LONDON - Britain's strategy in Afghanistan has not changed as a result of the death of Osama bin Laden, Britsh Foreign Secretary William Hague said Wednesday.
But he said that the elimination of the terrorist mastermind makes it a "decisive moment" for Afghanistan, when the Taliban should be persuaded to break off links with his al-Qaida network.
Prime Minister David Cameron yesterday told MPs that bin Laden's death in Pakistan would not "necessarily" allow an accelerated withdrawal of British troops from neighboring Afghanistan, but said it was an opportunity to urge the Taliban to join the mainstream political process.
In a statement today in response to a parliamentary report on Afghanistan and Pakistan, Mr Hague said: "The death of Osama Bin Laden, although a positive development in terms of our counter-terrorism effort, does not change our strategy in Afghanistan.
"We remain committed to our military, diplomatic and development work to build a stable and secure Afghanistan. We will work, with our Afghan and international partners to ensure that Afghanistan can never again be a safe haven for international terrorist groups like al-Qaida.
"This is a decisive moment. The Taliban should recognize that now is the time to separate themselves from al-Qaida and participate in a peaceful political process."
Mr Cameron yesterday warned of the danger of attacks by al-Qaida or its affiliates, seeking to show they can still mount effective operations in the absence of their leader, or from "lone wolf" individuals wanting to avenge his death.
Today Mr Hague warned: "Our considered assessment is that there remains a risk to the UK from violent extremism emanating from Afghanistan and Pakistan.
"Without the current presence of international forces in Afghanistan, al-Qaida would be able to re-establish itself and the threat of terrorism to the UK from the region would rise."
The Foreign Secretary said he agreed with the conclusion of the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee report that "now is the right time to advance a political process in Afghanistan".
"This work is our priority and is already under way," said Mr Hague. "We are supporting the Afghan government as they work towards a genuinely representative political settlement that addresses the concerns of all Afghans as well as other countries in the region."
He said that there had recently been "encouraging progress" in Afghanistan, including President Hamid Karzai's announcement in March of the start of the transition of security responsibility to Afghan forces.
He said he was pleased that Lashkargah - the capital of the UK-patrolled Helmand province - was among the first areas to be handed over to Afghan control.
"This is a testament to the tireless UK military and civilian effort in Lashkargah, and in Helmand province more widely," said Mr Hague.
"While this is only the beginning of the process and we expect tough challenges ahead, it marks a significant step towards stability in Afghanistan.
"The High Peace Council has taken forward the Afghan government's efforts to reach out to elements of the insurgency including through the implementation of the Afghan Peace and Reintegration Program. It has built support across the region for peace and stability in Afghanistan through visits to Pakistan and Turkey. These are important steps forward in the Afghan-led political process." (Agencies)