Prime Minister Rutte: ‘New start for Afghanistan’

'Afghanistan is making a new start and will soon be shaping its own future.' Prime Minister Mark Rutte made this comment during a visit to the integrated police training mission in northern Afghanistan.

In Kunduz the prime minister was briefed on preparations for the withdrawal in July. He also spoke with lawyers and NGOs that are working to build the country's justice system. At the police training centre the prime minister met with Afghan police trainers and officers.

More than 700 courses given

Mr Rutte expressed his pride at the efforts made and results attained by the Dutch military personnel, diplomats and police officers. 'Our people have done excellent work in Kunduz,' he said. 'We gave more than 700 training courses to police officers. We have now reached the point that the Afghan police can do the training themselves and ensure quality with their own teams. There are also now more than 50 trained judges in Kunduz, several public prosecutors, lawyers and a law school department with 300 students.'

The prime minister characterised the results as building blocks of a democracy that honours the rule of law. 'Afghanistan is not like Western countries. Our aim is to help lift the country up to a level comparable to that of its neighbours. For Afghanistan this is a new starting point, not the finish line.' Mr Rutte also pointed out the development of roads and schools in the country. 'In Kunduz there were only 20 schools in 2002. Now there are 440.'

'Not turning our back on Afghanistan'

During his trip the prime minister was accompanied by Vice Chief of Defence Lt-Gen. Hans Wehren and Ambassador Han Peters. The three also visited Mazar-e Sharif, where they spoke with staff of the Air Task Force, which is supporting the police training mission and fellow coalition members with four F-16s. They also inspected the site where material is being collected for transport back to the Netherlands.

In Mazar Mr Rutte stressed the need to maintain the results that have been achieved. 'We all remember how this country used to be a breeding ground for international terrorism,' he said. 'A great many of our compatriots fought here for our freedom and security. Their efforts in the past 10 years have helped make Afghanistan a safer and more stable place. The next step must be taken by the Afghans themselves.'

By providing aid to develop the rule of law, financial assistance to the Afghan government and the F-16s, the Netherlands will continue to help Afghanistan in the year ahead as well. 'The Netherlands will be withdrawing some of its people, but we are not turning our back on Afghanistan,' said the prime minister.