Global Security: Afghanistan and Pakistan - Foreign Affairs Committee Contents

1  Introduction


1.  Located at the crossroads of Central and South Asia, Afghanistan has been a battlefield for some six centuries and a "strategic prize for foreign empires for more than 200 years".[1] The most recent episode of foreign military intervention in the country began in October 2001, when US aircraft targeted Taliban strongholds in response to Al Qaeda's terrorist attacks on New York and Washington D.C. in the previous month. Backed on the ground by US Special Forces, and in conjunction with the Afghan Northern Alliance, the United States waged war against the Taliban government which had provided shelter to Al Qaeda and Osama Bin Laden. The UK, along with many other nations, were swift to respond to the US's call for support in its 'war against terror' and in October 2001, British forces entered Afghanistan in support of the US-led Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) which was tasked with destroying the Al-Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan, and ending the Taliban regime that supported them. By the end of 2001, the Taliban government in Afghanistan had collapsed, "its remnants melting back into the Pashtun populace in southern Afghanistan and the Pakistani tribal areas"[2] where many Al Qaeda fighters and members, including Bin Laden, found shelter.

2.  With the Taliban apparently in retreat, the international community set about developing a strategy to re-build Afghanistan to prevent it once again becoming a safe haven for terrorists intent on targeting the West. This came in the form of the Bonn Agreement of December 2001, which provided for a political and stabilisation process and power-sharing arrangements under a new constitution. Presidential elections took place on 9 October 2004, with Hamid Karzai later announced as the winner with 55.4% of the vote. The first Parliamentary and Provincial elections in 36 years took place on 18 September 2005 with 6.8 million Afghans voting, and the inaugural session of the Afghan National Assembly was held on 19 December 2005, marking the completion of the Bonn process. In its place, the Afghanistan Compact was launched, providing a framework for international and Afghan involvement in the period up until 2011. In parallel to the Bonn Agreement, G8 countries agreed to lead reform of Afghanistan in five key areas: counter-narcotics (UK); disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration of militia (Japan); training of a new Afghan National Army (United States) and police force (Germany); and justice reform (Italy).[3]


3.  In 2001 a 5,000 strong International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) was deployed under a United Nations mandate to maintain stability in Kabul while the US-led Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) mission, which focused on counter-terrorism, continued to operate separately. In 2003, NATO took command of ISAF and, with Security Council authorisation, began a phased extension of its area of operation, starting in June 2004 to the north and west, in July 2006 to the south, and in October 2006 to the east of Afghanistan. ISAF, consisting of some 42 nations and 61,130 troops, is now responsible for counter-insurgency operations throughout Afghanistan.[4] The OEF mission continues to operate, albeit in reduced numbers, mainly in Afghanistan's eastern provinces. Although the ISAF and OEF operations remain separate, since 2006 they have been overseen by a single US commander. In the period between 7 October 2001 and 6 July 2009 combined US and coalition fatalities stood at 1,219, of which 885 were a result of hostile action.[5]

4.  By 2006, Afghanistan was once again witnessing increased insurgent activity. British troops, who were largely based in the province of Helmand in southern Afghanistan, found themselves dealing with a virulent insurgency. In Regional Command (RC) (South), which includes Helmand, Taliban/anti-government attacks increased 77% in 2008 while the number of security incidents in Helmand increased 188% in 2008, the second highest increase across all of Afghanistan's provinces.[6] The situation in neighbouring Pakistan also deteriorated significantly. Since Al Qaeda's expulsion from Afghanistan in 2001, Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas which border southern and eastern Afghanistan have provided a sanctuary for a growing insurgent network and a base for command and control, fundraising, recruiting, training, and launching and recovery of military operations and terrorist attacks.[7]

The UK's role

5.  The FCO states that UK engagement in Afghanistan is aimed at ensuring that it "becomes a state capable of delivering governance and services to the Afghan people and preventing the return of Al-Qaeda".[8] To this end, the UK has contributed £1.65 billion in development aid and over £3 billion in military operations to Afghanistan since 2001. There are currently around 9,000 British troops stationed across Afghanistan, and around 210 civilian staff. Since May 2006, the UK has been part of the 16-nation NATO-led ISAF force in southern Afghanistan. The Helmand deployment has been focused on a large number of small and medium-size operations designed to enhance and expand security in Helmand, with a view to enabling the FCO and DfID provide development and reconstruction assistance to the local population.

US and UK policy reviews

6.  By the end of 2008, amid growing international concerns about Afghanistan's poor prognosis, the Bush administration launched an Afghan strategy review which was subsequently continued and expanded under the Obama administration. In March 2009, President Obama announced the US's new policy towards Afghanistan which was re-calibrated to cover Pakistan, too. In April, shortly after the launch of the US strategy, the UK presented its own updated plan for Afghanistan which, like the US approach, was re-focused to include Pakistan.

Our inquiry

7.  This is the seventh in the Committee's series of Reports under the general heading "Global Security".[9] In accordance with the terms of reference for our inquiry and in line with the responsibilities of our Committee, we have not considered issues about defence procurement or spending which are more properly the preserve of other Select Committees.[10] As such, we have focused on the foreign policy aspects of the UK's relations with Afghanistan and Pakistan. When we launched our inquiry in December 2008 we agreed that we would examine the following issues:

  • the security implications of continuing instability in Afghanistan, and neighbouring areas in Pakistan, and the extent to which this represents a threat to the UK;
  • the nature and effectiveness of the UK's foreign policy approach to Afghanistan since 2001;
  • the contribution of UK forces in Afghanistan to achieving UK foreign policy objectives;
  • the UK's contribution to tackling problems related to counter-narcotics, governance, corruption, human rights and internal security within Afghanistan;
  • the role of the international community (in particular, the United States, the European Union, NATO and the United Nations) in relation to Afghanistan and Pakistan;
  • the prospects for a political settlement within Afghanistan and the scope for negotiations with elements amongst the Taliban;
  • the relationship between Afghanistan and its neighbours including Pakistan and Iran; and
  • whether UK and international foreign policy strategies towards Afghanistan ought to be altered.

8.  We held four evidence sessions during the inquiry. A full list of witnesses along with their individual designations can be found later under "List of Witnesses" included later in this Report. In February 2009, we heard from Colonel Christopher Langton (International Institute for Strategic Studies), Professor Theo Farrell (Department of War Studies, King's College London), Sean Langan (Freelance Journalist and Documentary maker) and Professor Shaun Gregory, (Pakistan Security Research Unit, University of Bradford). In March, we heard from Elizabeth Winter (British and Irish Aid Agencies in Afghanistan Group), Dr Jonathan Goodhand (School of Oriental and Asian Studies, London), David Mansfield (Freelance consultant) and Fabrice Pothier (Carnegie Endowment for International Peace). In April we heard from David Loyn (British Broadcasting Corporation), Christina Lamb (Sunday Times), James Fergusson (journalist and author), Daniel Korski (European Council for Foreign Relations), Dr Sajjan Gohel (Asia-Pacific Foundation) and Dr Stuart Gordon (Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst). The then FCO minister responsible for Afghanistan, Rt Hon Lord Malloch-Brown, appeared before us in May, together with the FCO's then Director of South Asia and Afghanistan, Adam Thomson. As part of our inquiry, in April we travelled to Pakistan (Islamabad) and Afghanistan (Kabul and Helmand). Our meetings during that visit are listed in an Annex to this Report. We would like to thank those who gave evidence to our inquiry, and the relevant UK Posts for their assistance in connection with our visit. In addition, the Committee received a range of written submissions. We would like to thank all those who took the time to submit their views.

9.  Our report is split into eight chapters. Initially, we consider the role that the international community has played in Afghanistan since 2001 (Chapter 2) before turning in Chapter 3 to provide an assessment of where Afghanistan stands now in a range of key areas including security sector reform, governance, rule of law, human rights, counter-narcotics and economic and social development. In Chapter 4 we examine the reasons for Pakistan's strategic importance in the context of Afghanistan, followed in Chapter 5, by an appraisal of the US's latest approach to Afghanistan and Pakistan. Chapters 6 and 7 focus more closely on the UK's mission in Afghanistan, charting its development since 2001 and considering the Government's new strategy for both Afghanistan and Pakistan which was outlined in April 2009. The final chapter (Chapter 8) looks at the prospects for securing a political settlement in Afghanistan. A glossary of commonly used abbreviations and acronyms is included at the end of this Report.

1   David Loyn, Butcher & Bolt: Two Hundred Years of Foreign Engagement in Afghanistan (London, 2008) Back

2   Ev 80 Back

3   Ev 75 Back

4   International Security Assistance Force and Afghan National Army strength & laydown, via current at 8 June 2009 Back

5   "Afghanistan Index", Brookings Institution, 7 July 2009,  Back

6   "Afghanistan Index", Brookings Institution, 21 January 2009 Back

7   Ev 132 Back

8   Ev 75 Back

9   In 2007, we published a Report on Global Security: The Middle East. This was the first in our ongoing series of Reports under the "Global Security" heading. (Foreign Affairs Committee, Eighth Report of Session 2006-07, Global Security: The Middle East, HC 363). We have subsequently reported on Global Security: Russia (Second Report of Session 2007-08, HC 51), Global Security: Iran (Fifth Report of Session 2007-08, HC 142), Global Security: Japan and Korea (Tenth Report of Session 2007-08, HC 449), and Global Security: Non-Proliferation (Fourth Report of Session 2008-09, HC 222). Global Security: Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories (Fifth Report of Session 2008-09, HC 261) Back

10   See for example, Defence Committee, Eleventh Report of Session 2008-09, Helicopter Capability, HC 434 Back

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Prepared 2 August 2009