Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Minutes of Evidence

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.

Paul Bergne

19 December 2001

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