Examination of Witnesses (Questions 63-88)|
I welcome our three witnesses today. Thank you for your flexibility.
We were going to have four witnessestwo 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 partiesthe PPP and the PMLare 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 9/11and
I was therethe 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 sayI can't speak for the British Governmentthat
the British Government approve of everything the ISI does.
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 chiefnot 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 partythe 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
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 directlythat
cannot be done in any countrybut 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
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.
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?
The problem with the floodwaters was that they lingeredthe
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
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 peoplethey 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.
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 oneand maybe there
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 upsideand I am clutching
at strawsis 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
Gapes: Dr Shaikh, do you want to add anything?
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 viewSajjan's as well as Hilary'sin 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 monthsone
of which was by Tahir Andrabi, who has done a lot of work for
the World Bank on madrassahsshow 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.
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?
Is that a question to me?
Mike Gapes: All
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
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-Talibannew
Pakistan insurgents who threaten the state of Pakistanand,
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 timeeven
before the floodshas 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 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 Governmentparticularly President
Zardarioffered 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
Thank you, Dr Shaikh. Dr Gohel, do you want to add anything?
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 Punjabthe Saraiki Punjabi partis
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?
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
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 agreeI stand to be corrected
by the two analysts sitting beside methat 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.
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 fencesand
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 Pakistanare 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.
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
Talibanand, by the way, many in the military still deny
that the Afghan Taliban even exist in Pakistan. So, yes, it is
the issue of contextit was said in India. I think that
if David Cameron had made that comment elsewhere, it would not
have been an issue.
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?
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.
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
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 Britainlike
the United States and its alliesis 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 worsea 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.
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?
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 valleynot amalgamation
with Pakistan, but total independence.
The relevance is also now that the All Parties
Hurriyat Conferencethe amalgamation of a number of groupsis
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 moreKashmir 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.
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?
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
communitythe United States and Britainis going to
have to grasp this nettle. While the points that Sajjan makes
are broadly truethere is a very strong local dimension
to the problems that we are currently witnessing in Kashmirthere
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,
democracywhich is what, after all, the international community
is forever saying it wants in Pakistanwill 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.
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?
Yesthat 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.
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
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.
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
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
Very recentlyI am not digressing, because
this is relevanta 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 toI think is your
last question to Farzanadevote 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 Irelandone hates these tenuous parallelsthe
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 houseson
India and Pakistan. A solution isn't really in sight, andthis
is digressing from Pakistanwhy 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. Similarlyyou didn't
ask about thisthere is a line of thought that you need
to concentrate on the solution of the Durand Line, which Afghanistan
does not recognise.
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.
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 statewithin 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 matterI am not competent
at all here, despite my previous connections with the Governmentwould
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.
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 jobin 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.
There are a few dynamics, and I will be brief as I know that time
is limited. David Headley was introduced to Ilyas Kashmiria
well-known terrorist connected to al-Qaedaby 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 UKthe 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.
This is just to remind you.
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?
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 troopsyoung menfrom dozens of countries
across Europe and the United States.
Menzies Campbell: But there are some conflictsI
think of Cyprus and your own example of the Middle Eastwhere
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?
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'tit'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.
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 sovereigntythe 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
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
<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.
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.
Not at all.
Sitting suspended for Divisions in the House.
Chair: We are now
back in session, and on the record.
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 barrelthat
was the phrase I usedin 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
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 Pakistanparticularly its military and intelligence
agencies, who have always jealously guarded their control over
Pakistan's policy towards Afghanistanbelieves 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 assistancethey
are talking about a new military security pact between the US
and Pakistan over five years, worth some $2 billionbut
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.
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
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.
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?
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
timetableone 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 amdomestic, political and financial factors. Looked
at purely through the prism of the area, however, it would have
been better not to have done it.
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.
Baron: History suggestsone thinks of Malayathat
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 borderalthough one accepts
that it has always been porousbut in improving the wider
picture of relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan, in the
hope that Pakistan could play a more constructive role in progress
The Durand Line is keyit 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 resolvedif 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 countriesthat 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.
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 AsiaPakistan
has developed interests in Central Asiaand in order for
those interests to expand, Pakistan needs a porous border.
More importantly, Pakistan needs this sort of
porous borderso says its militaryin 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
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 bordersyour Malaya parallelbecause
of the terrain and because the Durand Line splits villages and
tribes. The social aspects can't be changed by an international
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.
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 keythe
keymilitary 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 problemone 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
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
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 choiceno
choice as long as it depends on Pakistan to do much of the fighting
on the other side of the Durand Line.
Remember, Mullah Baradar was captured in Karachinot 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 plotsthe 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
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 hypocrisyno,
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
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.
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 militaryat the moment, that's your interlocutor
in Pakistan, whether you like it or not.
Chair: May I ask
you to expedite your answer?
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.
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.
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? Andyes
or nodoes 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 mistakesand 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
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.
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 datethat 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.
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.