Thursday 26 August 2021 2:42 pm

Afghanistan evacuation: Campaigns for Pen Farthing's dogs expose a complete misalignment of priorities

“Music is forbidden in Islam,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told the New York Times, “but we’re hoping that we can persuade people not to do such things, instead of pressuring them.”

Under Taliban rule, women have been beaten for showing their ankles in public. A light punishment, in the context. Where the Taliban draws the line between persuasion and pressure is a question many Afghans are desperate to avoid finding out.

Dog ownership is also banned under Sharia law, spurring former UK Royal Marine Pen Farthing to launch Operation Ark, a campaign to get almost 200 dogs and cats to British soil, rather than put them down or set them free.

I am an animal lover. If I had the space in my flat, the time, and the money, I would adopt one of those dogs in a heartbeat. The unconditional love of a dog, much like the solace of music, is one of the enduring luxuries of life. But while the plight of Farthing’s dogs is tragic, it is also true that those dogs will likely have a better quality of life than some women.

Ben Wallace, the defence secretary, to his credit, was adamant that the government would not “prioritise pets over people”. A position he was forced to reiterate this afternoon, after campaigners attacked Ministry of Defence staff for not being able to get Farthing, his staff and his animals to the airport.

Wallace has been told by No10 to rescue the animals, reportedly at the behest of Carrie Johnson, the Prime Minister’s wife. Meanwhile thousands of Afghans at risk of being punished by the Taliban because of their involvement with the UK, remain in hiding or in hellish scenes at Kabul airport.

What is most alarming about the sequence of events is not whether or not Carrie Johnson interjected or the Prime Minister’s decision. It is the complete misalignment of priorities of the British public. MPs have been inundated with emails from constituents pleading the case of Farthing’s cats and dogs. One person, who works for an MP, told the Guardian’s Jim Waterson: “We’ve had more emails demanding we save the Afghan dogs than emails demanding we save the Afghan people. It’s very disconcernting.”

Of course, we all have different issues we decide to go to the barricades on. Animal rights campaigners will claim it is their job to fight for rescue animals, refugee campaigners can take ministers’ to task over MPs. But everyday people writing to their MP should take a long hard look at themselves and ask why they have not also penned a letter about the people left to squalor under the Taliban’s regime. If they don’t care about women, LGBTQ people, lawyers, and artists, why should their MP, who is elected to advocate on behalf of their constituents?

The people fighting for Farthing’s safe return pulled together £200,000 to charter a private plane to get him, his staff and his animals out. Wallace, very rightly, made it a condition of the animals’ rescue that they would not take away space that would otherwise help a person fleeing persecution. But this is beside the point; the people who will wind up on that flight with the cats and dogs were an afterthought to campaigners, the necessary excuse to be allowed to get the animals out, a protection shield to ensure the dogs’ safe arrival.

This is an unconscionable position for even the most ardent animal lover to take.

This afternoon, Wallace posted a thread on Twitter explaining the situation with Farthing. Sure, it probably took little more than a few minutes to draft a couple hundred characters, but that was still time taken away from processing visas for desperate Afghans. Time of officials was spent considering the response. All the while ex-translators risking their lives just by turning up to Kabul airport are sending hundreds of emails which are going unanswered. Ministers should always be able to walk and chew gum. But as time slips away, every second counts. Those seconds must of course be dedicated to people, not pets.

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