Transcript of press conference in Kabul
This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government
A transcript of the Prime Minister's press conference in Kabul on 5 July 2011.
In the name of God, members of the media you are most welcome. It is such a pleasure to welcome today His Excellency, David Cameron, the Prime Minister of Britain, a very close friend of Afghanistan, and I’m honoured to have also his personal friendship and I welcome him to Afghanistan. He is here after his visit with troops, British troops. Since taking over as the Prime Minister of Britain, he has made all efforts possible to strengthen the friendship with Afghanistan and he has made all efforts in order to enhance the efforts for security, stability and peace in Afghanistan.
Today, I just want to say the Prime Minister and I spoke on a number of issues including the bilateral ties and relations between the two countries, the long-term partnership with the UK and the transition process of security responsibilities and economic ties, to enhance the cultural interactions and ties between the two countries, especially considering that after 2014 and 2015 the relationship between the two countries will continue, and will continue to be based on the foundations that we have laid.
We also have made a number of agreements with the British government that we believe is in the interests of both our countries. And I once again welcome His Excellency to Afghanistan and I thank you for your very kind feelings towards Afghanistan and I thank you for the assistance that the British government and the people of the United Kingdom have given Afghanistan. And I express my condolences on the very recent loss of a British soldier and I hope you convey my condolences to your people. I hope that we can continue with this friendship, as strong as ever, and I thank you again, I welcome you again.
Thank you very much indeed and it’s good to be back in Afghanistan. I think this is my sixth visit to your country and very good to be back with my close colleague and friend, President Karzai. We’ve had some very good talks this morning about a whole range of issues and I think the relationship between Britain and Afghanistan is very strong and our personal relationship is strong too.
As the President said, yesterday we had the very sad news of the death of the soldier from the Highlanders, the Royal Regiment of Scotland. This was very sad news and I want the thoughts and condolences of everyone on my team here to be with the family of that soldier who received this very sad news. A reminder of the very high price that we have paid for the work that we do - vital work that we do - in Afghanistan and in Helmand Province.
And today in my remarks I just wanted to address I think the three questions that I think people back at home have about our engagement in Afghanistan and with Afghanistan. First, why our troops are still here. Secondly, how we’re going to successfully complete this mission. And thirdly, as the President and I have discussed, what is the nature of the long-term relationship? And it is a long-term relationship between Britain and Afghanistan. Let me just say a word about each of those.
We’re here because Afghanistan had become a broken state. It had become a home to terrorists and terrorist training camps and it badly needed to deal with that situation and to drive out the terrorists, the training camps and to build stability and security.
Above all, our role is to help build Afghan security, to help create a situation where it’s no longer necessary to have British troops or indeed other foreign troops on your soil in order to keep terrorists and terrorist training camps out. That, above all, is our ambition. Of course there are many aspects to our relationship - support for your government, support for development, support for your economy, support in terms of trade - but above all this issue of security has to come first for the British people.
And I would say, in wanting to reassure people back at home, that is because of the engagement of British troops over these past few years, and also because of the action we’ve taken working with the Pakistanis, that actually the level of and the number of plots and the percentage of plots coming out of this area and threatening our country has been radically reduced.
Secondly, how do we complete successfully the mission that we are engaged in, particularly in southern Afghanistan? Well, it is to build up the capacity of the Afghan security forces. Today, the Afghan National Security Forces number 300,000. By 2012, there will be 370,000. Yes, of course, there’s a reduction, principally of US troops, following the ending of the surge, but if you think about it, over the next year, we will be training and equipping twice as many Afghan National Security Forces as there will be NATO forces being withdrawn from Afghanistan.
Yes, of course, we have been here in a military sense for a long time, since 2001. But I think people need to remember that in 2001, there was no one to hand over to. There was no Afghan National Army; there was no Afghan police force. This was a country that had suffered 30 years of war, incredible and appalling poverty, and also the problems of the drugs trade. I believe we can build an Afghanistan that is capable of looking after its own security, and that is what the President is engaged in. And I believe this country can be a success story for the future.
That brings me to the third question, which is the nature of our long-term relationship with Afghanistan. Because yes, we will be drawing down some of our troops this year and next year, and yes, we will be ending combat operations by the end of 2014, and we won’t have troops in anything like the number that we have now. But we will have a long-term relationship. We’ll have a relationship that will consist of our very large aid programme, and it’s quite right we have a large aid programme in your country, as we help you to build its future - a relationship based around trade, based around diplomacy, and yes, also based around military training.
Today, the President and I have been discussing our plan to build an Afghanistan Sandhurst, a model academy for training the Afghan army officers of the future that will form the backbone of your already successful army. This will involve around 120 British troops. It will also involve funding from other nations, and the Americans themselves will be putting $38 million into this initiative. And our relationship will also always involve close and frank political contacts between me as Prime Minister and yourself as President. We do have a close relationship, but we also have a frank relationship where we are able to discuss all of the most difficult issues, including the Kabul Bank which we discussed today, and of course the situation between the executive and the parliament here in Afghanistan.
I believe this has been a positive visit. As well as the meetings I’ve had with you, Mr President, and with troops, I’ve also met with General Petraeus, and was able to thank him for his incredible work here in Afghanistan. I also had a very good meeting this morning with former President Rabbani, in order to talk about the vital work of political reconciliation and also political reintegration at the local level of Taliban fighters who want to give up their armed insurgency and take up a political path.
The President and I have also discussed the important relationship between Afghanistan and Pakistan. It becomes, I think, ever more apparent that the Taliban are not just doing huge harm in Afghanistan; they are also doing huge harm in Pakistan. It has never been more in the interests of Afghanistan and Pakistan to work together and to build a peaceful future for both your countries. Britain’s role in this is to work with both of you, to have a long-term partnership with both countries, and to build the trust that inevitably will be required between everyone involved.
So, thank you for making me so welcome again. Thank you for welcoming our teams. We have much to discuss at our lunchtime meeting. It has been very good to have this meeting this morning, and also some time, just personally the two of us, to discuss the challenges that we face in getting Afghanistan as you are, onto what I believe now is the right track. Thank you.
Most welcome, Mr Prime Minister.
A question to you both, Mr President and Prime Minister: you spoke about the long-term relationship. As Britain begins to withdraw its troops, should Britain correspondingly raise the amount of aid it gives to Afghanistan?
And, Prime Minister, if I could ask you a specific question: what is your reaction to the allegations that a News of the World investigator hacked into the phone of the missing girl, Milly Dowler? And in light of those allegations, do you think that the owners of the News of the World are a fit and proper company to take over BSkyB?
Well, before I go into assistance in the future, I would like to thank Britain for their assistance already delivered to the Afghan people, in both treasure and blood of the British people and the taxpayers’ money. Of course, Afghanistan would find it desirable if Britain could continue to help Afghanistan, continue building its infrastructure and civil services and delivery of services to the Afghan people.
We are also engaging in an arrangement between the two countries on a long-term partnership that would, I hope, involve various aspects of relations between us, from economic to cultural to military relations, including the announcement that, just earlier, the Prime Minister made on the establishment of a Sandhurst-like military institution in Afghanistan, which we the Afghan people will welcome with great appreciation. Thank you.
Thank you. Let me just add to that, obviously our aid programme in Afghanistan is one of our largest aid programmes anywhere in the world and in the debate that we inevitably have in Britain about whether it is right to be spending money on aid, I would say that this is a great example of a country that if we walk away from and if we ignore and if we forget about, the problems will come visited back on our doorstep. How do we know this? Because we have done it before. We walked away from Afghanistan in the past and the problem of drugs got worse, the problem of terrorism got worse, the problem of extremism got worse, the problem of asylum and immigration got worse.
So, even to people who are hard-headed and possibly even hard-hearted about aid, I would say the programme we have in Afghanistan of trying to help the people and government of Afghanistan to have a stronger, more secure, more stable country, is not just good for people in Afghanistan; it is good for people back home in Britain as well.
Our aid programme is rising, as we meet 0.7% of GNI, and we have also said that we believe that one of the best ways of explaining our aid programme is to say that really there are two key priorities: the priorities of things like disease prevention and malarial bed-nets, where you are actually saving individual lives, and vaccinations; the second theme is very much putting money into states that were previously broken, that we want to help make stronger, so that they are able to provide for their own futures and their problems don’t come visited on our doorsteps.
On the question of the really appalling allegations about the telephone of Milly Dowler, if they are true, this is a truly dreadful act and a truly dreadful situation. What I have read in the papers is quite, quite shocking, that someone could do this actually knowing that the police were trying to find this person and trying to find out what had happened. And we all now know the tragedy that took place.
What I would say is that there is a police investigation into hacking allegations. The police in our country are quite rightly independent. They should feel that they can investigate this without any fear, without any favour, without any worry about where the evidence could lead them. They should pursue this in the most vigorous way that they can in order to get to the truth of what happened. I think that is the absolute priority as a police investigation.
As for the issue of BSkyB and the takeover issue, that has to be followed in a correct legal way. The government on these processes is acting in a quasi-judicial way and it’s quite right that the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport carries out his role in that manner without any interference from anyone else in the government, and that is one of the reasons I have completely abstracted myself from this process and want him to carry out his role in the way that he should under the law.
Thank you, Prime Minister. Mr President, it’s been a month since shellings have started from Pakistan into Afghanistan and the Afghan parliament summoned two of the ministers - of defence and interior - to respond to queries on the issue. Tthey said that they were ready to respond but it is pending your approval to respond and we also heard that Afghanistan may have been asked to cut its diplomatic ties with Pakistan. So when will your patience run out in letting your forces respond to the shellings from Pakistan?
The shellings and artillery rockets fired from Pakistani territory into Afghanistan have led to death and injury to a number of our citizens. I was very clear on the position of Afghanistan in my talks with the President of Pakistan in the sightline of an international conference in Tehran. And there I expressed our deep concerns of the people of Afghanistan and asked them for an immediate stop to those shellings from Pakistani territory.
It was followed by talks by other delegations between the two countries. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs also summoned the Pakistani ambassador in Kabul for explanation. If we resort to counter attack or respond again - even if we respond that would lead to damage to people, to innocent lives on the border areas because the innocent people on the Pakistani side of the border and families would be hurt if we go ahead with our response. And due to the humanitarian nature of the damage that our response would lead to, we are holding back to see what other ways can succeed and I hope the same understanding will be there from the other side as well.
So this is basically our position, but we’ve not waited to see what happens. We have been in very close contacts with our Pakistani friends on the stop of the attacks and whoever is behind this wants nothing but the destruction of our relations and the deterioration of the situation. We want an end to the problem but not through violence, but through western and wise measures to be taken. Thank you.
And your question that I’ve not approved the response and that our ministers are ready, that’s correct. I have not allowed that and I have not approved it because we don’t the violence to be responded by violence. Thank you.
Thank you. Prime Minister, you witnessed for yourself yesterday the volatility facing British soldiers in Helmand Province with the search and then discovery of a soldier’s body. When you announce your withdrawal plan for British troops tomorrow, are you confident it is the right time to do it, and it is the right thing to do?
And Mr President, US numbers are coming down dramatically, a third in a year. How will your fledgling army do what the US Marines could barely do in Helmand Province, which is keep a lid on the Taliban, and ultimately is it not talks that are the answer between countries like the UK and the Taliban?
Well, first of all it’s worth remembering that Britain has more troops in Afghanistan than any other country aside from the Americans - an enduring number at the moment of 9,500. And I do believe that it’s right as we build up the Afghan National Security Forces, as we see a stronger and more confident Afghan National Army, stronger Afghan police, many of whom we’ve trained ourselves, and also the Afghan local police, I do believe it’s right to start planning the withdrawal of some of our troops. As I say, we start with 9,500; there are around 426 that are coming home this year - that’s over and above the 9,500 - and I’ll be making an announcement in the House of Commons tomorrow about a modest reduction which will take place next year.
But it does mean we are still properly engaged in Afghanistan. We are still in one of the toughest parts of the country. I believe we are having some success in Helmand Province within this so-called fighting season so far, actually the number of violent incidents is down by around 40%. So I do believe it’s the right plan at the right time and I’ve worked extremely closely with our military including General Sir David Richards, who’s with me here in Afghanistan, to make sure we get this right.
And to those who say it’s not right to have a deadline, I think it is right. I think the British people deserve a deadline because we’ve been in Helmand Province since 2006; we’ve been in Afghanistan militarily since 2001. I believe the Afghan government, the Afghan people, the Afghan army actually deserve to have a deadline so they can plan properly towards transition.
I’m confident that we are on track for what we need to see happen. Of course this is a complex picture. We need to see the build-up of Afghan army and police. We need to see reintegration at the lower level of former Taliban fighters back into a political process and into society. We need to see successful reconciliation, as we’ve discussed this morning, and we need to see continued progress in terms of governance and the Afghan economy. Many things have to be got right to ensure that transition can take place successfully but I believe we’re on track; it can be done and we’re determined to make sure it happens in terms of the timelines that we have set out.
The responsibility of providing protection to the Afghan people, protecting the territorial and territory of Afghanistan essentially and quite rightly is that of the Afghan people. Now, the circumstances that led Afghanistan to where it was in 2001 is a different story but Afghanistan has to take ownership of its own protection, of its own security and of the progress we should be making towards a better future, a democratic future, a prosperous future relevant to our environment.
Therefore while there will be a reduction of troops - some drastic, some not so drastic - the process of transition to Afghan authority must go on unhindered, unimpeded, where the Afghans begin to provide for themselves with the means that we have. This of course does not mean that there should be a sudden, immediate end to assistance to Afghanistan or to cooperation between Afghanistan and its allies like the United Kingdom, but a process in which Afghanistan increasingly becomes in charge of its own affairs - all of its affairs - and where increasingly we are no longer a burden on our allies, but where we engage in a relationship between states, where there is a give and take in which we benefit and out allies benefit.
Thank you, Mr President. Mr President, looking at the ten-year, decade-long, war, a lot of lives have been lost, a lot of people have been injured, a lot of orchards have been destroyed, a lot of areas have been contaminated by the use of the poisonous weapons which will affect our future generations, the kids and infants born. This sight - the human losses, billions of dollars have been spent - how do you assess the result and the success of this war considering this? Has this war been worth it? Has this war been worth all the spending and human losses?
This is a very important question. Undoubtedly, this requires a deep analysis. We all, and our international community, have been talking and there are capitals on what we did and how we began. We are still in contact, we among ourselves - we are talking every day on that. We are analysing and assessing all the aspects and dimensions of this war that has cost us. This is happening both among ourselves and between Afghanistan and its international partners and studying, every day, the aspects and dimensions of this war.
The truth could be balanced in two ways: one, Afghanistan has made considerable achievements, made sizeable progress, improved education, provided schools, has improved - you see, this is the expression of media that we see. This is one of the biggest achievements we have. The women are here, we see, the media has flourished. Of course, we had problems but health services are better, the economy is much better today. Afghanistan’s $1 billion reserve is now within the World Bank - this is Afghanistan’s foreign reserve.
So these are all to name a few of the achievements we have secured over the past ten years. Our country has been recognised internationally, we are a legitimate government. We see the recent problem with the Supreme Court and the judicial system - you call it democracy. This is actually a democratic process, these things can happen, for example, in Britain with hundreds of years of its democratic history may have and may see such problems. Britain has past things even worse than what we see today, has seen a lot of ups and downs throughout its history of democracy and all that. So it took them long years to draft their constitution. And in the US we see a lot of problems they passed through until they reached this level.
But look at Afghanistan: after President Bush was elected eight years ago and you see these elections in the US went to a deadlock and it found its way into the judiciary system to decide. Even hundreds of thousands of millions of votes were seen very closely, were counted very closely to see what would come out. Afghanistan too is a country; if it wants to experience democracy it would have to bear all this, it would have to pass through and go through all this.
These are signs of maturity, I assure you. These are signs of maturity. We are maturing. Whoever it is, our relations with our neighbours, with the region, with the international community, with Britain, we are enjoying a very enhanced level of relations.
But we do have problems of course, look at the situation in Afghanistan; we have unfortunately the conflict. This sometimes arises from such situations. A lot of families unfortunately are burning in the flames of the war and the conflict here in the country. We see - either it’s by rockets from NATO, or from us, or from Pakistan - these are the families that are burning in flames. We also understand this, but we go towards the better future with determination and with commitment. Thank you.
To just say a few words in answer to that very important question. It seems to me that a decade ago Afghanistan was the home of some of the worst terrorist organisations in the world. It had a broken economy that had been getting poorer over the previous decades, and there was absolutely no chance of social progress not least because women weren’t allowed to go to school. There was no democracy to speak of. Never mind having as many television cameras at a press conference like this, you could be beaten up for listening to a radio. So, on all those fronts, there has been huge progress. Afghanistan is no longer the home of al-Qaeda. There is an economy that is growing, and growing quite rapidly. Obviously, it needs to grow even faster to build capacity. There is at least a chance of social progress as you’ve seen, and as the President has said huge growth in health and educational services. And, of course, democracy is a difficult plant and a delicate plant that has to be grown over time, but there is the progress of an Afghan constitution, an Afghan elected president, and an Afghan parliament.
I think sometimes in Britain, quite understandably, we can have a very Helmand-central view of Afghanistan, and that’s right because that’s where our troops are, that is where we are putting so much effort, and actually we are seeing now success in Helmand, but we should also look across the rest of the country and see some of the progress that has been made in making sure, as we say, that our key goal - that Afghanistan is able to take care of its own security without the need for British troops - is put in place. So I do think that a huge amount has been achieved over the last decade, but we are still in for some vital years for the future of this country and for our engagement with it. Thank you.
Thank you. I first welcome the Prime Minister of Britain and his delegation to Afghanistan. My question is the first way to end this violence is, of course, dialogue and talks with the oppositions. My question is what things and what efforts will you make and what cooperation will you give to the people of Afghanistan, to the government of Afghanistan, to facilitate those talks and to help those talks? Due to your close relations with Pakistan, what measures can you take to convince the Pakistani leadership to sincerely fight terrorism and to be honest in their fight against terrorism and extremists, so that the withdrawal of your forces could be facilitated even sooner than later?
And my question to you, Mr President, is the problem with the legislature, and the judiciary, and the executive power because you are the head of the state? And the other question is that you, because of your concerns of damage to the civilians, you do not want to resort to response to attacks to Pakistan, but how do you think Pakistan is not considering this fact that you are considering?
I will try to keep my answer as short as the question. In terms of the political process and political reconciliation, let me just say three brief things. Firstly, to the Afghans, we are with you, we want to help you. We know that if you look at insurgencies the world over, they have usually been ended by a mixture of military means and political means. It is very difficult to reconcile with people who have been killing your own soldiers or your own countrymen, but we are there to help you in the process of reconciliation.
To the Taliban, the message is very clear: stop killing, stop bombing, stop fighting, put down your weapons, join a political process and you can be part of the future of this country. I have seen it in my own country in Northern Ireland, where people who were involved in trying to kill, maim and bomb civilians, police officers, army personnel and even politicians have actually become politicians themselves and are now involved in the governance of that country. It can happen and the message to the Taliban is you will not win this fight; you are losing this fight. You are seeing your fellow Taliban members being killed in ever larger numbers; this will only continue. The Afghan National Army now are alongside us in that work, so you should give that up and join a political process.
And to the Pakistanis, we again have a very simple and straightforward message, which is the Taliban is killing your country as well as harming Afghanistan. So now is the time for the Pakistanis and the Afghans to sit, to meet, to talk, as they are now doing, about how we ensure that the Taliban do what I said they need to do and how Afghanistan and Pakistan can live in peaceful cohabitation as strong and growing and democratic neighbours.
Looking at the political issue in Afghanistan with the parliament and the judiciary, I consider this as part of a growing democracy, as part of a young democracy that is marching towards maturity. It’s a fledgling democracy; it’s so young and we need to bear with that. We need to be patient enough for this to grow and to grow up and to mature. Now that we are entering a new phase, we hope that this is not worrying anybody and this should not be a concern. As the Prime Minister pointed out, this is a fact for any other part of the world and any other democracy, and I’m sure this is going to help mature the system and this could add to the experiences that we have. I’m sure this is going to be resolved. The constitution will be even better implemented.
Again on the question of Pakistan, shellings and rockets, I reiterate that if you think of peace, if you think of peaceful coexistence, that’s a situation that today would have been here. If one thinks of violence, the other needs to think of peace, because both can’t think violence. We should rather think of health, of prosperity and of peace. This is what we want from Pakistan and for the people in Pakistan. This is what we want for everybody in the world, and I hope Pakistan too will have this. I hope Pakistan does not get encouraged by whoever to continue to resort to death. The people of Afghanistan have proven to be patient enough; they are patient and they are exercising their utmost strength and patience. I hope they understand and I hope that no further damage could be given to either us or to the region, and I hope that we are not forced into taking a violent response. We won’t do this; we understand it’s not humanitarian.