December 7, 2021

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Major attacks ‘strategically stupid’ decision to leave Afghanistan

Afghanistan updates

Former UK prime minister John Major has criticised the withdrawal of western forces from Afghanistan as a “strategically very stupid” decision which he found “morally incomprehensible”.

Sir John, speaking at the FT Weekend Festival at Kenwood House, Hampstead, said the retreat was further proof of a more isolationist US to the potential detriment of the world.

“I think we were wrong to leave Afghanistan, we were wrong morally but also wrong practically,” he said.

The intervention comes after Tony Blair, former Labour prime minister at the time of the 2001 invasion, has also criticised the withdrawal which saw the Taliban rapidly seize control of most of the country, including its capital Kabul.

Major said that half the population of Afghanistan had grown up with huge freedoms under Nato-backed governments, including education for young women. Now it was likely that this would be reversed, he predicted.

By leaving abruptly and withdrawing air cover from the Afghan government, western countries had left the country at the mercy of the Taliban, Major said.

The former Conservative prime minister, who was in Downing Street from 1990 to 1997, succeeding Margaret Thatcher, has been a persistent critic of Boris Johnson, not least over Brexit.

On Saturday he criticised the British government for its “shameful” failure to rescue all the local staff who had worked for it on the ground in Afghanistan.

But he reserved his toughest words for the Joe Biden administration in Washington, which had unilaterally decided to withdraw without sufficient consultation. That had left a “stain on the reputation of the west that will last a very long time time,” he said.

It was part of a wider pattern over the past 20 years of events — ranging from the financial crash to the botched Iraqi occupation — which had eroded western primacy and setback the spread of democracy around the world, he argued.

The reduction of US involvement in the west would create a vacuum that was likely to be filled by Russia or China, he said.

“Does Hong Kong feel safer from China? Or does Taiwan . . . or Japan? The answer to that question is no,” he said. “The prestige of the west and its ability to spread democracy has taken a step back, remarkably.”

Major, who was a prominent figure in the Remain camp in the 2016 EU referendum, has previously accused Johnson of a “wretched betrayal” in 2020 for seeking a harder Brexit than initially promised.

The former prime minister has also criticised his successor for other policies including the recent cuts to international aid from 0.7 per cent to 0.5 per cent of gross national income.

Asked how he felt about the current Conservative party, Major said he believed that nationalism was a “cuckoo in the nest” of his party that needed “rooting out”.

He said he understood the need to rise taxes to pay for a new social care system but said that it would be “regressive” to increase National Insurance as proposed.

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