Defence Secretary Ben Wallace has backed the UK’s armed forces chief over comments he made to Sky News suggesting the Taliban has “changed” since it was last in power 20 years ago.
General Sir Nick Carter also called the insurgents “a group of country boys who live by a code of honour” and said that they wanted an “inclusive” country.
Sir Nick, chief of the defence staff, said on Wednesday that the world should be patient and “hold its nerve” to see what Afghanistan’s future holds under a Taliban-led government.
He also told the BBC it “may well be a Taliban that is more reasonable, less repressive and, if you look at the way it is governing Kabul at the moment, there are some indications that it is more reasonable”.
His remarks have since been criticised as “absurd” and “unpalatable”.
But Mr Wallace told Kay Burley on Sky News: “He also said that he will see if they change. We are where we are, the Taliban are running the country.”
Asked whether he was defending Sir Nick, Mr Wallace said: “Of course I am defending him. Nick Carter knows more than I will ever know about Afghanistan and the Taliban and more than most people. He is a deeply experienced general.
“When he says things, we should listen and we should value it. He is my adviser, he is the prime minister’s adviser, and he is absolutely right in some of his observations”.
Shadow foreign secretary Lisa Nandy said the general’s remarks were a “very difficult and unpalatable message”, particularly for women and girls in Afghanistan.
The comments have also come in for heavy criticism elsewhere.
Sky’s chief correspondent Stuart Ramsay told Burley: “To say that we’ve been able to gauge what the Taliban is actually like nowadays is frankly absurd.”
Labour MP Dan Jarvis, who also served in the British armed forces in Afghanistan, said: “I’m with Stuart on this one. This is a critical moment and it’s very early days…[the Taliban] will be judged not by their words but by their actions.”
Also speaking to Burley, political activist Hassina Syed – who managed to get an RAF flight to the UK to escape the country – said: “Actions speak louder than words…this is not the time [to know what will happen] in the future…we have to wait and see.”
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But former British army officer Simon Conway, whose involvement with the Halo Trust charity has included working with former Taliban fighters, suggested the Taliban may have changed in some ways.
He told Sky News: “It is possible to deal with honourable people. I can’t speak for everyone, but there are elements within the new Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan that it’s possible to reason with.
“They will be judged by their actions.”
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