Foreign Secretary William Hague spoke at the Heart of Asia conference in Afghanistan on 14 June.
It is a pleasure to be here in Kabul. I thank President Karzai and the Afghan Government for hosting this important conference; and I welcome their commitment to stronger regional cooperation between the Heart of Asia countries.
I also thank the Turkish Foreign Minister for his Government’s leadership at the Istanbul Conference in November last year, and for giving impetus to this important vision.
Each of our countries has a different history in this region and different relations with Afghanistan. But I believe that certain truths are evident to us all:
We all know that the Afghan people need the active support of neighbours and friends as they pursue the peace and stability that has eluded them for so long.
And in the same way, our own interests depend on Afghanistan being successful in that task. Our understanding of that in the United Kingdom is why we have made so many sacrifices to contribute to Afghan stability and our own national security for more than a decade.
But Afghanistan’s nieghbours have an even greater stake in the country’s future stability.
All nations, wherever they are in the world, depend on a peaceful and prosperous neighbourhood if they are to thrive, if their citizens are to enjoy wide opportunities and if their economies are to grow and reach their full potential.
This requires countries to come together to address urgent problems that affect them all, irrespective of where these problems arise. This is not just true for Asia, it is true across for all regions in the world and for the international community as a whole.
My country, along with NATO and ISAF allies, has played a significant role in Afghanistan in recent years and we will be a reliable friend for the future.
We have pledged an enduring commitment to Afghanistan - most recently at the Chicago Summit but also in the Strategic Partnership Agreement we signed this year - and we will demonstrate further commitment at the Tokyo Conference in July.
But our role and involvement in Afghanistan will undoubtedly change from the end of 2014.
This will be an important moment in Afghanistan’s history, and therefore for the region as a whole.
As the Afghan Government and people prepare for this period, all of the countries gathered here have a responsibility to support them in their peace-building and state-building efforts, while always respecting Afghan sovereignty and territorial integrity.
This is not a zero sum game: by supporting Afghanistan in specific ways all of us are investing in our mutual security and prosperity.
Afghanistan faces formidable problems - but all these problems will be far harder to address without a sustained regional effort to support the country, and without such an effort the threats to the whole region will be even greater still.
So Britain strongly supports regional cooperation that contributes to a secure and stable Afghanistan and a prosperous Heart of Asia. This conference is a crucial stage in this process.
It is not for us to dictate to any country in the region; and it is right that the Istanbul Process is led by the region.
But as friends we can encourage the Heart of Asia countries to achieve closer cooperation on common challenges, to develop a deeper understanding of each other’s perspectives and to find new ways to work together to the advantage of all parties.
The need is most pressing in the area of security and the Afghan political process.
But looking from outside the region, trade is another area with enormous potential which has lain dormant in the past but which could bring immense hope and opportunity across the region as a source of employment and long-term growth.
So I would encourage all the Heart of Asia countries to take the opportunity to follow the political commitment shown at Istanbul and today’s meeting with reciprocal steps to build that vital confidence.
We understand that effective cooperation must be based on respect, on trust, on an understanding of the interests and needs of other parties and on genuine partnership.
None of these can be built overnight and require concrete action as well as political commitment.
But with 2014 in mind, there should be a sense of urgency to this task. It is a time for bold decisions and practical measures that could transform the future development of this region.
In Britain we are prepared to give support, encouragement and assistance where we can; and to the extent that it is requested and welcomed by Afghanistan and other countries.
We will contribute to the Confidence Building Measures you have already identified, which I will mention very briefly.
We will do so in education, where through our development programmes and Chevening Scholarships we are helping millions of young people in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
And in infrastructure, where we are helping to improve the transport network and access to power and water within Afghanistan, and working closely with the Asian Development Bank
And in security, where we are willing to support the Confidence Building Measures identified at Istanbul on Counter Narcotics, Counter-Terrorism including violent extremisms, Disaster Management and Chambers of Commerce.
We are already doing extensive work in all these areas - working with many countries present here today - to build up security, protect families, homes and livelihoods and support education, employment and trade for people across the Heart of Asia, and between all our countries. We stand ready to take this work further.
So I commend the agreements made by the countries participating in the Istanbul Process.
It is my firm conviction that a new era of regional cooperation is within reach. The knowledge of the new hope and strengthened security that this could bring, over time, to millions of people in the region should spur all countries to match political commitment with the practical action needed to make it a reality.