A portrait of Queen Elizabeth II hanging in the UK embassy in Kabul should have been destroyed before diplomats fled Afghanistan last month, said the UK Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab yesterday. The whereabouts of the work are currently unknown however, though Taliban insurgents pledged to look after the portrait if it is found.
Raab faced questions from a cross-party parliamentary committee over his handling of the Afghanistan crisis. The Labour MP and committee member Neil Coyle asked Raab about the location of the portrait, and if he owed the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, an apology because "[Raab] promised that the portrait of Her Majesty would not be left in the British Embassy".
Raab responded: "It is the first I’ve heard reported that the portrait of the Queen was left in the Embassy. My understanding was that it was destroyed. Are you saying that it wasn’t?" Destroying a picture of the monarch would be the normal procedure for the closure of an embassy.
Raab added: "I talked through with the team the policy for destroying not just documents but anything related to Her Majesty’s Government... clearly, we were conscious of the attempted propaganda coup around the Taliban taking over embassies." The Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) said it would not comment further.
The committee chair, Conservative MP Tom Tugendhat, told the panel that there are photographs of Taliban insurgents with portrait of the Queen. Last month, the Times newspaper reported that Taliban promised to safeguard the picture from looters if they discover the item (the report shows militia holding a painting by the 20th-century artist James Hart Dyke).
Rahimullah Hijrat, the Taliban commander in charge of embassy security, told the Times journalist Anthony Loyd at the abandoned UK embassy: “If we find a portrait of the Queen then we will safeguard her too. She is your affair not ours. When the British come back, as we hope they will, then we expect to be their guards too. Nevertheless, we are surprised to see the panic and speed of the British retreat from this war.”
According to The Sun newspaper, the Government art collection (GAC) was due to be brought back home in June from the embassy. At the time of writing, GAC had not responded to a request for comment.
UPDATE (8 September): The Art Newspaper understands that following close work with the FCDO, Government Art Collection pieces from the British Embassy in Afghanistan have now arrived back in the UK.