The Guardian view on the G7 Afghanistan talks: desperate damage limitation

At the weekend, in advance of Tuesday’s crisis meeting of G7 leaders, Boris Johnson getwiet that it was vital for the international community to work together to “ensure safe evacuations, prevent a humanitarian crisis and support the Afghan people to secure the gains of the last 20 years”. Had this exhortation been made at June’s G7 summit in Cornwall – when America’s intention to pull out of Afghanistan at reckless speed was already known – it would have been a little more impressive and meaningful.

Delivered belatedly against a backdrop of lethal chaos and confusion at Kabul airport, the prime minister’s words serve only to underline how little planning and coordination took place when both were urgently required. As a result of Joe Biden’s precipitate haste to get the withdrawal over and done with, and the negligent response of allies such as Britain, a humanitarian crisis is already in train. For tens of thousands of justifiably terrified Afghanis, the evacuation process is a dangerous lottery that represents a betrayal of the trust they placed in the west. The “gains of the last 20 years”, such as greater freedoms for women and girls, will now be subject to the internal politics of the Taliban, as it decides which face it wishes to present to the world.

Away from the human tragedies playing out in Kabul, a wider humanitarian emergency is unfolding across Afghanistan. Maandag, the World Health Organization said it was critical that urgent medical and food supplies reached more than 300,000 people displaced during the past two months by the Taliban’s lightning advance. In total, 'n geskatte 3.5 million Afghans are now uprooted in a country that, before the current chaos unfolded, already had the world’s second-highest number of people facing emergency food insecurity. Without a concerted international intervention, a winter catastrophe looms inside Afghanistan and a refugee crisis beyond its borders.

Given this dismal backdrop, Tuesday’s G7 meeting, convened by Mr Johnson in his role as chair, can only be an exercise in making the best of an unforgivably bad job. As the crowds around Kabul airport become ever more desperate, the most pressing concern for Mr Biden and Mr Johnson is to fulfil their immediate moral obligations to people upon whom the United States and Britain depended, and who are being abandoned to their fate.

In a belated change of emotional register, following the stony defiance of his rhetoric last week, Mr Biden has described the images from Kabul as “heartbreaking”. But he has so far failed to extend the 31 August deadline for Nato forces to leave Afghanistan, despite pressure from Britain and other allies. It was the US determination to stick to rigid withdrawal dates and timetables, disconnected from conditions and events on the ground, that ceded the strategic initiative to the Taliban and led to the humiliating shambles of the past week. If the west is to do its duty by those who have worked for western forces and their dependents – and others likely to be targeted by the Taliban such as NGO workers – more time is required. Mr Biden, Mr Johnson and other Nato allies must do all they can to engineer it.

This will not be straightforward. Maandag, a Taliban spokesman said that the group would see any deadline extension as crossing a “red line”, which would provoke a reaction. The prospect of the Taliban wielding an effective veto on this matter, while the west haplessly ponders its options, is a measure of the stunning strategic failure that has taken place. What can be done to mitigate it must be done.

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