Memorandum from Mr Paul Bergne
On 18 October, I was chosen by the Prime Minister
to go at short notice to Afghanistan. I left on 23 October and
travelled via Cyprus to Tajikistan where I met a number of Tajik
and Afghan key figures, including the Tajik Foreign Minister and
the Afghan commander-in-chief General Fahim. I continued my journey
by road, eventually reaching Afghanistan on 3 November.
My mission was to travel to Faizabad, seen at
the time as the "capital" of Northern Alliance (NA)
held territory (and President Rabbani's home town) and establish
contact with NA leaders, with a view to discovering more about
their intentions, relations with each other, and needs; and to
try to influence them to see themselves as acting on behalf of
the Afghan people as a whole, rather than simply in their own
local or ethnic interest, and to proceed with moderation in any
military successes they might have, avoiding the excesses and
internecine conflicts that had been a hallmark of their previous
period of government in 1992.
When I arrived, HMG had no inkling of when the
NA would launch a campaign to capture military objectives in the
North of the country. It was expected that the mission I established
in Faizabad would have to continue there until the next campaign
season in the Spring.
Once the campaign began in early November, it
became clear that the situation was changing swiftly and radically
with the focus of attention switching to the South of the country.
Although I had been in telephone contact with leaders outside
the Tajik area of Afghanistan, like Ismail Khan and General Dustum,
my plans for meeting them had to be abandoned and I travelled
twice to the area North of Kabul and the Panjshir to talk to NA
leaders on the front line there. Once in Kabul itself, I was also
able to meet President Rabbani with whom I had already had a number
of meetings in Faizabad.
During my mission I was able to play a certain
role in moving the NA leaders towards accepting the concessions
that would be necessary in forming a post-Taleban government.
I was also able to co-ordinate some of this work with Francesc
Vendrell the UN representative in Afghanistan at the time. On
the whole I found the NA leaders well aware of the need to avoid
the mistakes of the past, although some of them displayed a well-founded
suspicion of the Pashtuns most of whom they saw as tainted by
the Taleban message. There was also a natural reluctance to give
up political power which many regarded as the legitimate reward
for having fought so bravely against the Taleban for so long.
Although not directly connected to the reconstruction
of Afghanistan, I was also able to play a significant role in
defusing the fury of the NA leaders when the UK landed troops
at Bagram airfield without seeking their agreement. On that occasion,
although subsequent accounts have attempted to play down the incident,
some of the Afghan military threatened to open fire on the C130s
which were bringing the SBS into the airfield.
19 December 2001