The UK's foreign policy approach to Afghanistan and Pakistan - Foreign Affairs Committee Contents

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 63-88)

  Q63 Chair: I welcome our three witnesses today. Thank you for your flexibility. We were going to have four witnesses—two for an hour and two for the second hour. Sadly, Professor Shaun Gregory has a family illness and is unable to make it. We decided we would put the three of you together. Even though we will take the whole thing as one package, don't feel that you have to answer every question, because some questions will be targeted more at your area of expertise and some more at other witnesses' area of expertise. On behalf of the Committee, I welcome you and welcome the members of the public who have come in. This is the second oral evidence session in our inquiry on Afghanistan and Pakistan.

  Let me open the batting. Talking about the interaction in Pakistan between the military, the civilian community, the Government and the intelligence services, where do you think the balance actually lies? Where is the centre of gravity of this and who is calling the shots? What impact will this have on the UK and how can the UK respond to where the centre of gravity is? Discuss. Who would like to begin?

  Sir Hilary Synnott: The most effective institution in Pakistan, and in a sense the oldest political party, is the army, which dominates strategy policy and foreign policy. It got its fingers badly burned when it entered politics, for the fourth time really, under Musharraf, when it was sullied by the cut and thrust of domestic politics. But its real significance is in strategy, particularly in relations with India. That is the most important institution.

  The Supreme Court is now getting a bit of weight, particularly because of its potential role in dealing with the problem of President Zardari. Of the other institutions, the two main political parties—the PPP and the PML—are important, but central Government is a long way behind the army in importance. Provincial government, district government and civil society are increasingly important because of the new open media channels. Religious parties are important, but electorally they are of limited importance. They only get a maximum of 11% or 12% of the vote, but they have quite a lot of street power. More recently, since about 2005, insurgent groups have a lot of significance, for better or for worse.

  You asked about impact on the UK. Before 9/11—and I was there—the British relationship with the ISI intelligence agency, which is part of the army, was very poor because we believed, correctly, that they were running terrorist groups. After 9/11, the balance of British interests changed, and a particularly important British interest came about in relation to possible linkages between terrorism and the British Pakistan community. There developed a co-operative relationship with the ISI. I am not in Government now and I can't speak authoritatively about it, but I believe that that co-operative relationship is pretty well developed. That doesn't mean to say—I can't speak for the British Government—that the British Government approve of everything the ISI does.

  Dr Shaikh: I would broadly agree. I think it's not a secret that power in Pakistan lies squarely in Rawalpindi and not in Islamabad. By that, I mean that it lies with the army at General Headquarters in Rawalpindi and not with the civilian Government based in Islamabad. Having said that, like Hilary I would go on to argue that we also have multiple centres of power in Pakistan. There was once talk of a troika involving the President, the Prime Minister and the army chief—not necessarily in that order. In fact, the reverse order. More recently we have heard talk of a quartet involving the President, the Prime Minister, the army chief and the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, who, as you have just heard from Hilary, is now being widely seen as exercising judicial muscle, taking on the Government. To that, one needs to factor in the dominant role of the Punjab in Pakistan. The province is the main recruiting ground for the army. It is also the richest, largest and most populated province in Pakistan. It is the base of arguably the most popular political party—the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz), which is led by the former Prime Minister, Mr Nawaz Sharif. It is said that power resides as much in Rawalpindi and Islamabad as it does in Raiwind, which is near Lahore, the provincial capital of the Punjab.

  As I read through the line of inquiry, the question was raised as to whose benefit this power was being exercised. My answer to that would be simply that power in Pakistan has been exercised for the benefit of the army and its clients within sections of Pakistan's political classes, who stand to benefit from an alliance with the army. Together, what that has done is to reinforce authoritarian rule in Pakistan and it has certainly contributed significantly to the shrinkage of what one might call a constituency for democracy.

  Dr Gohel: I will just add to those comments that the situation in Pakistan today is very much down to legacy of the previous military ruler, General Pervez Musharraf. He suspended the constitution twice, sacked Supreme Court judges twice, muzzled the media twice and arrested politicians twice. The only thing that he did not do is dismantle the terrorist infrastructure, which he had been asked to do, especially after September 11.

  The civilian Government are the way they are today because of the meddling of the military. They have been fractured and weakened. Ultimately, the West, the UK and other countries have to empower the civilian Government to be able to make decisive decisions that their word is the law, that they are the key principal decision maker, whether in terms of domestic or foreign policy. We obviously cannot intervene directly—that cannot be done in any country—but it is important that the civilian Government are given the tools and the function to be able to speak their mind without fear of the military intervening. Traditionally, the military were always involved in foreign policy issues, especially to do with Afghanistan and India. Increasingly, under General Kayani there is now a domestic component as well. The military are playing a behind-the-scenes role to do with the legal issues, such as corruption cases against politicians and the judiciary.

  By and large, General Kayani is a smart individual. He has given the impression that he is not interested in politics, but he plays an important role from the shadows, and that does not have a positive impact on Pakistan's fragile civilian Government. There is concern as to what will happen in the next few years. In an unprecedented move, the civilian Government gave him a three-year extension to his term. Normally, only a dictator gets a huge extension, but this was done under a civilian Government. Ultimately, it is designed to fit into the timeline of the withdrawal of western forces from Afghanistan. Kayani wants to be at the centre of that situation, while at the same time ensuring that the military's influence in Pakistan remains prevalent. I fear that that will be to the detriment of Pakistan's democratic infrastructure.

  Q64 Mike Gapes: May I ask you about the appalling impact of the floods in the past three months? They were on such a massive scale; they were far worse than the tsunami, the Kashmir earthquake or the Haiti disaster, in terms of their impact. What is the political impact? Dr Gohel, you said that the fragile democracy has been severely damaged by the poor Government response. Does that raise questions about whether the civilian Government can survive the consequences of this flood?

  Dr Gohel: The problem with the floodwaters was that they lingered—the flood continued. It was not like an earthquake, which would peak within a day and then we would see the full effects of the consequences. The flooding continued its process, it spread throughout the country and the civilian Government were not able to deal with it effectively. There was controversy about the fact that President Zardari was travelling to Europe at the beginning of the disaster. Certainly, in terms of public relations and the media perspective, that did not help.

  On the other hand, the military were on the scene. They had the public relations advantage, because cameras were filming them assisting people. The concern is that it has damaged the civilian Government even more than before.

  The problem is also that extremists and radicals took advantage of the situation. There were groups such as the Jamaat-ud-Dawa and the Falah-e-Insaniat, which are alleged charitable wings of the Lashkar-e-Tayyiba, the terrorist group behind the Mumbai siege attacks. These groups are openly distributing aid, food, clothing and even money to people—they are trying to win hearts and minds. That is extremely negative, because individuals are going to be appreciative of what these groups are doing. Potentially, those are new breeding grounds for extremism and recruitment.

  Certainly, the civilian Government has been caught short substantially, but their infrastructure was weakened by the military. They did not necessarily have the ability to act decisively. For them to give orders to the military, even now, sounds a bit strange to put into practical effect.

  Q<65 Mike Gapes: Sir Hilary, you have commented in written evidence about the impact that this could have on militant groups and the radicalisation of people in camps. Do you share that view?

  Sir Hilary Synnott: Yes, I do. We are talking about 20 million people who have been directly affected very badly, so there is a massive humanitarian problem, coupled with the institutional vacuum on the part of the central Government. They clearly failed not only to respond, but, politically, they did not appear to be concerned. As well as that, there were well-substantiated reports that feudal landowners were moving the bund system of blocking water to divert water from their fields on to the fields of very poor people. Imagine the political and humanitarian impact of that.

  The militant groups, as was the case with the 2005 Kashmir earthquake, have moved in to fill that vacuum. They are actually rather good at administering humanitarian aid, because they have direct links with the people. But of course, politically, that means that they are strengthening and there will be more sympathy for them. As a former practitioner, I desperately try and look on the upside, if there is one—and maybe there could be.

  One upside is that the Americans, as you know, have pledged very large sums, very belatedly, for civilian assistance, which they have had a lot of difficulty in spending, because of the low absorptive capacity of Pakistan. So they are transferring a lot of the money that they have pledged into humanitarian relief, which is visible, using helicopters. There may be an inflated sense among some American commentators that this will transform Pakistani opinion towards the United States; it won't, but it may help a bit. That is one, limited, upside.

  The other potential upside—and I am clutching at straws—is that out of all this, it may be that some non-governmental organisations' aid administrators become visible and their effectiveness contrasts with that of the Government and of the army, whose effect has been better than the civilian Government's, but still limited. You develop a sort of new political class, emerging to compete with the grand old parties, which are so terribly flawed. Sajjan's point that empowering the civilian Government is what we need to do is absolutely right. The great problem with that is that successive civilian Governments have showed themselves to be deeply flawed. What is it that you are empowering? You actually need to empower the emergence of a new sort of non-military political class.

  Q66 Mike Gapes: Dr Shaikh, do you want to add anything?

  Dr Shaikh: Yes, I would like to add something, and perhaps nuance the position. The first thing I'd like to say is that I broadly agree with both points of view—Sajjan's as well as Hilary's—in that the current civilian Government has been hopelessly abject in their handling of the humanitarian crisis arising from the floods. They have shown themselves to be quite incapable of meeting the challenges posed by the floods. Three months after the floods, the Government has still to come up with any kind of comprehensive plan for reconstruction, something that the international community has called on Pakistan to come up with urgently if it is to take advantage of the immense international goodwill shown towards the flood victims.

  Having said that, I just want to look at the issue of the role of militant groups. It is interesting that recent studies that have come out in the US in the last couple of months—one of which was by Tahir Andrabi, who has done a lot of work for the World Bank on madrassahs—show that in fact, during the devastating earthquake in 2005 in northern Pakistan, when militant groups were said to have been on the rampage in the area and were poised, in some sense, to accentuate and hasten the process of radicalisation in Pakistan, reports were, in fact, vastly exaggerated. The work that has been done since shows that the greatest amount of relief provided at the time did not come from militant groups, but from private and international NGOs. The proportion of aid coming in from groups such as Jamaat-ud-Dawa and Lashkar-e-Tayyiba didn't really amount to more than 1%, or 2% maximum.

  I think we need to be wary of how we go about assessing the role of militant groups in the wake of humanitarian crises of this sort. As I said, surveys have shown that many families questioned said that they did not, in fact, receive aid from these militant groups, and that much of the aid came from elsewhere. But that was 2005, and I think it is still too early to tell exactly how militant groups have behaved in the latest floods, and for us to make any kind of informed judgment about what we do about this. That is one issue.

  The other important point to bear in mind is that the act of charity is a key part of being a Muslim. Very often, when you read reports of what precisely is going on in some of these earthquake or flood-affected areas, the charity of ordinary Muslim groups is confused with the actions of those who might have some ulterior motives. It is important to maintain some sort of balance in that regard, rather than simply rushing to conclude that we are set to see some kind of great radicalisation in the affected areas.

  The last point that I would like to make is that it is true that anti-Americanism is widespread across Pakistan. Indeed, it is no longer the preserve of the religious parties; anti-Americanism is widespread within many of the mainstream parties. We can talk about that later. It is also quite deeply entrenched in some sections of the military. But anti-Americanism does not necessarily or automatically translate into support for militant groups and Taliban factions. Again, we need to hold back a bit. A little distance wouldn't do any of us any harm. It is a very difficult situation in Pakistan.

  Q67 Mike Gapes: Can I ask you about the army? What is the impact of the floods on the perception of the army and on the priorities of the Pakistani military? It has been suggested that it makes things more difficult and, in fact, that the military will shift their focus away from dealing with the counter-insurgency and towards having to help out with the humanitarian disaster internally, and that that will have an adverse effect in the other context. Can you give any assessment of that?

  Dr Shaikh: Is that a question to me?

  Mike Gapes: All of you.

  Sir Hilary Synnott: I'll have a go. In terms of the perception of the army, the first conclusion is that the army is better at doing these things than the civilian Government. If we want to empower the civilian Government, that's a pity. Armies often are better at those things, actually. We have employed the army in national crises here, but under the direction of the civilians. What is happening here is that the army is filling a vacuum and is not getting strategic direction from a civilian Government. That is having the effect of strengthening it.

  As regards prioritisation between this and dealing with insurgent groups, all I can really do now is speculate. The corps commanders are not going to tell us what they think about this, and they are the people who matter. My speculation is that it is actually rather convenient. The Pakistan army's strategic priorities are not the same as our own and those of the Americans. It makes a very clear distinction between dealing with the neo-Taliban—new Pakistan insurgents who threaten the state of Pakistan—and, say, the Afghan Taliban, whom it does not want to alienate.

  Of course, the pressure from the United States and others is to now go into North Waziristan, which is the focus of all these nasty groups. I speculate that it is quite convenient for the army to be able to say, "We're really very busy dealing with the humanitarian crisis". Its public line for some time—even before the floods—has been not "We are not going to do what you say," but "It is a question of prioritisation. We can't deal with everything at once and, for us, the biggest priority is those groups in Pakistan who threaten the state". In a sense, that line can be reinforced by the implications of the floods.

  Dr Shaikh: The army has probably been the greatest beneficiary, in some senses, of the floods and their aftermath. I am on record as saying that they have significantly boosted the image of the army and the army chief, General Kayani. He has played a very careful and clever game, after being forced to nurse the tarnished image left to him by the army's former chief, General Musharraf. General Kayani has worked skilfully, carefully and deliberately to ensure that the standing of the army is restored to its pre-Musharraf days, as it were. In this, he has very largely succeeded, owing no doubt to the dismal failings of the civilian Government. Ultimately, however, what needs to be said is that there are doubts about whether the army in Pakistan can really emerge as a force of stability. I share these doubts.

  The only way in which the army in Pakistan can emerge as a force of stability is if it works with an elected civilian Government. It is far from clear that the army is doing that; we have all the evidence to suggest that there are quite serious sources of friction between the military and the political leadership. We saw it dramatically in 2008 following the attacks in Mumbai, when the civilian Government—particularly President Zardari—offered to India that Pakistan would send the chief of the ISI to launch a joint investigation into the attacks, an offer that was stamped on by General Kayani.

  We saw it again in an unprecedented move last year, again orchestrated by Kayani, when the corps commanders emerged from a meeting to announce that they took very grave exception to some clauses of the Kerry-Lugar Bill, which was going through the US Congress at that time. The Kerry-Lugar Bill provides $7.5 billion in civilian assistance to Pakistan over five years on condition, in a manner of speaking, that the civilian Government rein in the military and bring the military's accounts under their remit. Our military and General Kayani took a very dim view of this and, as I have said, rose following the meeting to announce that those conditions constituted nothing less than an infringement of Pakistan's sovereignty. That went down extremely well across Pakistan, where there is strong anti-American feeling. So he has played an extremely careful game in Pakistan.

  As we heard earlier on, the army has now re-emerged as an institution of some political import. Once again, General Kayani breaks his own rules. When he was appointed in 2008, he said that any officer caught fraternising with any member of the political leadership would face stiff penalties, and he has done just that. Meetings between General Kayani and the top political leadership in Pakistan have become routine matters, and no one blinks.

  Q68 Chair: Thank you, Dr Shaikh. Dr Gohel, do you want to add anything?

  Dr Gohel: I just point out that the flood waters did not really impact on the army's counter-insurgency operations because it was not doing them in the first place, prior to the flooding. The North Waziristan offensive was supposed to have taken place more than two years ago. Then Baitullah Mehsud of the Pakistani Taliban was eliminated in a drone strike, and General Kayani decided to suspend that. Subsequently, at any available opportunity the Pakistani military have delayed the North Waziristan offensive, regardless of whether there have been flood waters or not.

  The final point I would add is that we need to be very careful about the role the supposed charitable organisations are playing. Whether they are having an impact on 1%, 2% or 0.5%, they have the ability to cultivate and indoctrinate young, impressionable individuals. Look what they did in Southern Punjab. Southern Punjab is not like Northern Punjab, where the officers are recruited, and where there are the lands, the money, the wealth and the established families. Southern Punjab—the Saraiki Punjabi part—is very underdeveloped. Five years ago, Jamaat-ud-Dawa established a base there. It played a role in recruiting and nurturing the 10 Mumbai gunmen who carried out the attacks in India in 2008. It was only 10 people who created that type of carnage. The fact that it is involved in dealing with the flood waters, and in giving out charitable assistance, is there, but it can recruit, and this will be a long-term thing. We need to look at it now, and assess it. Journalists such as Jonathan Miller of Channel 4 have filmed what is going on, and it illustrates that this is a problem that is beginning in other parts of the country. It happened in Southern Punjab but we ignored it, and there were consequences. If we ignore it again, there will be further consequences.

  Chair: Can the witnesses help the Committee, please? We want to ask you a lot of questions, but we have used up 25% of our time so far and have asked only 10% of the questions. I don't by any means want to curtail your responses, but could you just bear that in mind and try to keep your answers concise?

  Q69 Andrew Rosindell: During the Prime Minister's visit to Pakistan in August, he made remarks that caused some controversy relating to how, he felt, Pakistan was looking both ways in terms of dealing with terrorism. How do you think his remarks have affected British relations with Pakistan? Should we accept the Pakistani response, or did the Prime Minister have a valid point?

  Sir Hilary Synnott: I have written about this quite vigorously. There are two points. First, he actually made those remarks during his visit to India, not Pakistan. Of course, any remarks by any senior visitor to India about Pakistan never go down well. In some respects, it was the location in which the remarks were made that caused the greatest difficulty.

  As regards what he said, I am absolutely convinced that he is right. He alleged that Pakistan looks both ways, which is another way of saying that there is a tension between what it says to us and what it actually does. It is a clearly documented tension. As I have mentioned before, it is willing to kill insurgents who threaten the state, but not those with whom it wishes to retain a political relationship. There are some reasonable reasons for that; I mean, Pakistan has a legitimate interest in Afghanistan. I think that most analysts would agree—I stand to be corrected by the two analysts sitting beside me—that the substance of what he said was correct.

  As for how that has affected relations, I am not sure; I haven't been there for a while. My own view is that it is good that it has come out and that there is a proper debate on whether what the Prime Minister said was correct or not, because this is about the truth, and the truth needs to be exposed. I am inclined to think it would blow over in Pakistan, but, as I said, I haven't been able to test that myself on the ground.

  Dr Shaikh: Again, I am on record as having written and spoken about this matter at some length. Obviously, stage matters, and it wasn't what was said, but where it was said that ultimately caused all the difficulty in relations between Britain and Pakistan. However, I need to add something. The statement might look today like it was something that needed to be said. We are, after all, talking about Pakistan and its duplicitous policies, and I have no problem with accepting that Pakistan's role in the so-called war on terror has very often been less than constructive. However, there is more to the story: during many years, particularly the Bush years, Britain, like the United States, simply chose to turn a blind eye to the ISI and its activities in Afghanistan, because the ISI had been subcontracted to do the dirty work for the United States and the United Kingdom by going after the Taliban. During all that time, there wasn't a squeak about Pakistan's duplicity, because at the time it was seen that that was to the best advantage of both the United States and the United Kingdom, which were more interested in pursuing al-Qaeda.

  Looking at the situation from inside Pakistan, many people, including myself, felt that there was an element of disingenuousness, and that it was not entirely fair. That rankled. Having said that, Britain's latest attempts to mend those fences—and particularly its role in the recent set of EU meetings, where it is fighting hard for Pakistan to have certain tariffs lifted on textile-related products in Pakistan—are going down well in Pakistan. So, like Hilary, I don't believe that the damage was fundamental, but in the scheme of things, one can hardly deny that it was unwelcome.

  Dr Gohel: The policy in the past has been public support, private pressure, but that did not amount to anything of substance. It didn't stop the military supporting elements within the Afghan Taliban who were going across the border from Pakistan into Afghanistan and carrying out attacks against British troops, resulting in British fatalities. It also didn't stop the military allowing Britons to train with terrorist groups inside Pakistan as part of transnational plots, such as the ammonium nitrate plot in 2004, in which a number of Britons were training in a place in Malakand in Pakistan right near an army camp, or the 7/7 bombers. It is not a criticism of the civilian Government; it is a criticism of the military; it simply hasn't done enough to dismantle the terrorist infrastructure. If British lives are at stake, it is of paramount importance to identify it. I would say that it is a continuation of what Gordon Brown mentioned when he talked about Pakistan being the crucible of terrorism, and 75% of plots in the UK being linked to Pakistan.

  In any case, whatever British politicians have said does not compare to what the Obama Administration is saying now, whether through leaks or interviews. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has been openly critical of the Pakistanis in Pakistan for not doing enough. I would say that that criticism should be more aimed towards the military that is there. We cannot ignore the fact that British troops are dying in Afghanistan because the Pakistani military are not doing enough to rein in the Afghan Taliban—and, by the way, many in the military still deny that the Afghan Taliban even exist in Pakistan. So, yes, it is the issue of context—it was said in India. I think that if David Cameron had made that comment elsewhere, it would not have been an issue.

  Q70 Andrew Rosindell: Dr Shaikh, earlier you mentioned anti-Americanism in Pakistan. Do you feel that there is also anti-British feeling? How do ordinary people in Pakistan view the UK?

  Dr Shaikh: The UK is seen very much as really having no independent policy of its own. It does what it is told to do by the United States. That, to put it very bluntly, is the view from Pakistan, so feelings of animosity and hatred, even, are really directed towards the United States. However, of course we are also very mindful that it is the US hand that feeds us. As for really understanding what was going on with the reaction against Prime Minister Cameron's statement, again I am on record as saying that the real target of Pakistani anger about that was the United States, but as we cannot speak out against the United States, the next best thing is to lash out at Britain. There is no doubt that the real villain, in the eyes of many Pakistanis, is the United States. To the extent that the United Kingdom is seen to be acting, more often than not, at the behest of the United States, it comes in for a bit of flak as well, yes.

  Q71 Andrew Rosindell: Do you think that the assistance the UK has given to Pakistan, particularly with regard to the floods, and the aid that we are sending is improving the image of Britain? Is it going to the right places, or is it simply bolstering the military?

  Dr Shaikh: Well, you know, it is a drop in the ocean compared to what the United States has pledged to Pakistan in the form of the Kerry-Lugar Bill and in terms of relief assistance in the aftermath of the floods. I do not think it is really comparable. As for whether it is going to the right people, that is a moot point. There are genuine questions of transparency and corruption, which Britain—like the United States and its allies—is concerned about. Unfortunately, the Government in Pakistan has been unable to come out with any kind of persuasive position that can convince Britain, or any other members of the international community, that such issues as transparency and corruption have been squarely addressed. That is why, of course, a lot of the money that has been pledged is still stuck in the pipeline and is not making it to where it is intended to go.

  Sir Hilary Synnott: Can I come in here, partly because I used to help administer the British aid programme? The big difference between the British aid programme and the American aid programme is that basically there hasn't been an American civilian aid programme at all. Most of the time it didn't exist, until the Kerry-Lugar-Berman Bill, which came into force this financial year, 2010.

  Britain's had a long tradition of administering aid, for better or for worse—a continuous tradition since 1947. It has built up a great deal of experience, for better or for worse. That experience is very relevant when you're looking at administering any aid programme, including the American one, because it comes down to what parts of the administration work, which of the provinces are likely to be the most effective, what are the traps, transparency and so on, all of which are very relevant to anybody who wants to help Pakistan help itself.

  Despite the doubling of British aid recently, it is still a very small amount compared to what is needed and to what the Americans have to offer, which is still small compared to what's needed. One might be able to look at it as a pilot project, which might assist the Americans in administering their aid. We know there are problems with some provinces, where the administration is corrupt or ineffective. We know there are difficulties with using aid as quick-fix budget support, where you simply prop up the budget. There are real problems over transparency.

  What has been happening up until now with regard to the Americans is that between 9/11 and now they have given in excess of $12 billion of overt military-related aid. They have opened their arms market to Pakistan, which has allowed Pakistan to use its own domestic money to buy big-ticket military items that have no relevance to the war on terror or Afghanistan, but are relevant only in relation to India, using very scarce domestic resources. Britain has not fallen into that trap.

  The EU performance has been appalling, quite frankly. The British role, which is also development-related, in getting the EU to look at the question of opening markets to textiles has been very important. Dr Shaikh said that that has been appreciated, in terms of job creation. The textile sector is the second biggest source of industrial employment in Pakistan, and what Pakistan needs, apart from a decent civilian Government, is job opportunities for its young people. Those things are important. It is small, indeed, and not perfectly formed, but a darned sight better than anything else there is.

  Q72 Rory Stewart: Moving on to India, you have spoken an enormous amount about your fears about the effects of Afghanistan on Pakistan, but could you reflect a little about the eastern border and, in particular, Kashmir? Have we made a mistake when thinking about the stability of South Asia over the next 20 years? Have we over-exaggerated the importance of the western border and underestimated the importance of Kashmir in particular?

  Dr Gohel: Certainly, the issue of Kashmir has been in the headlines for the past few months because of the problems in the Kashmir valley and the protests that have taken place. That was largely down to the fact that the local government did not anticipate the situation to the level that it should have, and because the police were over-zealous in responding to the protests that were taking place. It created enormous problems.

  The thing is that Kashmir will always be mentioned. At a political level, it has issues with people here, because MPs have constituents who raise this dynamic. What is happening now in Kashmir is that this has almost become an internal issue. The protests that are taking place in the Kashmir valley are about domestic issues. Many of the people who are getting angry are talking about outright independence for the valley—not amalgamation with Pakistan, but total independence.

  The relevance is also now that the All Parties Hurriyat Conference—the amalgamation of a number of groups—is becoming less important. There are new individuals emerging on the scene who are growing and have grassroots support. To some extent, they are more dangerous because their views are extreme, ideologically. That is an issue, however, that the Indians will have to deal with from within, because the civilian Government there were democratically elected. Past elections in Kashmir have had issues of fraud and suggestions that they were not truly transparent. The last one was largely seen as effective with a 60% turnout. It is largely down to the issue of governance.

  The question is what Pakistan's role will be. Will they play the role that they did in the past, which was to assist proxies and some insurgent groups? At times, there is the feeling that that is still taking place, but I don't think that that issue is of as much significance any more—Kashmir is not of as much significance as the Afghan-Pakistan issue. Kashmir is less of a concern and less of a problem, but there will be occasions when it will be utilised as a strategic tool, as it always has been.

  Q73 Rory Stewart: Thank you.

  Dr Shaikh, one of the big arguments in the United States and Britain is about whether the security of Pakistan depends on what happens in Afghanistan. There has been huge emphasis on what happens in Afghanistan to the exclusion of other factors. People are not particularly talking about internal factors in the Punjab or about the Pakistan military so much. The whole debate has flipped around. Ten years ago, Pakistan would have thought it could handle what happened in Afghanistan and that whatever destabilised Pakistan was likely to be internal, or on the eastern border. Do you think we have the emphasis right? Does the security of Pakistan depend on what happens in Afghanistan?

  Dr Shaikh: The short answer is yes. The more convoluted answer is that, actually, the eastern and western borders are inextricably linked, because the fact remains that Pakistan's Afghan policy is shaped, informed and largely influenced by its relations with India and the dispute over Kashmir. There is no getting away from it. The international community—the United States and Britain—is going to have to grasp this nettle. While the points that Sajjan makes are broadly true—there is a very strong local dimension to the problems that we are currently witnessing in Kashmir—there is no question that the broader implications of this dispute are really quite significant. This is a conflict that the army in Pakistan has fed off for more than 60 years of the country's independence. This conflict has ensured the political fortunes of the army in Pakistan. I believe that as long as we do not grasp this nettle, democracy—which is what, after all, the international community is forever saying it wants in Pakistan—will elude Pakistan. As long as India does not appreciate and accept that, as local as it may be, Kashmir is a regional problem that will have to be addressed, India's chances of graduating to become a player on the global scene will, I believe, forever be thwarted, because it will be yoked as it is now by the problem over Kashmir.

  Q<74 Rory Stewart: I just want to reinforce this, and this is the question I asked Sajjan. Were the international community to put as much effort into trying to resolve the issue in Kashmir as it has put into trying to resolve the issue in Afghanistan over the past eight years, do you think that that would have a more important and significant benefit for South Asian security over the next 20 years?

  Dr Shaikh: Yes—that is the short answer. The international community must give as much importance to that, because the fact is that there are two wars going on. There is the public war, which we all know and speak of, in Afghanistan, and then there is the other war that is taking place in Pakistan. That war is inside Pakistan, but also between Pakistan and India. Those conflicts are interlinked.

  Dr Gohel: If you get involved in the way that that can happen at times, my concern is that it will only ruffle feathers in New Delhi. Some individuals there, and it is a very large lobby, have a hysteria about British colonial rule, British imperialism and Britain's interfering. The "K" word substantially aggravates individuals in India.

  You also have to think about that at an economic level. The French and the Germans are increasingly trying to woo the Indians. They are trying to make huge business deals with India. They do not mention Kashmir, which pleases the Indians substantially. I am not saying that the business dynamic has to be the only consideration, but we could lose out if we mention Kashmir just for the sake of cosmetic reasons. The Kashmir issue will be between the Indians and the Pakistanis, so let the civilian Governments deal with it and let the military be muzzled in its interference. If we start heightening it to a political level, it will have only a negative impact, especially for this country, where our economic and strategic influence will wane.

  Q75 Rory Stewart: Just to focus initially on that first question. A lot of the arguments about Afghanistan are actually about Pakistan. In Washington, people increasingly say that the reason why we need to keep an open-ended commitment in Afghanistan is because the security of Pakistan depends on Afghanistan. Do you think that that argument is correct, overstated or understated? To what extent does the future of Pakistan depend on exactly what happens in Afghanistan? Can the situation be contained and managed?

  Sir Hilary Synnott: I'll answer that question directly, but I want to revert because I have a slightly different take and I think that the broad thrust of your questioning is of fundamental importance to British interests. My view on relative importance is that Pakistan is more important than Afghanistan in the great scheme of things, leaving aside the very considerable blood-and-treasure expenditure that our armed forces have had to make, as well as our taxpayers. Pakistan has six times the population of Afghanistan and it is a nuclear weapons state with a highly politicised army doing some very peculiar things.

  I agree with colleagues, but I have a different gloss on something else. It is true that, clearly, operationally our most important priority has to be Afghanistan but, looking through Pakistani eyes, Pakistan sees Afghanistan through the prism of India. It is Pakistan's concern about India that makes it so concerned about Afghanistan. There is another dimension for Pakistan, which is the extent to which its security is related to Afghanistan.

  Very recently—I am not digressing, because this is relevant—a former American ambassador to New Delhi, Ambassador Robert Blackwill, came forward with the idea of partitioning Afghanistan. He suggested that we should basically leave the south and the east to get on with it, and if they misbehave we zap them remotely, so that we can concentrate our efforts on the north and the west, where things are more permissive. That is an appalling idea from Pakistan's perspective, because you would be left with a major ungoverned space that relates not only to Afghanistan, but to the tribal areas and the spectre of "Pashtunistan" and separatism, which would be anti-Pakistani. "Pashtunistan"—let's call it "Blackwillistan"—crosses the Durand Line, and that would be very dangerous.

  I agree that Kashmir is certainly an important issue. I don't want to belittle it, but the importance of it has been kept alive successively, over decades, by the Pakistani army. Of course, this generates into the public, but generally, if you talk to people in Karachi, there is much less interest in Kashmir than there is in the Punjab. If you were to—I think is your last question to Farzana—devote more effort to solving the Kashmir problem, it rather implies that a solution to Kashmir would somehow cause the other differences between India and Pakistan to fall away. My view is that that wouldn't be the case. The differences are too deep and too ingrained.

  The other difficulty that I have is that, rather as in Northern Ireland—one hates these tenuous parallels—the issue of Kashmir at the moment is one to be managed rather than to be solved. People are looking for a solution to it, but I think it has to be managed. A solution probably has to come with generational changes, where a new generation has a different view. There is a strong feeling in the valley of a plague on all your houses—on India and Pakistan. A solution isn't really in sight, and—this is digressing from Pakistan—why should India make massive concessions to a country that, as far as it is concerned, has been conducting militant terrorism against it with the excuse of Kashmir? If you were to concentrate on Kashmir, that would be a recipe for stalemate. You actually need to make progress on all these other things as well. Similarly—you didn't ask about this—there is a line of thought that you need to concentrate on the solution of the Durand Line, which Afghanistan does not recognise.

  Q76 Rory Stewart: May I just reiterate my question? To what extent do you think that the security of Pakistan depends exclusively on what happens in Afghanistan, or can the situation in Afghanistan be contained and managed? How much does Pakistan need to be afraid of what is happening in Afghanistan?

  Sir Hilary Synnott: Well, I thought that I had answered that with the spectre of ungoverned space. If we, if you like, fail in Afghanistan, you are left with ungoverned space where there will be a free-for-all involving not only insurgent groups, but all of Afghanistan's neighbours. Of course, Pakistan would see many of Afghanistan's neighbours as its enemies, especially India, which is a proximate neighbour. I could elaborate further, but I think, in a sense, I felt that I had addressed that.

  Dr Gohel: The key to your question, Mr Stewart, is "Pashtunistan". That is what concerns the Pakistanis. The Durand Line separated the Pashtun heartland, and there is an issue of whether it will ever be reunited. Afghans, mainly Pashtuns, have always had an aspirational issue to reunite it. Pakistan, of course, would be worried, because that takes away huge swathes of its land. That is the concern that the Pakistanis have, and that is something that needs to be addressed in the sense that the issue of "Pashtunistan" cannot be dealt with without it meaning boundary changes, and without it affecting the territorial integrity of both countries. That is the concern that impacts on Pakistan, and that is predominantly why the Taliban have been used as a tool, because it negates the whole "Pashtunistan" issue.

  Mike Gapes: Quickly, on the relations between India and Pakistan, earlier this week there was a report, which seems to have emanated from intelligence sources in India, of transcripts and documentation relating to the Mumbai terrorist attacks that put the blame firmly on elements within the Pakistani state—within the Pakistani intelligence and military. I would be interested in your reaction to that report. Do you think that it is accurate? If so, what are the implications for any prospect of improved relations between India and Pakistan? You have already referred to this question of what Zardari promised and then what General Kayani detailed, in terms of ISI co-operation. Where are we on that now?

  Sir Hilary Synnott: The reports emanate from the evidence given by David Headley, who is of Pakistani origin despite the rather Anglo-Saxon name. He is making these allegations, which the Government of India are disseminating. There is certainly a Government of India position, denied by Pakistan, that implicates the ISI. There is quite a lot of circumstantial evidence suggesting some of the connections that the Mumbai terrorist group had, and to suggest that some of its facilities and actions could only have been achieved with very sophisticated assistance. So there is a circumstantial connection.

  The truth of the matter—I am not competent at all here, despite my previous connections with the Government—would be found in the depths of the most secret intelligence. I am quite certain that the Mumbai group emanated from Pakistan. What is far less certain is the extent to which there has been any officially sanctioned assistance. If there were to have been, that is of supreme importance. I think David Headley's evidence has to be seen as the evidence of David Headley.

  Dr Shaikh: These confessions are clearly symptomatic of the lack of civilian control over Pakistan's military and intelligence agencies. I have already referred to the fact that attempts to bring both the army and its intelligence services under the control of the civilian Government have so far been unsuccessful. The current head of the ISI, General Shuja Pasha, is under increasing pressure to account for his organisation's links with groups like Lashkar-e-Tayyiba, which have been implicated in the Bombay attacks.

  There are two interesting points about these confessions, looking at what we have seen in the public domain. First, we are not really sure at what level precisely there was complicity. That there was complicity is now pretty much well established and well acknowledged, but one does not know at what level precisely there was complicity. Was it, in fact, at the very highest echelons of the ISI? Were there serving military officers within the ISI who were somehow involved? Were retired military officers of the ISI involved, or were there rogue elements of the ISI working beyond the remit of the organisation altogether? That remains a key issue.

  But what is just as important is what is going on within the murky world of militancy in Pakistan, because one of the things that emerges very clearly from these confessions is that Lashkar-e-Tayyiba, which is implicated in these attacks, was encouraged to stage these attacks in an attempt to shore up its own credibility as one of the most powerful militant groups in Pakistan. That credibility had apparently come under challenge from other militant groups in Pakistan, who accused Lashkar-e-Tayyiba of not being up to the job—in other words, of not taking on the Pakistani state and not taking on the enemies of Pakistan. These confessions show precisely not only the lack of control by the civilian Government in Pakistan but also a very fast-changing and, I would say, fragmenting militant spectrum in Pakistan.

  Dr Gohel: There are a few dynamics, and I will be brief as I know that time is limited. David Headley was introduced to Ilyas Kashmiri—a well-known terrorist connected to al-Qaeda—by a member of the Pakistani military. That is an official fact that has come out from US investigations. A couple of weeks ago Interpol issued arrest warrants for two current serving members of the ISI in connection with the Mumbai attacks. A very strange footnote on page 46 of Bob Woodward's "Obama's Wars" mentions the fact that the American investigation came to the conclusion that elements of the ISI were involved in the Mumbai attacks. Most relevant to all this are the audio messages of the Mumbai gunmen talking to their handlers. Some of their handlers were experienced in military techniques, in surveillance, in using weapons and in observation. This is not something that an average terrorist with the Lashkar-e-Tayyiba would necessarily know. That is the issue, and the concern is: how much of a role did the ISI play?

  As Dr Shaikh mentioned, in the aftermath of the Mumbai attacks, President Zardari offered to send the head of the ISI, General Pasha, to India to help, and the chief of army staff, General Kayani, said no. There was a potential concern that if a further investigation was conducted, it could implicate individuals within the ISI, and that is a problem. Look at the plot in the UK—the ammonium nitrate plot in 2004. Omar Khyam, the ringleader of the cell, gave testimony in court about how he had been recruited by the ISI to fight in the insurgency in Kashmir. The proceedings ended on the Friday, and when they subsequently resumed on the Monday, Omar Khyam revealed in court that he was no longer prepared to testify, because the ISI had visited his family over the weekend in Pakistan.

  Chair: We have this in your written evidence.

  Dr Gohel: This is just to remind you.

  Q77 Sir Menzies Campbell: Forgive me for not being present when all three of you began your evidence. Dr Shaikh, I was taken by your use of the metaphor of the nettle, and your saying that this was something that ought to be grasped. My recollection is that the late Robin Cook, both as shadow Foreign Secretary and indeed as Foreign Secretary, found it a rather painful process when he even got close to the nettle. That rather conditions British attitudes, not least because of the fact that many Members of Parliament have got constituencies in which there are sympathies in both directions, or in either direction. Indeed, some constituencies have got groups of people who are from both, as it were, traditions. Who would grasp this nettle, and what could Britain bring to the issue other than its colonial past?

  Dr Shaikh: I used the word "nettle" advisedly, only to suggest just what a thorny problem this is. Really, the stakes are much too high now to continue to turn a blind eye, to use Prime Minister Cameron's phrase, and look the other way. There is no doubt that the issue of Kashmir is important, and if the United States, the Quartet and the EU can deal with the equally thorny question of the Israeli-Palestinian problem, there is no reason why one shouldn't even make some sort of move in the direction of mediation. This is a conflict; it has to be recognised as such. While I would agree with Sir Hilary that there are no easy solutions, that doesn't mean that we don't start talking about it. There is simply no point in denying that this is a conflict, and it is going to have to be addressed, if only to settle the issue regionally in Afghanistan, where there are troops—young men—from dozens of countries across Europe and the United States.

  Q78 Sir Menzies Campbell: But there are some conflicts—I think of Cyprus and your own example of the Middle East—where there is quite a lot of evidence to suggest that the adversaries almost have no interest in a solution, because of compelling domestic considerations. From what has been said by you and your colleagues, would that be a legitimate conclusion in relation to Kashmir?

  Dr Gohel: It comes down to the fact that the valley is the centre of the issue. You have the areas in Pakistan-administered Kashmir, and if you look at India-administered Kashmir, there is the Kashmir valley, Ladakh and Jammu. The problems always start and end with the valley. The issue is that many in the valley want outright independence. Whatever agreements, resolutions and treaties there have been, they have been about addressing Kashmir as a sole entity; they have not been about creating, in small enclaves, independent nations like Kosovo. How do you deal with that issue at an international level? You simply can't—it's got to be left to the Indians and the Pakistanis to address it. There is a dimension that has changed, in that when we talk about Kashmir, we are looking at it 10 or 20 years ago. The people of the valley have a different mindset now. That mindset means that it would not serve any purpose to have international mediation, in my opinion.

  Q79 Sir Menzies Campbell: Sir Hilary, could you give us a sentence or two?

  Sir Hilary Synnott: There are two aspects: one is practical and one is strategic. The practical one you have alluded to. The late Robin Cook got into deep trouble; Mr Miliband got into deep trouble in India; and Duncan Sandys got into trouble some decades before that. So there has been a succession of trouble for the British former colonial power. The other practical point is that if it is not us, who are supremely ill-placed to do it precisely because of our colonial history, then you have to look to the United States. The United States is developing a strategic relationship with India, and it has no interest in upsetting India on this.

  The strategic aspect has been mentioned, and the nub of the issue is sovereignty. In the Foreign Office, I spent five years of my life dealing with the Gibraltar issue. You can come up with devices on the backs of envelopes, but the bottom line is sovereignty—the sovereignty of the valley. With Jammu and Ladakh, there is no problem, but the valley is crucial. It is very difficult to see, given the polarisation of views at the moment, how that could be resolved. It could be managed, and I do think that vigorous efforts should continue to be made to try and keep the two sides talking, or to get them to resume their comprehensive dialogue in such a way that we don't get the sort of incidents, or near-war, that we had in 1999—

  Q80 Sir Menzies Campbell: A million men facing each other across the line of control.

  Sir Hilary Synnottand in 2001, when both armies were mobilised. The risks of conflict are enormous, and we have not touched on nuclear issues.

  Sir Menzies Campbell: Thank you very much. We will see what we make of your competing views.

  Q<81> <Sir John Stanley: As the Chairman said, Professor Gregory cannot be here today. In the very interesting paper that he has left for members of the Committee, he makes the point that in Afghanistan and Pakistan we are actually involved in three conflicts, in which there are very different degrees of co-operation by the Pakistan authorities with ISAF: the war against al-Qaeda, in which we get a reasonable degree of co-operation; the war against the Pakistan Taliban, in which again we get a reasonable degree of co-operation; and the war against the Afghanistan Taliban, in which we get de minimis co-operation, if any co-operation at all.

  Professor Gregory goes on to make a crucial point, on which I shall be very interested to hear your views. He states that it is more or less illusory to think that we are going to get any improvement in Pakistani authorities co-operating with us in dealing with the Afghanistan Taliban. That is because to a very considerable degree we are over a barrel, as far as Pakistan is concerned, in terms of our military and intelligence requirements. We are over a barrel because about 80% of our supplies have to come up through Pakistan; because we are dependent on the Pakistanis for infrastructure base rights and overflight rights; because we are very dependent on some elements of the ISI for intelligence on al-Qaeda; and, last but by no means least, because we are crucially reliant on the Pakistani military authorities and the ISI to ensure that Pakistan's nuclear weapons stay out of terrorist hands.

  I would be grateful to know whether you agree with that analysis. If that analysis is correct, it calls into question the whole basis of whether we are going to achieve any degree of success in Afghanistan. If we cannot get vastly improved co-operation by the Pakistani authorities against the Afghanistan Taliban, it looks as if we face years of stalemate and loss of life and will not achieve success in the end.

  Dr Shaikh: I'll kick off. To me, the big elephant in the room is the question: why doesn't Pakistan co-operate in Afghanistan? The discussion we have just had should point us in that direction. In other words, I am trying to say that Pakistan believes it has—[Interruption.]

  Chair: Sorry to interrupt you. This is a democracy here, and that bell means there is a vote, so we are going to adjourn. I do apologise.

  Dr Shaikh: Not at all.

  Sitting suspended for Divisions in the House.

  On resuming—

  Chair: We are now back in session, and on the record.

  Q82 Sir John Stanley: To provide continuity, my key question to you is whether you agree with Professor Gregory's view that in the critical area of securing Pakistan co-operation with ISAF in dealing with the Afghanistan Taliban, we are over a barrel—that was the phrase I used—in terms of our dependence on them for critical military resources, security of their nuclear weapons, intelligence on al-Qaeda and so on. Perhaps you could respond to that.

  Dr Shaikh: I was beginning to say that the big question is: why hasn't the international community been able to secure Pakistan's co-operation more effectively in Afghanistan? My answer to that is quite simply that Pakistan—particularly its military and intelligence agencies, who have always jealously guarded their control over Pakistan's policy towards Afghanistan—believes that it has legitimate and vital security interests in Afghanistan. Those security interests are overwhelmingly, as I suggested earlier, seen through the prism of Pakistan's relations with India.

  To my mind, Pakistan might yet be prepared to co-operate in Afghanistan, but for a price that the international community, particularly the United States, is likely to consider altogether too high. At the moment we have a strategic dialogue going on in Washington between the US and Pakistan; it is understood that Pakistan now will be holding out, not just for millions of extra dollars in US economic and particularly military assistance—they are talking about a new military security pact between the US and Pakistan over five years, worth some $2 billion—but for a civilian nuclear deal, as well. Pakistan is also holding out for the United States to mediate on the issue of Kashmir; and, of course, Pakistan also wants better access to US markets. All of this is a tall order, and many in Pakistan understand this.

  The question is whether there is some sort of common minimum that Pakistan might be prepared to settle for to ensure its co-operation in Afghanistan. I believe that there is, and that there might be grounds for beginning some sort of a dialogue on an issue that has long troubled Pakistan, which, of course, is India's presence in Afghanistan. Pakistan has raised repeated concerns over Indian consulates, particularly in Jalalabad and Kandahar, which Pakistan's military is convinced are used as listening posts and centres for India's intelligence agencies to spy on Pakistan. Of course, Pakistan wants the international community to set certain limits on India's involvement in Afghan reconstruction. There are some minimum grounds on which one can begin to address, perhaps not wholly, some of Pakistan's security interests vis-à-vis India, which could advance the programme towards some kind of settlement in Afghanistan.

  Sir Hilary Synnott: Your question was about whether we agree with Shaun Gregory's strategic analysis. Yes, I totally agree with the analysis about the distinction between al-Qaeda, the Pakistan Taliban and the Afghan Taliban; I think it is spot on.

  On whether therefore the Pakistanis have us over a barrel, my answer is largely yes. The only way in which they might not have is if their strategic interests could be brought closer to ours. At the moment, they are convinced that we are about to leave because of what President Obama said last December about the start of the withdrawal. As long as they have that conviction, they have got us over a barrel. You would then go on to draw some other conclusions, and that basically rests on the question of what we are going to do in mid-2011. Are we going to cut and run? What will be the nature of our relationship? As I say, they believe that we are going to, therefore they won't change their strategy in relation to the Afghan Taliban.

  Dr Gohel: To add one component to Professor Gregory's analysis, which I agree with, you also have to factor in the Punjabi Taliban, which has emerged in the last year, based in southern Punjab, operating throughout the Punjab territory and carrying out attacks also in northern Sindh. The relevance is that they have been attacking the convoys that are travelling to Afghanistan. These convoys are not being attacked on the border region; they are being attacked in the heartlands, in Rawalpindi and in Sheikhupura. That goes back to the underlying problem that the Pakistani military will not dismantle the infrastructure of the Afghan Taliban because they still view them as potentially an asset to regain a foothold in Afghanistan.

  The paradox is that the Afghan Taliban co-operate with the Pakistan Taliban who, in turn, carry out attacks against the military. The problem is not going to go away. The military spent an enormous amount of time and effort in the '90s to support and assist the Afghan Taliban, giving them strategic depth in Afghanistan which they'd never had before and, for once and for all in their minds, it put an end to the whole "Pashtunistan" issue, which subsequently, since 9/11, has re-emerged. They are not going to give up something that they invested so much time in just because the West is getting angry. As Sir Hilary mentioned, they are fully aware of the deadlines that western countries are imposing. They are going to work towards that for their own strategic benefit and, unfortunately, I don't see how the situation against the Afghan Taliban is going to change in any way. It's going to create problems in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and the Punjab Taliban will create problems in Pakistan. The whole security situation will remain problematic.

  Q83 Sir John Stanley: As you know, the role of this Committee is, above all, to scrutinise the foreign policy of the British Government and my second remaining question relates directly to that responsibility. It is commonplace to say that the perception in the villages, in the fields and in the streets of Afghanistan is the question of what the people of Afghanistan believe is going to be the outcome, and who is going to come out on top. That is absolutely critical to the stance that the people of Afghanistan take towards ISAF. It is also said that, if those contributing military forces state dates by which they are going to come out or to end combat operations, that directly undermines a perception that ISAF is going to achieve success in Afghanistan. Do you think it was wise or not so wise of the present British Government to state that, by 2015, they are going to cease involvement in combat operations in Afghanistan?

  Dr Gohel: We should feel very proud of what our armed services have done in Afghanistan. When it came to dealing with the Taliban in the south, the UK put itself forward in 2006. In the aftermath of 9/11, all the European countries that are part of NATO agreed that Afghanistan was of critical importance, but when it came to supplying troops in the south, there were very few takers or participants. We have lost a lot of soldiers who have paid a terrible sacrifice; we also have soldiers with life-changing injuries. We cannot fight this on our own. We need co-operation and assistance vis-à-vis Pakistan and also our European allies in NATO. I think that the deadline is based on the fact that the Canadians, who have also fought in the south, and the Dutch, too, have put a timetable into place.

  I think it would be a mistake to have a premature timetable—one that feeds into the mindset that we are going to leave and that the Taliban can simply just wait and take their opportunities when they come. However, one assumes that the Government's deadline can be flexible if it needs to be, and that it is not etched in stone. We need to make that clear, so that the Taliban are aware that the timetable can be flexible. Going on about the timetable and articulating the position that we will stick to it will only feed into those who want to create chaos in Afghanistan.

  Sir Hilary Synnott: My view is that, if you look at it solely from the perspective of operations in Afghanistan or Pakistan, it would have been better if a timetable had not been specified, but of course the decision must take in other factors that you are better informed about than I am—domestic, political and financial factors. Looked at purely through the prism of the area, however, it would have been better not to have done it.

  Dr Shaikh: This is the conundrum, and I don't think that anyone has yet found a way of squaring the circle. Obviously, political exigencies dictate that the political leadership here in Britain and elsewhere heed their constituencies at home, and there is no doubt that those constituencies want the boys back home as quickly as possible; whereas military strategy, of course, demands keeping military timetables and plans for withdrawal as flexible as possible. Trying to bridge the gap between the two has proved to be extremely difficult. I don't think there has yet been a satisfactory way of doing this. What I do believe is that we can be far from sure today that, even if troops were withdrawn from Afghanistan tomorrow and more or less successful talks took place in Afghanistan, the war in Pakistan would come to an end. I do not believe that. There is a war going on in Pakistan which is very likely to persist long after withdrawal of foreign troops, if that is on the agenda, and even if talks were successful in Afghanistan. That is a possibility that we must face squarely at this point.

  Q84 Mr Baron: History suggests—one thinks of Malaya—that one of the preconditions for a successful counter-insurgency campaign is control of the borders. That is obviously not what is happening between Pakistan and Afghanistan at the moment, and one sympathises to a certain extent because the border has always been porous, and probably will be for all the reasons we know. Can you elaborate a little more on whether you believe, and how helpful it could be if, at least, progress could be made on the issues surrounding the Durand Line, not only to the extent or the influence it would have on improving control of the border—although one accepts that it has always been porous—but in improving the wider picture of relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan, in the hope that Pakistan could play a more constructive role in progress generally?

  Dr Gohel: The Durand Line is key—it is the key issue that has created problems between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Our British colonial legacy created that problem in the first place. It is a sticking point to the Pashtuns in Afghanistan, it is a concern for the military in Pakistan, and if it can be resolved—if there can be an agreement, or if there can be a working establishment to try to see what the end goal can be, while protecting the territorial integrities of both countries—that would go a long way to dealing with the situation. But it keeps going back to the whole issue that the Pakistani military is worried that the "Pashtunistan" issue will be addressed, that the Durand Line is the thorn, so they will continue to support the Taliban. It is a vicious cycle. The Durand Line is the key platform that has resulted in the fact that the Pakistani military will continue to support the Afghan Taliban, and it will be the issue that must be addressed, otherwise, I can't see the situation altering in any way.

  It is very porous. In many ways, the Durand Line was created not out of respect for the ethnic and tribal cleavages, but more because of geographical factors. That has to be addressed, because that was always the sticking point when it was originally envisaged.

  Dr Shaikh: My own view is that, while officially Pakistan's stance right from the outset has been to press for the formal recognition of the Durand Line, Pakistan's military has in practice been rather more ambivalent about this border. I am among those such as Ahmed Rashid who have argued that Pakistan's military would choose to keep this border porous, because it allows the military and Pakistan's military establishment to gain access to Central Asia—Pakistan has developed interests in Central Asia—and in order for those interests to expand, Pakistan needs a porous border.

  More importantly, Pakistan needs this sort of porous border—so says its military—in order to give substance to the military's policy of strategic depth. We all thought that the military had abandoned that notion in this age of modern warfare, but General Kayani is on record as having said that he subscribes to the idea of strategic depth, which he describes as being synonymous with a friendly Afghanistan. As I said, to my mind there is rather more ambivalence on the part of Pakistan's military towards the Durand Line than is generally acknowledged or recognised.

  Sir Hilary Synnott: I think a focus of attention on the Durand Line would not help for two reasons. The sanctification of the Durand Line as an international border would not help control of borders—your Malaya parallel—because of the terrain and because the Durand Line splits villages and tribes. The social aspects can't be changed by an international border.

  Politically, I don't see it as feasible for the reasons described. I would think that there would be a solidification of Afghan nationalism if you were to focus on it as a dealmaker, which would prevent this from happening. As a pragmatist, I would take the view that this is a problem best dealt with by management rather than by solution, and that you focus on other issues.

  Q85 Mr Baron: Can I move on and look at what seems to many to be Pakistan positioning itself with regard to peace talks going forward? We haven't really touched on the arrest of Mullah Baradar. In the past, the ISI has provided sanctuary to one or two Taliban leaders, yet here we have them arresting a key—the key—military commander. It does suggest, and many people believe, that this is a way of the ISI and the Pakistan military demanding a position at the table when it comes to peace talks on one form or another. I would suggest, being devil's advocate, that it highlights a bigger problem—one that brings us back to the very first question in many respects. Who is in charge in Pakistan? That makes the whole issue very difficult. The ISI is arresting people and President Karzai is falling out with the Pakistani Government because they are not extraditing key figures back to Afghanistan. That highlights a potential problem going forward. Who do we trust or to whom can we turn within Pakistan when it comes to this important issue of peace talks around the table?

  Sir Hilary Synnott: Perhaps I can kick off. The circumstances of that arrest are swathed in murkiness: was it a chance arrest, or was it fixed; what was the CIA doing and so on? You ask for a judgment and mine is that this has developed into a very clear Pakistani signal that any back channel talks with so-called moderate Taliban must include Pakistan, and they will make sure of that. It is a major national Pakistani interest to ensure that any talks include them, so special channels to Karzai won't be feasible without Pakistani involvement.

  Who do we trust in Pakistan? I hesitate to answer that question in a public forum. I would only say, let us make sure we look at these issues through their perspective, not ours, and realise that their interests are not the same as ours. If you look at it very coldly in that way, that gives you lots of indications and limits your expectations about the art of the possible.

  Dr Shaikh: I would certainly go along with that. We all know, or think we know, the circumstances of Mullah Baradar's arrest. Of course, the reports are that he has been released since and that now he is sitting in Afghanistan, but I think what Sir Hilary makes very clear is that it sent out a signal from Pakistan's military and its intelligence agencies that there can be no peace in Afghanistan unless Pakistan wants it—"We expect to be given a top table and to be in a position to influence, if not dictate, the direction of these talks and, of course, the identities of the key players". I think that's one point.

  On the question of who one trusts and where power resides, again this is a conundrum. The international community has no alternative but to trust and work with the military, because it's the military that are doing the fighting for the international community. That's the bottom line in Pakistan. However much the international community wants to support a civilian, democratically-elected dispensation, ultimately the international community is constrained by its dependence on Pakistan's military. The international community knows that this is a military that will ultimately work for its own interests and that, more often than not, these interests are at cross-purposes with the interests of the international community as a whole, but the international community has no choice—no choice as long as it depends on Pakistan to do much of the fighting on the other side of the Durand Line.

  Dr Gohel: Remember, Mullah Baradar was captured in Karachi—not in the tribal areas and not in Quetta. It has long been assumed that the leadership of the Taliban are in Karachi. Bear it in mind that a lot of the proceeds from opium cultivated in Afghanistan end up in the hawala centres of Karachi. The Pakistanis always denied that there was any Taliban presence in some of the major cities, yet suddenly Mullah Baradar is produced. Obviously, he decided to act independently to negotiate with Karzai, but Mullah Baradar can't be seen as a moderate Taliban. He was a hardcore extremist, part of the whole repressive policy that the Taliban implemented in Afghanistan, but he was an opportunist who saw that perhaps the only way to gain a foothold in Afghanistan was to talk to Karzai. However, he's no longer relevant, after having been arrested. He's a bit player at best.

  The thing is that the Pakistanis very clearly want to influence who is going to play the negotiating role in Afghanistan. They have a valid interest of course, being a neighbour, but what worries me is that the type of individuals they want to promote are the type of people who will send Afghanistan back to the stone age. These are the types of Taliban faction that are opposed to the rights of women and opposed to the ethnic minorities getting any political power. They will also allow greater cultivation of the poppies and, most importantly, they have no problem in rehousing al-Qaeda and affiliates. This assumption that if the Taliban somehow come back into Afghanistan, that doesn't mean that al-Qaeda and the affiliates will come in, is ludicrous. They are co-operating right now on terrorist plots—the Afghan Taliban, the Pakistan Taliban, al-Qaeda. They will do it again, and if these types of elements are brought into the negotiating process and gain power, we are heading into very dark times in Afghanistan.

  Q86 Mr Baron: A final question in this group, if I may. We have been questioning you for the best part of two hours and we have discussed the various problems about Kashmir, the Durand Line and the differences within Pakistan. I am perhaps being devil's advocate here, but forgive me, I have not heard many positive messages back about the role that Pakistan can play in helping us to achieve a successful outcome in Afghanistan. Our remit here is to scrutinise the British Government in trying to determine whether our policy is right in Afghanistan. I have not had many positive messages back. If I pinned down each of you and asked what do we have to do to succeed in Afghanistan, from this perspective of Pakistan, what would your answers be and what do you think our chances of success are? At the moment British troops are dying. We seem to have a conflict in our strategy, or hypocrisy—no, not hypocrisy. There does not seem to be a clear strategy and I'm not getting many clear messages from any of you about the future.

  Chair: Can we have really brief answers, please?

  Sir Hilary Synnott: You want a silver bullet. You're speaking to someone who has two nephews in the army. I don't think there is one. Your question is much more, if I may say so, concerned with why we went there in the first place. If you are looking for a quick fix, there isn't one. I have written a book which some people call a work of fiction because of its title, which is "Transforming Pakistan: Ways out of instability". The only way in which we can improve the situation vis-à-vis Pakistan is by a very long, sustained, consistent strategy towards Pakistan, which we have signally failed to have since 1947, with particular failures after 1989. The consequences of those failures, which Farzana has alluded to, when the Soviets were in Afghanistan, will take decades to sort out. There is no silver bullet.

  Dr Shaikh: I am going to say the same and I am also going to say that not only is there no silver bullet, but this is an extremely complex country that you are dealing with. My own book is called "Making Sense of Pakistan". It is only really to underscore the complexity of this country which, on the face of it, looks small and manageable next to giant-sized India, but whose problems are huge. I think one way in which I can come close to answering what I think you are getting at is to appreciate that there are many Pakistans. When you talk about Pakistan, really what you are talking about is the military—at the moment, that's your interlocutor in Pakistan, whether you like it or not.

  Chair: May I ask you to expedite your answer?

  Dr Shaikh: The interests of that military are at cross-purposes not only with the international community but, I would say, with the vast majority of the people in Pakistan.

  Dr Gohel: The only way that we can achieve something positive—[Interruption.]

  Chair: We have another vote. We will reconvene as soon as possible. Dr Gohel, I understand that you have to go.

  Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.

  On resuming—

  Q<87 Mr Roy: Can I take you to the area that relates to the Obama Administration's "AfPak" strategy? There are three points that I would like to address. How does the US reassure Pakistan that it has its best interests at heart? What leverage does it have over Pakistan? And—yes or no—does it mean that the US can ultimately rely, and know that it can rely, on Pakistan as a partner, bearing in mind this strategy? Has it made a difference?

  Sir Hilary Synnott: Of course, the United States do not have Pakistan's best interest at heart; they have their own interests at heart. At the risk of sounding flippant, the US could do a lot to reassure Pakistan by making fewer mistakes—and they have made some serious mistakes. To give a brief example, in September 2008, ground forces landed on Pakistan territory in hot pursuit. That was a tactical choice and a major strategic mistake, which mobilised Pakistani opinion against them. So it will be very difficult for the United States to persuade Pakistan that they are acting in Pakistan's interests.

  I think the civil aid package will do a lot to help, because at the moment the people of Pakistan think that the United States are just pursuing US war aims. There have been no benefits to the ordinary people of Pakistan. If the United States can mobilise their aid programme so that it has an effect on the ground, that will help, and they are making efforts to do that, led by Mr Holbrooke.

  There is very little leverage in the form of coercion. In the form of persuasion and having their legitimate concerns met, the United States could do more. They could ensure that there is a greater transparency about the use of American money, about which, notoriously, there has been very little accountability. That could be improved. It won't do away with corruption, but it could be better. So they need to make more effort on that, which they are doing, but it is difficult.

  I think that the earlier discussion has suggested that there are limitations on Pakistan as a partner; Pakistan will never share all US interests. President Obama has made it clear that he sees the Afghan Taliban as pretty much as bad as al-Qaeda. That's not how Pakistan sees it. As much as anything, I think, it's about a realisation that there are divergent interests and trying to manage those divergences.

  Q88 Mr Roy: In relation to the Obama change in the "AfPak" strategy, how did that go down in Pakistan?

  Sir Hilary Synnott: Well, bits of it should have gone down well. The aid package should have gone down well, but as has been mentioned earlier, the conditionality of it backfired and was seen as a sort of American neo-imperialism. What went down really badly and the biggest single problem was the date—that the American combat forces would start to withdraw in mid-2011. That was seen in Pakistan as absolute confirmation that the United States would be turning its back on the problem, as they did in 1989. There is a narrative in Pakistan: they are waiting for the fourth American betrayal, the first two being two wars against India, the third in 1989, and this one they see as a fourth betrayal.  

    Dr Shaikh: Taking instructions, I will be very brief. Let me just say that the attempts to transform or recast US-Pakistan relations from a business transaction to a partnership between allies has been less than successful. That is the first point. There have been several reasons why the relationship has run into difficulty, but really at the top of the list I would place the extremely damaging consequences of drone strikes in Pakistan. As long as these drone strikes continue, it is going to be extremely difficult for the United States to impress upon Pakistan and its people—[Interruption.]

  Chair: I am told there are now endless votes coming, so I am going to adjourn the session. On behalf of Parliament, I apologise. This is a fairly unprecedented afternoon. I understand agreements on voting have been broken and there is chaos going on in the Chamber. There are a number of questions outstanding. We will write to you with those questions, and I hope that you will be able to answer them. On behalf of everybody here, thank you very much.

previous page contents

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2011
Prepared 2 March 2011