The main purpose of his visit was to reiterate the UK’s continued support for Afghan-led efforts to promote a peace process.
Speaking to the Afghan press during his visit, Mr. Sedwill touched on a number of issues, including the importance of reintegrating low-level fighters back into communities through the Afghan Peace and Reintegration Programme; the need for a process of national reconciliation (including with the Taliban leadership); and the importance of constructive regional engagement to help the Afghan Government deliver a durable and inclusive political settlement that protects the rights of all Afghans.
He stressed the UK’s long-term commitment to Afghanistan’s stability and security beyond the departure of our combat troops by the end of 2014.
And he offered his condolences for the recent spate of tragic murders, including the President’s half-brother Ahmad Wali Karzai, and the Mayor of Kandahar city Ghulam Haider Hamidi.
**The Political Settlement
**Describing the UK’s role in the peace process, Mr. Sedwill said: ‘The peace process is Afghan-led and the core of it will be Afghan to Afghan. We will provide any support we can, including securing safe passage for those wishing to make contact with the High Peace Council, or make contacts between the High Peace Council and the Afghan insurgents outside the country if they so wish.’
On grassroots reconciliation, he set out the support and funding the UK is giving to the Afghan Peace and Reintegration Programme, which has so far helped bring over 2,000 fighters off the battlefield and back into local communities. ‘Even if the leadership sitting in comfort in villas wherever they are hiding out decide that they don’t want to reconcile,’ Mr. Sedwill noted, ‘many of the people on the ground who are bearing the brunt of the violence have decided that they will. And we hope that will continue.’
He explained that the UK is also helping to set the right framework for peace. For example, the UK had been at the centre of negotiations at the United Nations Security Council which led to the splitting of the UN sanctions regime. This meant that the Afghan Taliban are now to be treated independently from Al-Qaeda and others involved in international terrorism. Since this development, 15 individuals have been removed from the sanctions list, including four members of the High Peace Council. This demonstrated that those willing to renounce violence and join the peace process would be treated honourably and their transition to normal life supported.
Mr. Sedwill argued that these moves–which were to a large extent thanks to Afghan government action–represented important confidence-building measures that would help move the peace process forward.
And he stressed that the political process, which complemented the military campaign, needed to be comprehensive and substantive. ‘There needs to be a political process that offers the people who are fighting a decent way of life, a respectable way back into mainstream life, and we have to resolve the underlying tensions, disputes and grievances that drive either individuals or communities into the arms of the Taliban and other militant groups.’
**Long term commitment
**But the UK’s commitment to Afghanistan will go beyond the military campaign and support to the political process; the commitment is ‘structural as well as political,’ Mr. Sedwill explained. ‘We are here for the long term. We will help to build up the Afghan national security forces, to continue to help strengthen the institutions of state, and help deal with the problems that affect the people most, such as dealing with corruption and violence.’ He stressed that for every ISAF soldier who leaves in 2011 or 2012, there will be two new Afghans out there–either military or police–providing security to the Afghan people.
He explained the relationship between the political efforts and the UK’s long-term commitment to Afghanistan:
‘The offer to the fighter is simple: there is an honourable and respectable way of life on offer to you. And you can stop fighting and take it. Or you can carry on fighting, and if you do that the chances are either ISAF or the Afghan security forces will kill or capture you at some point. We hope as many as possible will take the honourable solution.
‘What is not on offer is that you are going to take over. The Afghan state is going to be too strong, and we will remain committed for the long term to ensuring that it is too strong to enable that to happen.’
Before leaving for the Palace to speak to President Karzai, Mr. Sedwill said: ‘All of us need to increase our efforts to put the pressure on the insurgency, to deal with the tensions and frictions which fuel it, and to advance the political process. That’s what my job is about.’
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