Colin Brazier: Pen Farthing's flight gives Britain the appearance of prioritising pets over people

I can’t condone the sentiment that ends up with the fool’s errand of 'Operation Ark.'

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Twenty years ago, I sat on a hill near Kabul and watched young Afghan gunmen using dogs on a distant slope for target practice. Life is cheap in Afghanistan, especially animal life.

Which is why a plea to the Taliban from a British animal charity worker seemed, until an hour or so ago, bound to fail. Paul Farthing is a former Royal Marine who wants to evacuate 140 dogs and 60 cats from Kabul. It seems tonight, like he's got his way.

Earlier, he'd written to the Taliban urging them to facilitate his evacuation plan, which he’s calling Operation Ark, as in the Ark used to save animals from the Great Flood in the Old Testament. Perhaps Mr Farthing sees himself as Noah. If he does, my advice would be to keep that to himself. Noah is revered in Islam as a Prophet, not a 52-year-old originally from Essex.

The Taliban are also likely to take a dim view of anyone whose words and deeds suggest that beasts of the earth ought to be afforded a dignity that only God meant for humans.

Theology aside, they might be further affronted by the sight of a Westerner, a former soldier sent over a decade ago to occupy their country no less, giving the appearance of prioritising pets over people.

In Kabul today, where last night’s suicide bombing tore to shreds children and old women alike, it would strike the Taliban as oddly decadent that Westerners should still be agonizing over animals. It will reinforce their view of our civilization as confused over its priorities, a place where – it seems to them – people would prefer to buy a cat than start a family.

But it's the British government which tonight seems to have ensured that Paul Farthing gets his wish - he and his animals are now at Kabul airport awaiting evacuation. Downing Street denies that the Prime Minister's wife Carrie Symonds, a noted animal lover, applied pressure to remove any beaurocratic hurdles.

Ben Wallace, the Defence Secretary, certainly didn't seem keen yesterday. He accused Farthing’s supporters in Britain of bullying. Mr Wallace says they've been threatening Ministry of Defence officials, diverting their attention away from the more pressing task of rescuing translators and their families.

Mr Wallace is quoted as saying: “What I was not prepared to do was prioritise pets over people. I’m afraid you might dislike me for that, but that’s my view. There are some very, very desperate people under real threat.”

Well, I don’t dislike Mr Wallace for saying that. I like him all the more. He’s right to assert that human life is worth more than its animal equivalent.

But there will be others who will hate Mr Wallace for stating something taken as a self-evident fact throughout human history. His critics are part of an emerging army of animal rights activists, who range from gentle cat lovers to fanatical hunt saboteurs. As a dog and cat owner, or ‘guardian’ as I’m now encouraged to say, I understand the instinct to love animals with a devotion some humans don’t deserve.

But as a journalist, having seen people in some countries treated worse than we treat pets here, I can’t condone the sentiment that ends up with the fool’s errand of Operation Ark, where a private plane flight – that could’ve been used for refugees – is organized for cats and for dogs.