Taliban talks may be the only way of finishing mission - Christa Ackroyd

I love my dog. He has been such a huge part of my life during the dark days of lockdown which began when he was just a puppy and ended when he was fully grown.

Pen Farthing, founder of animal rescue charity Nowzad, who has pleaded to the British government to withdraw his staff from Kabul. (PA).

He forced me to get out from under the duvet and venture outside when we were unable to meet human beings. He kept me sane when I wobbled.

I spend more money each month keeping his hair trimmed than I do on my own because Lhasas require constant grooming and I don’t any more.

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But he is worth it. My little dog makes me smile every day. And he is also a reminder of my late mum as he was bought with her legacy and named Spenceley, her maiden name, which could have died with her but instead was given to a much loved pet. So he is extra special to me. I hope that doesn’t sound disrespectful. Mum would have liked it, I know.

I totally understand why people turned to animals during the pandemic, or indeed gained such comfort from them during other difficult times in their life. And why we care so much about protecting them. They who are so trusting are so often mistreated.

Over the past year or so I have bemoaned the huge increase in prices as some unscrupulous breeders doubled, and even tripled, what they had once charged, making our pets targets for thieves not just to sell but for lucrative breeding after which they are often abandoned.

And so I belong to a wonderful group which rescues the unwanted and unloved and finds them new homes where they can live out their lives being fussed over. A rescued dog rewards our compassion tenfold.

I see many homeless people on the streets as I go out each week with the Homeless Street Angels. You often find the only friend of those living on streets is their dog, and they will always ask for help for their canine companion before themselves and we must never misjudge what a lifeline they can be.

So I fully understand why former British Marine and animal rescue founder Paul “Pen” Farthing was attempting to leave Afghanistan with his fellow charity workers and more than a hundred animals in what became known as Operation Ark.

That mission apparently failed on Thursday, which also happened to be World International Dog Day, as the former veteran admitted defeat because he said the rules had changed and he no longer had the correct paperwork.

As pet owners across the world shared photos of their beloved pooches, Pen and his team had tried to keep their animals cool by spraying them with water as they remained cooped up in their rescue vehicles.

They had risked everything, even been fired on, trying to make it to the airport and there was something so tremendously British that so many people had clubbed together to try to help them leave Kabul in a private plane. And I hope they still make it. It’s the stuff films are made of when animals triumph over adversity.

But this is no film, it is a tragedy that above all is a human tragedy and as the devastation reigned over Kabul, as the suicide bombers of the enemy of the Taliban targeted those trying to flee to safety and those protecting them, it was a stark reminder that the human cost of this appalling scenario still needs to be at the forefront of our minds.

And that is what Pen Farthing’s fellow charity workers told him as they urged him to save himself and leave them and the animals behind. But what risks they had taken even trying. Just as those who have now landed safely on the other side risked everything too.

The children now in a foreign country, including many in our own country, may have seemed confused by all the upheaval and why they had been forced to come to a strange, new land, but their parents know why – because they feared unless they left their homes and other loved ones behind they would die. Just as so many died on Thursday night.

They risked everything by even attempting to leave and now the rescue mission on one dark day this week became even more dangerous, and even more deadly, forcing, it seems, Pen and his team to give up. And no doubt others too.

But we cannot give up. We promised we would stand by those who stood with us against the Taliban. The terrible irony is that those who were once our enemy are now being relied upon to help get others to safety.

But here is what we can learn from Pen Farthing and his fellow charity workers as they fought for each other and the animals they so clearly love. We reluctantly now have to engage with the Taliban to ensure safe passage for all those who remain in danger.

As he appealed publicly to the individuals who are now in control to help him and his charges get through, he did so knowing it was his only chance. And sadly and sickeningly it is ours.

As Isis emerge as the biggest imminent threat to human safety in Afghanistan, we can no longer expect people to make their way to an airport which has now become not just chaotic but deadly.

There has to be another way out and whether we like it or not I have to reluctantly agree with Barnsley MP Dan Jarvis, himself an Afghan veteran, we must now turn to the Taliban to keep their promise to enable us help complete this mission.

And that is a terrible Catch 22 when so many of our soldiers died overcoming them.

But if fighting hasn’t worked, and withdrawing our troops hasn’t worked, perhaps all that remains, as Pen Farthing tried, is a diplomatic way out.

And that I am afraid is going to be a bitter pill to swallow. All we can do is watch and pray.