Veteran trapped in Afghanistan says the West has 'no choice' but to negotiate with the Taliban

Waheedullah Hashimi (C), a senior Taliban commander, gestures as he speaks with Reuters during an interview at an undisclosed location near Afghanistan-Pakistan border August 17, 2021. Picture taken August 17, 2021. REUTERS/Stringer NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVE
Waheedullah Hashimi (C), a senior Taliban commander, gestures as he speaks with Reuters during an interview at an undisclosed location near Afghanistan-Pakistan border August 17, 2021. Picture taken August 17, 2021. REUTERS/Stringer NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVE

Pen Farthing has been battling to get his 25 staff out of the country

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A former Royal Marine turned charity director trapped in Afghanistan has said Britain and America have “no choice” but to negotiate with the Taliban if they want to prevent a humanitarian disaster.

Paul Farthing, known as “Pen”, has been battling to get all of his 25 staff from animal welfare charity Nowzad and their families out of the country as the Taliban complete their takeover.

He is also faced with the prospect of having to put down all of the 140 dogs in his care, and potentially the 60 cats when the final evacuation flights have left.

Mr Farthing told the PA news agency he has had no communication from the Foreign Office or Ministry of Defence since the Afghan government collapsed.

So far, only his wife and a heavily pregnant member of staff have made it into the airfield, but they are still waiting to be admitted on to a flight.

He told the PA news agency that he saw no path out of the “hell on earth” brewing at the airport other than bargaining with the Taliban and opening up flows of aid to the country.

“There is no choice, is there? The Taliban are in charge and I think the sooner Joe Biden and Boris Johnson and the rest of the western countries admit that, then maybe, just maybe we have a chance at supporting this country and moving forward,” he said.

He said he “absolutely does not trust” the Taliban, but has listened to their promises about safeguarding some rights for women and believes his charity could have a future in Afghanistan.

“I want to get out of here along with my staff and animals to a safe place but then I will watch and see what happens,” Mr Farthings said.

“If in six months’ or a year’s time they haven’t reverted back to their old ways, then I will come back.”

He added: “But I don’t want to be here in that middle process to find out that they were lying and they have gone straight back to how they used to be.”

The Taliban regard dogs as unclean and the previous regime banned dog fighting – not on animal welfare grounds but because it meant people were handling the animals.

Mr Farthing believes the fact his charity rescues dogs and employs women could make him and his staff targets.

His status as a former marine could also be a heightened risk.

“They have said that anyone who served in the Afghan military will be forgiven so I am hoping that will extend to me and the simple fact that after my service in the marines I actually came back to Afghanistan to help the Afghan people,” he said.

“There’s not a lot I can do about it now because I’m here.”

Mr Farthing said locals in Kabul had woken up to the news that international aid and development funding for Afghanistan has been frozen with utter dismay, describing it as “the icing on the cake” of the disastrous withdrawal.

“The Taliban can literally do what they want and if they were to drag a woman into the street and stone her to death, no one is coming back here,” he said.

He added: “The international community will not send more soldiers in just because they have seen an atrocity on the TV.

“We have totally, totally given the world a masterclass in how to screw a country up – we should be absolutely ashamed, without a doubt, and hang our heads in shame over what we have done to this country.”

Mr Farthing said there is no choice but to start negotiating with the Taliban unless the US and UK want to start putting their soldiers’ lives on the line to complete the evacuation.

“No one is changing the fact the Taliban are now in charge, nobody is coming back to Afghanistan, America is not suddenly going to reinvade Afghanistan, that is never going to happen,” he said.

“The Taliban are here, what are we are going to do? We might as well just see if they are what they say they are, I don’t understand why we are not talking to them, I truly don’t.”

Mr Farthing said he hopes to return to Afghanistan and continue his charity’s work, and that for the moment the Taliban had not interfered.

“Down at the airport, the airport is complete and utter hell on earth,” he said.

“Up here I can walk around on the street and nothing, they don’t say a word to me.”

He added: “I think they realise that they need the international community for the healthcare all these NGOs have provided, the services that we brought into Afghanistan, the trade with the outside world.”

He said that many of the Taliban seemed to have been educated abroad, and may be different from their predecessors.

“Maybe they do realise now the world is a different place than it was 20 years ago so now is the time the Taliban could actually be recognised as a legitimate government I suppose,” Mr Farthing said.

“Who knows what they are thinking? I mean we’re going to find out very soon, because no one is going to remove them from power.”