Five British nationals held by the Taliban since last December including the former BBC cameraman and Afghanistan expert Peter Jouvenal were released on Monday after backroom diplomacy by the British Foreign Office (FCDO).
It is understood that the five had been seized separately, and British sources said nothing was given in return for their release except an apology by them. However, the British government on Sunday had released a statement renouncing violence in Afghanistan and saying there was no alternative to pragmatic engagement with the current administration.
Jouvenal was arrested by the Taliban in Kabul six months ago after he had travelled to the country to discuss some mining investments, and speak with the many longstanding friends he has in the country.
He is married to an Afghan with whom he has three children and was, in the words of the BBC reporter John Simpson, one of the finest television cameramen in the world. The two men worked together nearly two decades ago. He is 66 years old and has high blood pressure. He had enjoyed little access to the outside world in captivity, had not been seen by the the International Committee of the Red Cross and had no charges levelled against him.
The FCDO said it would not be releasing the names of any of the other people who had been released, but confirmed that no other Britons were still in detention.
The foreign secretary, Liz Truss, said in a tweet: “Pleased the UK has secured the release of 5 British nationals detained in Afghanistan. They will soon be reunited with their families. I am grateful for the hard work of British diplomats to secure this outcome.”
The FCDO said: “We welcome and appreciate the release by the current administration of Afghanistan of five British nationals who were detained in Afghanistan.
“These British nationals had no role in the UK government’s work in Afghanistan and travelled to Afghanistan against the UK government’s travel advice. This was a mistake.
“On behalf of the families of the British nationals, we express their apologies for any breach of Afghan culture, customs or laws, and offer their assurance of future good conduct. The UK government regrets this episode.”
The day before, in a statement that may have been part of the diplomatic effort, Hugo Shorter, the UK chargé d’affaires for Afghanistan, based in Doha, said: “The UK does not support anyone, including Afghan nationals, seeking to achieve political change through violence, or any activity inciting violence for political purposes, in Afghanistan, and will not allow UK soil to be used to plan or prepare it, and we strongly discourage others from doing so.
“Violence of any kind is not in Afghanistan’s interests, nor the international community’s, and we deplore terrorist attacks of all kinds.
“To promote peace and stability, to deliver essential humanitarian support to the Afghan people, and to address shared concerns on security, there is no alternative to engaging pragmatically with the current administration of Afghanistan, and that is what we are doing.”
There seemed no obvious reason for the release of the statement.
The Foreign Office had recently strongly advised the shadow foreign secretary, David Lammy, against travelling to Afghanistan, saying he was putting himself at risk, and urging him not to talk to the Taliban during his two-day visit.
Lammy had never had any intention of meeting the Taliban, and concentrated his visit under UN protection on the issue of the humanitarian crisis in the country, and the plight of women. Lammy has been critical that no UK minister has been to Afghanistan since the US-led exodus last August led to the collapse of the former government and the triumph of the Taliban.