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Government positive about Afghanistan commitment

Government positive about Afghanistan commitment

New Zealand is considering positively continuing its commitment in Afghanistan along current levels, Defence Minister Phil Goff told an international conference on Afghanistan in London overnight.

Cabinet is due to consider the matter in the next month. While a major increase in the level of military personnel has been ruled out, Mr Goff told the London conference that New Zealand's contribution to Afghanistan "remains a significant element in our long-term commitment to building a more secure international environment".

"In response to United Nations Security Council resolutions (in 2001), New Zealand was one of the first countries to send military forces to Afghanistan as part of the international campaign against terrorism," Mr Goff said.

"Four years later, hundreds of our Defence Force personnel have served in Afghanistan and over $130 million has been invested in military and development assistance. New Zealand remains committed to assisting Afghanistan to meet its development needs and ensure that its security contributes to the stability of the wider international community.

"NZDF personnel are involved in the International Security Assistance Force, Operation Enduring Freedom, and the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan. We lead the Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) in Bamyan. We have committed three rotations of our Special Air Services forces. We assist in training the Afghan National Army.

"Afghanistan has come a long way in a short time. Successful presidential and parliamentary elections were important milestones, but significant challenges remain. There is still a need to improve the security situation, build strong institutions, implement development projects and deal with unemployment, narcotics and corruption.

"The international community must continue to help the Afghan government and people overcome these challenges. The National Development Strategy, other supporting strategies, and the compact signed here today, which map out the path for Afghanistan for the next five years, are vital to a positive outcome.

"Peace and security are fundamental building blocks in meeting basic needs and achieving long-term development. The PRT focuses on creating a secure environment for the provision of development assistance and assists security sector reform, local government, disarmament and demobilisation processes. "Recent reconstruction work includes rehabilitation and provision of roads and bridges, and construction of district police stations and provision of police vehicles. These projects contribute to long-term stability and future growth.

"New Zealand’s Aid and Development Agency, NZAID, has allocated $15 million over the next three years for ongoing reconstruction work. This is on top of $20 million committed since 2001.

"New Zealand police are training and mentoring Afghan police officers in Bamyan, as an effective police force is critical to restoring law and order, protecting human rights and maintaining security.

"Our aid programme in Bamyan focuses on sustainable rural livelihoods, human rights, governance and education. Agricultural diversification, and improved access to alternative, sustainable income-generating activities, will help reduce farmers’ reliance on poppy cultivation. We focus on projects that are responsive to the needs expressed by the Afghan authorities and people.

"Support for human rights, governance and education links closely to work in rural livelihoods. Only by ensuring access to land, upholding the rule of law, and addressing capacity issues will Afghanistan develop a productive and sustainable agricultural sector.

"New Zealand supports the work of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission and has pledged $2.4 million over three years. We recognise the importance of government-led processes and made an early commitment of $500,000 to the Counter Narcotics Trust Fund. "New Zealand acknowledges the vital role of women in building the future of Afghanistan, and we congratulate the Afghan government on success of female participation in the recent elections. But women face continuing challenges in improving their quality of life through access to education and health services. Therefore their rights and needs are a focus throughout our aid programmes. "Achieving tangible improvements in the quality of life of Afghan people is critical to the success of our joint endeavours. We welcome the coordination and monitoring mechanisms contained in the Compact to be established by the Afghan government and International community, and the central and impartial role of the UN. Such measures will create the environment necessary to ensure that Afghans themselves are able to build their future.

"New Zealand commits itself to continuing to work with Afghanistan to create a safe and secure country and meet its ongoing development needs," Mr Goff said.

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