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Tobias Ellwood: Tory MP Criticised Over Taliban Re-Engagement Call

A senior Conservative MP has been criticised for saying Afghanistan has been “transformed” under the Taliban.

In a video posted from the country on Monday, former defence minister Tobias Ellwood said corruption was falling and security had “vastly improved”.

Fellow Tory Mark Francois called the video “bizarre”, whilst former Tory leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith said it was not “welcome”.

Downing Street said it disagreed with Mr Ellwood’s assessment.

But Mr Ellwood defended his comments, saying stability in the country was on a “different level” than during times of conflict.

In a BBC News interview, he added that it was time for the UK to establish diplomatic ties with the Taliban rather than “shouting from afar”.

British diplomatic and embassy staff were withdrawn after the Taliban’s August 2021 takeover of the country after Western troops pulled out.

Mr Ellwood, who chairs the Commons defence select committee, tweeted his video during a trip to Helmand province with a landmine clearance charity.

The Bournemouth East MP said Afghanistan was “a country transformed,” with solar panels starting to appear “everywhere” whilst the country’s opium trade “all but disappeared”.

“This war-wary nation is for the moment accepting a more authoritarian leadership in exchange for stability,” he added, whilst calling for the West to “re-engage” diplomatically.

Reopening the British embassy, he added, would be a way to “incrementally” encourage “progressive changes” in areas like girls’ education and rights for female workers.

However, in the Commons on Tuesday, Sir Iain said the video was “not a very welcome statement to have made” given the “persecutions that have taken place in Afghanistan”.

‘Shone a light’

Mr Francois, who also sits on the defence committee, said the video “made no mention of the fact that the Taliban is still attempting to identify and kill Afghan citizens who helped our armed forces, or of the fact that young girls in Afghanistan do not even have the right to go to school”.

Mr Ellwood, whose brother was killed by Islamists in the 2002 Bali bombings, said he wanted to ensure terrorism does not “flourish” in Afghanistan.

Speaking to BBC News, he said he understood his comments would “cause waves”, but he was pleased he had “shone a light on a country that we ran away from”.

“The current strategy of us shouting from afar to try and effect the agenda in Afghanistan is not working,” he said, adding that he was speaking an “an individual MP”.

“We need to engage more directly, more robustly, and that can be done if we open up the [British] embassy”.

Source : BBC