabul. Still, London is facing strong criticism for reportedly leaving behind scores of Britons and Afghans who were eligible for relocation to the UK.
The UK and the Taliban* are in direct talks to discuss how British nationals and allied Afghans who remain in Afghanistan can safely leave the county, a Downing Street spokesperson said in a statement on Tuesday.
"The prime minister's special representative for Afghan transition, Simon Gass, has travelled to Doha and is meeting with senior Taliban representatives to underline the importance of safe passage out of Afghanistan for British nationals, and those Afghans who have worked with us over the past 20 years", the spokesperson pointed out.
The statement comes after Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab acknowledged that it would be a "challenge" for Britons, who are currently in Afghanistan, to find a route to the UK.
In an interview with Sky News, he claimed that the number of Britons who had not been airlifted as part of the now-finished UK evacuation was in the "low hundreds". Earlier, Defence Secretary Ben Wallace insisted that up to 250 Britons eligible for relocation remain in Afghanistan.
Raab, for his part, said that more than 17,000 people had been evacuated from Afghanistan so far, including over 5,000 UK nationals.
Referring to the UK nationals remaining in Afghanistan, the foreign secretary said that "most of those are difficult cases where it's not clear around eligibility because they're undocumented".
"We've now put in place the arrangements with third countries, or we're putting them in place. I've spoken to some of the key third countries, so have other ministers, to make sure we can have a workable route through for those outstanding cases", he added.
Raab also said the British government would hold the Taliban to its "explicit assurances" that it "must allow safe passage not just for our nationals but other Afghans, particularly vulnerable ones, who wish to leave".
He spoke as the government said it was sending 15 "crisis response specialists" to Pakistan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan to assist British diplomats in their work to help UK nationals, interpreters, and other Afghans who were employed by London to reach the UK.
UK-Allied Afghans Reportedly Get 'Night Letters' With Death Threats
The developments followed the Daily Mail citing several sources as saying that Taliban militants are pinning so-called "night letters" with death threats on the doors of those Britons in Afghanistan who are accused by the group of "working for the [western] crusaders".
© REUTERS / TALIBAN HANDOUTTaliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid speaks to Badri 313 military unit at Kabul's airport, Afghanistan August 31, 2021 in this still image obtained from a handout video. Taliban/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid speaks to Badri 313 military unit at Kabul's airport, Afghanistan August 31, 2021 in this still image obtained from a handout video. Taliban/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES.
© REUTERS / TALIBAN HANDOUT
A traditional Afghan method of intimidation, "night letters" were often used by the Taliban in rural communities as both a propaganda tool and a threat. It appears the tendency changed after the militant group seized power in Afghanistan in mid-August, and the letters are now being widely circulated in cities.
One of the sources, only identified as 34-year-old Naz, told the Daily Mail that the letter he received "was official and stamped by the Taliban". The man's construction company helped the UK military build roads in Afghanistan's Helmand Province and the runway at Britain's Camp Bastion there.
Naz was ordered to "present" himself to a court otherwise it would be "forwarded to the Sharia Court of Appeal where the judgment of death penalty will be passed in your absence", the letter reportedly read, adding, "this would be the path you have chosen for yourself".
The 34-year-old said "the message of night letters is clear: you must comply or die". According to him: "We [his family] have moved but we can't keep moving. We must escape".
The UK's evacuation mission in Afghanistan wrapped up on 28 August, two days before the US completed its troop withdrawal from the war-torn nation, in line with the 31 August deadline previously set by President Joe Biden. The Taliban has been in power in Afghanistan since 15 August, when the militant group entered the capital Kabul without a fight following a months-long offensive amid the US and NATO troop pullout.
*The Taliban is a terrorist group banned in Russia and many other countries.