Examination of Witnesses (Questions 128-208)
Q128 Chair: May I
welcome members of the public to this fourth and final evidence
session of the Foreign Affairs Committee's inquiry into the UK's
foreign policy towards Afghanistan and Pakistan? Our two witnesses
today are the Foreign Secretary, William Hague, and Karen Pierce,
who is the director of south Asia and Afghanistan. Foreign Secretary,
is there anything you would like to start by saying?
Mr Hague: No. I know we may be
pressed for time, so it may be helpful if we get on with your
Q129 Chair: I start
by thanking you and your officials for facilitating our visit
to Afghanistan and Pakistan. It was a very good visit. It was
well received, and we sensed that people went the extra mile for
us, which is much appreciated.
Foreign Secretary, it is often put to us that
al-Qaeda and the Taliban are being grouped together, when they
are very different beasts, as you well know. The Government justify
their intervention in Afghanistan on the basis that, if they were
not there, al-Qaeda would return to Afghanistan and could pose
a threat to national security. A number of our witnesses have
disagreed with this premise. What evidence do you have to suggest
that al-Qaedanot the Taliban, but al-Qaedawould
return to Afghanistan?
Mr Hague: It is impossible to
have direct evidence of something that would happen in a hypothetical
situation, but we have the experience of what happened before
2001. Much of Afghanistan was effectively either ungoverned space
or Taliban-governed space, and in those circumstances al-Qaeda
was able to set up its training camps and bases there. Based on
that experience, there must be a reasonable suspicion that the
same thing would happen again, particularly where al-Qaeda feels
under pressure in other areas. It would be a rash observer who
said that they knew this would not happen. It is fair for President
Karzai to have included in the conditions that he has set out
for political settlement in Afghanistan, that the Taliban and
others associated with them should renounce al-Qaeda and renounce
violence. That is the line of reasoning.
Q130 Chair: President
Karzai actually says that he doesn't think they will return.
Mr Hague: It is one of the conditions
that he has set, and he has set that condition for a good reason.
Q131 Mr Baron: Could
you answer the question about the military strategy and the security
situation that I posed in PMQs on Wednesday last week? Successful
counter-insurgency operations in the past, particularly in Malaya,
suggest that not one of the preconditions for successcontrol
of the borders, high troop density levels, a credible Government
and support of the majority of the populationexists in
Afghanistan. Why do you think that the military, in particular,
are so optimistic that they can achieve a successful outcome there,
and doesn't this beg for a more realistic assessment?
Mr Hague: It certainly requires
a realistic assessment, but in any realistic assessment the task
in which we are engaged in Afghanistan remains phenomenally difficult.
That is partly because of some of the factors that you quite rightly
describe. Nevertheless, all those factors are being addressed
one way or another. The build-up of the Afghan national security
forces is very substantial. As you know, and as you saw on your
visit to Afghanistan, the Afghan national army is now at 144,000,
which is 10,000 ahead of where it was meant to be at this time.
The Afghan national police is stronger now than was anticipated.
The attrition rates in terms of people leaving those forces month-by-month
The legitimacy and operation of government in
a province such as Helmand seem more widely accepted than they
were a year ago, or two years ago. So progress is being made in
many of those parameters. Even co-operation with other countriesyou
know about the Afghanistan-Pakistan transit trade agreementand
working with regional neighbours is an area of greater strength
for the Afghan Government than before. They all remain very difficultevery
parameter remains very difficultbut I think that it's fair
to argue that, at a varying pace, progress is being made in all
those ways. So success remains very difficult in Afghanistan,
but it is by no means impossible.
Q132 Mr Baron: Do
you accept that one of the things that has plagued our presence
in Afghanistan is the continual reading out of over-optimistic
assessments by Ministers? We are all pleased, obviously, that
we now have a more realistic assessment of the current situation
in Afghanistan, although some of us would suggest that it needs
to be even more realistic than at present. Does that suggest that,
in the past, the military were driving strategy, as opposed to
Mr Hague: That question has several
parts. I agree that over-optimistic assessments have sometimes
been made, and the current Government are trying to avoid that.
We are learning lessons from what has happened in the past. I
gave the first of our quarterly reviews to Parliament in the week
in which your Committee was visiting Afghanistan, and I apologise
for that. The spending review was the previous week and my own
visit to the Middle East was the following week, so it had to
be in that week. I will try to catch you in the country at the
time of the next quarterly review. I hope that it was regarded
by the HouseI think it wasas a frank assessment
of where we are and did not overstate what has been achieved,
but showed that progress was being made in several areas. Much
more needed to be done, for instance, in the area of corruption
and governance, and we will carry on in that vein with our assessments.
We will not encourage false optimism, but we will not be blind
to good news, either. There are often more successes to talk about
than feature daily in our media. Being realistic in our assessments
is important, and hopefully we are getting it right.
Were the military driving the strategy before?
You may need to direct that to members of the previous Governmentyou
have directed it to one official who served under the previous
Governmentrather than the current Government. It is very
important on an issue such as this that military and political
leaders work well together and that political decisions are well
informed by military assessments, otherwise, of course, politicians
may make rash decisions without sufficient military awareness.
I certainly think that the way we now conduct our National Security
Council in the UKwith the Chief of the Defence Staff, senior
Ministers and the heads of the intelligence agencies sitting together
on this and other subjects on a very regular basisprovides
the correct balance in making decisions.
Q133 Mr Baron: Pursuing
that theme, can we very briefly explore the extent to which counter-insurgency
operations are perhaps undermining our political goals? Whatever
happens, there will have to be some sort of negotiated settlement.
The military buy you time and meanwhile the politicians must
provide the answer. Most would accept a negotiated settlement,
yet the military seem to be targeting Taliban leaders as a decapitation
policy, if you believe certain reports. Do you think that that
is constructive for a negotiated settlement? To what extent can
the UK actually influence the US in its approach to the Taliban,
in the sense that at least publicly it has been reluctant to negotiate
with the Taliban?
Mr Hague: Certainly the UK can
influence the US. The Prime Minister and the President discuss
that a great deal. I am heading for the United States later today,
and that is top of the list of my topics to discuss with Secretary
Clinton. We have a multitude of contacts at official level and
between our intelligence agencies. I very much agree that it
is important to keep the Taliban under maximum military pressure
and, indeed, to intensify that pressure in the coming months,
if we are ultimately to come to a negotiated political settlement.
I do not accept the premise in part of your question that conducting
combat operations against the Taliban reduces the chances of a
political settlement. Military success and intensified military
pressure are important components of bringing about a settlement,
and the Taliban should expect intensified military pressure in
the coming months in the absence of a political settlement.
Q134 Mr Baron: Finally,
Foreign Secretary, do you accept that, when a negotiated settlementof
whatever descriptiontakes hold, it will obviously have
to reflect the realities on the ground, such as negotiations with
the Taliban and with regional warlords? Is it not possible to
have a negotiated settlement and still retain the ability to take
on al-Qaeda, perhaps using special forces, should it ever return?
In putting a line between the Taliban and al-Qaeda, a negotiated
settlement has to take place with the Taliban. That does not
mean that we have to make peace with al-Qaeda. Is it not beyond
the wit of man to engineer some sort of solution whereby at the
end of the day we retain the military capacity to take on al-Qaeda,
should it ever return, while progressing with a negotiated settlement
with the Taliban in order to engineer a success out of our present
Mr Hague: Yes, I hope that that
is possible. It is highly unlikely that it would be possible
in the foreseeable future to negotiate a peace with al-Qaeda.
That would fundamentally be against the beliefs of al-Qaeda.
It might be possible to do so with the Taliban or with parts
of the Taliban. We don't know whether that is possible, but it
is certainly desirable under the right conditions.
One of the conditionsI referred to it
earlierthat President Karzai has set alongside respecting
a constitutional framework and renouncing violence is cutting
ties with al-Qaeda, so, yes, such a settlement would require a
distinction to be made between those who are reconciled and those
who are committed to al-Qaeda.
Karen Pierce: Can I just add to
that? One factor that we consider when looking at the prospects
for negotiation is the level of popular support for the Taliban.
It is around 10%, although it varies in different parts of the
country. The other thing that we need to consider is that parts
of the insurgency now have active links with al-Qaeda, not necessarily
inside Afghanistan but certainly links emanating from Pakistan.
If we look at President Karzai's conditions for renouncing links
with al-Qaeda, we would also look at the Security Council resolutions
in advance of 9/11 that invited the Taliban to give up al-Qaedaa
step that the Taliban didn't take. The real question for us is
to what extent would a Taliban assurance relating to al-Qaeda
be capable of being carried out?
Q135 Mike Gapes: Can
I ask about the nature of the insurgency? From what we were told,
we understand that there are three different insurgencies: the
Haqqani network, the Hekmatyar, and the Taliban leader Mullah
Omar's Pakistan-based Quetta. Maybe there are more. Perhaps you
can confirm that. Is it your strategy to get all three of those
components into a political process, or are you trying to split
them and get some of them in on the basis that that will at least
reduce the fact of the conflict going on?
Mr Hague: We are trying to create
the conditions for a political settlement. The military campaign
is a very important part of that, for the reasons I referred to
earlier. Who wants to enter into a settlement is not within our
control, whether it is all those groups, further groups or any
of those groups that wish to do so. It is up to them to decide
whether they wish to be part of that settlement. We might wish
for however many groups to be involved, but we will see how the
Q136 Mike Gapes: Finally,
in your earlier answer to Mr Baron, you referred to the growing
training and support of the Afghan national security forces. Isn't
it the case that there are virtually no southern Pashtuns in those
security forces, and that the only Pashtuns are from the east
and north of the country?
Mr Hague: It remains the case
that southern Pashtuns are under-represented in the national security
forces3% is a widely quoted figure, although more than
40% of the army would be Pashtuns of other origins. So when you
say that the only other Pashtuns are from other areas, you're
talking about very large numbers of people. That remains a weakness.
It is an important weakness to address over time, but it has to
be seen against the context of the very rapid build-up of the
Afghan national security forces and the huge improvement in the
training of officers and non-commissioned officers that we have
seen over the past year.
Q137 Rory Stewart:
We are all obviously praying that the surge works, but do we have
a contingency plan? If we get through to 2015, we move back to
special forces and training operations. How are we going to contain
and manage the situation in 2015, if the counter-insurgency strategy
Mr Hague: We are working very
hard to make sure that it does work. Remember that the forces
that we are talking about are a key component of this. The Afghan
national security forces will be over 300,000-strong by the end
of next year, never mind by 2014. The training of non-commissioned
officers of the Afghan national army is up by 712% over the last
year. This is a very important consideration. This is becoming
an army much larger than ours, without yet the skills, logistics,
engineering, intelligence and so on that need to be part of a
highly effective army. Whatever happens, that build-up is crucial
to the future of Afghanistan, so that Afghans can lead and maintain
their own security operations from 2014, in line with President
Karzai's objective, irrespective of arriving at a political settlement.
You can think of that as the next line of defence after international
Q138 Rory Stewart:
So the next line of defence is that the Afghans continue to conduct
their own form of counter-insurgency operation post-2015 with
the training of the special forces support from the United Kingdom?
Mr Hague: We have made a very
clear statement about not being involved in combat operations
in 2015, although that does not preclude being there in a training
role, for instance. But yes, I think the long-term outlook, if
there were to be no political settlement, is that the Afghan national
security forces become large enough to be able to hold their own
in Afghanistan. That does not mean there would be a peaceful Afghanistan.
It does mean there would be an Afghanistan where the writ of Government
ran widely enough for that Government to be able to resist being
overthrown by force.
Q139 Rory Stewart:
Will we be asking the British military to present their troops
numbers for 2013 or 2014, and how they will be deployed, at the
National Security Council?
Mr Hague: We will look at all
such things in the National Security Council which, of course,
is now the forum in which such matters are decided. So yes, the
Prime Minister will certainly expect the MOD to set forward the
plans for the next few years. However, it is quite hard to foresee,
at this point, the level of resources and the nature of the activities
required in 2013 and 2014. Of course, it is clear that we should
have an ever larger training role and, as you know, the Defence
Secretary has announced the movement of more than 300 personnel
into a training role just in the last few months. But yes, the
National Security Council will examine the plans for our deployments
Karen Pierce: That is on the agenda
of the National Security Council over the next few months and
troops will be linked to tasks, obviously, so we will start there.
Q140 Mr Ainsworth:
Can we get some clarity on exactly what the deadline in 2015 is?
What is it, when is it, and exactly what does it encompass?
Mr Hague: It is as the Prime Minister
and I have stated it: by 2015, we will not be engaged in Afghanistan
either in combat operations or in anything like the numbers that
we have there today. That, as I was saying to Mr Stewart, does
not mean that we will not be there in other rolesin training
and so on. However, I don't want anyone to underestimate the clarity
of this, or to confuse the clarity. The Prime Minister has said
that very clearly; he means it, and that is what we will stick
Q141 Mr Ainsworth:
When? 2015 is 12 months long.
Mr Hague: It is 12 months long.
Q142 Mr Ainsworth:
There is a general election in May 2015, or that's what you're
planning, isn't it? Will it be in January 2015?
Mr Hague: I do not think it is
necessary, now that we have said 2015, to try and home in on the
actual day in 2015, particularly since we are sitting here in
November 2010. It is quite a long way awayin fact, it is
further in the future, as you all well know, than our whole operations
in Helmand are in the past. So, it is a long time into the future,
but we don't anticipate, in the near future, setting out a particular
month or week.
Q143 Mr Ainsworth:
Who took the decision?
Mr Hague: The decision was taken
by Ministers in the National Security Council and the Cabinet,
led by the Prime Minister.
Q144 Mr Ainsworth:
Was it taken in the National Security Council?
Mr Hague: It was taken by the
Prime Minister in consultation with other senior Ministers, including
Q145 Mr Ainsworth:
Were you consulted?
Mr Hague: Yes.
Q146 Mr Ainsworth:
When were you consulted?
Mr Hague: Before the Prime Minister
made his announcement.
Q147 Mr Ainsworth:
Was the Defence Secretary consulted?
Mr Hague: I am sure the Defence
Secretary was consulted, but I cannot tell you when everybody
was consulted. You would have to ask the Prime Minister.
Q148 Mr Ainsworth:
We are there as part of a coalition forcewe are a very
significant part of a coalition forceand we have always
tried to be good partners as a country in coalition activities
and international affairs, have we not? Is there no conceivable
possibility that that will be changed if, let's say, a NATO discussion
takes place about the need for change because the deadlines are
not being met, or because of American requests, because we simply
cannot get to a position where the Afghan national army or Afghan
national security forces are capable of standing up on their own?
Is there no conceivable way that that is going to be altered?
It's set. It's finished. That's it. It's a deadline. It will not
be changed in any circumstances.
Mr Hague: It won't be changed.
The Prime Minister is being very clear about that. It is a change
of policy from this Government, and there have been several. We
have doubled the operational allowance for the troops and we have
redeployed away from certain areas of Helmand to concentrate on
other areas. As you know, there have been several changes of policy
on Afghanistan and yes, this is one of them. People can argue
about the advantages and disadvantages of it, as Mr Baron has
done on the Floor of the House, but we will make the most of the
advantages of this policy. Our intentions are clear to all concerned,
and what we are going to do by 2015they are clear to our
allies and to the Afghan Government. We don't want anybody to
be in any doubt about that. There are other allies in NATO who
have also stated specific timings for the deployment of their
forces. We will, by then, have been in Helmand for much longer50%
longerthan the entire Second World War, so we feel it right
to say that, by then, we will not be involved in combat operations.
Q149 Mr Ainsworth:
This is the change of policy, isn't it? We've changed the area
of operations, but that was happening in any case. We had got
out of Musa Qala before the change of Government; we were halfway
out of Sangin before the change of Government. This, however,
is the change.
Mr Hague: It's an important change
and it is a change that we will stick to.
Q150 Mr Ainsworth:
Why announce it in public? Why did we think that that would be
helpful? It has been said that we did it to put pressure on the
Karzai Government, but did it not take the pressure off the Taliban
and off the insurgents?
Mr Hague: I think that insurgents
will find that, in line with our earlier discussion, they are
under intense pressure over the coming months. There is no relaxation
in the British or coalition military effort. Since it is only
recently, as you know, that all the forces that the commanders
have wanted have been available in Afghanistan, that pressure
will intensify over the coming months and even over the coming
years, when that is added to the increasing role of the Afghan
national security forces. It would be quite wrong to conclude
that anybody on the other side can relax in any way because we
have made an announcement on 2015. It means that there is absolute
clarity for the Afghanistan Government and that they know that
that is the length of our combat commitment. It means that our
allies know that, too. There are advantages to that, as well as,
of course, the arguments against it that others have put.
Karen Pierce: I was simply going
to say that the NATO summit, which takes place later this week,
will endorse the 2014 target date for transition. All NATO's efforts
will go into ensuring that that happens.
Q151 Mr Ainsworth:
Sure, but that's not new. That's been known for some time. On
other nations, we have already lost the Dutch and the Canadians
are leaving. In response to Rory, there was some indication that
there was going to have to be a plan between now and 2015. How
are we going to be affected by the withdrawal of those other nations?
It's all right to say that new nations join, but they are relatively
small contributors. The Dutch and the Canadians were very significant
contributors, so that is surely going to give us problems.
Mr Hague: Yes. I certainly hope
that some of the countries that are withdrawing will be able to
stay in substantial training roles. We have, of course, been discussing
that with them. It would be highly desirable, given the extent
of Canada's contribution over the past few years. If they are
able to do that, I think that that would be very welcome. We have
been discussing that with the Canadian Government. There are,
as you say, a growing number of nations overall, although not
all are making the military contribution that Canada and the Netherlands
have made. There are, currently, 48 troop-contributing nations,
which is more than there have ever been. That is a fact that can
be easily overlooked. In the cases of Canada and the Netherlands,
there has been a good deal of advance notice of their intentions.
From an operational point of view, given the increased numbers
of forces from the United States and from some other countries,
the operational gaps will be filled. There is no doubt about that.
Q152 Mr Watts: Foreign
Secretary, you have already touched on the fact that there is
a lack of trainers in Afghanistan. When we were there, it was
quite apparent that the quality of training in both the police
and the Afghan army was very poor. Also, the amount of time when
people were actually training was very short. First, can you explain
why that is the case? Secondly, it would seem to us that there
needs to be a real change between 2014 and 2015, not only in the
numbers training, but in the quality of that training. When we
spoke to the Pakistani generals, they said that although the numbers
were quite impressive, what we were doing was creating cannon
fodder, not troops, because of the small amount of time that had
been given to the training of troops. We heard that many of the
Afghan police who had been returned had no idea of the job that
they were intended to do. Their pay at one stage was so poor that
it was below the living wage, which encouraged theft and extortion.
Can you explain the policy for that and why, despite the billions
of pounds that we have spent, we have such a poor record in training?
Mr Hague: It remains a huge challenge
and you are quite right to highlight it. I don't want to say,
in any way, that this is an easy process or that we've achieved
all the objectives on training. There are certain improvements
that have taken place in recent times. One of those is that the
pay of the Afghan national police has been increased and improved,
because you are quite right that one of the difficulties has been
that it has been more attractive for people to do other things.
Afghan national police salaries have been increased, and the training
programmes have been improved. Recruitment since then has generally
exceeded the targets. I mentioned briefly the attrition rates,
and the average attrition rate has gone down to 1.4% per month
in the case of the Afghan national police, which is a serious
improvement on past years.
There is also increased attention being given
to the training of non-commissioned officers and officers, who
are absolutely key to the quality and to the leadership that is
necessary so that people are not, in the phrase that you were
given, cannon fodder. I mentioned some of the figures earlier,
but to give some more: the increase in the training of NCOs in
the Afghan national army is up 712% since November last year;
and the training of officers is up 175%. That will lead, over
time, to quality improvements.
The other very important thing that is happening
is the partnering of Afghan national security forces with British
troops. Most of the work of British troops going forward is in
partnership with the Afghan national security forces. In my review
statement to the House three weeks ago, I pointed out how some
of the operations conducted recently have been led by the Afghan
forces, for the first time, in a very significant way. Those are
all signs of improvement. Is the level of training the same level
that you would get in a European or American army? No, it isn't,
because the emphasis here is on driving up the strength as rapidly
as possible, but you can see from the figures that I am giving
that the quality of training, the quantity of training and the
way in which the troops in the Afghan forces then gain experience
alongside NATO troops are all gathering pace and improving.
Karen Pierce: If I may just add
one thing to that, Afghan troops are taking the lead in Operation
Hamkari, which is the operation around Kandahar. That is proving
Mr Hague: Fifty-eight per cent
of the operations, I think, on Hamkari have been led by the Afghan
national security forces themselves.
Q153 Mr Watts: Just
to make the point, Foreign Secretary, it is only a couple of weeks
since we've been there that the people responsible for the training
of troops in Afghanistan were complaining bitterly about the lack
of resourceseven now as we speak.
We've talked about the Afghan national police
and the Afghan national security forces. Can I just move on to
the Government themselves? One of the important things is that
the Afghan people have faith in their own Government. We heard
an awful lot about the corruption and the malpractices of the
Afghan Government. What have we been doing and what can we do
in the future that will build up the Afghan people's faith in
their own Government?
Mr Hague: This is one of the areas
where much more progress needs to be made. By the way, I wasn't
arguing, in my earlier answer, that everything was fine on training
and that the problem was solved. It remains a huge challenge.
You are quite right to say that training requires increased international
attention. On governance and on corruption, a greater effort needs
to be made.
Some progress has been made. Some of the commitments
entered into at the time of the Kabul conference in July are being
met. We have seen, over the last few months, some of the Afghan
Ministers declare their assets in public. We have seen a great
improvement in transparency. For instance, in the Ministry of
Mines, more than 100 new contracts were placed, openly, on the
internet for people to examine. That is the kind of practice that
may help to combat corruption in the future. Certainly, some progress
is being made. Nevertheless, we have seen, in events surrounding
the Kabul bank and other institutions, very depressing news.
We do call on the Government of Afghanistan to make greater progress
in this area, to continue to try to win the support of domestic
and international opinion.
Q154 Ann Clwyd: I
heard your statement in the House of Commons. It was very full
and, I thought, very frank. You touched on good governance and
you mentioned it again now. What precisely do you mean by good
governance? How can it be seen; how do you feel you have succeeded
in getting good governance? I imagine good governance would, for
instance, include respect for human rights and women's rights.
I hope that might be a topic you would raise with Secretary of
State Clinton, if you see her, because that is an issue she is
very concerned about. What does good governance mean to you?
Mr Hague: That is quite a wide
philosophical question. To begin with, in Afghanistan, it means
certain basic things that we take for granted here such as government
being present at all. I think we can see some of the progress
that has been made. There are 10 district governors installed
in Helmand, for instance, compared with only five two years ago.
That is 10 district governors who are able to operate. There are
26 Afghan line Ministries now represented in Lashkar Gah. Government
is more present in certain very difficult areas of the country
such as Helmand, than it was a year or two ago. That is the first
requirement of governance: that it exists; that it is there at
A second requirement is in the area we have
just been addressing, of people being able to have confidence
that the Government are not corrupt, that they work in the interests
of the people. There is much more to do there: Afghanistan remains
near the bottom of the scale on international records for levels
of corruption. It has improved a little bit. I think on the world
index for ease of doing business, it has improved to 160th in
the world, from 168th. It has moved in the right direction. It
needs to start moving in the same way on corruption as well. So,
we can see a little bit of progress there.
It also means those other things that you are
talking about: respect for minorities, respect for human rights,
including women's rights. As you know, quite a lot has been done
in that regard. The UK strongly encourages it and has funded projects
that encourage the participation of women in Afghan society and
politics. It may have been in answer to one of your questions
a couple of weeks ago that I pointed out the improved participation
of women, such as in the peace jirga in June. There has also been
increased participation by women in the recent parliamentary elections.
It is very important that we continue to encourage those things,
so that they become part of the accepted fabric of Afghan society,
before and during the time in which a political settlement is
Karen Pierce: The Committee might
be aware of the Asia Foundation poll, which measures a number
of things every year. One is the confidence of the Afghan people
in their Government. That has gone up 4% over last year, admittedly
to only 47%, but the trend is upwards.
Mr Hague: Probably more than many
Governments in the world have.
Q155 Mr Ainsworth:
Returning to the questions we are asking for clarification. Does
the deadline of 2015 apply to special forces as well; to all combat
Mr Hague: We do not ever comment,
as the former Defence Secretary knows, on the tasks we give to
our special forces.
Q156 Mr Ainsworth:
So it is not clear whether it applies to special forces?
Mr Hague: I am not giving you
a clear answer deliberately.
Chair: We are going into private session.
Maybe it could be more appropriately dealt with there.
Q157 Mike Gapes: Clearly,
the United States is the most important power in the coalition,
but there are lots of reports about internal divisions within
the US Administration. We have heard people saying that to us
in private in many places, and we have also had it publicly on
the record. Some of our witnesses referred to incoherent and contradictory
positions in the US Administration. How committed is the US to
reconciliation as a strategy?
Mr Hague: The United States is
committed to reconciliation. It is also very much committed, as
we areas I have pointed out in answer to earlier questionsto
intensifying the military pressure on the Taliban. Those things
are not mutually opposed goals, for the reasons I have given.
They go together; the chances of reconciliation are increased
by an effective military campaign. Is there often a debate within
the US Government about this or other foreign policy issues? Yes
there is. The United States has the kind of society and governmental
system in which any debate about foreign policy often surfaces
in public. You would not expect decisions about a matter as important
as this always to have unanimous agreement in advance of any discussion,
but the United States is in favour of the process of reintegration
Q158 Mike Gapes: But
is the US in favour of the same approach as the British Government,
which seems to be that we should be working on reconciliation
now, as opposed to a view that seems to be quite strongly held
by some in the US that you need to change the balance militarily
before you go down that road?
Mr Hague: Sometimes this is an
academic argument, because it is not possible to command the timing
of a political settlement. It will be important for the military
effort to continue and to intensify, I believe, to make that settlement
possible. Nevertheless, I would say in answer to your question
that there is no disagreement here between the leadership of the
US and UK Governments. The Prime Minister and the President discuss
such issues regularly, and they are in strong accord about it.
We tend to discuss this privately rather than through giving speeches
directed at each other, which I think is the right way for close
allies to deal with it. We are not engaged in an argument about
this at the moment.
Q159 Mike Gapes: Would
you agree that the US needs to be directly involved in discussions
with the Taliban in order to get a solution to this situation?
Mr Hague: This has got to be an
Afghan-led process. There is no doubt about that. An Afghan-led
process will bring reconciliation in Afghanistan. We facilitate
that process if we think it is appropriate.
Q160 Mike Gapes: When
you say "we", do you mean the UK?
Mr Hague: I mean the UK, but the
United States also agrees with that policy and is in the same
position. It has to be an Afghan-led process, however.
Q161 Mike Gapes: Is
the US facilitating as well, or just us?
Mr Hague: It agrees with our policy.
Mike Gapes: That was not my question.
Karen Pierce: NATO has said that
it and ISAF facilitate President Karzai's contacts and provide
practical assistance. That includes the US as well as other ISAF
Mike Gapes: I do not think I am going
to get a better answer than that.
Mr Hague: That is the answer.
Mike Gapes: I am not entirely clear what
Mr Hague: It means the answer
to your question is yes. The United States has the same policy
as we have.
Q162 Mike Gapes: They
have the same policy, but in terms of contacts and what is being
done to try and contact elements within the insurgency and within
the Taliban, is the US actively engaged in that process at this
Mr Hague: I know we will have
a private session later, and I don't think it is right to go into
any operational details of these matters in public.
Q163 Mr Roy: Foreign
Secretary, I would like to take you to the important issue of
winning the hearts and minds of the Afghan people. I was very
interested to hear earlier that there is only 10% support for
the Taliban in Afghanistan. I would be interested to see if you
think that graph is stable, increasing or decreasing.
We have had two sets of written evidence so
far from experts. Matt Waldman has said, "There has been
a colossal failure by the international coalition to empathise
with ordinary Afghans and act accordingly". The Henry Jackson
Society has stated, "It is one of the most serious failures
of Afghanistan that in many respects the United Kingdom and its
allies are losing the war of information with the Taliban".
Is that true?
Mr Hague: I think we ought to
be able to do better over the coming months and years in the strategic
communication of what our objectives are, how we are achieving
them and how the nations of ISAFand indeed the Afghan Governmentare
working together. I think that this has been one of the weak areas
in recent years, and it needs further attention. We are giving
attention to that in the National Security Council, from the UK's
point of view. I recently raised it with the NATO Secretary-General
as something that requires better international co-ordination
as well; so, yes, it is a weak area, and communications is a vital
consideration in conflictcommunications with the population,
both of our country and of the country where that conflict is
I think that there is room for improvement.
That is not to say that quite a bit has not been achieved; as
in so many of these fields, there remain enormous challenges,
but some progress has been made, particularly on the creation
of a more vibrant media in Afghanistan, on people's access to
news outlets and on the variety of information sources that they
have at their disposal. All those things have improved, but, yes,
more attention is needed in that area, so you are right to raise
the question. I think I've neglected the first part of the question.
Q164 Mr Roy: Both
of them are very similar. As we heard earlier, Karen, you said
that support for the Taliban in Afghanistan was at 10%, I am interested
to know whether you think that that is increasing, decreasing
or a stable 10%.
Mr Hague: I don't know whether
we have any historic figures on that. Polling is not an exact
science in Afghanistan, as it isn't in most countries.
Karen Pierce: We don't have a
poll that shows us whether it has gone up or down in certain areas.
In some areas, it's higher than 10% already, and in some areas
Q165 Mr Roy: If you
don't have a poll and you state that it's 10%, how can you state
that it's 10%? What I'm really interested to find out is, is it
increasing? Are we losing the war for hearts and minds? For example,
if the Afghans think that we are going to walk away in 2015, are
they more liable to say, "Well, wait a minute, you guys are
walking away, I'm going to look at the people who are leftthe
Talibanand I'm going to start supporting the Taliban"?
Karen was saying that there is not the historic data, not that
there wasn't a poll; there have been various surveys. Let's think
of other ways of looking at it. If you look at Helmand, the area
with which we and British troops are primarily concerned, in Nad
Ali, hundreds of people make their way to the district centre
every day, up from a trickle a year previously. In Sangin, Governor
Mangal recently held a shura for more than 800 local elders; he
thinks that that would have been impossible a few months earlier.
Those are not polls, but they are indications of how life on the
ground can change in winning over people. There is still an enormous
challenge in Helmand, but considering that we have 135,000 children
enrolled in schools across the province, which is a 250% increase
on last year, there is some indication of how normal life has
changed for the people on the ground. That may then give some
indication of whether they have confidence in what is happening.
Q166 Mr Roy: Could
I just take you further then? It seems to me that you're saying
that this is an area that needs international attention. Through
diplomatic means, how can our diplomats in Afghanistan for small
periods of short terms be expected to win the hearts and minds
over a Taliban ensconced in local villages throughout the country?
Those diplomats in Afghanistan are obviously very shielded from
ordinary, everyday Afghan people.
Mr Hague: We work on that on several
different levels. Our diplomats in Kabul are engaged in ensuring
that the media throughout the country understand what we are doing.
It would be wrong to say that diplomats and others are cut off
from the people of Afghanistan. The people, for instance, who
work in our Provincial Reconstruction Team based in Lashkar Gah
are working daily on local and regional problems, and are very
often dealing with local elders and others on every issue concerning
local society and the services provided. That is a fundamental
part of winning over those hearts and minds. Karen, do you want
to add the details of that work?
Karen Pierce: Thank you, Foreign
Secretary. Certainly, some of our diplomats and their colleagues
in the stabilisation unit go out and facilitate local shuras,
help to provide transport and help to get people together. If
asked, they help people to run a meeting. They are out there every
day in places such as Lashkar Gah.
One of the areas in which we find that the local
authority really has to compete with the Taliban is local justice.
The Taliban have these motorcycle courts and they provide justice
very quickly. A lot of our efforts, and those of other PRTs, go
into helping the local community stand up what you might think
of as traditional justice, so that people can get decisions quickly.
It is not so much a hearts and minds issue in
that sense, but that people suffer from intimidation by the Taliban.
When people are asked what their primary concern is, security
comes out as the major one. A lot of what we are engaged in is
trying to provide security for local areas, so that people can
go about their normal business. For example, in Kandahar, Major-General
Nick Carter's team were involved in building houses and offices
for the district governor, so that they could carry out their
business protected from intimidation. As the Foreign Secretary
was saying, we have seen an increase in the number of people who
are coming to the district governorthe provincial governorrather
than to the local warlords for help.
Q167 Mr Roy: Talking
to people, all I ever hear from diplomats is that because they
were only there for a short period of time, they did not even
know the language. Surely that is a barrier to winning the hearts
and minds. Many of our diplomatic corps do not know the language
when they are there, because they are not going to be there long
Mr Hague: In an ideal world everybody
would be able to speak the local language. That would have required
being able to prepare hundreds of diplomats long in advance for
this. Of course, these are difficult postings, where people usually
serve for a year in Kabul with the option of another year, or
six months, in Lashkar Gah, with the option of another six months.
They are difficult, hardship postings, so it is necessary to turn
over the personnel pretty regularly. Does that have the disadvantage
that new people have to learn local culture and get to know the
locals leaders well? It does, but I think that you can see that
that is the only practical way in which we can do this.
Karen Pierce: We do have a couple
of speakers in each placein Lashkar Gah and in Kabuland
we have some very good local staff who are bilingual.
Q168 Rory Stewart: General
Caldwell, in his presentation as the three-star general who is
commanding the training command, points out that he is already
close to being 250 trainers short; he will soon be 500 short;
and, within a year, he will be 900 short. The United States is
screaming for more support in training. At the same time, the
US marine corps is very comfortable in continuing with the two-star
command, and would like to take over the PRT in Helmand. Could
we not be looking at a political opportunity to shift more of
our resources towards training?
Mr Hague: We have done so already.
I have mentioned briefly that the Defence Secretary announced
that over 320 more UK personnel would be devoted entirely to training.
As I said in answer to the questions from Mr Watts, it remains
a huge challenge and will require a lot more resources, despite
the improvements that have been made over the past year.
It is an important topic for the NATO summit,
which is coming up at the end of this week, and which the Prime
Minister, the Defence Secretary and I will attend. Yes, it needs
more attention. Does it mean that over time, more of the British
forces may be engaged in training? There is a serious possibility
of that, but we have to do that by working, and co-ordinating,
with our allies. So all that we can answer for at the moment is
that shift of 326.
Q169 Andrew Rosindell:
Foreign Secretary, the public in this country think that we have
taken on more than we can chew in Afghanistan. Do you think that
we have been over-ambitious? Do you think that our ambitions should
have been more modest?
Mr Hague: Our ambition is the
right one, provided that we understand that our ambition is our
own national security and that our objective is to achieve a situation
in Afghanistan where Afghans can conduct their own affairs without
presenting a danger to the rest of the world. That does not mean
that we will necessarily arrive at a situation where every valley
of Afghanistan is entirely peaceful, where there are no difficulties
in its governance, or where it has reached a point where it is
not 190th on the corruption league, but 10th or 20th. Those are
very long-term objectives. So long as the objectives are realistic,
it has been right to do what we've done since 2001. This was a
response to the events of 9/11, when it began and, from 2006,
an effort to stabilise the situation in other areas of the country.
Provided that we are clear about our objective, it is not over-ambitious.
Q170 Andrew Rosindell:
Do you think that there are lessons to be learned for future situations
where conflicts need to be resolved and where Britain is engaged
in a military sense?
Mr Hague: I am sure that there
will be many lessons to be learned, and some of them will require
the wisdom of being able to look back on all this in the future.
To start with the lessons at the highest level, this country needs
to put as many resources as possible into conflict prevention
around the world, since we can see how expensive it is and how
it costs us dear, in human life as well as in financial terms,
to engage in long-term, substantial conflict. I am sure that you
will have heard what the Prime Minister and the International
Development Secretary have said about devoting more of the international
development budget towards conflict prevention. We are working
very hard at the moment in the Foreign Office on the situation
in Yemen and Sudan. Tomorrow I will chair the UN Security Council
on Sudan, where conflict prevention is what we are concentrating
on. That must be one of the first lessons.
There will no doubt be other lessons about how
a military intervention should be handled, if it has to take place.
There will be lessons from Iraq, which the Chilcot Inquiry is
looking into at the moment. I am sure there will be lessons about
Helmand as well, about the initial deployment and about many decisions
taken since then. We have to concentrate in government on finding
out ways of success in this situation, and that has to be our
Karen Pierce: We have a unit in
the Foreign Office that looks at conflict lessons learned, as
the Foreign Secretary was saying. It will look at the results
of the Iraq Inquiry.
Q171 Ann Clwyd: I
want to get back to language skillsbecause that is one
of the lessons that can be drawn from Iraq as welland the
necessity to have people who speak local languages. The last Foreign
Affairs Committee report in 2009 says that "the ability to
engage with Afghans in key local languages is crucial to the UK's
effort in Afghanistan and we are concerned that nearly eight years
after intervening in Afghanistan, the FCO still has no Pashtu
speakers". What is the situation in 2010?
Mr Hague: This is of vital importance
to the Foreign Office. It is a wider subject beyond the situation
in Afghanistan. We are a country noted for the language skills
among our diplomats compared with many other nations of the world.
But I was very concerned, in opposition, by the closure of the
Foreign Office language school. I have been looking in recent
weeks at the language arrangements in the Foreign Office. It is
quite hard to put a language school back together again, of course,
and we have all the budgetary constraints on the Government that
we have now. But I am casting a critical eye over the current
arrangements to see how they can be improved.
Coming to the level of the specialisms in this
area, you are quite rightthe Committee has highlighted
this beforeabout the small number of speakers of the relevant
languages. Karen pointed out in an answer to an earlier question
that we have some people who speak local languages, and of course
we make a great use of interpreters. Karen will give you any more
up-to-date figures than that.
But I would point out that with the huge number
of our diplomats who need to be deployed into a situation like
this, and the inevitable human need to rotate them quite quickly,
it is unlikely that we will arrive at a situation where a large
proportion of those diplomats will become versant in the local
languages of Afghanistan; I think that is unrealistic.
Q172 Ann Clwyd: There
is just another quick point that I want to put to you, which has
been made by several witnesses, on the importance of longer diplomatic
postings. Many people working in Iraq, for example, were there
for a short time. Expertise was lost when people returned to their
base and did not come back. I certainly saw that as a great deficiency,
and one that I think the Foreign Office ought to look at in some
detail. Rest and recreation are essential, but when some of those
key people are absent for long periodssometimes because
of illnessthere is a void. That was very evident to me
in my frequent visits to Iraq, and I imagine that the same would
be true in Afghanistan.
Mr Hague: I take the point about
that, although I stress that we have some incredibly hard working
people in the Foreign Office and other government departments
in Afghanistan. I am always enormously impressed, as I hope you
were on your visit, by their utter dedication, often in very difficult
circumstances. Certainly I think the Committee is right to raise
the point about the length of deployment. This has often struck
me in the past, looking at, for instance, the length of service
of American military commanders in these situations, who can go
on for a very long time, although with substantial breaks back
home. They organise it in a different way. But I am not averse
to looking at how we can improve this in the future.
Karen Pierce: If I may add to
that, just on the language speakers. Because of the programme
that the Foreign Secretary has mentioned and his fresh look at
this, more people will be trained in Afghan languages over the
coming years. But it is obviously not something that we can put
right instantly. The proportion of speakers in the embassywe
would call it a hard languageis roughly equivalent to hard
language speakers in our other postings. Admittedly Afghanistan
is more important, but it is certainly not disadvantaged because
it is a conflict zone.
Q173 Ann Clwyd: Could
you give us a breakdown of the numbers?
Karen Pierce: I can certainly
do that, but I'm afraid I don't have it in my head. There is an
additional advantage to using Afghan interpreters in that it tends
to be reassuring to the local community, and the military have
found that themselves. It tends to help build trust and confidence
so we rely on our local staff quite considerably. On your point
about not letting lessons be lost through continuity of postings,
we are trying in my directorate to see if we can somehow link
postings so that someone would do a rotation in Afghanistan, come
back to London and work on the issue and conceivably even share
a posting in Afghanistan. We are very keen to rely not just on
young people who have no family attachments. We want to try to
get more experienced diplomats there. More experienced diplomats
tend to have families, so we need to try to get that balance right
as well, but it is something that we look at.
Q174 Mr Watts: Foreign
Secretary, can I take you back to the 2014-15 deadline by which
time you say that, without question, we will withdraw combat troops?
We went into Afghanistan because it was a failed state and we
thought that the terror attacks would come to our own country
if we did not take action. What will happen in a situation where
that happens again? Do you or the coalition rule out putting troops
on the ground if the situation becomes as bad as it was previously?
Mr Hague: We are clearly aiming
here to create a completely different situation in Afghanistan
from anything that prevailed in the recent past. I gave figures
earlier for the anticipated strength of the Afghan national security
forces just by 2011, let alone by 2014. I have indicated how they
are already beginning to be able to conduct the majority of the
operations, such as those that Karen was talking about earlier.
So our objectiveit is the internationally agreed objectiveis
to create by 2014 a situation where Afghan forces can lead and
sustain their own operations throughout Afghanistan. It is consistent
with that, therefore, for us to say what we have said about 2015
and to believe that if we achieve those objectives with regard
to the Afghan national security forces, we won't be placed again
in the situation of 9/11.
Q175 Mr Watts: But
the 2014-15 deadline is set regardless of the situation that you
find and whether or not the Afghan army and the police are ready
and able to take over. So it is possibleI do not say that
it is likelythat the situation will deteriorate. At that
point, would you rule out coalition troops being used again?
Mr Hague: This is a clear deadline. No
one should be in any doubt about this whatsoever. Let everyone's
minds concentrate on thisthe Afghan Government, among our
allies, as necessary. It is absolutely clear what we said about
2015. If the Prime Minister were here, he would put it in equally
Q176 Mr Watts: But
how would you stop terrorist attacks coming to the UK, if we had
a failed state again?
Mr Hague: I can't anticipate what
the situation will be in 2025 or 2035. We are trying to create
the conditions in which we don't have a failed state, and in which
a state with one of the largest armies in the world is able to
conduct its own affairs at least to the extent of not being a
danger to the rest of the world, in line with the realistic national
security objective that I set out earlier. I think that is a realistic
Q177 Mr Baron: May
I return to the issue of hearts and minds and the situation with
civilian casualties? The reports that we have as a Committee are
that civilian casualties are going up. This in many ways makes
it easy for the Taliban to depict us, ISAF, as the occupying force
and Kabul as a puppet Government and so on. History would suggest
that, in those countries and regimes that have militarily engaged
with the West in the past, the old system has survived. Communism
has survivedone thinks of Cuba, North Vietnam, North Korea
and perhaps even China. It fosters a feeling of mistrust, which
plays into the Taliban's hands. Is there anything we can do to
break into this vicious circle?
Mr Hague: So much of what our
military effort is directed at doing, working with the provincial
reconstruction teams, is to break into this circle. As you know,
the military strategy adopted at the highest level was redefined
to be counter-insurgency involving the protection of the local
population. ISAF forces go to great lengths to protect local populations,
and they often take losses to do so. The majority of civilian
casualties are caused by the other side, by the IEDs of the Taliban
and others. I think it is very important to remember that. We
are the forces safeguarding the civilian population, wherever
possible. Karen may have the figures, but I think it is about
70% of civilian casualties that are caused by Taliban activity
Karen Pierce: That's right70%
of casualties under UN figures are caused by the Taliban. The
figure has gone up this yearlargely due to an increase
in Taliban attacksand the ISAF and ANSF civilian casualty
figures have been falling. I think it is helpful to point out
that any casualty caused by ISAF or ANSF is accidental. It is
regrettable and we have said so in the Security Council. As the
Foreign Secretary said, we take all steps possible to minimise
the risk that there will be accidental casualties. The Taliban,
by contrast, actually go out and target civilians.
Chair: Foreign Secretary, we have spent
the past 55 minutes looking at Afghanistan. For the last 10 minutes,
before we go into private session, may we look at Pakistan?
Q178 Mike Gapes: We
asked you in September about your reaction to the Prime Minister's
statement in India. He referred to Pakistan looking both ways
and alleged that it was exporting terror to India, Afghanistan
and elsewhere in the world. It was certainly interpreted that
way by the Pakistanis. Was he wise to make that remark in India?
Mr Hague: Yes. A good Foreign
Secretary will affirm that a Prime Minister is always wise to
make these remarks. I think they were widely supported and respected
around the world. It was said at the time by some commentators
that that had damaged relations with Pakistan, but I have to say
that, in recent months, relations between the UK and Pakistan
have been excellent, and the co-operation between our two Governments
had been excellent. If there was disquiet in the Pakistani Government
about that, it has been more than overcome by the work that we
have been doing since then.
Q179 Mike Gapes: We
have received evidence from a number of sources saying that Pakistan
doesn't fully co-operate with the UK on counter-terrorism issues.
What's your reaction to that?
Mr Hague: There is a huge amount
of co-operation on counter-terrorism issues on a very regular,
and very much on an operational, basis. I can't go into the details
of that in public, but I would certainly say that the co-operation
on counter-terrorism with Pakistan has substantially improved
in recent times.
Q180 Mike Gapes: Would
you say, however, that it is not yet as unconditional and full
as it might be?
Mr Hague: Those things can be
quite difficult to assess. It is often hard to be sure whether
a country is giving all the information and co-operation that
it could give, but nevertheless I stress again that we have no
current reason for complaint about that, and that co-operation
Q181 Mike Gapes: It
was put to us in Pakistan that the Pakistanis would like some
sophisticated equipment so that they would be able to do the job
themselves much more effectively. Do we have concerns about giving
certain equipment to Pakistan, because we are not quite sure where
it might end up?
Chair: As it was said in public, President
Zardari was saying that he would like to have access to the drone
Mr Hague: The sale of technology
from this country is very carefully controlled. We will look at
all requests from a friendly country, but I am sure you understand
how carefully we control those things.
Q182 Chair: The point
was made to us, "Look, you are asking us to do a job out
here on the North West Frontier, but you are not giving us the
technology we need". Is there a case for doing more to help
them on the military front?
Mr Hague: We will always be careful
in selling advanced technology to many nations around the world
and, of course, we will have to be careful in this case.
Karen Pierce: We are governed
by the EU export regime and some of the other regimes, as the
Foreign Secretary was saying. President Zardari has been very
worried, for a while, about the degradation of equipment among
the Pakistani armed forces. Some of that relates to very sophisticated
technology; some of it is a bit more basic. The Ministry of Defence
is undertaking a review on what help it can give to Pakistan across
the board, covering a number of areas, not just provision of equipment.
Q183 Mike Gapes: The
Pakistani state, or some of its agencies, were involved in setting
up the Taliban that came to power in Afghanistan. They did so
at that time with western support, because they were used against
the Soviet Union. How confident are we now that elements within
the Pakistani state, in particular the Inter-Services Intelligence,
are willing and able to tackle those insurgents, given their close
historical links with them?
Mr Hague: We have seen a sharply
increased willingness in Pakistan to tackle insurgency in many
different forms. You are familiar, of course, with many of the
military campaigns that it has undertaken and, indeed, the huge
losses the Pakistani military have sustained. It is always very
important to recognise that. The Government of Pakistan, including
its intelligence services, can now see very clearly, after some
of the terrible terrorist incidents that they have themselves
experienced, the importance of tackling insurgency and instability.
Q184 Mike Gapes: But
that relates to their combat, and they have lost lots of people
against the Pakistani Taliban. The question is, are they prepared
to act against the Afghan Taliban, which might be a kind of proxy,
or an organisation, over which they could still have some influence
in the future?
Mr Hague: Again, I would say that
the co-operation between our countries has improved in this area.
But I stress that, in a political settlement in Afghanistan, which
we discussed earlier, the active support of Pakistan for that,
because of links that were established over a long time, will
be very important.
Q185 Mr Ainsworth:
Is it a case of willingness or capability to take on the Afghan
Taliban? The Pakistani military have been pretty heavily involved
in Swat valley. South Waziristan is still not terribly successful.
North Waziristan is still a problem, and we have still got Baluchistan,
which is the main base of the Afghan Taliban. Do you think there
is a willingness and it is a lack of capacity, or do you think
that it is a bit of both?
Mr Hague: The military capacity
to deal decisively with every threat in that kind of terrain is,
of course, quite difficult to come by. That always has to be understood.
This is one of the most difficult areas in the world. As you know
very well as a former Defence Secretary, Mr Ainsworth, this is
one of the most difficult areas in the world to control by military
means. Nevertheless, as I said to Mr Gapes, we have seen a greatly
increased willingness on the part of Pakistan to confront insurgencies
on its own territory and to take action against terrorist groups.
I would like to emphasise that today, rather than be criticalwe
have seen very important steps forward in tackling terrorism by
the Government of Pakistan, and of course we want those to continue.
Q186 Mr Watts: Foreign
Secretary, we have heard from Pakistan that it has taken a lot
of criticism about not taking on the Taliban, but it points to
how many people it has lost in action that it has taken against
the insurgency. It complains about the borders and the lack of
border control. It highlights how many border control people it
has on the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan, and it highlights
the difference between our forces and its own. Is there anything
we can do to make the border more secure than it is now, by putting
more emphasis on the need to keep a tighter boundary?
Mr Hague: There may be over time.
There have been discussions about this between Afghanistan and
Pakistan, which we very much encourage. Again, following up a
point I made to Mr Ainsworth, this is one of the most difficult
borders in the world to police. In some cases, there would no
doubt be arguments about where exactly the border was. Certainly,
there have been international initiatives to improve co-operation
on the borders, and we encourage those. Karen, do you want to
add to that?
Karen Pierce: Just to amplify
that point, there is a G8 initiative, which was started by the
Canadians, to improve co-operation on the border between Afghanistan
and Pakistan with international monitoring and help. We are hoping
the French will continue that under their G8 presidency. There
is also something called the Dubai process, which looks at the
same issue on a slightly larger basis. We hope those things will
Q187 Chair: While
we were in Islamabad, the Pakistanis made it pretty clear that
they wanted to be involved in any settlement. Do you think we
can trust them to be an honest broker?
Mr Hague: I hope all nations in
the region, including Pakistan, will be able to play a supportive
role in a political settlement in Afghanistan, but we should be
careful about defining who is a broker in bringing about such
a settlement. This has to be an Afghan-led process of reconciliation.
Q188 Chair: Would
you like to comment on US-Pakistan relations? They seem to be
rather at loggerheads. While we were there, we picked up hostility
to the United States, despite the fact that a substantial amount
of aid is given by the United States to Pakistan. I believe we
have a role here. Do you agree that we could be encouraging Pakistan
and the United States to communicate better with each other, so
that they can work jointly towards a settlement?
Mr Hague: Yes. I think that the
Governments of Pakistan and the United States communicate effectively
with each other. It is very important for the United States and
the United Kingdom to explain to the people of Pakistan what we
are doing. I strongly welcome the visits by fellow parliamentarians
to Pakistan. As was set out in the memorandum sent to the Committee,
we have had a large number of ministerial visits to Pakistan under
the new Government. On many of those visits, we have gone out
of our way to spend our time on the media in Pakistan. I did an
exceptional number of interviews on my visit to explain to the
people of Pakistan about the role of the UK and the extent of
the assistance that we are giving with education. Since then,
Britain has been one of the countries that have led the way in
responding to the disastrous floods in Pakistan. The UK, the US
and our allies have to continue to communicate that as effectively
as possible and, alongside a close relationship with India, to
build a long-term strategic partnership with Pakistan. Those things
go indispensably together.
Chair: President Zardari has said that,
when he is next in the UK, he wants to come to address this Committee,
and we will be doing our best to facilitate that.
Foreign Secretary, you have indicated that you
are happy to sit in private. Could I ask the public if they will
vacate the Gallery? Thank you very much.
the Committee should sit in private. The witnesses gave oral evidence.
Asterisks denote that part of the oral evidence which has not
been reported at the request of the witnesses and with the agreement
of the Committee.
Q189 Chair: Foreign
Secretary, although this is in private a record is still kept.
We then enter into discussions as to what is public. You are
entitled to ask for redactions, and I assure you that we will
not be difficult over them.
Mr Hague: I can proceed on the
basis that all of this is confidential.
Q190 Chair: All of
this is in private, but a record is taken. Eventually a transcript
will be published of that content of the session that you are
happy to be made public. You are entitled to ask for redactions
on anything that you said and, as I have said, we will not be
difficult over those redactions.
Mr Hague: Okay. Well, on that
basis I can't be quite as forthcoming as I would be if it was
Q191 Chair: You can
speak frankly, knowing that anything you do not want to go into
the public domain will not go in the public domain.
Mr Hague: Okay. What would you
like to cover?
Q192 Chair: We were
on the runway in Kabul when we got a message from Karen Pierce
that you would like a private session. You have indicated that
you perhaps had further things you could say about reconciliation
and possibly 2015.
Mr Hague: Yes.
Q193 Chair: We have
no fixed questions, although I know that one or two colleagues
have already told me about questions that they want to ask.
Mr Hague: ***
Karen Pierce: Thank you, Foreign
Secretary. It was an offer, Mr Chairman, not an insistence. I
hope it didn't hold you up on the runway in Kabul.
Chair: Not at all. We were delighted
to get the offer.
Karen Pierce: ***
Q194 Chair: Sir Sherard
Cowper-Coles sat here a week ago saying that he thought that nothing
would happen unless there was political reconciliation and that
military strategy on its own could not succeed.
Mr Hague: I think that is right.
Actually, I think that was the public perception of the outgoing
Government and it is the public perception of this Government.
None of us think that there is a purely military solution to this.
However, you cannot bring about a political settlement by wishing
it. You have to create the conditions for it, and that includes
continuing to intensify the military campaign, but also being
clear that we are open to a political settlement ***
Q195 Mr Roy: ***
Karen Pierce: ***
Q196 Mr Roy: ***
Karen Pierce: ***
Mr Hague: ***
Q197 Chair: We got
the impression from you earlier that the sheer existence of the
military pressure would drive them to negotiate.
Mr Hague: That is my view. There
is a legitimate alternative view, which I think is what John Baron
was asking about earlier, that they will not negotiate if they
are under such relentless attack. I tend to the view that it does
require the continuing relentless attack to give them the incentive
to come to the negotiating table.
Q198 Mr Baron: If
I can be devil's advocate, unless we really ramp up troop density
levels, my instinct is we are not going to beat the Taliban militarily.
But we can debate that. That is not important. Surely the key
issue is that there is going to have to be a negotiated settlement.
I think we can all buy that. The question is, how do we get there
and who does it involve? At the end of the day, hasn't it got
to involve the Taliban as the main military forceour opposition
military forceand the US, the major player in the area?
What has hindered progress in the past is that
the US, at least very publicly, has been reluctant to talk to
the Taliban. We can have a debate about whether decapitation will
work. My instinct is that I don't think it is going to work. Somebodyor
one of the military commanders on the groundonce said that
if we kill all the Gerry Adamses on the ground, who have you got
left to negotiate with? Putting that to one side, have we not
got to persuade the US to open negotiations with the Taliban,
and what conditions do you think the US would accept for those
Mr Hague: ***
Q199 Mr Baron: Can
I advocate, Foreign Secretary, that perhaps we need to be more
forceful? When we were in Northern Ireland, we were negotiating
with the provisionals when we were intensifying our military campaign
against them. I was there, like a number of other colleagues were,
and we knew that that was happening at the time. The Americans,
perhaps, have a too simplistic view, that you can take the Taliban
on militarily, but you cannot negotiate with them at the same
time. At the end of the day, however, it is going to have to involve
some sort of negotiated settlement. Should we be more forceful?
May I make a plea for something else? I am going
to disagree with a Committee member here. Sometimes, there is
muddled thinking. We did not go into Afghanistan to sort out women's
rights. Our objective was very clear, and I sometimes worry that
mission creep has also been another factor in the muddled thinking.
To my knowledge, our mission was not to go in there and sort out
women's rights. I suggest that that illustrates a tendency to
muddle our thinking as to why we are there. Whatever the answer
to that question, we have got to, and the US has got to, accept
that we have to negotiate with the Taliban. The sooner that we
accept that, the closer that we can come to some sort of negotiated
settlement. Do you agree with that?
Mr Hague: ***
Karen Pierce: ***
Q200 Rory Stewart:
The place that the United States is in seems to make it at least
possible that if it does not get where it wants by 2014, it will
keep pushing ahead with combat operations. That is at least a
strong possibility. At that point, we want to be out of the gamewe
want to be back in our bases, we want to be training and we want
to be doing special forces operations. Our conversations with
generals in Afghanistan, including British generals, imply that
they are very uncomfortable with that. Some of them said privately
that they were hoping that they can fudge it, that they would
stick with the Americans and that it is all conditions based.
We are with youwe are going to pin them down and we have
to get out in 2015. How are we going to ensure that we really
pin down the British military? How are we going to make sure that
they are actually showing us what their deployment is going to
be for 2013-14, so that we do not have a repeat of what we have
seen for the last three to four years?
Mr Hague: We are the elected Government,
and I think that the National Security Council works very well
with the Government asserting their authority over such things.
It is not for me to comment on what happened under any previous
Government, because I am not privy to their internal workings,
but there are members of the Committee who were. We are a sovereign
nation, and the Prime Minister feels very strongly about what
he has said on 2015, which I support. ***
Karen Pierce: I think that this
is where transition comes in. The NATO plan, which will be endorsed
at the summit later this week, is to hand over provinces to Afghan
lead control and security, and have that done throughout Afghanistan
by 2014. ***
Q201 Mr Ainsworth:
Rory has hit on a big problemungoverned space. We have
only just got to the situation where we have the number of troops
available to us that we have now. We got there in the spring,
in about April, which is when we became fully deployed with the
additional Americans and the additional people that we deployed.
We have other people pulling back, too. If you ask anyone in Afghanistan
below a certain rank what the problem is on the military side,
they will tell you that, with the current troop density, they
simply cannot provide security to the people with the number of
troops that they have got. Troop density, therefore, is a big
problem. That set of undeniable facts comes from the people who
are doing one of the hardest yards in one of the hardest operations
that we've had in modern times. You have got to get from where
you are now to where you need to be, and not fall off a cliff
edge some time in 2015, but be on a glide path between now and
then while other allies are reluctant to bring in additional troops
and some of them are coming out. Indeed, the American Government
may well start running down from next year. How are you going
to manage that? That's going to be enormously difficult to do.
Mr Hague: ***
Q202 Mr Ainsworth:
You will leave it until 2013?
Mr Hague: That depends on what
is happening. We will look next at how the forces should be deployed
over 2011-12. Remember that the distance from now to the time
by which we said we will cease combat operations is longer than
the whole First World War, and nearly as long as the Second World
War. It would have been quite hard in 1940 to say what you would
be doing in 1944. Bear in mind that that is quite a long time.
Q203 Mr Ainsworth:
I know what your public line is going to be, but the only backfill
that you've got is the Afghan forces. The Committee has seen them,
and I have seen them, over a protracted length of time. They are
going to struggle, really struggle, particularly in the south.
You cannot get them to deploy to the south. I have heard, and
you will know this by now, that they hop off the bus when they
realise where they are being sent.
Mr Hague: And yet you have to
visualise what they could do four years from now, when they should
have very different numbers, very different levels of experience,
and, in many cases, much improved equipment. If we can't get the
Afghan forces into such a shape, when will we ever do so? We do
feel it is right to set this deadline. There are downsides, some
of which have been drawn out in this Committee, but there are
upsides as well. If we are succeeding in all the ways that we
have discussed today, it will be more than appropriate to have
ceased that combat role in 2015. If we are not succeeding in any
of these ways, we will have been at this for nine years by 2015.
We feel that either way, this is the right decision to take.
Q204 Mr Watts: We
are possibly in a situation where, as we pull troops out from
combat, the situation gets worse, not better. That is one scenarioit
is not the one that you want to see, but it is possible. We can
either continue to pull out, or we can maintain the levels, and
then come 2014-15, we are faced with pulling out the bulk of the
troops and leaving the situation worse. Let me give you a scenario:
if that were to happen and the new Afghan Government took the
decision that they couldn't possibly police the whole of Afghanistan
and that the deal with the Taliban was, "You can have this
part of the south and we'll stay where we are in the north,"
and they carved up the territory in that way. That is another
possible scenario. What would the British Government's view be
Mr Hague: I don't think that would
be a very desirable outcome, to have that situation, because it
would be unlikely to be stable. It is not a country where you
can say, "You just sit there; you stay there, and we're going
to be over here and we're not going to hurt each other."
Past history suggests that dramatic things happen after that,
and that you don't get a permanently peaceful solution out of
that. That is not what we're looking for. We're looking for a
political settlement with a more constitutional basis than carving
up the country with the Taliban.
Q205 Mr Watts: What
would you do if that were the scenario?
Mr Hague: ***
Q206 Mr Watts: To
pursue that, Foreign Secretary: the reason I asked that question
the way I did is due to the lack of trained troops and police
that we have in Afghanistan after nine years, because we hadn't
got the strategy right. We are determined, as far as I can tell,
for the Afghan police and army to police the situation after we've
pulled out of combat. Why are we not thinking about the likely
scenarios, which include the one I have just set out, and have
some clear idea of what we would do under those circumstances?
Mr Hague: We are aiming, with
the huge build-up that we have described of the security forces,
to have a political settlement. To anticipate all the scenarios
in 2014-15 is very difficult to do and is a distraction from actually
achieving these objectives. It wouldn't change, in any case, either
what we have said about 2015, or the importance you drew attention
to in your earlier questions of building up the training effort
and continuing that. That remains an area that requires effort,
as you have seen on your visit. It has had a lot of additional
effort, but it needs still more. If all those scenarios would
not change, what we have said about 2015, for reasons I indicated
a moment ago, we had better get on with succeeding with plan A,
rather than scenarios B to X.
Chair: We said we would let you go at
quarter to four. I still have two colleagues who have questions.
Mr Hague: Let's try to be very
quick. I have various things I have to do at four o'clock. A few
Q207 Ann Clwyd: What
will happen to the interpreters this time round? I wouldn't like
to see the situation repeated.
Mr Hague: You mean the situation
that arose in Iraq. That depends on the political settlement,
doesn't it? If we have a country that has reasonable security,
proper protection of people's rights, and an atmosphere of co-operation
and partnership with regional neighbours and with the western
world, we won't be leaving interpreters in the lurch. ***
Q208 Mr Roy: Some
of us went to Herat on the western border with Iran, and there
was obviously a big Iranian influence in the culture of that area.
What is your thinking in relation to the relationship between
Iran and Afghanistan, and what part does that play in the future
Mr Hague: It is a vast subject.
It is important that the process of political settlement in Afghanistan
is one that the whole region is comfortable with. That just demonstrates
the complexity of this. Pakistan is a key player for the reasons
that you all outlined earlier. Iran is a not-insignificant player.
It is in its interest to have a more stable situation in Afghanistan
in the long-term. One of the few things that I was able to discuss
constructively with the Iranian Foreign Minister in New York a
few weeks ago, given our strong disagreements on nuclear matters
and human rights, was that the narcotics trade from Afghanistan
has a very serious impact on Iran. There are reasons for Iran
to want a stable Government in Afghanistan. ***
I'm glad you went to Herat; I went there in
July. Clearly there are parts of that province that would be at
the early end of a transition in Afghanistan, because if you visited
the factories, the airport or the university that I visited, you
get a very different impression of Afghanistan from travelling
around in Helmand, which is what we normally do through visiting
Karen Pierce: ***
Mr Hague: Yes.
Chair: Foreign Secretary, Karen Pierce,
there aren't many corners that we haven't delved into during the
last two hours. Thank you for your honest and frank answers.
Mr Hague: Thank you.
Karen Pierce: Thank you.