You could say that there’s something terribly British about the way that people are, in the grim situation in Afghanistan, rallying around 140 dogs and 60 cats. The animals are inmates of the charity Nozad, run by a former Afghan veteran Pen Farthing. Plus 68 of its human employees. Or you could say that there’s something worryingly typical of this administration in the way this affair has been handled.
The Ark Project, as the evacuation exercise has been named, has managed to secure permission for its specially chartered, privately funded aircraft to leave Kabul airport if the humans and their dumb chums manage to make it there. Other cleared refugees would occupy the remaining spaces, with the pets in the hold. British forces will seek permission from the Americans running the airport to allow the plane to leave. So, it’s a victory for Mr Farthing and a climbdown from the Defence Secretary, Ben Wallace, who’d been reluctant to be seen to be prioritising animal refugees when humans were having to run enormous risks to circumvent the Taliban to get into the airport and onto military flights.
But the way the whole thing has been handled is, in one respect, characteristic of the Johnson court. Pen Farthing has had the enthusiastic support of people close to the PM in getting his way. His supporters included the Prime Minister’s PPS, Trudy Harrison, who has, we learn, been closely involved with the discussions. Plus, of course, Carrie Johnson, whose concern for animals is sincere. And, given that Islamists are inclined to regard dogs with a good deal of reserve, treating them as unclean (cats, with their association with Mohammad, are another matter), no doubt the creatures have been preserved from sub-optimal outcomes.
However, Mr Wallace is not wholly happy that his attention and time and public interest have been captivated by 200 animals. Sky News reported that he told fellow MPs:
“What I can tell you, and it is a bit upsetting, is that I have soldiers on the ground who have been diverted from saving those people because of inaccurate stories, inaccurate lobbying that have diverted that resource... And that is not something I would be proud of, and I've been very straight and consistent throughout... What I was not prepared to do is prioritise pets over people, I'm afraid you might dislike me for that but that's my view, there are also some very, very desperate people under real threat.
Indeed. He’s manifestly doing this under pressure. And the pressure is reportedly coming from the PM’s wife and others in her circle, as well as Pen Farthing’s old friends. Is this, we may ask, actually the way to run an evacuation service? Indeed, is it a way to run a government?
P.S. I have no animus against the dogs. Nor the cats.