Should we listen to Shamima Begum’s verdict on the hijab?

What should one make of Shamima Begum’s appearance on Good Morning Britain? The London schoolgirl left the UK in 2015 to join Isis in Syria, but it appears she’s converted to common sense in recent times. Dressed in a sleeveless top and a baseball cap, Begum made a number of frank admissions, including how she ‘felt very constricted in the hijab. I felt like I was not myself.’ The cynic will suggest it is an act in an attempt to be allowed back to Britain. Perhaps. Or maybe we should give Begum the benefit of the doubt. She was young and naive at the time. Now she understands how an enforced

Don’t be fooled: the Taliban hasn’t changed its spots

Has the Taliban really changed its spots? Those who advocate talking to the Taliban make the case that they have. The organisation, they say, has recognised the mistakes it made in the years culminating in 9/11. Others claim that the organisation is now committed to local and national aims, not international terrorism, and that the Taliban have – or can be moderated – via the tool of engagement. All of these approaches seem to share the view there is a disconnect between the west’s reaction to events in Afghanistan, and the reality. But is this really the case?  Pakistan’s national security adviser, Dr Moeed W Yusuf, has suggested the time has come to

France is nervous about welcoming a wave of Afghan refugees

Emmanuel Macron has once more infuriated many in France, but this time it has nothing to do with Covid passports or mandatory vaccination. In an address to the nation this week, the president discussed the disturbing scenes from Kabul as the Taliban invaded the capital of Afghanistan. France, he said, would be a haven for those Afghans ‘who share our values’ but nevertheless the country must ‘anticipate and protect ourselves against significant irregular migratory flows that would endanger the migrants and risk encouraging trafficking of all kinds.’ His rhetoric went down badly with much of the French left. ‘Sordid’ was how two MPs of La France Insoumise summed up the

How America failed to learn its lessons from Vietnam

The hasty withdrawal from Kabul has inevitably been compared to the Fall of Saigon at the end of the Vietnam war. Pictures of a Chinook flying over the US embassy in the Afghan capital to pluck staff to safety did bear something of a resemblance to the airlift of 1975. But is the comparison fair? Joe Biden, at least, has been keen – for understandable reasons – to deny that Afghanistan is anything like Vietnam. A month ago, Biden told a reporter he saw ‘zero’ parallel between the Vietnamese and Afghan withdrawals: ‘The Taliban is not the same as the North Vietnamese army. They’re not remotely comparable in terms of

How much trouble is Dominic Raab in?

When MPs returned to parliament on Wednesday to debate the situation in Afghanistan, it was Joe Biden who received the most criticism during the debate. But a close second in the firing line was the UK Foreign Secretary. After Dominic Raab waited until Sunday night to fly back from his holiday in Crete, opposition MPs were quick to go on the attack. When Raab asked Starmer what he would do differently give the complexity of the situation, the Labour leader replied: ‘I wouldn’t go on holiday when Kabul was falling’. The SNP’s Ian Blackford also joined in – suggesting Raab ought to be ashamed of himself. While that strength of feeling isn’t

The Taliban’s lightning victory was no surprise

As the debacle in Kabul unfolds, in Washington and London the mud slinging about who is to blame is beginning. British Generals are blaming ‘spineless Johnson and Biden’ and the ex military MP, Tom Tugendhat, contends that we should have stayed put. That the spectacular ending of Afghanistan’s brief interlude in ‘Western Liberalism’ appears to have been such a surprise only underlines the utter delusion of the last twenty years. I worked for an aid agency in Kandahar at the height of the Taliban regime and remained in Afghanistan until just prior to the British deployment to Helmand. I travelled around the country working on electoral and justice issues, as

May and Starmer hold Boris’s feet to the fire over Afghanistan

Boris Johnson has had a very uncomfortable start to today’s Commons debate on Afghanistan. Not only did he have a series of critical interventions from his own backbenchers when he was speaking, he then had to sit through an unusually powerful speech from Sir Keir Starmer. The Leader of the Opposition criticised the PM’s ‘careless leadership’, slammed the Foreign Secretary’s ‘dereliction of duty’ in remaining on holiday as the situation worsened, and pointed to an ‘unforgivable’ lack of planning over the 18 months following Donald Trump’s deal with the Taliban.  This was swiftly followed by an equally furious Theresa May. She reminded her successor that he and Joe Biden had indicated

Nick Cohen

Why is Britain refusing to save Afghans who helped us?

Screams for help are coming from Afghanistan, and echoing around the world. Mine comes from British consultancies and charities the UK government funded to run state-building projects in Afghanistan. As a fair number of Conservative politicians and activists read The Spectator, I am publishing them here in the hope that you will alert your leaders to the desperate need for sanctuary for people who have every right to expect help, but are being abandoned. I am not writing it in the polemical ‘this is the worst government in modern British history’ spirit. (There will be more than enough time for that.) Nor is it the moment to say that the

Pakistan is the true winner from the Afghan debacle

‘Everyone is getting out – and fast’, the man tells me over a crackling line. He is tired, clearly subdued. A UN staff member, he was in Afghanistan until very recently and is still trying to process what happened. ‘We knew this was going to happen,’ he continues, ‘but everyone was caught by surprise at the speed of the Taliban advance.’ UN staff are now being evacuated to Almaty in Kazakhstan, from where they will make their way to their respective countries. But what about the local Afghans that worked with them? ‘Our Afghan colleagues were given letters of support for country visas in the region: Iran, Pakistan, and India. Some

The EU shares in Biden’s shame over Afghanistan

Among America’s self-described foreign policy ‘realists,’ there is a common trope according to which the best way for the United States to get its allies to do more is to show them some tough love – particularly by doing less. That theory has just been put to a test in Afghanistan. It has failed spectacularly. Contrary to the caricature of the protracted conflict in Afghanistan as a distinctly American endeavour, both the combat operations and the efforts at reconstruction were supported by an extraordinarily diverse coalition of countries, from New Zealand, through much of Europe, to Turkey. Of some 150,000 British troops who served in Afghanistan during the past two

The real reason Biden was prepared to let Kabul fall

The speed of the Taliban’s advance, culminating in Sunday’s capture of Kabul, has been widely put forward as proof that Joe Biden was wrong: that his decision to end the 20 year-old Afghan mission was a historic mistake that will blight his presidency. For all that, as he himself has said, he was the fourth president to preside over the war and he would not hand it over to a fifth, he could go down only as the president who lost Afghanistan. Maybe. But is this really how the United States — and allied — flight from Afghanistan will be seen with the benefit of even a little hindsight? Much,