Afghanistan visit: Prime Minister's press conference with Hamid Karzai
This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government
Prime Minister David Cameron and President Hamid Karzai gave a press conference together during the PM's trip to Afghanistan.
In the name of God, members of the Afghan and international press, you’re all welcome to today’s press conference between His Excellency, very respected Prime Minister Mr Cameron, and me. His Excellency the Prime Minister is a friend of Afghanistan, and has helped tremendously with Afghanistan’s reconstruction and especially in terms of the betterment of the contacts between Afghanistan and Pakistan. And the last time we met was in Chequers in London, for which we are grateful, and we’re happy to see him again here in Kabul.
Mr Prime Minster and me discussed on a wide range of all issues of interest and we also talked about the concern in Afghanistan, which is there on the peace process, and that the foreign hands in – should not be able to abuse the peace process in Afghanistan, and I also discussed this with the Prime Minster that, while Afghanistan is happy, and is pleased with its strategic relations with the world, it also believes that the bilateral security agreement with NATO and the United States be based on the interests of Afghanistan, something that could guarantee and assure us peace and security in Afghanistan, and something that provides for a centrally strong and united Afghanistan. And an agreement in which Afghanistan can gain further strength and can walk towards prosperity and stability.
Mr Prime Minister and I also talked about our relations with Pakistan. We exchanged our views very, very clearly that it’s important for both of us to have good relations and friendly relations with Pakistan, and not that Pakistan makes efforts for strategic depth against – in Afghanistan, because neither Afghanistan soil would be used against Pakistan, nor Pakistan’s soil should be used for activities against Afghanistan. We are seeking strong and friendly relations between the two countries, something based on mutual respect to interests, to mutual interests, so we also talked about all the aspects of the peace process, and that we need to co-operate with each other in moving forward.
And His Excellency the Prime Minister reaffirmed all the commitments he has previously made to Afghanistan, and also talked about the best wishes and the good wishes to Afghanistan, and I thank him again for the renewed expression of his commitment, and I thank you for all the efforts you’ve made to Afghanistan. And this time too his visit was aimed on how UK can help in, helping the peace process and how they could work with Pakistan and Afghanistan on – in expediting the peace process, and so that we could all be hopeful of ourselves, thank you.
Thank you very much Mr President, and I’m delighted to be back here with you in Kabul. This is a city where Britain and Afghanistan have so much vital work going on. We had very useful talks today, and we share a common goal: a secure, stable and democratic Afghanistan. A country that is no longer a haven for terrorists, that no longer harbours threats to either of our national securities, a country where Afghans themselves are in control and building the peaceful and prosperous future that they deserve.
We’ve discussed three key issues: our progress towards that shared vision; the challenges ahead; and the role that the United Kingdom will continue to play as a strong friend of Afghanistan after our combat troops have left. Let me say a few words on each.
First on the progress we have made. This morning I was in Helmand Province, where Afghan troops are now the lead force responsible for security in that province, and for taking on the insurgents. This is the case right across the country – in each and every province and city, Afghan soldiers and Afghan police are assuming responsibility for keeping Afghanistan’s 27 million citizens safe. This is a remarkable transformation. When I first came to Helmand in 2006, there were almost no Afghan forces at all. Today, there are over 340,000. These are capable, determined troops, and we’re on track for them to take over full responsibility at the end of next year.
But progress is not just limited to the battlefield. In Helmand, 130,000 children are now in school, including 30,000 girls, when under the Taliban there were none. 80% of the population can now get healthcare within 10 kilometres of their home, and, crucially, support for the Taliban has plummeted, from over 20% two years ago to just 5% today.
And this progress is not just limited to daily life. The political process is moving forward too. Preparations are underway for next year’s presidential elections, which will mark the first peaceful constitutional handover of power in living memory, and it will be a vital part, sir, of your legacy. Afghans are already registering to vote; over 50,000 new voters have already registered, including over 10,000 woman.
And I believe that the Taliban, watching all this progress, are beginning to realise that they are not going to secure a role in Afghanistan’s future through terror and violence, but by giving up their arms and engaging in a political process. But let me make absolutely clear, this peace process is for Afghanistan to determine; it must be Afghan owned, it must be Afghan led, there is no other agenda that Britain has, that America has, that any country in the West has – no other agenda, other than your stability, your security, and your prosperity. That is why we wish this peace process well, but it must be your peace process and not anybody else’s.
Now, of course there will be challenges ahead, and there is a lot still to be achieved. We discussed the need for a peaceful, credible election next year, in which Afghans across the country can vote freely, and Mr President, I welcome your commitment to a democratic succession after your second term. The forthcoming elections present an opportunity for Afghanistan to demonstrate its democratic progress, both to its own citizens and to the world. Britain stands ready to assist the Afghan government and the Independent Electoral Commission to achieve this. We are providing financial support for the process, including £4.5 million specifically targeted to increase women’s participation.
We’ll also do all we can to support an Afghan led peace process. This will not be easy. It will take courage and conviction on both sides. There will be setbacks. But there is, I believe, a window of opportunity, and I’m going to urge all of those who renounce violence, who respect the constitution, who want to have a voice in the future prosperity of this country, to seize that opportunity.
Finally, the President and I discussed our shared commitment to a strong partnership between our two countries beyond 2014. While our combat troops will return home, we have already committed to support and sustain the Afghan security forces with financial support long after 2014. The Afghan National Army Officer Academy, which you specifically asked Britain to take the lead in, where we will help to train the Afghan army officers of the future. It will take its first students this Autumn.
And we will continue to support the vital building blocks for growth: the rule of law, the absence of corruption, the presence of property rights and strong institutions. We will maintain our development assistance, and co-chair a ministerial conference next year, to agree the international community’s future support for Afghanistan.
Finally, here in Afghanistan on Armed Forces Day, I want to pay particular tribute to the 444 British men and women who have died serving our country here in Afghanistan. I think of their family and friends, of all who’ve been injured, whose lives have been irrevocably changed by the role they have played here. We have paid a high price, but since British troops arrived here over a decade ago, we have dramatically reduced the terror threat emanating from this whole region. We came here to make Afghanistan safer, to make Britain safer, and together, we are achieving that. Thank you.
Welcome, Mr Prime Minister. Now Prime Minister, would you like to have the first question?
If you wouldn’t mind speaking in English, sir.
We would be grateful. Given the recent attack by the Taliban on your own presidential compound, how realistic is it that you will be sitting down with the Taliban any time soon?
Ma’am, the attack that was organised near the presidential palace will not deter us from seeking peace. We have had them killing the Afghan people, but we still ask for peace. This was peanuts, comparatively speaking, quite an irrelevant attack. We’re more concerned when they attack the Afghan civilians; we are more concerned when they attack Afghan schools and children. I wish they would spend all their time attacking the presidential palace and leave the rest of the country alone.
Let me make the point that the Afghan security forces dealt with this attack without any military assistance from others, and they dealt with it very effectively and very swiftly.
And very promptly. So I wish they would concentrate all their energies on attacking the Presidential palace and leave the rest of the country alone, leave all children and women and schools alone, not kill them. Even then, we want to talk peace because that’s what we are seeking, because that’s what the country needs, that’s what also the Taliban need. I would ask them once again to free themselves from foreign influence, from the grips of foreign intelligence agencies, and to return to their own country in dignity and honour and work for their own people.
Thank you very much Mr President, from [Inaudible]. First, I welcome Prime Minister Cameron to Afghanistan and then, very briefly, what do you think, Mr Prime Minister, about the role of Britain in convincing Pakistan as your traditional friend to help sincerely in ensuring a real peace process for the interest of Afghanistan and of Pakistan?
And my other question is to President Karzai. There are countries like Britain, UK and Pakistan involved in the peace process in – of Afghanistan. There are – it’s said that there are efforts of these countries that a federal system of governance be introduced in Afghanistan.
And the other question is about the Taliban’s office in Quetta. Following that, the government of Afghanistan suspended the talks on the bilateral security agreement with the United States. And, a few days ago, you also had a video conference call with President Obama and you talked about – was there any contact on resumption of such talks on the bilateral security agreement, and what agreements have you reached?
And the third point is that the Pakistani Taliban announced that they welcome the office of the Taliban in Quetta, and they are all led by one single group of the Afghanistan Taliban – Mullah Omar is their overall leader – and say that they will take their commands from Mullah Omar of Afghanistan. What do you think of all this? Thank you.
Well, perhaps I can answer my part of the question first, which is: what is the role of Britain in terms of our relations with Pakistan? We have a good relationship with Pakistan; it’s a long-standing relationship. And we have a very clear view, which is that it is in Pakistan’s short, medium, and long-term interests to have a secure, stable and prosperous Afghanistan, with which they have a good and strong relationship. That is the sum total of what we say to Pakistan about Afghanistan.
That is why I helped to put together the trilateral talks process between Britain, Afghanistan and Pakistan. And I believe that process has made some assistance in the development of good relations, but we need to keep on. We need to keep on this journey. But I think it is absolutely clear that it is in the long-term interest, short-term interest, medium-term interest of Afghanistan to have a good relationship with Pakistan, and Pakistan to have a good relationship with Afghanistan.
And I pay tribute to the President for his longstanding leadership and vision on this issue. And I know that he will keep up those efforts. There are always difficulties; there are always blocks in the road, but I know that the President sees past them and knows that this long-term relationship is in both countries’ strong interest.
[Inaudible] establishing the so-called federally administered system in Afghanistan, or leading Afghanistan towards such a system, or – or the rumours that we’ve heard and we’ve also seen efforts being made by some outsiders, by some foreign countries. So such efforts into leading the country into a federally kind of a system is not welcome in Afghanistan. We’ve seen such efforts have always failed in the country. So – but recently we’ve seen that efforts are being made to promote such desires for an establishment of such systems through the Taliban.
So this is – this is an issue that we have spoken about with other countries. Today we also spoke about this with the Prime Minister today on the lunch, and he assured us that not such a thing exists on, of course, their agenda. We too have also heard such things from Pakistan that efforts are being made to that effort. And I don’t know what interests Pakistan is seeking in such a situation. So we believe that would be in the damage of Pakistan; it would be in the loss of Pakistan, not in the interest.
And the other point you raised about the Pakistani Taliban’s movement, who announced that they fall under the Afghanistan’s branch of the Taliban and that they would accept the Afghanistan Taliban leader as their own leader, so they’ve like separated themselves from Pakistan. So they too can then reach an approach Tal – Quetta’s office of the Taliban too, and then they could – they could sit together in that, and then the government of Afghan would sit with them and talk.
So we’ve heard of such efforts. We’ve also seen some signals, but such efforts will not yield any results, will be of no avail, so we – and the countries that we – that we know are involved, we are in very clear contact and in relationship with them and we will act based on the Afghanistan’s interest and the unity. So we’ve seen such efforts even very long back, when such efforts came ahead. Even the Taliban themselves then contacted us and said that they were against it.
So the – the negotiation on the bilateral security agreement is still suspended. I – as you pointed out, I had a video conference – contact with President Obama where he hoped that the negotiations would resume on the bilateral security agreement between Afghanistan and the US, and that if we could reach an agreement by October this year, but I noted and reminded that Afghanistan continues to hold its unchangeable conditions and principles that seeks Afghanistan’s interest, and Afghanistan’s centrality and central government. And Afghanistan’s unity lies in the heart of such conditions.
So if these conditions and if these principles are met, we definitely – the nation of Afghanistan will definitely be ready to agree or to accept the bilateral security agreement with the US. Anyway, it is up to the people of Afghanistan to decide so the loya jirga, the grand council, will decide on how to move ahead with a bilateral security agreement, and then they will advise their government on that. So they will make the final decision. Thank you.
Mr President, if I could just pick you up on the concerns you raised about efforts to create a federal system. Is it for you a red line that the constitution should not be changed, and what do you say to people who say that the constitution vests too much power in the presidency and if you are having a process of reconciliation you need to look at that?
And Prime Minister, if I could ask you, I believe this is your first visit to Afghanistan since the sort of formal opening of dialogue with the – with the Taliban. What do you say to families of British soldiers, the 444 British soldiers, who may feel that once again a British government has held talks in secret with an organisation that it asks its troops to put their lives on the line to fight? And once again, just with the IRA, you’re now having talks in the open with that organisation whilst your troops, British troops, are still on the line. Thank you.
The right question.
Shall I go first?
Thank you. Well, what I would say to everyone in the United Kingdom, and perhaps particularly to British forces and British forces’ families, is that we should be very proud of the work that British armed service personnel have done here in Afghanistan. We came here in 2001 with a very clear purpose, and that was to stop this country being used as a base for terrorist attacks against Britain.
And we have been successful in that task. The Afghan government, with our assistance, has managed to deliver security and stability across much more of this country than was ever possible in the past, and it is no longer a haven for terrorist plotting and planning. And yes, of course we now believe alongside our security approach, which is about training up the Afghan army and police force, we believe yes, there should be a political process as well, but a political process that will only succeed if those involved in terms of the Taliban put down their arms and stop fighting.
Now, the encouraging thing about the process so far is the Taliban statement that they made was that they didn’t want Afghanistan anymore to be a haven for terror. They didn’t want it to be a country that caused pain to other countries in the region or in the world. So I think people would expect the Afghan government and its allies and friends to have that sort of political process.
But I think above all, we should be proud and grateful for what our armed service personnel have done here. We should be very clear that any peace process has to be Afghan-owned and Afghan-led. And let me just make absolutely clear beyond any doubt about the timetable for British troops leaving Afghanistan. I set this out in 2010, and it has not changed: there will be no British combat troops after the end of 2014. British troops are coming home. That is happening right now. Until recently, we were in 130 different patrol bases; we’re now in just over ten. By the end of the year, that will be something like four bases.
And let me also be clear that after 2014, we have said that our contribution will be the officer training academy that President Karzai asked us to establish. We have not made any other commitments, and nor have I been asked to make other commitments. Now, of course, other NATO countries may choose to do more things to help assist the Afghan forces; not in a combat role, but to assist the Afghan forces post-2014. But from everything I’ve heard today, the Afghan forces are doing a good job, they are highly capable, highly motivated, and they are capable of delivering security for this country.
You asked about federal system in Afghanistan. Federalism is run quite successfully in some countries. You have it in the United States, you have it in India, you have it in Germany and – in a more liberal way – in Switzerland. The Afghan experience is different. After the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan and after the years of interference from abroad and the internal incoherence in Afghanistan, it was exactly the nature of a fragmented system in Afghanistan that caused so much bloodshed and misery to the Afghan people. Therefore, the Afghan people are looking forward to a strong unitary form of government that would deliver them to services, that would provide them the goods for a better life.
Any system that is imposed on us or effort is made to be imposed on us from abroad – federalism or any other structure – the Afghan people would reject. Especially an effort for federalism through delivering a province or two to the Taliban will be seen by the Afghan people as an invasion of Afghanistan and as an effort from outside to weaken and splinter this country. Therefore, there will be a strong opposition to that. Therefore, there was the massive, strong reaction to the manner in which the Taliban office in Doha was inaugurated.
So our message is clear. The constitution is the work of the Afghan people; they are empowered to bring any changes in the constitution that they want. The Taliban, once they’ve joined the peace process, once they’ve begun to talk to their Afghan brothers and sisters, if they have any demands, they should put them forward, and then there is a mechanism provided in our constitution for amendments in the constitution through the Afghan loya jirga, and the Afghan loya jirga can look at all those questions as the right given by the Afghan people to it. The power to the President of Afghanistan? The constitution, well, it’s a presidential system. Therefore, the President has powers.
Any more questions, Mr Prime Minister? One more?
It’s for you to decide.
Well, Mr Prime Minister, I will decide on your instructions. So…
I would ask my question in English. What specific actions should be taken in order for negotiations to begin? What does Taliban want? What does US want? And what does the Afghan government want? And also, what does the US, Taliban and Qatar government want the Afghan government to do? Thank you.
Well, sir, who is this question asked for, Prime Minister or myself? Alright. Well, we know what we want, the Afghan people, from the peace talks. We want peace and stability in Afghanistan, we want the return of the Taliban back to their country. We want them to be part of this society and this policy and to work for their own country. That’s our desire, and we hope the peace talks will begin as soon as possible.
As to what the Taliban want, we will hear it from them once the – once the peace talks start. Our desire is for a unified and strong, peaceful Afghanistan. Thank you. Thank you, ladies and gentlemen. Mr Prime Minister?
It was very good to see you again. I hope to see you again soon. Keep in touch? [Inaudible] as soon as possible.
It did, a lot. And more of that to come from the Americans.