ISLAMABAD, Oct 3: British Defence Minister John Reid who arrived here on a two-day visit on Monday via Kabul told a group of senior journalists that there was still a lot to be done in Afghanistan though “we have come a long way.”
He said the people in Mazar-i-Sharif have surrendered thousands of rifles, elections for the office of the president and the parliamentary jirga have been held and the economy had started showing signs of picking up, but corruption is still pervasive and poppy cultivation is still very high, “we have a long way to go but we have come a long way.”
He appeared, by and large, satisfied with Pakistan’s efforts to help the coalition forces inside Afghanistan in their endeavour to cope with the gigantic challenges of rebuilding, peace and security.
In his opinion the task before the ISAF was not only to eradicate terrorism, but also to make Afghanistan a stable and sustainable state with its own well- organized armed services, police, civil services, judiciary, education and health systems.
He said in May next year ISAF will come under the command of Britain as Nato headquarters for Afghanistan would shift from Germany to Kabul, “then the number of British troops will be increased, we do not know now how many but with this expansion we would then expand ISAF activities to South of Afghanistan which borders Pakistan.”
He said during his stay in Kabul he had met President Karzai and Afghan defence minister Wardak and also inspected British troops and inter-acted with common Afghans.
He said the immediate objective of the coalition forces is to deny the terrorists a refuge and a base to launch their attacks, but hastened to add that international terrorism would not be defeated by mere military campaigns, “for a long-term solution of the menace we must use trade, economy, diplomacy and also address the fundamental political questions such as the Middle East and Kashmir.
He said terrorists had always claimed legitimacy on the basis of one or the other ideology, “when they raised their head in Italy they used socialism to legitimize their bloodbath, in Spain they used nationalism, in Northern Ireland, they used Christianity and now they are using Islam. But these ideologies have nothing to do with terrorism.”
He appeared to be seriously concerned about what he called the blight of narcotics which he said was adversely affecting not only the life and economy of Afghans but also the people of Pakistan and Britain who receive 90 per cent of the heroin sold in their streets from Afghanistan.
He said this was his first visit to Pakistan and he had come here because of three reasons. ”First, because we are increasingly reviewing and rebuilding our military-to-military and politics-to-politics contacts; secondly, because we are fighting a common enemy—international terrorism—and; thirdly, because we are partners in the war against narcotics.”
Answering a question he said he was satisfied with what Pakistan is doing by way of helping to curb terrorism, but said there would always be room for improvement, “even Britain needs to do more. Both of us can improve our terrorism-related intelligence and increasingly share information and also by challenging each others’ point of view.”
Replying to another question he said the issue of fence along the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan can best be addressed by the two countries and Britain would be only too glad to facilitate these talks.
He welcomed the on-going peace process between India and Pakistan and encouraged the two to keep to the course.
APP adds: British Defence Secretary John Reid called on President General Pervez Musharraf in Rawalpindi on Monday.
During the meeting, the president recalled the existing friendly relations between Pakistan and the United Kingdom. He expressed the hope that the visit of Mr Reid would serve to further enhance these ties.
He exchanged views on various facets of cooperation between the two countries in the field of defence.