London : British taxpayers have footed a £53,000 bill for the president of Afghanistan's two day stay at Claridge's on his official visit to London, the Daily Mail has reported. Hamid Karzai and a 12-strong party were in the capital as guests of the UK Government during talks with Britain and Pakistan, and plumped for the Mayfair hotel during their stay.
Rooms at the five-star hotel can cost up to £7,000 a night and are a favourite with celebrities and royalty.
British taxpayers paid for 12 of the party and the Afghan govt had to pay out for the other 28. Pakistani guests, led by president Asif Ali Zardari, stayed at the Berkeley Hotel in Kensington where the bill was believed to have reached £10,000. Afghanistan is one of the most impoverished nations in the world and receives £175million in aid from the UK every year.
The hotel’s cheapest accommodation costs around £300 a night - whereas the best suite costs £7,000 a night. The £53,000 bill was footed by the Foreign Office and revealed in a Freedom of Information Act request.
A Foreign Office spokesman said: 'The cost was for the Afghan president and his delegation attending a trilateral summit between the UK, Afghanistan and Pakistan. 'This summit made progress towards strengthening relationships between Pakistan and Afghanistan, supporting an Afghan peace process and promoting peace and stability in the region.'
In February, Karzai angered the families of British soldiers yesterday by suggesting the presence of Nato troops over the past 13 years had made his country worse. The US-led invasion in 2001, a response to the September 11 attacks, was launched to drive out Al Qaeda and the Taliban. But describing the Taliban as 'brothers' and America as 'rivals', Afghan leader Hamid Karzai said: 'The mission, in terms of bringing security, has not been successful, particularly in Helmand.
'What they did was create pockets of wealth and a vast countryside of deprivation and anger.' Asked by The Sunday Times whether it would have been better if British troops – many of whom are based in Helmand province – had never gone there, Karzai replied: 'I guess so. Yes.'
His remarks were labelled an insult by relatives of some of the 447 British soldiers who have lost their lives there. Jonathan Isaby, chief executive of the TaxPayers' Alliance, said: 'Overseas visits are part of international diplomacy but that shouldn't mean UK taxpayers write blank cheques for luxurious hospitality. 'It will be even more galling for hard-pressed families if they're footing the bill for guests who are less than complimentary about our Government.'