Keep eye on security even as world helps Afghanistan rebuild: PM Lee

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong speaking at the Group of 20 Extraordinary Leaders' Meeting on Afghanistan on Oct 12, 2021. PHOTO: MINISTRY OF COMMUNICATIONS AND INFORMATION

SINGAPORE - Even as the global community tackles humanitarian problems in Afghanistan, it must not neglect the security issues that prompted international intervention in the first place, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Tuesday (Oct 12).

"I hope the new situation in Afghanistan does not again result in terrorist organisations using it as a safe base to inspire, build, and train groups throughout the region and beyond," he added.

"I also hope that Afghanistan will have a government that will work with the international community to rebuild the country, and contribute to peace and stability in the region."

PM Lee was speaking virtually at the Group of 20 (G-20) Extraordinary Leaders' Meeting on Afghanistan, which focused on topics such as humanitarian aid and security, following the United States' military withdrawal from the country.

Leaders of the world's major economies, including US President Joe Biden, attended the meeting on Tuesday night. It was held days after the US concluded its first face-to-face talks with the Taliban over the weekend.

Mr Biden announced in April that US troops would begin their withdrawal in May, with Taliban fighters launching a series of attacks in the following months. On Aug 15, the Taliban entered the capital city of Kabul, even as the US evacuated its diplomats by helicopter and locals swarmed the airport in the hope of leaving the country.

In his speech, PM Lee recounted how Singapore discovered a terrorist group - Jemaah Islamiyah - with a common ideology and direct links to Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, right after the Sept 11, 2001 attacks.

The group had been planning multiple truck bomb attacks on targets in Singapore.

"Extremist terrorism knows no boundaries," he said. "Hence Singapore treated terrorism and the situation in Afghanistan as a common international security concern."

Singapore has contributed to provincial reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan, as well as to the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) - an international military mission in Afghanistan that trained the Afghan National Security Forces and assisted the country in rebuilding key government institutions.

"We are grateful to our ISAF partners for maintaining security in Afghanistan, and preventing terrorist groups from using Afghanistan as a safe haven these 20 long years," PM Lee said.

"Despite this, and despite active counter-terrorism efforts by South-east Asian governments, till today terrorism remains a real and continuing security threat in South-east Asia."

PM Lee acknowledged that the current situation in Afghanistan is "fragile and difficult", with the immediate priority being the safety and security of all civilians there.

Singapore supports the G-20's efforts to work with regional and international organisations, including the United Nations, to provide humanitarian assistance to the people of Afghanistan, he said.

"As a small city-state, Singapore is happy to have played a modest role," he added, noting that the country deployed an A330 multi-role tanker transport aircraft to assist with evacuation operations by transporting evacuees from Qatar to Germany.

Singapore deployed an A330 multi-role tanker transport aircraft to assist with evacuation operations by transporting evacuees from Qatar to Germany. PHOTO: MINDEF

Mr Lee added his hope that all parties involved would refrain from violence and summon the political will to reach an early agreement on the way forward, through peaceful and inclusive negotiations.

"This will not be easy, given the diversity of the Afghan people and culture, the vast and difficult terrain, and the weight of its history."

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