Press conference with the President of Afghanistan
This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government
Press conference given by the Prime Minister David Cameron and President Hamid Karzai.
Ladies and gentlemen, dear media members, most welcome. I am pleased and honoured to receive today in Kabul His Excellency the UK Prime Minister. I most welcome him on his sixth visit to Afghanistan. He has been here in Afghanistan five times before as the leader of the opposition party and I was happy to meet him any time and now that he is here as the Prime Minister I most welcome him and I congratulate him again on his election as Prime Minister and I thank him for all the assistance he and his country has done for Afghanistan. I was the first foreign leader of course to be proud to meet His Excellency at Chequers and he was kind enough to receive me at his countryside residence at Chequers.
We today discussed the Afghanistan partnership with the UK in Afghanistan and the UK’s commitment and support of Afghanistan and the relationships between the two countries and we had a fruitful and constructive meeting. On behalf of the people of Afghanistan I once again thank the Prime Minister for his personal interest and for his vision towards Afghanistan and for his country’s continued commitment and assistance to Afghanistan and I hope under his capable leadership the relations between the two countries can further expand and can further enhance a common goal of stability and development and a better tomorrow.
Thank you very much.
Thank you. Thank you very much, Mr President. It is a great pleasure to be here. The relationship between Britain and Afghanistan is a very, very important relationship for both our countries. We’ve met many times over the last five years, but it’s a great privilege to come and meet you here at your Presidential Palace in Kabul.
For me, the issue of Afghanistan is the most important foreign policy issue, the most important national security issue for my country and it is that national security approach that I want to stress here today. It is my number one priority; that’s why I was so pleased to welcome President Karzai as my first visitor to Chequers, as he said. It’s why I formed the National Security Council immediately on taking office and it’s why I’ve made this visit here to Afghanistan very early on since becoming Prime Minister.
I think there is progress being made and we discussed that in our meeting, particularly progress that has been made in terms of driving Al Qaeda both out of Afghanistan and actually seriously damaging its interests in Pakistan, and it is through that prism of national security that I want to see this whole issue.
Our overriding focus must be to help the Afghans and to help Afghanistan to take control of its own security and its own destiny. That should be our focus, a relentless focus on building up the Afghan national army, on helping the construction of a good and decent police force. And the announcements we’re making today in terms of additional development aid are very much targeted towards those goals, helping with the creation of strong policing, helping with the development of good governance. And one of the issues President Karzai raised with me at Chequers, the issue of building the capacity of the Afghan civil service - that is also part of our development plans.
The President and I discussed the importance that alongside the important military surge that has taken place in Afghanistan, almost six months into that military surge it’s very important we have, as I’ve said many times, a proper political surge, that we have proper political settlement taking place. And we’ve discussed the process of reconciliation and reintegration and particularly all that needs to follow after the very successful Peace Jirga that the President hosted recently.
My biggest duty as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom is to our armed forces and to make sure they have all of the equipment and all of the protection that they need to do the absolutely vital job that they’re doing here in Afghanistan. And I’m pleased to announce today that we will be spending an extra £67 million on countering the IED threat and actually doubling the number of British teams that are there to counter the threat from those explosive devices.
I’ve described this year, and the President I know agrees, in terms of the NATO mission in Afghanistan as the vital year. This is the year when we have to make progress. Progress for the sake of the Afghan people, but progress also on behalf of people back at home who want this to work and want to see real progress this year, because obviously no one wants British troops to stay in Afghanistan for a day longer than is necessary. The President doesn’t, the Afghan people don’t, the British people don’t; but what we want and in our national security interest is to hand power over to an Afghanistan that is able to take control of its own security.
As Prime Minister, I think it’s very important the British people get very regular and clear updates in terms of progress, so I’ll be making a statement in the House of Commons on Monday. And we’re going to have regular statements, quarterly statements in the House of Commons given by either the Foreign Secretary or the Defence Secretary and the proper publication of clear information, granular information, so people can see the progress we’re making, particularly on this important issue of how we are building up Afghan capacity for taking care of its own security.
But one thing I would say is this, and it fits into my view of giving much higher priority to Britain’s national security in these relationships, which is: even after our troops have left Afghanistan, and I believe that they will, the relationship between Britain and Afghanistan, just as the relationship between Britain and Pakistan are vitally important relationships for all our countries. We want to build a more secure world, a more prosperous world, as the President says, ‘a brighter tomorrow’, and that is about having a long term relationship between our countries and not making the mistakes of the past when we seemed to think that areas like Afghanistan and Pakistan don’t matter to British security, to British interests. They do and our interests matter to you as well.
So, on that basis, it is very good to be here, very good to have these fruitful discussions today, the first time to meet as Prime Minister and President in Afghanistan and I’m sure the first of many such meetings to come. Thank you.
Prime Minister, you inherited this war, you inherited this strategy. Can you tell us what exactly you are going to do differently to what your predecessor did?
Secondly, can I also ask you about a report about the Taliban reportedly executing a seven year old boy in Helmand for allegations of spying for a foreign government? I just wondered what you think that tells us about the security the British forces are providing in that part of the country.
And, Mr President, if I could put a question to you too, sir. How do you feel when the British Defence Minister describes Afghanistan as a ‘broken, 13th century country’?
Let me respond to your second point first. I haven’t seen those reports. I will get a proper briefing on those reports from the relevant people. Clearly, there isn’t the level of security throughout Helmand that we would like to see, but there are big changes taking place. In 2006, there were some 3,000 troops in Helmand; there are now over 30,000 troops. We have much greater control of the area and you are seeing markets open, you are seeing progress being made, but we need a higher level of security.
You asked the bigger question of what is going to change in terms of the British approach. I would make three points. The first is we support the McChrystal strategy, the Obama plan of increasing the level of military commitment this year and accompanying that with a political surge. We’re only six months into that process and we want to be driven by the results of that process, but there are two things that I do think from the British perspective need to be done differently. The first is a very clear focus on what is in our national security interests. That is the reason for still being in Afghanistan. Clearly, we have got rid of the terrorist training camps which were the reason to be here in the first place, but we need to go on to make sure that Al Qaeda cannot return to Afghanistan, and also to work with the Pakistan government to do as much to inflict damage on the capacity of Al Qaeda in Pakistan as well, and big progress on that front has been made. So there is a relentless focus on our national security which links very much to the national security here in Afghanistan and building up those security forces in the way that I have suggested.
The third thing is that I think it is extremely important that we give people regular updates and regular information, so that we don’t get into a situation where people are thinking one thing about what is happening in Afghanistan whereas the facts reveal something else. I want to have - particularly over this, what I call the ‘vital year’, the vital year where we have to get things right - I want to make sure that the British public have all the information that they need about the progress we are making with the Afghan national army, with the Afghan police force, with the growth in governance and with the cutting out of corruption, so that people can see a clear pathway to Afghanistan taking more control of its own security. This is something that, of course, the President and everyone in Afghanistan wants to see.
Before I address the remark of the British Defence Secretary on the 13th century Afghanistan, the seven year-old boy that you referred to having been executed by the Taliban, we are trying to confirm if this story is true. Now, if it is true that a seven year-old boy has been executed, I don’t think there is a crime bigger than that, that even the most inhuman forces of this earth can commit. A seven year-old boy cannot be a spy. A seven year-old boy cannot be anything but a seven year-old boy. And therefore hanging or shooting to kill a seven year-old boy, regardless of whatever reason one would give for it, is a crime against humanity and the most intense type of crime. If this is true then we condemn it in the strongest possible terms.
Also, sir, last night a wedding in Arghandab district of Kandahar was attacked, as the preliminary reports indicate, by a suicide bomber. Nearly 40 participants in that wedding, mostly children and teenagers, were killed and nearly 80 wounded. This too is a crime of massive inhuman proportions against civilians and against a wedding; weddings all over the world are not only good occasions, but occasions of sanctity that deserve protection and respect, and for a suicide bomber to go and kill people is not only against Islam, it is an act against the whole of humanity.
On the remarks of the Defence Secretary, Mr Fox, Afghanistan has suffered for the past 30 years. Afghanistan has lost nearly two million people in the past 30 years. Afghanistan has lost the cream of its society to migration to the rest of the world as a consequence of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Afghanistan’s infrastructure was completely destroyed and Afghanistan’s manpower and skill-base was completely destroyed. In that sense, Afghanistan has gone back centuries; perhaps that is what Mr Fox was referring to, not the fact that Afghanistan is a 13th century country, which it is not. Perhaps, thinking philosophically, the 13th century is better than the 21st for many of us, but I don’t think that is what Mr Fox meant. Mr Fox did not speak in terms of reducing Afghanistan to that, but perhaps he was describing a factual situation in Afghanistan which unfortunately Afghanistan has suffered so massively, where it has lost almost everything in this country which we are beginning to rebuild with the help of the rest of the world and the United Kingdom.
Thank you, Prime Minister. The US Defence Secretary has said this week that the American and British public will not tolerate the loss of life of young men in this country while there is stalemate in Afghanistan. After what has been a deadly week for NATO forces here, as you all know, will you consider sending more forces to this country to speed up the withdrawal or can you now rule that out?
And, Mr President, can I ask you, your former Intelligence Chief is being reported as saying that you have lost faith in the US/British strategy here; is your approach, in his words, ‘dangerously out of step with the west’?
Perhaps I should start. The issue of more troops is not remotely on the UK agenda; we have just had a quite significant uplift not just in terms of UK troops but also of US troops. In Helmand, as I said, there are now over 20,000 US troops and 10,000 UK troops, and I think it is important to let them get on with the very important work of delivering greater security in Helmand and making sure that we have the right force density, the right number of troops, together with the Afghan national security forces. The right density of troops throughout Helmand province I think is extremely important.
As for what Secretary Gates said, I agree, the fact is that our publics want to see real progress this year. I think they are giving us time; I think they recognise that the Obama-McChrystal plan is a new approach and you have to give that time to see results come through. However, this is the vital year and that is why the President and I have been talking not just about the military surge, vital though that is, but also the importance of the political surge, the importance of political negotiations and of reintegrating Taliban who want to lay down their weapons and join the political process. We want to get to a situation where everyone in Afghanistan feels that it is their country, it is their government, and that they are part of it. That political process is extremely important.
I think our publics back at home do want to see real and noticeable and marked progress this year and next and they want to see the start of transitioning parts of Afghanistan over to Afghan control. As I have always said, this should be based on results rather than on any artificial timeline, but we should be asking all the time, ‘Can we go further? Can we go faster?’ Because, as I say, nobody wants - not the Afghans, not the Afghan President, not the British Prime Minister, not the British people - nobody wants British troops, NATO troops, to be in Afghanistan for a moment longer than is necessary.
We have got to get on a path, which we are getting onto, where the Afghans can take control of their own security, of their own country, to keep those terrorist training camps and Al-Qaeda out of their country and, with the continued help of the west, to have that economic development, that peace and that progress that everyone in Afghanistan yearns for, and that, as I say, is in our national interest to help deliver.
The Intelligence Chief, Mr Amrullah Saleh, and the Minister of the Interior, Mr Atmar, were two very fine Afghans who served this country very well for many years with me. Mr Atmar has been a minister with me from the very beginning of this government and Mr Saleh has been the Intelligence Chief of the country for the past six years. I commend their services for Afghanistan; they have delivered plenty in terms of service to this country. Their resignations came as a consequence of the massive security lapse around the Peace Jirga, as a consequence of which they resigned and I accepted their resignation. I am sure they will continue to serve their country as and when they feel so and in areas that they can work on.
With regard to my confidence in the US strategy in Afghanistan and in the war on terror, and that of NATO, we had extensive talks in Washington and also in London with the Prime Minister and here in Kabul. We are continuing to work on improvements all round and we are working together. We are grateful to the international community for helping Afghanistan build its forces, bring reconstruction to Afghanistan and bring institutional capacity to Afghanistan. In areas where we have differences of opinion, which naturally must be there when we are in an undertaking as big as we are, we keep working to improve. Sometimes it’s on our side. Sometimes it’s some of our partners. That’s the natural flow of things in a strategic partnership which is working very, very well.
Thank you, Mr President. My question is about the resignation of two high-level security officials. How will this affect the security situation in Afghanistan and have you ever considered any replacements for them?
And the establishment of a children’s centre in Afghanistan - isn’t this against the international principles? Couldn’t the centre be established in Britain where these Afghan children could learn in Britain rather than the central establishment in Afghanistan?
The resignation of the two high-level security officials, Mr Atmar, the former terror minister and Mr Saleh, the former intelligence chief - who will replace them? I will certainly take required action at the right time for their replacement, but resignations and transfers is a natural practice of governance. Afghanistan is not an exception to such natural administrative practices and approaches. And I hope their replacements will be as true servants as their predecessors.
The important issue today is about the loss of life in an incident alleged to have been a suicide bombing in Kandahar in Arghandab at a wedding party. I would like to express my deep sympathies and heart-felt condolences to the families of the victims through the media and I condemn the attack in the strongest possible terms. If another report on the execution of a seven-year-old boy is correct it’s really heart-breaking and shocking.
Two ladies today because they were well-represented at the Jirga.
A few reports that after the attack against the Grand Consultative Jirga, your first reaction was that it wasn’t carried out by the Taliban. How can this claim be right? And the two resigned officials said that you do not trust your security agencies well.
We understand that Afghanistan is being attacked by terrorism. And we are sacrificing lives and we are putting lives of our security force at risk to fight against this menace. This will continue until we achieve a victory and the Afghan people are ready to take this risk of life until we reach that objective. But at the same time, we should also protect our institutions and our gatherings and the occasions. We have put all our energy into safeguarding or protecting it. I think this is impossible for the President of Afghanistan to get any justification for the failure, whoever has carried out the attack. My expectation from the security agencies is that such gatherings need to be properly protected at all costs and we need to be assured 100% of the security.
Firstly, let me say on the issue of the establishment of a children’s centre or any other facility like that in Afghanistan, clearly it’s important that we do what we can to make sure that people in Afghanistan can see good progress in terms of healthcare, in terms of education, in terms of maternal health - all the things that will help people feel that progress is being made. My point today is that our priority must be about security and stability. Part of stability and security is also about whether people feel progress is being made. But I think we have to order our priorities well. It’s a well-funded international development budget. It’s a budget that in spite of the difficulties back at home, we’ve said that we will go on funding, that we want to make sure that it meets the international target of 0.7% of gross national income. And I think that it is right that we spend some of that money, in fact a great deal of that money, here in Afghanistan, because that is not just going to improve the lot of people who live in deep poverty but it will also enhance the security and stability that we all want to see.
Perhaps I could just add to what the President has said both about the report of the suicide bombing at the wedding and also about the seven-year-old child. The seven-year-old child, as I understand it, has not yet been confirmed. Or as the President says, if this is true, it is an absolutely horrific crime. I have a six-year-old daughter and the idea of someone believing that a six-year-old or seven-year-old can be spying and has to be treated in that way is just without any justification. As the President said, it is a crime against humanity and, if true, says more about the Taliban than any book, than any article, than any speech could ever say, but we have to have that confirmed before we know for certain if that is true.
Could I just say you’ve put us to shame, Mr President. If I only took questions from women journalists I would be hard-pressed to take questions at all so you’ve taught us an important lesson.
My question is to the Prime Minister. Most welcome to Afghanistan. My question is: you said that Britain’s public does not support the presence of their forces in Afghanistan, so are they committed to the Afghan people? Not considerable progress has been made in Afghanistan. You, Mr Prime Minister, said that you are announcing a new package of money for buying or purchasing tools for your own troops to deal with their security lapses. What would you do for the Afghan forces? And you’ve condemned any action against the kids in Afghanistan, but there are reports that a lot of kids under 18 are being deported from the UK to Afghanistan. Don’t you think their presence - Afghan kids in Britain - is necessary?
That was a very long question but I will try and answer all of it. First of all, let me be clear. The British people do support what we are doing in Afghanistan in terms of trying to create greater security in Afghanistan and trying to make sure that terrorist training camps never come back to this country. People supported our original engagement in Afghanistan and want to see that work completed. That’s what the British people support; that’s what I support.
In terms of supporting Afghan forces, I would say that the British are playing a huge role, both in training the Afghan National Army - and I’ve seen that with my own eyes, on my last visit here in Kabul: great work being done there. I’ve seen British forces work hand-in-glove with Afghan National Army forces, in the so-called OMLTs, in the integrated Kandaks, and they have done fantastic work. And what is interesting is how the British soldiers are full of praise for the Afghan National Army. They think that the soldiers are brave, they are courageous, they learn fast, and they will be a very able army. So I don’t accept for one moment that we’re not doing a huge amount to help the Afghan national forces; we are, and we’ll go on doing that, because we see that as vital for your security but also vital for our security.
In terms of the issue of asylum and deportations, we’ve said, back at home, in our own country, we should no longer detain children who’ve breached asylum or immigration rules; it’s very important they’re not detained. But one of the things I would say is that as Afghanistan becomes a safer country - not least because of the efforts we’re making here in Afghanistan, together with our NATO allies and with the Afghan government, at whose invitation we are here - it should be possible for people who left Afghanistan and claimed asylum elsewhere in the world to return to Afghanistan. In fact, part of the economic future of Afghanistan will be better secured when talented and bright people who fled Afghanistan because of the Soviet invasion, because of the difficult years that followed, come back. I well remember my first visit to Afghanistan as leader of the Conservative party, meeting, I think it was, an airline pilot, who had flown for a commercial airline for many years, was an asylum seeker overseas, and was delighted to come back to Afghanistan after 2001 and be a Member of Parliament, in your parliament. And that, to me, was a sign of how the Afghan Diaspora - as those people return, they can help to build your great country once again.
Thank you very much indeed.
I would like to add one thing to the issue of the children. Ladies and gentlemen, Afghanistan will be built by the hands of its own children and people. We should not be proud to have our kids applying for asylum in Britain or elsewhere. We should even be expecting the kids of other countries to come to Afghanistan to help, let alone our own kids taking refuge elsewhere - we need them, we want them. We, the government of Afghanistan, the parents, have the responsibility and the obligation to provide for the education and for the growth of those children in their own country. And we should be proud to receive those children to Afghanistan, and to provide them with whatever facilities we have, because we are tired of immigration.