New UK Government's First Rift - Over Afghanistan?

    Defense Secretary Liam Fox during his visit to British troops in Kandahar, Afghanistan. Photo by: Ldc stil

    A visit in Afghanistan by three high-ranking U.K. coalition government officials bared what many observers see as an internal split on policies toward the war-torn country.

    Foreign Secretary William Hague, Defense Secretary Liam Fox and International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell flew May 22 to Kabul to meet with top Afghan officials including President Hamid Karzai and British troops as well as tour a British-funded development project.

    In an interview with The Times following a meeting with Karzai, Fox asserted: “We are not in Afghanistan for the sake of the education policy in a broken 13th-century country. We are there so the people of Britain and our interests are not threatened.”

    Mitchell put it differently.

    “We need to ensure we help the Afghan people build a functioning state. That’s about providing basic education and health care,” Mitchel told reporters. “If we are going to prioritise making sure there is a functioning state, development is crucial.”

    Hague, in an interview from Afghanistan on the “Politics Show” May 23, explained the U.K. policy toward Afghanistan in a bid to downplay the suspected rift between Fox and Mitchell.

    “We’re here really to try to make sure that Afghans can look after their own affairs and their own security in the future without Afghanistan presenting a danger to the rest of the world. So our objective is security,” Hague said, as quoted in a blog by the Conservative Party. “But that of course does not exclude the other things, the things that Andrew Mitchell has just been talking about because good development … making sure that people have some jobs to go to, that they can take their goods to market, that they’ve got roads they can travel on, that of course, is an important part of bringing about the security. So development and education is one of the ways in which we achieve better security for the people of Afghanistan and for the people of the United Kingdom.”

    He said the press conference in Kabul showed that the ministers are “working very well together with the same objectives,” citing Fox stressing the importance of development work to security and that Mitchell highlighting the importance of improving security to development.

    Hague added: “We’re saying ministers must work brilliantly well together, which ever department they’re in and that is what the three of us in these departments are absolutely determined to do.”

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    • Eliza Villarino

      Eliza Villarino currently manages one of today’s leading publications on humanitarian aid, global health and international development, the weekly GDB. At Devex, she has helped grow a global newsroom, with talented journalists from major development hubs such as Washington, D.C, London and Brussels. She regularly writes about innovations in global development.