Examination of Witnesses (Questions 80-97)
TUESDAY 22 JANUARY 2002
80. Prioritise it a little.
(Mr Bergne) Obviously they need reconstruction; road
building; practically nothing is not destroyed in Afghanistan.
All the bridges are destroyed; the roads are destroyed; the irrigation
channels are destroyed. Assistance with rebuilding their agriculture
is very important, particularly in the context of providing a
substitute to narcotics. The cultivation of poppies is relatively
profitable in cash terms. Encouragement to grow alternative crops.;
but also reconstruction of an infrastructure to encourage refugees
to return. Many refugees, both in Northern Pakistan and, more
particularly, in Iran, are hoping to return but of course they
have no villages left and everything has been destroyed. An infrastructure
to make life possible once they return, which again is related
to agriculture, and to communications as I mentioned.
81. I think we all recognise that, but one of
the things that needs to kick-start that is their own administration
and their ability to pay them.
(Mr Bergne) I was going to come on to the question
of rebuilding the administration, government structures, paying
for ministries to re-form themselves and to establish contacts
with the provinces, and training them in administrative practices.
These are all particularly painful, and training a new administration
is one of the priorities. I do think agriculture, being the mainstay
of the Afghan economy, and the provision of water and practical
problems like that are outstandingly important.
82. To what extent do you think international
organisations should be involved in the day-to-day administration?
(Mr Bergne) As much as the Afghans are prepared to
accept, if they accept it.
83. Mr Bergne, in your view do you think Afghans
regard the establishment of an international security force in
their country as a positive development?
(Mr Bergne) I am sure there are 18 million different
opinions about that! I think on the streets, in Kabul at any rate,
people are very positive to that. I think they are fed up with
the depredations of warlords, militias and unofficial groups.
I think it will get more difficult outside Kabul. People are less
understanding of the need for that, and more, if you like, traditionally
tied into support for some of the armed groups that have been
causing problems. So it depends very much where you are. I think
in the North people will be more supportive than in the South;
for example, Pashtuns will be more hostile than northern groups.
I think the people who will be most receptive will be the ones
in Kabul but it will get difficult outside.
84. You wrote that you were "able to play
a significant role in de-fusing the fury of the North Alliance
leaders when the United Kingdom landed troops at Bagram airfield
without seeking their agreement. On that occasion . . . some of
the Afghan military threatened to open fire on the C130s which
were bringing the SBS into the airfield. Can I ask you why, in
your opinion, agreement with the Northern Alliance was not obtained
by the United Kingdom Government or the United States before British
troops were landed at Bagram airfield. Do you think failure to
reach agreement on this point put British troops at unacceptable
(Mr Bergne) I do not really know why agreement was
not sought. I was only informed about the arrival, or the immediately
impending arrival, of British troops by the Afghan Foreign Minister,
Dr Abdullah, by telephone approximately half an hour before the
first aeroplane flew in, so I was not informed that they were
coming. I was able to send some fairly urgent telegrams to the
Foreign Office asking them to investigate what was happening to
try and stop any further arrivals until the problem had been discussed
with the Afghan Government. I asked Dr Abdullah, the Foreign Minister,
not to take any hasty action, because he was extremely angry,
and he agreed not to take any action. When I got myself to Bagram
airfield, about five days later, I understood from the British
CO that he had discussions with the Afghan commander of Bagram
airfield who had said that they had been sorely tempted to open
85. Did you hear any satisfactory explanation
of why we had failed to communicate adequately?
(Mr Bergne) No.
86. Now that Afghanistan looks as though it
is effectively being denied to al-Qaeda as a base for training
or other operations, is there any possibility of them establishing
any such facilities in the countries that border Afghanistan to
the north, particularly Uzbekistan, or are those very home-grown
Islamic movements loosely under al-Qaeda's umbrella but unlikely
to provide them with facilities? I would just like to know whether
we have removed the danger from the region or just one country?
(Mr Bergne) I think there is the possibility that
members of al-Qaeda might be able to find a foothold in Northern
Pakistan, in the north-west area of Pakistan which is semi-autonomous
anyway. I think it is just conceivable that they might
find a foothold in the mountains of Tajikistan; but I regard that
as being very much less likely than Pakistan because the governments
of the former Soviet Republics are much more intrusive, if you
like, than the Government of Pakistan. I think the extent to which
such a residual al-Qaeda group might draw upon Islamist sympathisers
in Pakistan to reactivate the network is something I cannot really
comment on. I think there obviously are people in Pakistan and
organisations in Pakistan which are sympathetic to al-Qaeda, as
indeed there are in Tajikistan and Uzbekistan but the ones in
Pakistan are much more influential and active; therefore it follows,
theoretically at least, that in Pakistan a residual group of al-Qaeda
activists might succeed in contact with Pakistani sympathisers
and spreading their tentacles once more.
87. To operate to the extent that al-Qaeda managed
to operate in Afghanistan they really needed if not the active
encouragement at least the tacit approval of the government of
the country. You are saying they are unlikely to get that, and
they will not get that in any former Soviet Republics. They would
not have that in Pakistan, although they have got friends in high
places. Do you think there will be enough connivance, or acquiescence
in Pakistan, to enable them to re-establish (and I do not just
mean secret bases and the odd cell here or there) training camps?
(Mr Bergne) It would be very difficult, from what
I understand. General Musharraf has taken a very firm position
on that, and has taken really quite effective steps to try and
control illegal activities by Islamist groups. No, I do not see
any chance at all, with the present political situation in Pakistan
and, indeed, in the northern former Soviet Republics, of al-Qaeda
succeeding in building up the sort of arrangements it had in Afghanistan
where, as you say, it enjoyed the full support of the Afghan Government.
88. We know of the terrorist problems in the
Fergana Valley and the problems which Uzbekistan has faced, the
terrorist groups operating in the mountains of Kyrgyzstan coming
from Tajikistan. With the fall of the Taliban in Afghanistan,
to what extent has that been a severe blow to the terrorist groups
operating in those Central Asian countries which you know so well?
(Mr Bergne) I think it has been a severe blow. From
what I have heard from Northern Alliance commanders several hundred,
possibly even as many as a thousand or two, members of the Islamic
movement of Uzbekistan, which is the main organisation accused
of terrorism in Central Asia, were fighting in Taloqan and Qonduz
in Northern Afghanistan, and also Mazar-i-Sharif fighting on the
side of the Taliban. When those three cities fell, a large number
were killed in the fighting. Indeed, it was rumoured that the
head of the Islamic movement of Uzbekistan, known as Juma Namangani,
was also killed although that has not been confirmed. Their organisation,
therefore, will have suffered a severely disruptive blow. I would
not like to suggest that it has been completely destroyed. There
will, no doubt, continue to be cells in the former Soviet Republics
of Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, and of course there will be large
numbers of sympathisers given the nature of the governments which
are in control there at present, which are seen by political Islamists
as being both oppressive, inefficient, corrupt and anti-Islamic.
I think that is a fertile ground for that version of political
Islam, even though the networks that existed up until now have
been badly damaged.
89. Do you see any evidence that those same
governments with whom we are allied are using September 11 and
its aftermath as a good reason or an excuse for shutting down
legitimate dissent among the Islamic groups within their own countries?
(Mr Bergne) It depends what you mean by "legitimate".
(Mr Bergne) Dissent certainly, yes, I do see evidence
Sir Patrick Cormack
91. This is a difficult question to answer,
I appreciate that, but do you think in the medium-term any of
the regimes, about which we have been talking, are very vulnerable?
(Mr Bergne) Vulnerable to a political Islama
(Mr Bergne) Yes, I think the Governments of Uzbekistan
and Tajikistan are vulnerable, particularly Uzbekistan. Uzbekistan
is a country with a very strong, popular Islamic tradition. After
70 years of Communist rule Islam has a rather different identity
in Central Asia from what it does in the rest of the Islamic world.
That can work both ways because people can misunderstand it in
different directions. I think Uzbekistan is a country where the
Government has, first of all, been confronted, like all the former
Soviet states, with considerable economic problems, and coming
to terms with those economic problems has been difficult and the
Government has not always been successful in coming to terms with
those economic problems; poverty and unemployment have grown in
Uzbekistan against a background where all secular opposition have
been forbidden. The result is, very naturally, that people who
are fed-up with the Government go to the only form of opposition
which remains in their consciousness, and that is Islamism. I
think there is a danger but I do not think it is a very strong
danger, because the Government is a very determined government
and a very strict government not likely to shrink from drastic
measures when it sees them to be necessarybut I think there
is a danger. I think there is a similar although slightly less
of a danger in Tajikistan. The Islamic element in the political
spectrum is involved in the government and was included after
the United Nations brokered the peace agreement.
(Mr Bergne) As you know probably, the south of Kyrgyzstan
is situated in the Fergana Valley, which is sometimes described
as a hotbed of Islamic activity, and the south Kyrgyz are very
influenced by Uzbek politics and Uzbek perceptions of the way
society should be organised. I think the south of the country
is vulnerable. The north of the country is much less religious;
much more nomadic; much more secular; much more Russian, I have
to say; therefore there is a danger in a sense that Kyrgyzstan
might be threatened with some sort of divisive influence.
Sir Patrick Cormack
94. How would you rate the chances of a peaceful
transition to what we would recognise as democracy, as against
the chances of fundamentalists taking over or a coup in those
(Mr Bergne) I do not reckon that either has very strong
chances. I think the more likely future is of rather disciplinarian,
autocratic, secular, somewhat Soviet in flavour governments continuing
for many years to come with lip service to democracy and relatively
strict attitudes towards Islam. I do not think either of those
Sir John Stanley
95. Can I just bring it back to Afghanistan.
There is clearly a defined role for the British Government in
the international development field in reconstruction; and there
is clearly a defined role for the British Government in the defence
field in providing a significant contribution to the internal
security dimension there. Do you see any specific foreign policy
objectives that the British Government should now be pursuing
in relation to the new government of Afghanistan; and, if so,
what do you think they should be?
(Mr Bergne) I think they should be removing the army
as soon as is practical once the multilateral United Nations force
has been formed to take its place. The understanding, from what
I hear, has always been that the British should send in their
troops to establish a structure of which a multilateral force
could take advantage later, command structures and so on and then
withdraw. I think it is important that the British should withdraw
their forces from Afghanistan once that position has been reached;
and that, in the meantime, it should make every effort to encourage
that position to be reachedthat is, for the other contributing
nations to send troops. Of course, I think it is a mistake that
Britain should be seen to be overwhelmingly the most important
contributor of forces to Afghanistan. I think it is very important
that Britain, if it is going to contribute forces, should only
be one of a lot of countries which do that, given the history
of our relations with Afghanistan. I think that is one aim for
British foreign policy. On the other hand, there is a great deal
that Britain could do to contribute to the reconstruction of the
country, both physical reconstruction, in agriculture, communications,
road building or medical care, because the medical network of
Afghanistan has been badly damagedperhaps the NHS might
be a good model for them to follow!. Also I think in education
and broadcasting in particular. The BBC, for example, could play
a very important role in re-establishing a competent and effective
radio and television network in Afghanistan. I understand the
first steps in that direction have already been taken, in fact.
Given the usefulness, or widely perceived usefulness, of the English
language, I think there is a good deal we could do in the educational
96. Finally, how concerned are you that the
United States and its allies will be linked with regimes in Central
Asia which are seen to be oppressive? That anti-western sentiments
will arise with the new forces in those countries?
(Mr Bergne) I think that is particularly true of the
United States; I do not think Britain has got significantly more
deeply involved in Central Asia from a military point of view,
at least not in comparison with the United States at any rate.
We have, which I think is a good thing, opened a new embassy in
Tajikistan, which we did not have before. I do not think that
would be cause for resentment amongst people, the fact we have
an embassy there. Given the limitations of our economic muscle
power in projecting ourselves into Central Asia, I do not think
there is a real danger that we would become the target of resentment,
because I think our involvement is likely to be limited. With
regard to the United States, I think that is a considerable danger.
97. What about the position of the Russians
in respect of the involvement of the United States in Uzbekistan
and other areas? Will this be a complicating factor in US/Russian
(Mr Bergne) Yes, I am sure it will. I think it varies
though from country to country, as it were. I think the Russians
will reluctantly come to the conclusion that Uzbekistan is likely
to act fairly independently as long as their present government
is in charge in Uzbekistan. The present government of Uzbekistan
is seen as being at least a candidate to become a regional power
and likes to operate independently of Moscow. With regard to Tajikistan
and Kyrgyzstan, on the other hand, which are strategically quite
important for Russia as they border on China as well as Afghanistan,
both countries are still very beholden to Moscow both economically,
culturally and every other way. I think the American presence
in Kyrgyzstan, for example, is deeply unwelcome to Moscow, which
will be eyeing that presence with considerable suspicion and worry
as to whether it is likely to be a long-term presence. I think
the Russians very much hope that it will be of limited duration.
Chairman: Mr Bergne, may I on behalf of the
Committee thank you very much indeed for your help.