David Cameron becomes the first world leader to meet Afghanistan’s new president following an unannounced visit to the country.
The prime minister, speaking with the newly elected Ashraf Ghani at a joint press conference, reflected that Britain had “paid a heavy price for helping to bring stability to this country”, but insisted that military involvement was in the UK’s “national interest”.
This was emphasised by President Ghani, who said: “Your presence here has meant that London has been safe, as well as the rest of the world.
“We face joint threats. There cannot be Fortress Europe or Fortress America. We live, whether we like it or not, in an integrated world where global forces both for good and for evil coexist.”
An Afghanistan free from al-Qaeda is in our national interest – David Cameron
The Afghan leader also thanked “those families for the loss of their loved ones” and “every soldier who was injured in Afghanistan.”
While Mr Cameron spoke about Britain’s loss, President Ghani celebrated Afghanistan’s gain having “managed a first which is really rare in the Muslim world – a democratic transfer of authority, not power. Power has been seized many times. Today I’m here because of the will of the Afghan public.”
Despite President Ghani’s optimistic mood, he placed emphasis on the fact that the country’s “greatest enemy is poverty”, adding that Afghanistan is “suffering from the ugly side of globalisation, whether it is drugs, or whether it is criminal networks, or whether it is networks of extremists”.
Alternatively, Mr Cameron focused on continued efforts to fight terrorism and sustain growth. He said “An Afghanistan free from al-Qaeda is in our national interest” and that the newly trained Afghan police and army are now “capable” of dealing with internal terror threats themselves.
Regardless of their different priorities at the press conference, both leaders shared hopeful visions of the future for Afghan-British relations.
While Mr Cameron ruled out the prospect of ever returning to fight in Afghanistan, he claimed that there was plenty of work still to be done by way of developing education and other public services.
The UK will continue to provide £178m until 2017 to “sustain major progress”, but the prime minister also emphasised that now “Afghanistan can – and must – deliver its own security.
“The work of defeating Islamist extremist terror goes on elsewhere in the world. And because this threatens us at home, we must continue to play our part”.
Although the UK is now distancing itself from Afghanistan more and more, Ashraf Ghani was grateful the Britain stood “shoulder to shoulder” with his nation and also hoped that the UK would “remember the good heart of the Afghans” in years to come.