UK won't recognise Taliban 'anytime soon' says Dominic Raab but admits engagement is vital

ITV News Global Security Editor Rohit Kachroo reports on the Afghans trying to flee the country via land borders

The UK will not recognise the Taliban "anytime soon", Dominic Raab has said, but "engagement and dialogue" with the Islamist group will be vital in order to help Britons and Afghan allies escape Afghanistan.

The foreign secretary, who was holding a press conference in Doha alongside his Qatari counterpart, said Britain must be "pragmatic and realistic" in discussions with the Taliban, so safe passage out of Afghanistan can be ensured.

Mr Raab flew to Qatar on Wednesday to engage in discussions with the Qataris who are holding talks with the Taliban. The fundamentalist group has a regional office in the country.

Speaking after the press conference he said evacuations from Kabul airport may be able to resume "in the near future", although he was unable to "say anything formal".

The foreign secretary will also visit other countries in the region as he attempts to deal with the crisis in Afghanistan.

Speaking alongside Mr Raab, the Qatari foreign minister said his government is engaging with the Taliban and hopes the group will allow Kabul airport to reopen soon, so flights out of the country can continue.

Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani said there is "no clear indication" when the airport will be fully functional, but "hopefully in the next few days we hear some good news".

Mr Raab said that the UK must now "adjust to the new reality" as it prioritises efforts to help the remaining British and at risk Afghan citizens to leave Afghanistan.

At the press conference, he said: "Now of course we need to adjust to the new reality and our immediate priority is to secure the safe passage of those remaining British nationals but also the Afghans who worked for the United Kingdom and indeed others who may be at most risk."

Boris Johnson insists the UK was ready for the fall of Kabul, but he has chosen not to focus on the central British intelligence assessment that Kabul could hold on until after Christmas, ITV News Political Correspondent Carl Dinnen says

He added: "I think above all we need to put a grouping together that can exert the maximum moderating influence on what the Taliban does next, and we will certainly be judging them, yes on their words, but more importantly what they do to live up to the assurances they've made."

The foreign secretary flew to Doha on Wednesday evening after coming under intense scrutiny during a grilling at the Foreign Affairs Committee over his response to the crisis in Afghanistan.

He defended his handling of the crisis, appearing to blame UK intelligence for failing to foresee the Taliban's swift takeover of Afghanistan.

Dominic Raab is in Qatar for talks on how to influence the Taliban into allowing refugees and Britons to escape Afghanistan. Credit: No10

The minister told MPs that intelligence reports suggested Afghanistan's capital Kabul would not fall to the Taliban until 2022, many months after the final withdrawal of Western forces.

What actually happened was the fundamentalist group recaptured the city two weeks before Western forces completed their withdrawal, causing a last-ditch scramble at Kabul airport, with thousands desperate to get out on limited evacuation flights.

The situation was made worse when almost 200 people were killed in a bomb attack outside the airport, blamed on terror group ISIS-K, affiliates of Islamic State.

The Taliban closed Kabul airport on August 31 after the final US troops left, leaving thousands of Westerners and Afghan allies stranded in the country.

Dominic Raab: 'We were told Kabul was unlikely to fall this year'

Mr Raab's meeting in Doha with the Amir of Qatar and the Qatari foreign minister are aimed at "getting Kabul airport up and running" and ensuring "safe passage for foreign nationals and Afghans across land borders".

In his committee appearance on Wednesday the foreign secretary said Britons still in the country were down to the "low hundreds" but he refused to provide an exact figure.

He admitted the number of Afghans there, who had worked with British forces in the past, and as a result are eligible for resettlement in the UK, could be much higher. Reports in recent days suggest the number could be as high as 9,000.

On top of bringing those Afghans to the UK, the government has promised it will accept a further 20,000 refugees from the country over the next five years.

The Taliban's rule over Afghanistan is likely to cause an exodus of refugees eager to flee - there are huge concerns over human and women's rights abuses, as well as a resurgence of terrorism.

Mr Raab is hoping an agreement between the international community can pressure the Taliban to ensure rights are protected and terrorists are not allowed to operate.

In particular, the foreign office said, the UK wants the Taliban to "bear down on the threat from ISIS-K and Al-Qaeda".

Meanwhile, Boris Johnson visited a military base in the south east on Thursday and meet troops involved in the evacuation of Kabul airport.

'We've way exceeded the numbers that we thought were eligible'

The prime minister is returning from a four-day trip to the West Country which began on Sunday.

His official spokesperson declined to describe it as a holiday, instead insisting Mr Johnson was “continuing to work” away from the office.