Page last updated at 14:38 GMT, Sunday, 26 July 2009 15:38 UK

UK 'must back Afghan government'

Douglas Alexander
Douglas Alexander said Afghan poppy growing had a direct effect on the UK

Supporting the Afghan government is as important for the future of Afghanistan as defeating the Taliban, Development Secretary Douglas Alexander has said.

Mr Alexander is in Kabul where he announced £225m of backing for the Afghan government over four years.

Some of the money will be used to try to undermine the heroin trade by funding alternatives to poppy growing.

Mr Alexander said the UK was committed to securing a "stable and democratic future for the people of Afghanistan".

'Strong government'

The International Development Secretary said: "Tomorrow I will visit Helmand province to see for myself the amazing commitment of the British troops there. But overcoming the insurgency militarily is only part of the solution.

"A secure future for Afghanistan means a future free of poppy, with a self-sufficient agriculture sector and a strong government.

I represent a community... which has been severely damaged in the past by the effects of heroin
Douglas Alexander
International Development Secretary

"By putting a large proportion of our development support directly through Afghan government systems, we are ensuring that the results will be sustainable and driven by the needs of Afghans."

Opium poppies are grown in far fewer Afghan provinces than they were until only two years ago, and there have been successes in reducing the planting of poppies, even in Helmand.

BBC international development correspondent David Loyn in Kabul says much of the new British support will not go on traditional aid priorities such as schools and hospitals but on boosting the Afghan government's capacity to raise its own revenue.

'Vital work'

Mr Alexander said the importance of tackling poppy cultivation in Afghanistan came close to home.

"This is vital work. I represent a community in west-central Scotland which has been severely damaged in the past by the effects of heroin," he said.

"Either we confront opium production on the plains of Helmand or it will find its way onto the streets of Paisley, the community that I represent."

Mr Alexander added that building the Afghan government was as important as winning the war on the ground.

"Here in Afghanistan it is as vital that the government is strengthened as that the Taliban are weakened," he said.

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