By Ray Fleming

THE single most-asked question about Britain's involvement in Afghanistan for the past eight years has been “Why are we there?” It comes as a shock, therefore, to discover that two of the Con-Lib coalition ministers most directly involved with Afghanistan do not agree on the answer.

Quite rightly, Mr Cameron had dispatched William Hague, Foreign Secretary, Liam Fox, Defence Minister, and Andrew Mitchell, International Development minister, to Kabul to ensure that the coalition would have a “properly coherent British approach to Afghanistan”.

Since they had several hours to kill on the flight to Kabul it is not unreasonable to think that they discussed just such a “coherent approach”. Yet within a few hours of landing Mr Fox and Mr Mitchell had made conflicting statements. The Defence Secretary said: “We are not in Afghanistan for the sake of an education policy in a broken 13th century state. We are there so the British people and our global interests are not threatened.” The International Development minister said: “It is crucial to create a functioning Afghan state by providing good health care and education.” It is almost beyond belief that Liam Fox spoke as he did -- wrong and insulting. Cannot he understand that development assistance in health and education is the best -- perhaps the only -- way of giving the Afghan people the necessary confidence to run their own affairs? Together with training of their army and police, these are the keys to eventual withdrawal from Afghanistan. Incidentally, Fox and Mitchell are both Conservatives in the coalition government!