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Minister for Afghanistan was on staycation holiday as Kabul fell, Sky News understands

Written by on 21/08/2021

The minister for Afghanistan was also on holiday last week as Kabul fell, Sky News has learnt.

Lord Tariq Ahmad of Wimbledon, the minister of state directly responsible for South Asia, was on leave until Sunday, the day the Taliban marched into the Afghan capital.

The Conservative peer has been in his post for four years. He has been in regular contact with the Afghan foreign minister Mohammed Haneef Atmar over the past year as peace talks were under way in Doha between the Taliban and Afghan government.

Lord Ahmad (right) has been in regular contact with the Afghan foreign minister Mohammed Haneef Atmar since he took the post in 2017
Image: Lord Ahmad (right) has been in regular contact with the Afghan foreign minister Mohammed Haneef Atmar since he took the post in 2017

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab has faced calls to resign for failing to make a call to Mr Atmar on Friday, while on holiday in Crete, which critics say could have been used to seek help for Afghan interpreters.

But it is understood that while Lord Ahmad was on a staycation in the UK and in contact with officials as the Afghanistan crisis rapidly deepened, he was not asked to make the call to Mr Atmar on Friday, and was not told about it.

It was delegated to Lord Goldsmith – who covers the Pacific and splits his time with the Environment department.

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The Foreign Office has confirmed the call never took place, leading to fierce criticism.

An Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) spokesperson said: “Lord Ahmad has been working closely with the foreign secretary and the FCDO team throughout the response to events in Afghanistan, including engaging with international partners.”

Dominic Raab, leaving Downing Street, central London following a meeting, as he has rejected calls to quit as Foreign Secretary after opposition leaders demanded he be sacked for failing to make a call to help translators flee Afghanistan. Picture date: Thursday August 19, 2021.
Image: There have been calls for Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab to resign

Lord Ahmad has been back at his desk since Monday working on the evacuation, a source said.

He is understood to have spent part of his holiday working on cases raised by parliamentarians of those trapped in Afghanistan.

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‘Utterly horrendous’: People ‘crushed’ at Kabul airport

Speaking in the House of Lords debate on Wednesday – held at the same time as the Commons debate – he said he was doing all he could to bring British nationals back.

A government source told Sky News contingency plans for the evacuation – known as Operation Pitting – had been readied for months, and that Afghanistan was “teetering on the brink for months, no one knew if it would come now, or in a few months’ time”.

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Cabinet colleagues have defended Mr Raab saying the Afghan government was “melting quicker than ice” and a call would have made little difference.

Conservatives have privately been critical of the Foreign Office response, one minister calling it a “shambles”. But some in government say the foreign secretary is “hardworking” and has been a “lightning rod for MPs anger with the Americans”.

 Sky News

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