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Foreign Secretary discusses progress in Afghanistan

Foreign Secretary William Hague explained what UK efforts in Afghanistan are achieving in an interview with Dermot Murnaghan on Sky News this morning.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

Dermot Murnaghan: Well let’s say a very good morning to the Foreign Secretary who joins me from Darlington. And Mr Hague on Afghanistan I suppose there is one fundamental question being much asked at the moment and that is can you tell the four hundred and more families who’ve lost loved ones during this conflict, British families, that the result will be a lasting improvement - and I emphasise lasting improvement - to Afghanistan?

William Hague (Foreign Secretary): Well I believe we can do that, yes. I believe we are on course to do that. Every loss of life is a tragedy and everybody in Britain feels very deeply something like the loss of six soldiers that you were talking about there and their bodies being returned. So it is important for people to know that we are achieving something in Afghanistan and we are and you can see that for someone like me who has visited regularly you can see the improvement over time. Certainly our soldiers, our aid workers, our diplomats who all do a fantastic job in Afghanistan would be the first to say when you’re there visiting them, they’re the first to point to the things that they are achieving in Helmand that, where British troops are mainly stationed over the last year insurgent attacks are down, security levels are up, the access of the population to basic services and a basic standard of life is much improved. So certainly we are achieving a great deal and our objective of course is to safeguard our own national security by ensuring that Afghans can look after theirs. And I think we …

Dermot Murnaghan: But, yeah.

William Hague: … are steadily achieving that.

Dermot Murnaghan: But talking about that lasting legacy of course in three years time those advisers, those forces will not be there. Are you confident that the Government that we’re supporting now and hope to continue to be in place is the right one for Afghanistan when we hear last week that Hamid Karzai’s Government says well you know it’s okay to beat your wife? Wasn’t that one of the reasons we were meant to be in Afghanistan? To improve the lot of women?

William Hague: Well our basic purpose in being in Afghanistan is to safeguard our own national security. Let us be clear about that. It would be wrong to think that we are going …

Dermot Murnaghan: So it’s okay if they say things like that?

William Hague: … to leave a perfect society. Well no, it isn’t because of course we always disagree with anybody in the world who says anything like that and we have done a lot to support the inclusion of women in the political process in Afghanistan, in an Afghan’s life, and we will go on doing that very vigorously over the next few years.

It would be unrealistic to think that Afghanistan is going to be like part of Britain in terms either of its quality of life or in terms of the, of its framework of law at any stage in the near future. The question is, the main question is, is it going to be a threat to the United Kingdom and to our allies around the world and that’s why we have to continue with this phenomenally difficult task, it remains a phenomenally difficult task, of building a viable state in Afghanistan and improving security there.

And just one thing to add to that, the Afghan National Army is now a hundred and eighty four thousand strong and the Afghan Police a hundred and forty five thousand strong and the idea as you know is that by the end of 2014 it will be them who are entirely responsible for security in Afghanistan.

Dermot Murnaghan: But I mean long before that I mean judging from what we heard from Mr Cameron and Mr Obama last week effectively the lead combat role transfers in 2013 and NATO forces I suppose what, back to barracks and try not to get killed.

William Hague: Well this transition is happening all the time. The Afghan forces are already in the lead and responsible for security in areas covering about half the population of Afghanistan when this latest round of transition is completed. And I’ve seen in places like Lashkar Gah, in Helmand where the Afghans are manning the security control room, they are doing the patrols. British forces are there in that case to train, to advise, to assist. And so that will increasingly become the case, so yes through 2013 it’s Afghans who will have the lead in conducting their own security and from the end of 2014 British troops will no longer be engaged in combat operations or be there in anything like the strength that they are now. We will be doing things like training their officers. We’ve said we will set up an officer training academy that will help the Afghan forces for the long term future. But we look to them after the end of 2014 to cope on their own.

Dermot Murnaghan: But ultimately the Government we leave behind are going to have to do some kind of deal with elements of the Taliban, the Taliban who are the very forces who are at the moment killing our soldiers and of course advocate policies such as I mentioned there - women, girls not going to school and husbands having the right to chastise them if I may put it that way.

William Hague: Well yes, that’s right. There are of course, there are views held by people in Afghanistan and particularly by the Taliban as you say that are radically different from our own views of society. Nevertheless Afghanistan is changing, there are millions more children in education now than when the Taliban were in charge and one third of those in education are girls. So a change is happening in Afghan society, whether there will be a …

Dermot Murnaghan: Well that might be reversed if the Taliban get in to partial power.

William Hague: Well I think what the Taliban need to understand is that the support isn’t there either in most of Afghanistan or in the region or internationally for them to be in power in Afghanistan. Now much speculation goes backwards and forwards about reconciliation with the Taliban, as you know the Taliban issued a statement in this last week saying that they were suspending the idea of talks with the United States, so this goes backwards and forwards. Whether there will be such a reconciliation we don’t know. We do know that we are building a viable Afghan state and strong Afghan forces so that they are not dependent on doing a deal with the Taliban …

Dermot Murnaghan: Okay.

William Hague: … but will be able to build on what we have achieved in Afghanistan whether or not they make such an accommodation.

Dermot Murnaghan: Okay, Mr Hague, thank you very much indeed. The Foreign Secretary …

William Hague: Thank you

Dermot Murnaghan: … William Hague there.

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Published 18 March 2012