© Financial Times

This is an audio transcript of the FT News Briefing podcast episode: The Taliban’s first official press conference since taking Kabul

Joanna Kao
Good morning from the Financial Times. Today is Wednesday, August 18th, and this is your FT News Briefing. Afghanistan’s new rulers gave their first government press conference yesterday. The Taliban also urged people to get back to their daily lives. But there’s still fear of the new Islamist regime. Plus, in the UK, a flurry of deals have left British defence technology companies in foreign hands. How concerned should the government be?

Sylvia Pfeifer
The question really, I think, for ministers is, are they happy not to have control over the IP for this? And if the UK government doesn’t own the IP, is there a risk that it won’t be able to call on them when it needs to?

Joanna Kao
I’m Joanna Kao, in for Marc Filippino. And here’s the news you need to start your day.

[MUSIC PLAYING]

After a harrowing few days following the Taliban’s takeover of Kabul, the airport resumed evacuation flights and the country’s new rulers urged citizens to go back to their daily lives. And a Taliban official held their first government press conference. Here’s the FT’s Stephanie Findlay.

Stephanie Findlay
It was a Taliban spokesman that many people had known through WhatsApp groups or phone calls but had never actually seen. So he sat down for a press conference in Kabul and repeated what the group has been saying over the past recent days, made assurances to keep peace, to keep security, and to also offer a general amnesty to government workers, to the soldiers that they’d been fighting against for 20 years. He also said that women would have an active role in society, but with the caveat that it was going to be according to Islamic law. So the big questions are how sincere are they about these assurances and can they make sure that what they promise at the high level of leadership in the Central Command can also be communicated down through their rank and file that are spread out throughout the country.

Joanna Kao
So speaking of following through, the Taliban have offered amnesty to government workers who feared reprisal for working for the previous government. Are they following through with that?

Stephanie Findlay
The Taliban have offered an amnesty to government workers, to everyone, they say. But we are hearing reports I was talking to government workers today who have said that they were harassed, who have said that they’ve had documents taken off of them, property taken off of them, while other diplomats have said that the Taliban are arriving at their doors, even though the Taliban leadership has insisted again and again that no one is to be harmed. Again, we’re watching if they can actually enforce this on the ground.

Joanna Kao
So to what extent is life getting back to normal in Kabul?

Stephanie Findlay
I think that there was immediately, obviously a massive sense of panic and people went inside their homes for safety. There was the mad scramble to the airport. And now people in Kabul say that life is slowly returning to the streets. However, people are still quite scared, and especially those connected or affiliated with the government have gone underground.

Joanna Kao
That’s the FT’s Stephanie Findlay.

[MUSIC PLAYING]

The Taliban also set up a helpline in Kabul using the internet messaging service WhatsApp. The Taliban has used WhatsApp for hotlines in the past for citizens to report violence or looting. But yesterday, Facebook, which owns WhatsApp, shut down the Kabul hotline and Facebook said it was scanning its app to prevent the Taliban from using it. This comes after critics in the US have attacked social media companies for not taking more action to shut down Taliban communications on their platforms. But experts are saying that blocking the Taliban’s WhatsApp numbers was absurd and unhelpful, especially since citizens in Kabul might need them and because the Taliban does pay attention to hotline complaints.

[MUSIC PLAYING]

In the UK, there’s increasing concern about British defence companies being bought out by foreign companies or investors. And this week, the board of the aerospace and defence group Ultra Electronics approved a 2.6 billion pound takeover by rival Cobham. Cobham is owned by American buyout group called Advent International. The FT’s Sylvia Pfeifer joins me to talk more about the deal. Hi, Sylvia.

Sylvia Pfeifer
Hi there.

Joanna Kao
So first, can you tell us about Ultra Electronics? What’s the technology that they specialise in?

Sylvia Pfeifer
So it’s one of a number of listed UK defence companies that provide critical technology to the government. It makes a whole range of components for things like the F-35 fighter jets and also the Eurofighter. It’s also a critical supplier to the Royal Navy and provides them with sonar-enabled buoys which detect submarines. And it also provides control panels for the UK’s nuclear deterrent fleet. So it’s intimately tied to the UK’s defences against underwater threats.

Joanna Kao
And so with that in mind, what what are or what should the government be concerned about with this takeover?

Sylvia Pfeifer
I think it’s two things. It’s very much an industrial policy issue for the government and also one of national security. Critics of the deal, I think, worry that despite the assurances being given by Advent, the US private equity group that owns Cobham, the UK is at risk of losing control of vital IP. I spoke to one analyst about this and he made quite a good point, actually. I thought that Ultra, along with some other UK defence companies, for example, was instrumental in helping to reduce key technology for British forces fighting during the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. So the question really, I think, for ministers is, are they happy not to have control over the IP for this? You know, they relied on an Ultra and others when they needed them and they delivered. And if the UK government doesn’t own the IP, is there a risk that it won’t be able to call on them when it needs to?

Joanna Kao
So you mentioned assurances are part of the deal. What are the assurances that the US buyout group Advent is offering?

Sylvia Pfeifer
So the exact details of the assurances are still to be determined with government ministers. But in essence, Advent is promising to invest in UK jobs. They’ll maintain the jobs in the UK. They will invest in research and development. They will also allay any concerns over national security that ministers might raise with them. So they are committing significantly to the UK.

Joanna Kao
So if we go back to Advent’s takeover of Cobham in the first place two years ago, does that tell us anything about its intentions and adding Ultra Electronics to its portfolio?

Sylvia Pfeifer
Yeah, well, that’s that’s the key question. I think you have to agree that Advent has delivered on all the promises it made to the government at the time. It’s, for example, under the terms of existing contracts, it’s invested in R&D. It’s given the Ministry of Defence notice when it wanted to sell all or bits of Cobham. And in addition, those undertakings were also independently audited. However, the company, as was, no longer exists. So within 18 months of taking control Advent has sold large parts of the business, more than half of what it bought by value. So I think the concern people have is that the same thing might happen to Ultra.

Joanna Kao
Sylvia, this deal is one of several other defence-related takeovers. Can you remind us of some of the other deals that would be of concern to the British government?

Sylvia Pfeifer
There are other deals happening at the moment. So Meggitt has agreed a takeover by Parker Hannifin, which is a US industrial company. I think a lot of the UK defence companies have been sort of mooted as takeover targets for years. I think the main reason these deals are now actually happening is the availability of debt, very cheap debt. So it’s just a great time to be doing deals.

Joanna Kao
Sylvia Pfeifer is the FT’s industry correspondent.

[MUSIC PLAYING]

The UK has been trying to attract listings to its stock markets to maintain its position as a global financial hub. But now one of the biggest companies on the Footsie 100 stock index is set to leave. The mining giant BHP said it would unify its dual corporate structure and shift its primary stock market listing to Australia. And when BHP is removed from the London exchange, many UK shareholders will be forced to sell. So the company’s move could face opposition.

[MUSIC PLAYING]

You can read more on all of these stories at FT.com. This has been your daily FT News Briefing. Make sure you check back tomorrow for the latest business news.

This transcript has been automatically generated. If by any chance there is an error please send the details for a correction to: typo@ft.com. We will do our best to make the amendment as soon as possible.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2022. All rights reserved.
Reuse this content (opens in new window) CommentsJump to comments section

Follow the topics in this article