Senior Tory MP lauded by Taliban after saying Afghanistan had improved under its rule apologises for 'poor wording'

20 July 2023, 09:13 | Updated: 20 July 2023, 09:38

Top Tory MP criticised for saying Afghanistan has been 'transformed' under the Taliban

Kieran Kelly

By Kieran Kelly

A senior Tory MP who was slammed after saying Afghanistan has been "transformed" under the Taliban has apologised for his "poor communication".

In a video posted from Afghanistan, Tobias Ellwood - chairman of the defence committee - said security had "vastly improved" under the Taliban's rule and called for the British Embassy in Kabul to re-open.

Mr Ellwood's remarks caused a stir among MPs, including fellow members of the defence committee, including Tory MP Mark Francois, who labelled the video "bizarre".

His comments were even met with praise by a spokesperson for the Taliban, who said "it is a fact that many positive things have been done".

Mr Ellwood has now deleted the video and posted an apology in which he admitted "reflections of my personal visit could have been better worded".

"I stand up, speak my mind, try to see the bigger picture and offer solutions, especially on the international stage, as our world turns a dangerous corner," Mr Ellwood said.

"I don't always get it right," he added.

He continued: "During my visit last week, I witnessed something I did not expect to see - an eerie calm and a visible change in security, corruption and opium growth which I felt obliged to report.

"But I also saw a very vulnerable economy that will soon collapse without international intervention, turning this country into a failed state, with terrorist camps no doubt returning and triggering mass migration."

Mr Ellwood concluded his apology: "The awkward truth is we chose to cede power to the Taliban. If we are serious about helping all Afghan people then time is running out before history repeats itself.

"There are no easy choices here. Again, I am sorry for my wording and hope this places my thinking into context."

The Taliban has been charge in Afghanistan since the US-led withdrawal from the country in 2021.

Since then, public executions have return and young girls are not allowed to attend school.

According to Roh Yakobi, editor-in-chief of KabulNow, none of what Mr Ellwood said in his original video, such as improved security, is true.

He told LBC's Tom Swarbrick: "Everything has shot up, Afghanistan is not safe for its people. According to a recent UN human rights report, released last week, the Taliban has enacted over 50 anti-women edicts, public floggings, executions - all those things are back."

Back in the UK, a row erupted following Mr Ellwood's remarks, with some of his fellow defence committee members criticising his remarks.

Mr Francois told the Commons: "Last night, following a visit to Afghanistan, he [Mr Ellwood] posted an utterly bizarre video lauding the Taliban’s management of the country.

"Something which was described by a fellow member of the defence committee to me barely an hour ago as a ‘Wish You Were Here…?’ video, in which he made no mention of the fact that the Taliban are still attempting to identify and kill Afghan citizens who helped our Armed Forces, and also makes no specific mention of the fact that young girls in Afghanistan don’t even have the right to go to school under that government.

"I wish to make plain, on behalf of the committee, he was speaking for himself, even though he used the title of chairman of our committee in a number of associated articles. Not in our name."

Read More: 'A desperate sop to ageing Tory voters': Matt Frei outlines the government's proposed plans to scrap inheritance tax

Meanwhile, Kevan Jones, a Labour MP member sitting on the committee, said: "His video is breathtakingly naive and great propaganda for the Taliban.

"It airbrushes out the ongoing cruelty of their regime. It does not represent my views and I doubt other members of the defence committee."

Taliban security personnel display
Taliban security personnel display. Picture: Getty

Mr Ellwood, who has chaired the defence committee for several years, said the country's infrastructure had improved significantly in the last couple of years.

"It may be hard to believe, but security has vastly improved, corruption is down and the opium trade has all but disappeared," Mr Ellwood said.

"Pylons distribute electricity to the cities, solar panels are now everywhere, powering irrigation pumps, allowing more crops to grow.

"After Nato’s dramatic departure, should the West now engage with the Taliban?"

Read More: Cabinet reshuffle 'could be imminent', says departing defence secretary Ben Wallace

Mr Ellwood continued: "There is a calm through the country that local elders say they’ve not experienced since the 1970s."

"That’s how long ordinary Afghans have experienced war. So do we shout from afar and risk another era of instability, a rise in terrorism and mass migration, or re-engage?

“If the EU’s embassy can open up, so can ours. And incrementally we can encourage the progressive changes to the economy and critically for girls’ education and female workers that we all want to see.”

The MP finished his video: “I depart Afghanistan with a better appreciation as to how we can help this vulnerable country that feels abandoned by the international community. It is time to reopen the embassies, it is time to re-engage, and Britain should lead the way.”