The Foreign Secretary set out Afghanistan as the top foreign policy priority at the Foreign Affairs and Defence debate following Her Majesty the Queen’s speech at the official state opening of Parliament.
Her Majesty the Queen’s speech highlighted the importance of the situation in Afghanistan:
‘My Government will work with the Afghan Government, Pakistan, and international partners for lasting security and stability in Afghanistan.’
Speaking during the debate, the Foreign Secretary paid tribute to the armed forces and civilian staff working in Afghanistan:
‘The Prime Minister has made it clear that our top foreign policy priority is Afghanistan. The duty of care that we owe to our armed forces will be at the forefront of our minds.’
The Foreign Secretary outlined why the UK is engaged in Afghanistan:
‘Our objective in Afghanistan can be expressed quite simply. It is to help Afghans to reach the point at which they can look after their own security without presenting a danger to the rest of the world, with the Afghan security forces and the Afghan state capable of withstanding the range of security threats that are currently present in their country.’
The Foreign Secretary, with the Secretaries of State for Defence and International Development, visited Afghanistan on 23-24 May and met President Karzai and other relevant Ministers and senior officials in order to gain a better understanding of the situation in Afghanistan.
Speaking about his visit to Afghanistan and the Peace Jirga scheduled for 2-4 June, the Foreign Secretary said:
‘One of the matters that we discussed with President Karzai in Afghanistan at the weekend was the process of reconciliation for which the Peace Jirga is about to be called. Sixteen hundred representatives from all over Afghanistan will be asked to come together to give the Afghan Government a mandate to proceed with a process of reconciliation, as well as a reintegration of former Taliban fighters at local level.’
The Foreign Secretary also spoke about the progress in Afghanistan he had seen during his visit.
‘Where progress is being made in Afghanistan, it is being made because the people in those areas have faith in the continuation of the security improvements that have been made, and in the continued presence of the forces that have helped to deliver them.
It is possible to see those improvements. Friends and I were in Nad Ali-a much-contested place-we were able to walk about and meet local people. We could walk around the whole town, visit the bazaar, go to the local clinic, and walk freely in the streets with the district governor. That would not have been possible only eight or nine months ago. Amid all the anxieties about Afghanistan and the casualties that we commemorate and recognise in the House each week, it is important for us also to explain to the British public where things are succeeding in Afghanistan, so that the full context is available to them.’
The Foreign Secretary also underlined the importance of working closely with the Government of Afghanistan to help achieve stability and security.
‘Achieving our objectives in Afghanistan requires close co-operation with the Afghan Government, which must make progress on their commitments in the areas of good governance, corruption, reconciliation and reintegration. We discussed these issues at length with President Karzai and his Ministers over the weekend, and we remain strongly committed to a comprehensive co-ordinated strategy, bringing together the political, security and development aspects of our support to Afghanistan.’