The Secretary of State for Foreign & Commonwealth Affairs William Hague said:
Mr Speaker, with permission I will make a statement on the outcome of the Kabul Conference and on progress in Afghanistan.
My Right Honourable Friend the Deputy Prime Minister today paid his respects to the four servicemen to die in Afghanistan in the past week.
They died in the service of their country and the whole House has already joined me in expressing its gratitude to them and the British Forces in Afghanistan.
The last month has been a difficult one, but we should not lose sight of what has been achieved since the London Conference on Afghanistan six months ago.
I would not want to minimise in any way to the House the immense challenges that we and our allies continue to face in Afghanistan, or the difficulties and dangers we encounter on a daily basis. Bringing security and stability to Afghanistan remains an exceptionally demanding task for the men and women of our Armed Forces, our diplomatic service, and those involved in development. Their work is rarely less than outstanding on a daily basis. There will continue to be setbacks and discouragements, even while progress is being made. We must therefore always guard against over optimism but we must equally guard against listening only to bad news or failing to notice the millions of Afghans who want us to succeed.
In the last 6 months, our troops have consolidated their position in Helmand, taken the fight to the Taliban and trained hundreds of Afghan troops; our diplomats and aid workers have worked with Afghan colleagues to promote a more inclusive political process and intensify our work including on education and governance; and the Government of Afghanistan has acted on its London commitments and drawn together for the first time a cross government strategy to deliver widespread reform.
As the Prime Minister has said, our objective is a stable Afghanistan able to maintain its own security and prevent Al- Qaeda from returning, so that within five years we can drawdown British combat troops.
Mr Speaker, the NATO objective in Afghanistan is simple - to assist the Government of Afghanistan in exercising its authority and influence across the country, paving the way for reconstruction and effective governance. This requires the protection of the population, the provision of more effective governance at every level, and the creation of an Afghan Security Force able to maintain security and prevent the return of Al-Qaeda. This is the strategy that UK forces are helping to implement, through their training and partnering of Afghan troops, and their efforts to create the opportunity for more effective local governance in Central Helmand. General Petraeus, the newly appointed Commander of ISAF, has made clear that this remains his approach.
Together with my Right Honourable Friend the International Development Secretary, I attended the Kabul Conference yesterday, following visits I made to China, Japan and Oman.
Some 40 foreign Ministers and international organisations - including the UN, NATO, the EU, and the World Bank - attended, in what was an unprecedented event for Afghanistan. It was also unprecedented in the number of Muslim partners represented at such a conference. It showed the world that Afghanistan is increasingly able to run its own affairs, and was a further step in the process of transition from direct international military and civil intervention to Afghan leadership.
The Conference issued a communique agreed among all participants which builds on the progress made in the last six months. It establishes the Kabul Process, an Afghan-led process which aims to accelerate Afghanistan’s ability to govern itself with accountable government, reduce dependence on the international community, enhance its security forces and provide better protection for the rights of all its citizens.
This is a single implementation plan for the coming years. International donors including Britain have committed themselves to re-align their funding behind the Kabul process.
This is a significant achievement for a country as beset by conflict and poverty as Afghanistan. The Kabul Process holds out the prospect of a more secure future for Afghans.
The Afghan Government made yesterday a number of important commitments:
• To concentrate efforts on a limited number of national programmes and projects to transform the lives of people and reinforce the relationship between state and citizens
• To have Afghan security forces take the lead on security through out the country by 2014 and to set up an Afghan NATO board to analyse whether provinces are ready to begin the transition process.
• To create a lean, effective and appropriately paid public service, retiring those civil servants who are unable to perform or are not needed in a renewed and revitalised civil service
• To ensure that the wealth generated from the mining sector is invested to benefit future generations
• To require new national development programmes to be designed with international partners to ensure the highest standards of accountability and transparency
• To amend the criminal law to increase penalties for the failure to disclose assets and to take to trial ministers and other high ranking officials who do not comply
• To strengthen the High Office of Oversight for Government Accountability and the Major Crimes Task Force in order to tackle corruption
• To establish a Commission to find ways to bring together the public and private sectors to stimulate economic growth
• To work with parliament to strengthen its constitutionally mandated role
• To improve financial management and agree a system with donors in order to allow more donor funds to be channelled through the Afghan budget
Mr Speaker, this Afghan plan will be supported by the UK Government and by our international partners.
On 10 June, my Right Honourable Friend the Prime Minister announced an additional £200m in funding to promote stability and development over the next four years. My Right Honourable Friend the International Development Secretary will set out further details of this in a Written Ministerial Statement tomorrow.
Britain will intensify and reinvigorate our development efforts; increasing the pace of work and the achievement of specific results, in line with the Government of Afghanistan’s priorities.
We will work closely with the Afghans, US and others to accelerate the stabilisation effort in central Helmand and the 81 key districts targeted under the ISAF plan. We will work with others to ensure the successful implementation of the agreed Peace and Reintegration Programme and help support the forthcoming elections, and invest in improving the quality and effectiveness of the police. Our overall aim is speeding up the pace of transition to Afghan security leadership.
We will also support the Afghan economy and help new jobs, through investment in mining, roads, power and irrigation, and by bringing community driven development to isolated areas of the country.
We will help the Government of Afghanistan to deliver vital services and to tackle corruption, providing increased support to education, including technical and vocational training, and for the administration of justice.
Our international partners have committed themselves to do their part to support the Kabul Process as well. Afghanistan’s near neighbours will work to accelerate regional economic co-operation. An important milestone was reached in the days before the Conference with the conclusion of the Afghanistan-Pakistan Trade Transit Agreement. This much desired economic measure has taken some forty years to achieve.
Mr Speaker, the Kabul Process is a major step forward for Afghanistan and an important staging post in Afghanistan’s development. There remains more to do, notably in the areas of governance. Measures to enforce transparency, anti-corruption and accountability have slipped and need to be brought back on track as soon as possible.
We will pursue these and other issues as part of the follow-up to the Conference. The Kabul Process contains strengthened review mechanisms which include a more robust Joint Co-ordination Monitoring Board in Kabul and an over-arching annual assessment, which will report to an Annual Kabul Ministerial Conference. My Department, Ministry of Defence and the Department for International Development will be closely involved in that process.
The Kabul Conference has established a road map for more professional, functioning and mature institutions. There will be other important milestones this year, including Parliamentary Elections, the NATO Lisbon Summit, and President Obama’s Review. Her Majesty’s Government will build on these steps to help put in place the conditions for a stable, secure and increasingly prosperous Afghanistan.
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