Today’s reports that the Taliban are prepared to guarantee safe passage for Afghans trying to flee their new regime seem to be providing little comfort to those trapped in Kabul.
But with America’s self-imposed exit deadline upon us, and the UK’s inability to act independently of the US beyond doubt, Taliban goodwill might now be the means available, however spectral, to undo some of the harm done by our exit.
For as it stands, Britain is now known to the world as the nation that gave cats and dogs top priority while leaving hundreds of allies and collaborators behind.
The row over Pen Farthing and his pets seems to have split the nation (or at least Twitter) down the middle. To some, he’s a hero doing his bit for God’s creatures against a beastly government.
To others, he’s a self-aggrandising, self-righteous hypocrite who asked us to believe he’d stay and die with his dogs but was prepared, when it came to it and despite all his big talk, to leave his staff behind.
How likely is it that the Taliban, having refused them access to the airport on Saturday, is suddenly prepared to facilitate their escape on Sunday? Or is it more likely that it’s just easier for the Islamic Emirate to make promises when the physical lifeline to the West has been cut?
Perhaps we will be able to strike some sort of deal to get more people out, although Kabul’s new rulers will make us pay a price for it. But not even the Biden administration is prepared to say whether we should actually trust the people with whom these deals are being struck.
As and when the Taliban start capturing the very people we should have evacuated, there will be some extremely difficult questions for the Government and military to answer. And while the impact might have been marginal, the absurd priority given to ‘Operation Ark’ will make them even harder.
Yes, Nowzad provided an extra plane. But the evacuation wasn’t short of planes — there were planes leaving with empty seats. It was short of time, and the manpower needed to process people’s papers and escort them securely through the airport.
The military and Ministry of Defence were both clearly uncomfortable with the order to misallocate resources to Farthing’s pets. Very likely it meant at least a handful of people not getting their papers processed who would otherwise have done so. Those people may now never leave Afghanistan.