Afghan women have derided a British Conservative MP for being naïve after he referred to the country as peaceful and “transformed”, but barely mentioned human rights following a recent visit.
In a widely criticised video, Tobias Ellwood urged the UK to re-engage with the country and reopen its embassy.
The Taliban welcomed his remarks – seen as a rare PR coup for their government, which no country recognises.
Since retaking power 2021, the Taliban have restricted many Afghans’ rights.
There has been global condemnation of their mistreatment of women in particular.
On Wednesday Afghan women held a rare protest against the Taliban’s decision to shut female beauty parlours and salons.
“The British politician says that he is optimistic and he’s happy about the situation in Afghanistan… Today we went on the street to ask for our rights and they try to stop us and beat us. You have seen the videos,” said one of the women taking part in the protest in Kabul.
Another woman asked if Mr Ellwood knew that people in the country were “hungry and unhappy”.
“There’s no suicide attacks any more, but poverty is at its peak, businesses are collapsing,” she said.
Mr Ellwood, the chairman of Parliament’s defence select committee, visited Afghanistan with the Halo Trust, a de-mining organisation.
Earlier this week, he tweeted and shared a video following his trip, which prompted some to compare it to a promotional video.
“It’s about time you prepare to move in with your Taliban brothers. After all, it’s safe and thriving,” Afghan activist Nilofar Ayoubi said on Twitter.
In his video, Mr Ellwood said security in Afghanistan had “vastly improved” since the Taliban returned to power, and suggested the West encourage the uptake of women’s rights “incrementally”.
“After Nato’s dramatic departure, should the West now engage with the Taliban? You quickly appreciate this war-weary nation is for the moment accepting a more authoritarian leadership in exchange for stability,” he said.
The video contains one reference to women and girls at the end.
The MP told the BBC “we need to engage more directly, more robustly” with the Taliban.
Interviewer Yalda Hakim, who is of Afghan origin, had asked him: “Do you think it sends a certain message when it comes to things like human rights, women’s rights, if you just say, ‘They’ve got solar panels now, they’ve got less violence and therefore we should open up our embassy and be back in the country’?”
“You’re simplifying what I’m saying,” Mr Ellwood replied. “The current strategy of shouting from afar is not working.”
Earlier on Tuesday, Afghan women had been barred from sitting university entrance exams this year – the latest move curtailing what they are allowed to do.
Fawzia Koofi, the first ever female deputy speaker of the Afghan parliament, told BBC Newshour she was angry at the MP’s remarks.
She said it showed ignorance of how restricted life had become for Afghan women.
“Women literally are not even allowed to, I think, breathe normally in the streets. When they are out, they [the Taliban] ask them, ‘Why are you in the streets?’ If you’re not allowed to go to university and school and work, why are you in the street? That’s a feeling I think only those women and their families would understand.”
A number of Conservative MPs have criticised the remarks by Mr Ellwood, a former soldier who served with British forces in Afghanistan.
One senior Tory colleague on the committee he chairs said the MP had posted an “utterly bizarre video lauding the Taliban’s management of the country”. Mark Francois said it had been described by a fellow member of the committee as a “wish-you-were-here video”.
Mr Francois raised the issue at prime minister’s questions on Wednesday.
“I and some of my colleagues on the Defence Committee were absolutely stunned to see a video posted by our own chairman lauding the Taliban’s governance of Afghanistan, not mentioning they’re still trying to identify and kill Afghan civilians who sided with Nato forces, and also not mentioning the fact they don’t like girls to go to school,” he told the house.
UK PM Rishi Sunak said he would look into Mr Ellwood’s visit.
Source : BBC