Examination of Witnesses (Questions 23-62)
Reconciliation and reintegration are the theme of this session.
Thank you very much. We now move to phase 2.
Thank you for your patience and for waiting.
Are you happy to stay until 5 o'clock? I intend to extend the
session by half an hour. Hopefully there will be no votes and
we can have an uninterrupted session.
I welcome Mr Leslie who is an independent Afghan
analyst; Mr Waldman, who is also an independent Afghan analyst;
and Mr Fergusson, who is an author and journalist. All of them
are experts in their field, particularly in the area of reconciliation.
We will be putting questions to you. You have probably seen the
format. Don't feel that every one of you has to answer every question;
just come in on what you think is critical, and let's try to keep
the session moving.
Can you tell me what you think is the mindset
of the average Afghan on reconciliation? Is there a consensus
on what sort of outcome they want to have? Mr Fergusson, would
you like to start?
Gosh, is there such a thing as an average Afghan? I think there
is a consensus about fed-upness with the war. We're in year 9
of the intervention, and the numbers of foreigners keep on going
up. It doesn't seem to most Afghans, I think it would be safe
to say, that there is a concomitance of improvement in the way
that things are going there. In fact, you could argue pretty strongly
that they're getting worse in terms of increased civilian casualties
and so on.
I think it's important to remember how hard-wired
the antipathy to foreigners really is among the Afghansnot
just the Pashtuns; all sortsand here we go again. From
the things that the Afghans say to me, they don't understand what
we're doing back there again and again. It's been so many times.
The one thing that unifies the Afghans is a distrust of foreigners.
They want to be left alone. Would you agree with that?
I would agree with much of that. I have spent some time talking
to Afghans about this issue, including in the centre of the country
and the north, where one might expect a degree of scepticism about
reconciliation and negotiations. But what was extraordinary was
the degree of support. I think there's a number of reasons for
that. Perhaps it is to some extent a traditional mechanism inside
Afghanistan for resolving disputes. I think they also are, as
James says, suffering from the war. Even the people in the north
are now increasingly affected by the conflict, but I feel that
another factor coming into play, which affects their attitude,
is that a majority of Afghans do not now believe that we seek
to defeat the insurgency. Of course, that is acutely problematic
from a counter-insurgency point of view. It also means that there
is the belief that the only way out of this situation is through
a negotiated settlement.
Is President Karzai the man to lead the charge on reconciliation?
That is a very big question. Certainly, talking to officials about
that there is a diversity of views. There are those who are not
convinced that he genuinely wants to see a negotiated outcome
because, of course, he stands to lose power. Also, one might consider
that his pronouncements are popular. Given the fact that a clear
majority of Afghans support the idea, it is popular to say that
that's the way he wants to go. When you consider the preconditions
that he and the international community have laid down, it is
hard to believe that he is sincere when those conditionsgiving
up violence, accepting the constitution, the acceptance of the
Administration and renouncing ties to al-Qaedaamount to
surrender in their eyes, and I think most Afghans are aware of
that. If you consider those pre-conditions, one has to ask questions
about the sincerity of the Administration and the international
community in taking this forward.
I concur with what James and Matt have said. I think it varies
between a level of grudging support and, certainly in the world
I inhabit, of resignation that something needs to end. The ambivalence
that I pick upapart from the anger at the incompetence
of the regime, the Administration and the corruptionis
that to some extent the Government are a very weak partner right
now. They are on the back foot. Is the Peace Council, or elements
within the Peace Council, actually able to run with the ball?
People feel worried about that now. They are worried as to whether
it will be treated as an honest broker, or whether it is competent
enough to negotiate a settlement that would benefit ordinary Afghans.
I might just add that the problem with Karzai is Karzai the man.
The answer is no, because the Taliban do not want to speak to
him. They regard him as being beyond the pale in terms of corruption,
as a western stooge and the rest of it. I would rather go along
with the line from the former UN Special Representative to Afghanistan,
Kai Eide, earlier this year. He said that if you want important
results in reconciliation and negotiation then we have to talk
to important people. In the end what we need to happen is talks
directly between Quetta and Washington. That is what matters most
If there was reconciliation, what would a post-reconciliation
Afghanistan look like? What impact would it have on the constitutional
My view is that we need a new constitution. Afghanistan has had
six constitutions since the 1920s, so there is no reason to regard
the present one as immutable. We need to reopen the constitutional
debate which led to this constitution in 2002. It is centrally
flawed in that the Taliban, who would argue that they represent
one half of the country, were never consulted on the contents
of that constitution. They were not invited to Bonn. Brahimi said
that that was our original sin at the time. The Taliban were not
even invited and they really need to be. That is a problem, first
John Stanley: Do you see any way in which we can
avoid the rights of women and girls in Afghanistan being sacrificed
as the price of a settlement that the Taliban are willing to buy
That is a very difficult question to answer. I have spent the
last six or seven months talking to Taliban commanders from different
parts of the country, and that is one of the questions that I
ask. Their position is essentially that women should be separated
from men in the public sphere. Obviously, from our perspective,
that is not satisfactory and it is, indeed, objectionable in some
As Michael said earlier, there are those who
say that they have moved on and recognise some of the mistakes
that were made. I think that many Taliban objectives converge
with our own. If you consider the departure of foreign forces,
law and order, better government and national sovereignty, there
are a number of areas where they converge and that is one of the
reasons why I support the idea of negotiations. However, one of
the meanings of sharia as they interpret it is what we consider
to be a repressive approach to the rights, freedoms and opportunities
of women and girls. I am not going to disguise the fact that that
is going to be a very difficult issue. We have to take into account
the fact that, in southern and south-eastern Afghanistan and in
other parts and communities elsewhere in Afghanistan, there is
support for practices that we would not consider liberal or fair
with respect to women. So in some cases, the Taliban's views are
not wholly disassociated from those of the population, but I believe
that the only way through this is for women ultimately to have
a real role in the process. That may not happen immediately, but
I think that it has to happen.
Clwyd: I would like to follow on from that. One
of the reasons for my support for the war is the empowerment of
women in Afghanistan. Twice a year, I meet Afghan delegationsMembers
of Parliamentwho nominally always include a woman. But
the last time we met them in Geneva, there was one woman who didn't
say one word. I asked her why she didn't speak during the delegation
and she said, "I've been told not to, because the leader
of our delegation is a warlord. He told me that I could not speak".
She spoke a lot to us separately, because we got her on her own.
That was my recent experience meeting an Afghan delegation just
two weeks ago, too. So although we have empowered women, we have
not ensured at the same time that they have equal rights of speech
and so on. I just don't know how we get around that.
One day at a time. It is going to take a lot longer. Having negotiated
on these very issueseducation and employmentfor
the UN with the Taliban in the '90s when they were actually in
power, I think there is a lot more leeway than we sometimes explain.
The reality is ordinary social life in Afghanistanthat
is the main obstacle, particularly the realities of rural life
and the kind of atmosphere and structure that you mentioned where
women don't feel they can speak out. It is not one particular
group that is promoting that; it is members of the Peace Council.
We can see all the names there. On some levels, they are very
anti-women as well. We need to confront it, but give people time.
Certainly, the more remarkable Afghan women
in the body politic in Kabul are really pushing it, and I think
they need more support. They feel very isolated. I had a meeting
a couple of weeks ago with the deputy head of the Civil Service
Commission and she said that she's never felt more isolated than
she does now. Diplomats are isolating her, and she doesn't feel
that she gets that political support in Kabul and she doesn't
have a lot of Afghans to support her.
Clwyd: Would you agree that Karzai himself doesn't
give the right signals to the situation of women in the country
either? He sacked one woman who was a Women's Minister some years
ago when I was there, because she was in Washington and her headscarf
slipped off. She gave a press conference and she was sacked when
she got back. That is hardly the right signal from the Head of
It may be because he is speaking to his own Pashtun constituency.
That is the thing. I think it is very important that we rememberI
am paraphrasing General Petraeuswhy we are there. Women's
rights are not directly relevant to this question of western security.
Petraeus urged us to remember why we are there; we are there to
make sure that al-Qaeda cannot come back and establish a base.
However much we would like to change Afghan society and see a
better deal for Afghan women, and of course we would, that is
not why we are there militarily. It is not even part of the mission
statement, and it has never been. It does not directly impinge
on western security issues. You can go on engaging with them in
a civilian way, but that is something quite separate and of a
second order, I would suggest, however tough that sounds, to the
Stewart: Thank you very much. Jolyon, you have
worked in Afghanistan since the Soviet period. Is there something
that you would say to us and to western policy makers about what
we misunderstand about Afghanistan, such as common mistakes that
we make; ways in which Afghans perceive us; or ways in which our
policies go wrong?
My goodness, one has written about it. As things stand at the
moment, the key thing is that we need to back off and give Afghans
some space to work things out themselves. Whether the High Peace
Council is part of that or whether it will be micro-managed by
the military powers that have an interest in the country, and
that have a lot of troops there, remains to be seen. The hope
is with the kind of Afghans that I have worked with for years
and years, not necessarily with combatants. At the moment, they
are feeling very confined by the international military who tell
them what to do day and night, and who intrude on their space.
I do not think that we should underestimate that, as Michael was
saying, in terms of losing hearts and minds. An incompetent regime
that we have put in place proved its incompetence in some ways
dear friends to a man and woman but not terribly effective. We
need somehow to let them have the voice to try and work that out,
which needs space and time.
With the whole conference cycle, these compacts
and these benchmarks that we are chucking at this country, people
sometimes feel that they are being frogmarched into a process
that will unravel inevitably if it is not on their terms. I am
heartened by the kind of questions that are being asked in this
session but I wish that they had been asked way back in 2001-02,
with this level of self-criticism.
At the receiving end of visits to Kabul, one
sometimes hears opinions being promoted by the country that are
very ill-informed, so goodness knows what some of the Afghans
hear. We need to put them more centre stage, as Ann was alluding
to, either in set-piece events like that or by getting out more,
because one of the worries in the country is that we are cloistering
ourselves away. We are not sure who to be afraid ofwhether
it is the Afghan National Army, or the insurgency, or factional
forces that are re-emergingso we are isolating ourselves
more and more, and I think Afghans feel that at the moment.
To some extent, I am contradicting myself because
I have said that Afghans need space and they do not necessarily
need foreigners asking what they are doing, but we just need to
slow down a little bit and literally pull back. I believe that
we should also pull back militarily, and face the consequences.
I think that Afghans will work it out, much more than we would
wish to acknowledge after our investments.
Stewart: Can you give us concrete examples of the
sorts of things that British or American policy makers would generally
say or do that strike you as wrong-headed or somehow misunderstanding
our relationship to the Afghan people?
Perhaps the whole Helmand issue is a case in point, in the sense
that we have presented a very difficult campaign in rather triumphalist
terms, consistently for months if not for years. When the going
gets tough, we are not honest enough about whom to blame it on,
and maybe James would like to comment on that as well, given what
he has written about. I often feel very disappointed that we are
still peddling this mythology to some extent about the fact that
we can go in and hold, clear and build an area. It is so patently
clear at the village levelmy life is in Afghan villages,
not particularly in Kabulthat outsiders cannot do that.
Even if you can clear, you are unlikely to hold, and you certainly
To come to my profession, which is development
work, I think we need to be more honest about what we can't do
in that country in terms of development. With all respect to DFIDI
know that this meeting is not about international development,
but we need to be honest that we cannot do development in full-body
armour. There is a problem there somewhere. The Afghans are beginning
to move on from being sceptical to actually being angry about
some of these issues, because they are having to swallow some
of these resentments. It's making them very cynical about everything
that we do as a result. That is a sadness, because the will is
there and the intention is good, but we need to be more brutally
honest about what we cannot do.
Rory Stewart: Finally, just to bring
in Matt and James, you spend a lot of your time talking to policy
makers, briefing them, and trying to explain some ideas. What,
in blunt terms, do you think policy makers don't get about Afghanistan?
What are you struggling to communicate?
Personally, I find that it is the fact that we are not winning,
and that events are not going in our favour. I've been going to
ISAF for four years, and every year I have heard the same refrain,
which is that we are degrading the enemy, they are really feeling
the heat, and we are turning the corner. However, if you look
at the facts on the ground, and if you talk to ordinary Afghans,
you get a very different picture. It is clear that the insurgency
has moved from the south and the south-east, up into the centre,
and to parts of the north and parts of the west. They are launching
more attacks than ever before and are killing a record number
of foreign soldiers, Afghan soldiers and police. They have this
systematic campaign of intimidation against the population. From
the perspective of the Afghans, no matter how many insurgents
we may be killing or capturing, this is not going our way. The
Taliban are moving from strength to strength.
One of the problems is that we have made the
mistake of seeing a number of small tactical successes as a strategic
success. We continue to do that; we observe the small elements
where progress is being madeand in some areas, I believe
progress is being made, even in Helmandbut we should not
mistake that for strategic success. That, for me, is the biggest
frustration. If you accept that, it leads you to the conclusion
that the current strategy will not succeed and that we need a
new approach. My conclusion is that, within that new approach,
there has to be a willingness to explore the potential of negotiations.
As difficult as it may be, we have to accept that.
I agree with all of that. In general, we are extremely bad at
seeing Afghanistan, its problems, and the Taliban in particular
through Afghan eyes. We persist in looking at the Taliban through
western eyes. The question of women's rights is a classic example.
To the ordinary Afghan, the way that the Taliban treat women is
not so surprising or strange. It is difficult for us to comprehend
that and we need to.
There was that awful incident the other day,
of the young lady with her nose sliced off by a Taliban member.
There was a poll after that, asking what people thought of it,
and 100 Afghan men were interviewed. They said, "Well, if
that had been me, I would have killed her". There is a completely
different way of looking at these things, and over and over again,
we cannot quite comprehend the people that we are dealing with.
We certainly don't understand the Taliban. It
seems that we persist in seeing the Taliban as an armed militia,
when actually they are not just that. They are also a frame of
mind, if I can put it like that. For example, earlier this year,
when President Karzai got cross with America once again and flew
off the handle, saying, "If you carry on like that, I think
I might just join the Taliban myself", everyone said, "President
Karzai has gone off the handle again". I don't think he had.
I think he was absolutely spot on. What he was expressing was
that Taliban-ness is part of the Afghan psyche in a way that the
West simply hasn't goteven in the President that we support.
He is a Pashtun, and the way that the Taliban are is part of the
Pashtun psyche. That is something that we simply haven't got and
until we do, we are never going to get anywhere. You have to know
the people that you are dealing with and we still don't.
James, in your recent book, you argued that the UK is uniquely
placed to influence the American Government on the issue of reconciliation.
Do you think they would listen to us? Is this a road that we should
be going down, and what would the US response be?
I don't know, is the short answer. A lot of the time, these things
depend on personal relationships. I hope that our Prime Minister
is getting on well with President Obama, which I think is critical
to it all. What I think it is safe to say is that no ally of America
is better placed than we are to influence American policy because
we are the biggest troop contributor in Afghanistan, because of
the special relationship we enjoy with the US, but also the special
relationshipoddly enoughthat we enjoy with Afghans.
That is a function of colonial history and the fact that this
is the fourth Afghan war for the Brits. So a lot of Afghans, including
the Taliban, have said to me, "You Brits are different from
the Americans. We feel we know you". That, of course, cuts
both ways. It could be a bad thing as well as a good thing. When
you go back to Maiwand in Helmand, they say, "What are you
doing here? We'll finish you off this time". That is a different
point. The Brits were the last people to go to the Maiwand area.
It could also work in our favour. We do have a role to play, perhaps
as a mediator in reconciliation when it comes.
They call us little Satan. That is a role we
could play to our advantage. To be literally the great Satan's
outriderif I could use that terminologyand be the
mediator and go-between to perhaps the moderate Taliban is what
I would like to see. I think it could happen; I think it is a
possibility. It is certainly worth exploring and we haven't explored
Watts: The picture you paint is fairly pessimistic.
It seems to indicate that the two sidesthe Afghan Government
and the allianceare seeking to find a solution through
reconciliation that is unacceptable to the Taliban, and vice versa.
You seem to be suggesting what the alliance and the Government
could do to move towards some form of reconciliation. Where's
the movement from the Taliban? The point has been raised as to
how far the Taliban will move on some of these issues. We have
rejected the idea that women's rights should be part of that.
Is there anything that they would accept that is one of the conditions
being laid down for reconciliation?
Reflecting on the conversations I've had with commanders, I don't
think they are going to take it seriously until they think we
do. That is a legitimate position to hold from their perspective.
They do not believe that the United States has its heart in reconciliation
and they are probably right about that, although there are some
indications that there may be shifts within the Administration
on that issue.
At the moment, from their perspective they are
doing well. They know that as a movement they are suffering, that
many commanders are being killed and that they are under pressure,
but they are extending their reach. As I said earlier, they are
killing more foreign soldiers. They know there is fracturing within
the international coalition. They also know that the Government
are widely loathed and not trusted by the Afghan people. They
have sanctuaries inside Pakistan and a lot of support provided
to them. They also have what appears to be an infinite supply
of recruits. In those circumstances, the real question is, "If
we are not going to take it seriously, why should they?"
First, we need a degree of international coherence about reconciliation.
It does need to be supported by Britain and the United States.
Then we need a period of confidence-building, as Michael suggested.
Watts: Matt, can I push you on this? The one thing
the Afghan Government and the alliance have done is set out their
aims for reconciliation. What are the aims for the Taliban? Where
are they prepared to meet? What are the lines we won't move on?
What are the lines we are prepared to negotiate on?
It is not clear. I think you would find a diversity of opinion
throughout the movement of their attitude towards negotiations.
If you look at Mullah Omar's Eid statement of last year, he says
they will consider any means of bringing the conflict to a conclusion,
so long as they are rid of the infidel invaders and have a regime
that respects sharia. I think that is a clear indication that
they have not ruled out this possibility, as Michael said in his
discussions. I think they haven't. As to learning their exact
positions, I don't think that is going to happen until we step
forward to send a signal that we are actually serious about this.
They see the military surge; they see us making more efforts to
attack them, to dominate territory and so on. The international
forces are killing more commanders than previously. So, in those
circumstances they do not feel that inclination. We are not giving
the process a chance.
There will be good things. It won't be the same as last time.
That is the thing that we all have in our minds: the Taliban was
a disaster 1996-2001. I would dispute the description "disaster".
They made some terrible mistakes and they know it. The Taliban
are a very broad church, but there is a moderate, intelligent,
educated and now much more experienced part of that movement who
had to run a country for five years. They learnt a great deal.
The thing that worries me most is that you cannot have a repeat
of the ethnic slaughtering that went on before 2001, but they
sayor some of them say"We know that we can't
do that again and we are prepared to share power with the other
ethnicities in the country". They get it. The problem in
any reconciliation negotiation is how do you extract a guarantee
that they would behave the next time around? I think they would
because it didn't get them anywhere last time. They have learnt
from their mistakes.
May I add one point to that briefly? From my discussions with
the commanders, I do not believe that these are essentially either
extremists or mercenaries, which is what I have heard many times
from officials. I believe that the majority are relatively moderate
and reasonably rational. I think they believe they are fighting
a just war for the independence of their country and to oust a
degenerate proxy regime. As I said earlier, some of their objectives
converge with ours. So perhaps the picture is not as bleak as
one might otherwise expect. Law and order, better government,
the departure of foreign troopsthere are problems with
respect to the Islamic social code that they want to see. But
in many ways there is that potential to move forward because of
the nature of the movement.
Rosindell: The sole justification in the eyes of
the British people for British troops being in Afghanistan is
our own security. We went there after 11 September with the Americans
and others. That is why the British people have in the past supported
us being there. Can we honestly say to them today that if we withdrew,
the threat of al-Qaeda coming back and using Afghanistan as a
base would occur?
No. There is absolutely no evidence that al-Qaeda even want to
come back or that the Taliban would have them back if they did.
I've had this conversation so many times in Afghanistan and I
have not come across one Afghan who gets this justification for
our presence there at all. They do not believe it. To them it
is an irrelevance. They say, "What's al-Qaeda?" They
point to all the things that we know: the crew of 9/11 were all
Saudis; they were all trained elsewhere. Afghanistan had nothing
to do with it in their eyes. They hosted al-Qaeda, but that is
a different matter.
Rosindell: Do you all agree with that?
Certainly there are elements of the insurgency that are closely
connected to al-Qaeda. I have no doubt that some parts of the
Haqqani Network work with individuals who either belong to al-Qaeda
or are associated with it. But if you look at American intelligence
estimates of the presence of al-Qaeda inside Afghanistan, rarely
do they say that they think there are more than 150 operatives.
If you talk to the Taliban there is no love lost between them
and al-Qaeda. They know that ultimately al-Qaeda was responsible
for their downfall. Indeed, Mullah Omar in his last public statement
about a month or so ago said, "We want to conduct our foreign
policy on the basis that we will not harm foreign countries if
they do not harm us". There is not a strong alliance between
the Talibs and al-Qaeda. Could you get solid guarantees that they
would not work together in the future? Probably not, but this
time they will know what the consequences would be were they to
support and to harbour extremists of that kind.
Rosindell: So, al-Qaeda are operating from whereNorth
Pakistan entirely at the moment?
Not entirely, no. Horn of Africa? This is an international movement.
Rosindell: In that region, I am talking about.
Well, if I knew that, I would be a very successful journalist.
And a very rich one.
Sir Menzies Campbell:
And the head of the security services, too.
The working assumption is that it is Waziristan, it is the border
areas on the other side of the border, which even Pakistan doesn't
deny quite as much as it used to. They are not in Afghanistan,
that is for sure.
Just to go back to the question about what would happen if there
was a withdrawal of foreign forces, I think that over time that
could help lead to stability if it was in conjunction with a process
that was part of a reconciliation move forward. If it was not
part of that, if it was a rapid withdrawal, I think there is a
strong potential that there would be a civil war. That, of course,
then moves us into a different territory where, I think, potentially,
legitimate humanitarian considerations would apply. I think that
we have some obligation, having intervened in 2001, to ensure
that we do not leave a situation that is worse than the one that
we found initially. Potentially, there could be security threats
to the United Kingdom from a civil war that could spill over into
neighbouring countries, including Pakistan.
I would be as worried about the resurgence of factional interests
into that vacuum, which would be inevitable if there was a fast
withdrawal, as I would be about al-Qaeda 1 or 2 or 10 or 50 or
whatever. I think we should also bear in mind that there is a
real ambivalence among Afghans about Arabs in their midst, because
of the mujaheddin history. Most ordinary Afghans, who are not
even necessarily educated, don't want them there any more than
There is an element of scaremongering in the
thought that if we take our finger out of the dyke, it's all going
to come down and get us. That is unhelpful, because that is not
what many Afghans are thinking. After all it is their country,
and it is their security that we should be worried about as much
as it is the streets of London or wherever.
Menzies Campbell: But we are taking our fingers
out of the dyke, aren't we? In recent weeks, the Prime Minister
and the Deputy Prime Minister have reaffirmed the commitment to
withdraw combat troops by 2015. President Obama will almost certainly
have to acknowledge his pledge to start withdrawing American forces
by the middle of next year; otherwise his prospects of re-election
in the United States will be very severely damaged. I just wonder
how much of what you have said to us so far you have placed against
the timelines that are being imposed upon Britain's, and indeed
NATO's, presence in Afghanistan.
In a conflict such as we see in Afghanistan at the moment, timelines
are surely arbitrary. I think it is very unwise to condition actions
on the part of the international community against a future that
is unknown and unpredictable. In fact, looking at the Government's
submission to you, they say in paragraph 44 that "transition
is conditions based, timelines cannot be made", and then
in paragraph 19 earlier on they say that the UK cannot provide
combat forces beyond 2014; transition will allow this to happen.
There is an obvious contradiction there. It is very unwise to
seek to make plans about future conditions that we simply cannot
Menzies Campbell: It reflects the debate in the
United States, doesn't it? It reflects the contents of the recently
published Woodward book and the extraordinary debate that took
place before President Obama produced a reinvigoratedif
that is the right wordstrategy.
Yes, and I think that the recent disclosures of Mr Woodward's
book seem to indicate that Obama's decision was made not on the
basis of military advice or advice from experts on the region
or the conflict, but on the basis of political domestic considerations.
I think that that is misjudged, and it looks as if we have gone
down a similar route. I think that it is unwise to constrain ourselves,
and I believe that it will need a long-term robust military presence.
As to the date that that ends, and as to the way in which that
presence changes over time, I think that it is unwise to make
commitments so far in advance.
Gapes: I want to take you back, Mr Waldman, in
light of what you have just said. In an earlier answer you said
that we need to send a signal that we are serious. What signal
does it send to the Taliban, or even to people who are not Taliban,
but are uncertain about their future, if we set an artificial
deadline, to which you have referred, of 2015 for British combat
forces no longer to be in Afghanistan, or if President Obama says,
"We are going to run down from 2011", which, as you
have said, is politically driven?
Absolutely. When I said that we need to send a signal that we
are serious, I meant serious about reconciliation, but I take
your point about seriousness with regard to the military effort.
There are arguments on both sides, because we have to accept that
international forces inside Afghanistan are part of the problem.
There is no doubt that their presence is energising the insurgency
for various reasons, particularly the civilian casualties, the
abuse of raids and the perception that we are aggressive invading
forces, which is going to be difficult to change at this stage
in the conflict. On the one hand, there is that set of arguments,
but on the other, as I mentioned earlier, there is a real risk
of internecine, intensive civil conflict if that withdrawal were
to take place too soon.
Gapes: You and Mr Leslie have both referred to
the dangers of leaving too soon and too rapidly, but isn't a complete
British withdrawal of military combat forces within four or five
years a rapid process, given the logistics and the preparations
that have to be made to get people out of the situation? Isn't
it a rapid process that President Obama describes when he says
that from 2011 there will be a significant run-down, which gives
the impression that, in fact, the Americans will very soon be
starting a complete withdrawal, although Petraeus says something
Just briefly, before the others answer, I would say that in a
sense Britain is one actor, and we know that the United States
will not make such a commitment. They will be there, I think,
for longer than that period.
Gapes: Beyond the next presidential election?
I would imagine so, but maybe not in the same numbers. In a sense,
what Britain does with its troopswe are a fraction of the
international force in Afghanistanwon't be decisive either
way. As you've seen, we are pulling out of areas of Helmand and
we are being replaced by the Americans. So I don't think that
it will be decisive either way.
Gapes: What about your colleagues? What do they
I would worry that the presence of troops is a metric for success.
That is terrifying, because it is now 2010. I don't think that
it should be rapid, but we should withdraw. We should pull back
and, as I have said, we should give space, but that depends on
what else is going on in the room, outside the room, down the
road, in the village, or wherever. We also really need to push
the political track, rather than just twiddling our thumbs while
President Karzai, bless him, appoints the High Peace Council.
There has to be, of course, an element of sovereignty in all this,
and I wouldn't want to propose cutting deals more than they are
being cut, but there are other tracks to follow. We shouldn't
forget that the 2014-15 date was immensely relieving to the Afghan
people. It didn't come across to the people with whom I live and
work as a harbinger of, "Oh my God, they are cutting and
running". It came across as, "Thank goodness, we can
get beyond this and we can work things out for ourselves".
We need to remember that. Obviously, the domestic constituency
here is important, but that was a confidence-building measure
and probably quite a sensible one. I am not saying that it was
done for those reasons; perhaps it was an unintended consequence.
I don't think that anyone is suggesting that we should completely
pull out and abandon Afghanistan to its fate. If the military
were to go, it wouldn't mean that the development and civilian
agencies have to go, too. I think that such agencies should stay,
and it is absolutely essential that they do stay. Furthermore,
just think of all that money that is being spent on the military,
which could be effectively shifted out and, for heaven's sake,
given to DFID, USAID, or whoever.
Gapes: Frankly, doesn't DFID and don't development
agencies require a level of security support and a peaceful environment?
If we are going into what Mr Waldman described as a civil war,
you might have development in some areas of Afghanistan, but there
will be other areas where you couldn't possibly do it. We had
this problem in Iraq at certain times. The development people
couldn't go into certain areas, so the work couldn't be done.
Don't we require a conditions-based solution here?
Mr Waldman, you said that the counter-insurgency
was not succeeding. If the counter-insurgency is not succeeding,
and on the other hand a precipitate or quick withdrawal would
also lead to a disaster, we are between a rock and a hard place
aren't we? We are in an impossible position.
Yes. I don't believe that foreign military can protect development
processes. That is a complete delusion. It makes us feel good.
It's good for the MOD. It's good forwell, it might not
be very good for DFID. It is hugely costly. It won't happen. The
Afghan National Army, the Afghan National Police or other security
sub-forces, whatever they are going to behopefully not
militiashave to step up to that. From that point of view,
yes, it has to be conditions-based. So we have got to make sure
that there is a degree of stability for development to move forward.
But I would not link military presence with development rolling
out, to use an unfortunate term, which is the way it has been
portrayed, as if we are there to protect the aid workers. We are
not and never have been.
That's absolutely right. It's an anecdote, but in 2007 I was in
conversation with some Taliban. They said, "Why are you here
again?" I said that we are here to help you develop your
country, and the rest of it. They said, "In that case, why
do you send soldiers?" I said that the soldiers were here
to protect the people who are going to do the development. They
looked at each other and said, "But if that is the case,
if you just came to us and explained that you wanted to build
a road we would have protected you. We would have given you your
security ourselves". They were completely sincere. It is
not an absurd thought because before 2001 the Taliban and the
NGO world worked quite happily in Afghanistan. Many NGOs, believe
it or not, worked fine with the Taliban and were allowed to do
so very well, so there is some precedent for a relationship between
development and the Taliban.
On your point on the counter-insurgency, I think that you are
rightwe are in an extremely difficult position. Transition
is fraught with challenges and obstacles and it will take a lot
longer than anticipated. Counter-insurgency faces enormous challenges
too, for all the reasons that we have mentioned today. That is
why I believe that it is right to move forward seriously with
reconciliation, to explore the possibilities for it. It is unlikely
to succeed. It is a long shot. There is no question about that,
because there is so much mistrust. There are so many spoilers
on all sides, whether it is the insurgent side, the Government
side, political factions inside Afghanistan and the neighbours.
It would be extremely difficult even to get an agreement at the
end of the day, but we have to pursue that option because there
are so few other options and because it is supported by the Afghan
Watts: Can I take you back to the 2015 deadline?
It seems to me that you believe that the deadline is arbitrary
and has not been helpful. You said that it is not helpful to have
British or allied troops on the ground in Afghanistan longer than
they need to be there. I understand the point you are making.
Is it realistic to believe that in 2015, if we withdraw troops,
both the Afghan army and the Afghan police will be capable of
policing Afghanistan and looking after security in the country?
Won't we face civil war as a consequence of the vacuum we create
when we take the troops out and the Afghan army and police are
not able to cope? Is 2015 realistic for both the troops and the
police to be able to cope with the situation they are going to
find themselves in?
That's a very good question. I don't know the answer to it, but
I do know that expectations about the capability of the Afghan
National Security Forces are unrealistic. Ahmed Rashid wrote only
recently that in his view there is not a single Afghan unit that
is able to operate independently. That is despite the efforts
to build those forces. Of course, they started too late. They
commenced only in 2007 in any seriousness. I think it is widely
agreed that the Afghan army has leadership problems, logistical
problems and operational problems. It lacks, of course, a major
element of Pashtuns in both foot soldiers and officers. So there
are huge problems there, and also huge problems in the police,
which are widely regarded as corrupt, ineffective or abusive.
To some extent, our withdrawal is predicated
on the assumption that we're going to have forces that are capable
of protecting Afghans when we leave, and I just think that that
is an unwise assumption to make. My own feeling is, as I said
earlier, that given the constraints that we face in terms of transition,
it is right to move forward with reconciliation.
Baron: As a politician, it helps if you are an
optimist, but I think a number of us felt from the very start
of this enterprise that in getting involved we were ignoring the
lessons of history. I would suggest to you that some of your analysis,
in my view, is perhaps even too optimistic still. If you look,
for example, at the successful counter-insurgency operationstake
Malaya, for instancethe four preconditions are control
of the borders, credible Government, good troop density levels
and the support of the population. I don't think one of those
exists in Afghanistan. Convince me otherwise, please, because
I do not believe that we can win this conflict from a military
point of view. That has knock-on effects when it comes to reconciliation,
because it's obviously better to negotiate and try to reconcile
from a position of strength. Am I being overly bearish about this?
Please convince me otherwise if I am.
I find it very difficult to be optimistic. I'm feeling Cassandra-like
about the matter myself. The lessons of history are very important.
Just carrying on from the ANP and the ANA, which we're training
up as our exit strategywell, the Russians did that. They
did exactly the same thing. They lasted, I think, about two years
before the whole Afghan national army that the Russians had trained
up imploded. The moment the funding ran out and the foreigners'
support ran out, it sort of just disintegrated, and people went
back to their communities. It's an artificial construct. We've
made the same mistake, and I think it's a tragedy.
The Americans, incidentallywe've increasingly
referred to itare pursuing an alternative way of policing
the place, which is this question of militias: local militias,
from the bottom up, empowering local people to police their own
communities. That, of course, is fine if it works and they are
kept under control, trained and the rest of itit could
be a good way of policing the placebut that, of course,
is where the Taliban came in in 1994. Those private, small, ethnic,
tribal militias got out of control and became a law unto themselves.
That's when the Taliban arrived in 1994.
So the stakes are quite high, and it's not looking
too good, I have to say. Around Kandahar province, there are already
militias which are acting almost autonomously. In name, they're
answerable to US forces, but they're not, really. It's a very
dangerous and depressing place to be. I'm afraid I can't give
you much optimistic ammunition.
Just to respond to the points on counter-insurgency and achieving
a position of strength, I agree with you. I do not believe counter-insurgency
in Afghanistan can succeed, and I also believe that that is not
accepted by military officials. I think that because, first, we
do not have a legitimate, effective host Government. If you go
out of the urban areas of Afghanistan, you find that the Government
is widely reviled. That is the first problem.
Secondly, I do not believe it's possible to
succeed when insurgents have sanctuary outside of the country
and huge support, which is partly provided by elements of the
military and the intelligence service of Pakistan. The third major
reason is that, as I said earlier, Afghans no longer believe that
we are there to defeat the insurgency. If a majority of Afghans
actually don't think we're there to do that, how can you get them
to join your side? It's not a risk that they're going to take,
especially when they see the insurgency doing so well. We have
to accept that some elements of counter-insurgency may be necessary
from the point of view of stability, because if you just stopped
all COIN operations, that could have adverse consequences. But
in terms of whether we need to negotiate from a position of strength,
the assumption is that we have to, which is one of the reasons
that there is the military surge. I am not sure that I agree with
that for a number of reasons. One reason is that the biggest problem
that we face in terms of reconciliation is mistrust and enmity
between both sides. It is from the Taliban sideespecially
the leadership and the commandersand the Government and
the warlords who are allied to the Government. A surge is compounding
that mistrust, it is creating greater levels of enmity and it
is making the chances of negotiations even less likely.
You might look at negotiations theories, the
most notable of which is by William Zartman on mutually hurting
stalemate. He argues that negotiations are more likely when you
have a stalemate where neither side believes that it can escalate
to a position of greater strength or victory. I think that, arguably,
at the moment both sides believe that they can reach a position
of greater strength or victory and we should accept the constraints
of the conditions that we face and take that first step towards
negotiations. That means trying to build trust between the parties
and it means that talks must take place, but at the moment nothing
formal, nothing structured, nothing substantive is taking place
on that score.
John Stanley: Between you, you have made
a number of references to the Taliban and the insurgents strengthening
their position in the past two or three years. To what do you
Partly to our presence.
John Stanley: Do you think it is directly
due to our presence?
Yes. I agree with Matt, who said that the military presence is
energising the insurgency. I refer to what I said earlier about
this hard-wired nature, this distrust of foreigners that all Afghans
havenot just the Taliban. They are beginning to coalesce
around this idea of getting rid of usthey want us out.
A large proportiona majority of Afghanswould like
us gone after nine years of meddling in their country. That is
the way that it is seen. That is probably the single biggest reason
for the insurgency strengthening; if there were no foreigners
to fight there would be no fighting.
A close second would be disaffection with the Government. There
is a real lack of patience, and they have no one else to turn
to, particularly in areas that are, arguably, the swing areas,
which have crossed over relatively recently in Kunduz,
Badghis, Ghor, and other areas. There is no other power structure
to turn to and, tactically, whether it is the Taliban, local forces,
or other insurgent forces, they have played that brilliantly,
because they have stepped into the breach. What we have done is
vilify that and said, "No, that isn't real government. What
we can do is bring you real government". That does not cut
any ice with Afghans at all, because we have not shown them real
government, or we have not delivered it when we promised it, as
they see it. Even where there is not head-on kinetic conflict
between foreign forces and Afghan opposition, that is often what
might swing it.
Also the bad Government is seen as the foreigners' fault, so it
comes back to reason one.
I agree with both those points. On the one hand, the operations
that go wrong and harm civilians have generated enormous resentment.
Not only does that support the Taliban as a movement but they
can get support from Afghans who react against those kinds of
operations. Then of course there is this wider perceptionsomething
slightly differentthat we are in some way seeking to invade
or occupy for our own purposes. All Afghans have different ideas
about why we might be doing thatperhaps it is to do with
Iran or the minerals or resourcesbut that perception of
an invasion that threatens Afghan values and Islamic values is
important. As Jolyon said, the abuses that we have seen by the
Government and the exclusion from various groups, whether at a
national or local level, in terms of political power and resources,
has created a great deal of alienation and grievances among those
groups that are excluded, who then ally with and support the Taliban.
Finally, we have to take into account Pakistan.
There is no question that there has been sustained and substantial
support for the movement from Pakistan. That is obviously one
of the reasons why they are having the success that they are.
Their ability to draw on new recruits is phenomenal. If you consider
that recent figures suggest that ISAF is either capturing or killing
up to 10,000 insurgents a year, and yet they also estimate that
the insurgency is around 35,000 strong, that is a phenomenal ability
to regenerate. Then if you consider that they are launching on
average this year some 580 attacks a month, it is phenomenal firepower.
If you combine those factors that we have talked about, then we
are talking about a very formidable enemy.
John Stanley: Iran? What about technical support
from Iran? Do you rate that or do you think it is insignificant?
Chair: May I interrupt?
We have just 15 minutes left and I would be grateful if you could
keep your answers tight.
Iran is a whole other issue. It is meddling dangerously in the
centre of the country in Hazarajat, with the Shi'ite Hazara minority.
When I was there last there was significant concern among the
Pashtuns and indeed among some of the Taliban that I was speaking
to, that the Iranians were covertly arming the Shia Hazara, who
are traditionally always at the bottom of society. Suddenly they
have all this money. The funding is coming in and they are buying
nice houses, land and the rest of it, and upsetting the social
order. It is a warning. It shows you the fragility of Afghan society.
It is a very complex, structured thing which is being messed around
with by the regional neighbours. Iran is certainly a part of all
of that and it has been arming the Taliban, or certain factions
with it, for four or five years with anti-aircraft missiles and
so on. There is plenty of evidence of that. They are a very big
Just to add to that. I spoke with a Taliban commander who had
been to Iran and had been trained in a small camp that was not
too far from the border with Afghanistan. In fact they did not
think very highly of the training. They were not sure. They could
not say one way or another whether they believed that the Government
were involved, but there was an assumption that the Government
or elements of the military had allowed it to happen. There is
also evidence that Iran is providing certain military hardware
one way or another. The commander mentioned that normally in his
district, every year, 80 to 100 people would go to Pakistan for
training. He said that this year, 20 or so had gone to Iran and
that that was new. So my judgment is that it still remains. It
is not a very significant element of the support to the insurgency,
but it is increasing and it certainly needs to be monitored.
May I take you back to Pakistan? Mr Waldman touched on it just
a second a go. What role can Pakistan play in negotiations here?
Whatever it is, they have to be present. The other problem with
the Bonn process in 2002 was that Pakistan's interests were not
represented and since the Talibanthe enemywas, I
think we all agree, a client and a proxy of the ISI, they were
never likely to take the setting up of a Government that did not
include the Taliban lying down. So the next time round they have
to be involved in some wayI don't know exactly how. There
needs to be a regional talking shop of some kind. We have talked
about this already, but Pakistan is critical, as is India, as
is Iran, as is China and as are the ex-Soviet republics. All the
neighbours need to be involved. They all have a stake in this,
but Pakistan is the most important.
Do you think they can do something?
Practical? I think they want to be in a position where nothing
can happen without their say so. Mr Semple mentioned Mullah Baradar
and the Baradar issue earlier on this year. He was a senior Taliban
mullah who was picked up and arrested by the ISI. This was the
ISI punishing the Taliban and Mullah Baradar operating without
their permission. He had been talking to Kabul without the ISI's
knowledge. What happened was he got arrested immediately. So yes,
Pakistan, through the ISI, controls what the Taliban do. It is
the puppet master in many ways.
It is not a matter of, "Can they do anything?", but
"Will they?" I agree with James that they certainly
need to be there. But we also need to bear in mind that a lot
of the destruction in Afghanistan in mujaheddin times was done
with active Pakistani connivance and support coming through Pakistanlargely
from the United Statesof course, and people don't forget
that. I think the folk who I work with are deeply ambivalent about
what kind of place Pakistan has around the table.
I would agree with what has been said. I think that Pakistan needs
to have a role in negotiations. I think negotiations are very
unlikely to succeed unless Pakistan supports the process. The
real question is what can be done to facilitate that.
My view is that although there is an argument
that we use US incentives and disincentives better inside Pakistan,
the prospects for that are relatively limited. What I think needs
to happen is that efforts have to be made to improve the relationship
between Pakistan and India. I am not expecting a breakthrough
any time soon, and no serious analyst would, but it is worth the
effort to try to get that relationship going in the right direction,
because so long as Pakistan perceives a threat from India inside
Afghanistan, it would be very difficult to get their full co-operation
on negotiations. I think it is possible. I hear from sources inside
Pakistan that there is now a growing view among the elite that
a broad-based solution inside Afghanistan is the right way to
go. I think there is an opportunity, but we have to consider the
perceived threat from India, which of course means considering
India's presence inside Afghanistan, where it is investing over
$1 billion. We need to consider that. I know that India is an
ally, and we don't like to upset the Indians, but we have to consider
what implications there are to the mode, format and frame of Indian
presence in Afghanistan.
Clwyd: Following on from that, as you know, there
are a large number of Afghan refugee camps in Pakistan, right
along the border. One of the things that really annoys the Pakistanis
is the fact that the international community does not acknowledge
the burden that Afghan refugees have been on Pakistan. I don't
see anybody trying to move to resolve that. That's the first point.
Secondly, what kind of threat comes from the Afghan refugee camps
in Pakistan? Are there insurgents within them, as there have been
in many other conflicts in the world, where people are over the
border, and are also a source of continuing insurgency?
The Taliban came out of the refugee campsthey created the
entire problem. The Taliban were, in some senses, the creation
of the war against the Russians. The core Taliban were all orphans
who were brought up in madrassahs, quite often within the refugee
camps. Of course it is critical. We need to pay more attention
to that. If that's your question, I think we should do so. It
is a desperate situation. There is Pakistani prickliness about
aid, foreign help and the rest of it, which is part of the Pakistani
psyche, and which makes helping very difficult. I don't have a
particular answer on how to deal with it.
The international community has acknowledged the contribution
that Pakistan and Iran have madeIran accepted millions
of Afghan refugees at the time as well. I don't know what the
particular rancour is now.
I also sense an element of finger-pointing.
A lot of Afghans will blame the Pakistanis for all their evils
now, because of the insurgency, the radicalisation of the youth
and all the rest of it. At some point we have to draw a line under
that and say, "No. Take responsibility for your own destiny".
Likewise, the Pakistanis can't blame a huge amount on the legacy
of a relatively small refugee community, which is pretty much
integrated, despite the floods and all the rest of it. They are
there to stay, in all likelihood.
The only comment I would make is that although there is certainly
a humanitarian consideration there, from a security perspective,
while I am convinced that the insurgency recruits from refugee
camps inside Pakistan, I think that perhaps a more serious issue
is the madrassahs, which you find throughout Pakistan.
The clear majority of the commanders I have
spoken to have been educated and trained inside such madrassahs,
where they are exhorted daily to fight international forces inside
Afghanistan. Many of the madrassahs provide not merely a religious
education, although that is a component, but also a military componentthe
individuals will go to a camp to be trained. People who are at
those madrassahs for some years are exhorted every day to fight,
and it is considered a religious duty to do so. That I think is
one of the reasons why there are so many people going to fight
the jihad inside Afghanistan, and doing so at very considerable
Clwyd: Can I talk to you about the goals that the
British Government have set themselves? Are any of them achievable?
Are the British public being sold a pup by successive Governments?
Are there any pluses to what we have already achieved in Afghanistan?
You say that women's rights are not part of the mission, but good
governance, human rights and the rule of law should also include
women's rightsperhaps there are different mission statements
from the Department for International Development and the Foreign
and Commonwealth Office. Do you think there is any conflict there?
I would like your reaction.
As an aid worker, I think that the British Government speak in
many tongues. It is very confusingto my colleagues on the
ground, whose country it happens to be, and to me as an outsider.
It isn't all bad and we shouldn't be too morose about it, but
let's cut to the chase and be honest about what we have achieved,
even if it is very partial. To some extent, we should fall on
our collective mandates, pens or whatever and be honest that progress
is very limited, and have a no-nonsense approach as to how to
get out of it.
I absolutely agree with Mattwhen reading
through the paper distributed to us, I was dismayed at its mixture
of triumphalism and delusion; again, I use the word "triumph".
It is not actually about that. Get out, listen to people. The
real issues are in the subtextnot in that report, but in
the subtext on the ground.
My worry is that we are beginning to believe
our own assumptions. It is going round and round and becoming
a self-fulfilling delusion. I don't mean this in a particularly
negative sense, but someone needs to have the courage of their
convictions and say, "Stop, let's put a spotlight on some
of these goals, on the benchmarks that we have set in the London
conference and on the other milestones", and ask whether
we are doing well enough. We need to have a radical re-look at
how to get out of it. Because it's becoming a holeit is
very difficult to back out of.
In the end, all that matters actually is America in thisit
is not us. We are, I'm afraid, pipsqueaks on the back of a much
bigger machine. It is what America decides to do that matters.
We are, I believe, in a position to try and
influence America and American thinking, which is what we ought
to be doing. That is our most useful role, to steer America towards
and maybe help them with this reconciliation idea. At the moment,
the Americans haven't made their mind upthat is the problem.
They cannot make their minds up about the Taliban. Robert Gates,
the Defence Secretary, said in Islamabad in March, on consecutive
days, in public, that the Taliban are a "scourge" and
a "cancer", and that they are clearly part of society
these days. Well, it can't be both. They must make their minds
up, otherwise there will never be coherence in the policy.
I agree with both James and Jolyon. I think that one of our principal
priorities now is to try to move events forward towards a peaceful
resolution of this conflict. Actually, there are those analysts
in Kabul whom I know and respect who believe that the principal
objective of the international community should be to seek to
avert a civil war. I do not believe that escalating military operations
will facilitate that. That is more likely to compound the enmities,
intensify the conflict and take us in that direction. I think
that we need to consider those risks, not to think about victory
but about how we might achieve a peaceful resolution of the conflict,
and to move in that direction.
I have three colleagues who still want to ask questions. Are you
happy to stay for another 10 minutes?
Frank Roy: Mr Leslie, I would like to take you
back to earlier when you were talking about the need to win hearts
and minds in the villages, which, at the end of the day, is where
it will really matter. I noticed, Mr Waldman, that you said, "There
has been a colossal failure by the international coalition to
empathise with ordinary Afghans and act accordingly". Bearing
that, and what has been said, in mind, what therefore can the
United Kingdom specifically do to win those hearts and minds,
and what is it not doing that, for example, the Taliban are doing?
My worry is that it seems that one of the central planks of winning
hearts and minds is delivering aid. That is the way it is presented,
and it is not entirely but largely restricted to the area that
was in our patch, which was Helmand. We have obviously failed
at that, because we have not won hearts and minds through culverts,
irrigation channels, shuras, training programmes or whatever the
hell it is. It is not an absolute statement, and I am sure that
there have been successes and some brave men and women who have
tried to pursue that. Afghans will not be bought with aid projects;
it has got too serious. They might have been bought with aid projectsperhaps
not bought, but they might have been persuaded with aid projects,
as they were in the mujaheddin times when I was working with the
UN, when we could bring some degree of stability by bringing some
assistance into the equationbut it has gone too far for
that, at any rate in the areas where I have worked and that I
know anything about. We are a little bit stuck, and all that vocabulary
is rather 2004. It is just not going to work like that. In the
middle of Marjah, where most of the population has been forced
out, areas have been laid waste, vineyards have been laid waste
and houses have been blown up, how can we dare to talk about development?
It is a scorched earth policy, a lot of it.
There is a time and a place, and I am not saying
that it is always impossible. Maybe around the outskirts of Kandahar,
as part of this new kind of on-off strategy, there is a way to
bring development in there to build some confidence, but it is
not going to make people cross the lines, or build any great confidence.
Also, that is often being done through national programmes, which
are pumped as a success of the regime that people are very ambivalent
about. Even if it brings a physical benefit to a woman or a man
in downtown Kandahar, they might feel very ambivalent about it
because of the way it is delivered and the way it is presented.
That is one of the reasons why aid has become such a target, unfortunatelytragically.
Even in the mujaheddin times, when it was highly politicised,
aid was not to that extent such a target. It is nowbuild
a school; we'll burn it, and so on.
It is entirely our fault. General Petraeus has said that our most
important ammunition in this war is money. He has simply linked
aida neutral thing with which we are supposed to be winning
hearts and minds
Roy: How do we change the narrative?
Delink the military and the civilian, but it is so late. The story
is nearly toldI am afraid it is finished. We know when
it is going to end, which is 2015 in military terms. The only
positive thing we can take out of this is that the next time we
do this we need to do it better and differently. I am guessing
the relationship between the civilians and the military is going
to be absolutely central to that, and I think we got that wrong
I would say that we should not be seeking to win Afghan hearts
and minds. I do not believe it is possible in current circumstances
to win the hearts and minds of a majority of the population. If
you consider the natural inclinations of ordinary Afghans, the
suspicion of foreigners, the military activities that have harmed
so many Afghans, the way in which we are supporting a degenerate
regime that is utterly corrupt and ineffective and the pressure
from the Taliban and the successes that they are having, I do
not believe it is realistic to expect British forces to win hearts
and minds. I think we need to reframe our objectives, minimising
the harm that we cause. It would be a legitimate objective, while
at the same time making greater efforts to listen to Afghans,
to appreciate their interests and their aspirations for the future,
and to try to adapt our policy and international policy accordingly.
As far as I see it, most Afghans not only want better services
and so on, they want law and order and peace. The conclusion one
has to reach is that we need to take steps to achieve that. Of
course, part of that has to be trying to seek a peaceful resolution
of the conflict.
Stewart: In summary, you all seem to agree that
we are not going to win a counter-insurgency strategy. You all
have some interesting ideas about how we can decrease the likelihood
of a civil war, with suggestions about what can be done, from
Pakistan to police and army training to development. At the same
time, there is something I am a bit confused about, which is the
debate about time limits. If it's true that we can't win a counter-insurgency
strategy, if it's true that all we're trying to do now is slightly
decrease the likelihood of a civil war, from our point of view
as British politicians, how long are we supposed to be putting
hundreds of our troops, billions of pounds into this conflict?
If that is all it's about, does it make sense for you to say,
"We've got to stick around; we shouldn't have a deadline
of 2015"? Or should in fact we be honest with the American
and British public by saying that if it is that kind of humanitarian
engagementif it's all about civil warthen $100 billion
a year of US expenditure, thousands of coalition lives is not
the game we should be playing?
Listen to you. Here we are in year nine of our engagement in Afghanistan
and you are still talking about why we are there. It is amazing,
isn't it? Here we all are. We don't know. My advice would be to
go back to what Petraeus has said. He attempted to define it by
saying we are there to make sure that Afghanistan cannot be used
as a base for an attack by al-Qaeda again. End of story. It is
not about humanitarian minds. As a British politician, you surely
have to explain that to your constituentsthat that is what
we are there for. British troops are not dying for women's rights
in Afghanistan, not to make their lives better, not to bring democracy.
All of those things were freight brought on board after we turned
up there in the first place and have nothing to do directly with
the threat from al-Qaeda. We need to be speaking to the Taliban
to see what guarantees we can get out of Mullah Omar that he won't
let al-Qaeda back into the country to use it as a base. We need
to back up those talks with drones and our own special forces
and the rest of it, but we don't need to be there militarily any
To answer your point about the timelines. I simply do not believe
that it is sensible from a strategic point of view to lay out
your plans for the future before the enemy. There are very few
circumstances in which that would be sensible in conflict situations.
There are two further reasons why it is not sensible. One is that
if it is believed by the enemy, it may incentivise those who believe
that they can outlast the internationals because the internationals
are going to withdraw. Maybe they will envisage a scenario such
as seen after the 1980s when the regime was unable to last for
too long. It may incentivise and give succour to those individuals
in the insurgency who think that time is on their side. The other
thing is a question of leverage. We have very few cards left when
it comes to negotiations. One of them is the phased withdrawal
of international forces. It strikes me that that is something
that we should use in the course of negotiations, rather than
stipulating in advance.
Stewart: What costs are you prepared to take? The
longer we delay, the more lives we lose, the more money we spend.
How many lives, how much money are you prepared to spend on this
idea of leverage?
Foreign troops are there and we know they are not going to withdraw
immediately. There will inevitably be some sort of phased withdrawal.
What I think is wrong is to set that out, to indicate what that
will be in advance. One needs to consider the conditions and wait
until there are negotiations under way, which I hope will happen.
Then there is a possibility that that phased withdrawal will form
part of that process, rather than being conducted unilaterally
and in advance.
I have to say not a day too soon. I don't think that we should
be discussing whether, we should we be discussing where and how
we are pulling back in the next month and the next six months.
It needs to become a reality; it should not be a principal option
up our sleeve. I think that is the only way that people will find
the space to get on with their lives and perhaps even reach peace
Baron: May I focus on the end game itself? Even
the most sceptical of us do not believe that there should be a
rapid withdrawal; that would leave a vacuum and it would cause
more problems. I think that there is a moral obligation, which
was brought out by Matt or someone else, that we try to leave
a semblance of order and tidy up the mess that we have created
by going in there in the first place. You are suggesting that
there is no real chance of success in negotiation, but if we accept
that the counter-insurgency operation is not going to work and
that the longer we are there, the worse it is going to get from
our point of viewbecause we are seen as an occupying force
and the high civilian casualty rates are going to exponentially
increase the hostility towards uswhy are we delaying withdrawing
and why are we delaying negotiating? Why do we not come out and
openly negotiate with the Taliban in their various guises and
press the military and the national Governments to do that?
I couldn't agree more. I think that that needs to happen now.
We need to make it clear that we are willing to engage with representatives
of the Quetta Shura right now, and that there may be legitimate
grievances on the other side. If the grievances are legitimate,
then let's hear them, and let's consider whether their demands
are so unreasonable. Maybe they are inconsistent with what Afghans
and the international forces want, but we do not know that, because
we have not sat down and listened and argued about the future
of Afghanistan. That needs to happen.
Just to clarify one point, I am not talking
about the withdrawal itselfthat needs to happen and it
is inevitable. What I am disputing is the wisdom of pre-announcing
it; I do not think that it benefits us. It may even benefit the
enemy as perceived by international forces, so that is the only
point of dispute. I agree that the withdrawal needs to take place.
It may be difficult to negotiate if we are in the course of a
withdrawal, which is one of the reasons why I think that talks
at least should begin now.
Baron: Finally, on the issue of negotiation, given
the scepticism and lack of credibility as regards President Karzai's
Government and the US stance, what can we do to encourage that
negotiation and encourage that reconciliation? We know about the
difficulty on the ground, with the regional power plays and so
forth, but you have the US not willing topublically at
leastcountenance negotiations, Karzai is not trusted and
so on. We are painting quite a bleak picture here. Meanwhile,
troops are dying.
Which is why it's urgent.
Waldman: I would say at least two things, one
of which is to recognise that our obsession with killing insurgents
does not help. It does not take us closer to a peaceful resolution
of the conflict. In fact, it seems that many, many commanders
are being killed and those who are replacing them are more hard-line.
They tend to be younger. The average age of insurgents is about
24 or 25. They are probably less inclined to support negotiations.
In fact, the one area where successes are claimed may be undermining
the prospects for a negotiated peace. Recognising that highly
aggressive, kinetic operations against insurgency may not lead
us in the right direction, a robust military presence in certain
areas of the country is perhaps appropriate, but I think that
we have to consider that element.
The other side is something that Michael has
mentioned, which is an independent mediatorone who is trusted
by the various sides to the conflict. It astonishes me that this
has not happened yet. There needs to be a mediatorprobably
several mediatorswho are facilitating structured talks:
not merely contacts, as has happened for several years now, but
structured talks about how the conflict might be resolved.
Baron: We haven't talked about the economy as it
is. We know that international aid features very highly and so
forth, but we havecorrect me if I'm wrongsomething
like 9 million people unemployed in Afghanistan. Some would say
that you can earn more working for two months with the Taliban
than the average national salary. That may address your point:
we may be killing them off, but there's no shortage of new recruits
to the Taliban. It's a complete tangent, maybe, as a question,
but how important is the economy? Or is this all about the West
being seen as an occupying force, etc., etc., and political credibility?
It is amazing that it has an economy anyway, in some ways. Often,
I think we don't distinguish between the aid economy and the actual
economy. It's a very robust economy, whether it's licit or illicit.
I think life goes on and the private sector has boomednot
quite to the extent that is presented, perhaps, in the western
press. I think people are worried about unemployment, but I don't
think Taliban recruitment and what you can earn with the insurgency
are a major issue. I think people are more worried about what
they are actually going to do with their lives, once the aid money
stops being pumped in. Also, how much of it is being skimmed off?
In some ways, the economic boom has become a
very negative message for many people, because they see this egregious
corruption and they don't feel they can do anything about it.
And we're condoning it, because to some extent it's our money,
or it's being perceived as our money, whether through the militia,
the security companies or other means. But it is a worry.
We present the narcotics economy as being, as
it were, on the Taliban side of the lines, and we really need
to rethink that. The lines of trafficking and benefit run right
through the middle of Kabul, and most Afghans know that. We really
need to call a spade a spade. It's often presented as if the insurgency
is being driven by the narcotics industry. An awful lot of the
Afghan economy is being driven by narcotics. It's not just confined
to the dark corners of the country. We need to hold the Government
accountable for that.
Chair: The Division
bell is ringing, which means that we must draw to a close. I thank
you all very much indeed. It is very much appreciated. There are,
unbelievably, still some questions we haven't asked you. We will
drop you a line, and perhaps if you could respond, that would
be appreciated. Thank you very much.