The Government will work with the Taliban should they enter the government in Afghanistan, the Defence Secretary has said.
After 20 years of war, the UK would accept their former enemies sharing power in Afghanistan, as long as certain international obligations are upheld, according to Ben Wallace.
Speaking to The Telegraph in Washington, where he was visiting his opposite number in the Pentagon, Britain’s Defence Secretary said the Taliban would be unlikely to make the mistakes of the past.
Instead, they would understand that if they granted terrorists safe havens from which to attack the West, they would be subject to overwhelming military action, similar to the months after the 9/11 attacks, which saw the group ejected from power.
The lessons of the last 20 years “will not have been lost on the Taliban,” Mr Wallace said, whilst acknowledging the group would likely have a role in the future governance of Afghanistan.
“Whatever the government of the day is, provided it adheres to certain international norms, the UK Government will engage with it,” he said.
However, Mr Wallace warned, “just like other governments around the world, if they behave in a way that is seriously against human rights, we will review that relationship”.
Mr Wallace recognised the prospect of the UK working with the group responsible for the deaths of 457 British personnel would be controversial, but said their pragmatism could be the foundation for lasting peace.
“Afghan veterans will be asking themselves about the Taliban. All peace processes require you to come to terms with the enemy. Sometimes, that’s what it is.
“What [the Taliban] desperately want is international recognition.
“They need to unlock financing and support [for] nation building, and you don’t do that with a terrorist balaclava on.
“You have to be a partner for peace otherwise you risk isolation. Isolation led them to where they were last time.
“The poverty of their own people is an important issue to be dealt with, and you cannot deal with that on your own in isolation.
“When you’re one of the poorest nations on earth you need the help of the international community,” he said, adding not all opponents to the existing government are “card-carrying Taliban”.
Referring to recent reports China may be trying to extend its influence in Afghanistan, Mr Wallace said “two superpowers learned Afghanistan is not to be taken for granted”.
“China has been quick to offer itself as a superpower. I don’t need to remind them of the consequences.”
Afghanistan withdrawal grid
He appealed for the Taliban and Afghanistan’s president, Ashraf Ghani, to work together to bring stability to the country after decades of conflict.
“Now is the time for both of them to show leadership and bring together Afghanistan.
“The Taliban is not one single unit, there are lots of views within the Taliban, lots of tribes.
“The best way to gauge the Taliban, from our point of view at the moment, is formally through the international [mechanism].
“The Americans have been engaging with them, and on behalf of their allies as well. We [also] speak regularly to the Pakistani government, the Pakistani military and intelligence services, and they understand how to use their influence hopefully in a way that is in agreement with us.”
“But in the end, if there is a government, and it is a government of both [existing groups and the Taliban] and we have committed to a diplomatic relationship, then that’s exactly what it will be.”