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

3  The extent of Pakistan's support for the counter-insurgency campaign in Afghanistan


39. Bordering the Afghan border to its south and east, Pakistan is considered by the British Government to be crucial to success in Afghanistan. Due to its latent conflict with India, for most of its history Pakistan has sought to assert control in Afghanistan through a policy known as 'strategic depth', by fostering friendly regimes in Kabul and supporting and providing sanctuary to insurgencies, including the Afghan Taliban, in a bid to prevent Afghanistan falling under Indian influence.[67]

40. Although India and Pakistan used to meet regularly though the Composite Dialogue, which provided for formal political dialogue on a range of issues including regional security, talks were suspended following the 2008 terrorist attacks on Mumbai. Bilateral political meetings to build confidence have since taken place, apparently with the assent of the Pakistani military, but there has been little substantive change in the overall position, and the belief within large sections of the Pakistani military that India continues to represent an existential threat to Pakistan continues to dominate Pakistani thinking on military, foreign and Afghan policy. They are particularly anxious about what is perceived as a strong Indian presence in Afghanistan and future Kabul-New Delhi alliance. This has been reinforced by concerns about the disputed 'Durand Line'[68] that divides not just Afghanistan and Pakistan but a sizeable Pashtun population on both sides of the border.

41. Prior to 2001, overt Pakistani support in the form of diplomatic recognition to the former Taliban government was combined with more clandestine backing for proxy terrorist groups in Afghanistan, in many instances created and shored up by the ISI, Pakistan's powerful Inter-Services Intelligence agency, which continues to drive foreign policy, in spite of the existence of a civilian government.

42. Today, Pakistan's border areas with Afghanistan provide ungoverned space from which al-Qaeda and other militant and organised crime groups operate. Governance and security are weak, particularly in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). The populations of the border areas are among the poorest in Pakistan, with the lowest literacy rates and limited access to public services. This allows allow space for radicalisation, and the Taliban has used violence, intimidation and terror to gain control over civilian populations in areas of northwest Pakistan.

A sanctuary for Afghan insurgents

43. In December 2010, Admiral Mike Mullen, the Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff reiterated ISAF's longstanding position in respect of Pakistan, namely that ISAF could not succeed in Afghanistan without first shutting down safe havens in Pakistan.[69] Our witnesses were agreed that the ability of insurgents to seek support and sanctuary in Pakistan imposes limits on the extent to which ISAF's current counter-insurgency strategy in Afghanistan can ever be successful, or to which insurgents can be persuaded to embrace a political settlement.

44. There is no doubt that the Afghan Taliban continue to receive support and sanctuary from within Pakistan, as Dr Gohel explained: "Taliban factions, such as the Quetta Shura, led by Mullah Omar, and the Haqqani Network continue to operate unhindered from safe havens within Pakistani territory and use these sanctuaries as a launch pad for cross-border attacks on US, British, Afghan and ISAF troops in Afghanistan".[70] As the Government's written evidence makes clear, "Pakistan's commitment to tackling this threat is important both for regional stability and the security of the UK, in denying operational space to both domestic and international terrorists".[71]

45. In contrast to the longstanding US and ISAF position outlined above by Admiral Mike Mullen, in January 2011, Lieutenant General David Rodriguez, Deputy Commander, US Forces-Afghanistan, argued that the US could succeed in Afghanistan even if Pakistan refused to shut down the border with Afghanistan: "This is not a mission-stopper in my mind".[72] However, several witnesses stated that the Afghan Taliban will not be defeated militarily without Pakistan's help,[73] while Dr Gohel argued that ISAF's military strategy "will always remain hampered and flawed as long as the porous and badly manned border, the Durand Line, into Pakistan remains open".[74] On any given day, significant numbers of people are said to cross Pakistan's formal boundary with Afghanistan, the so-called 'Durand Line' which runs for much of its length through mountainous and often highly inhospitable areas. Pakistan's ability to stem the flow of insurgents across its border is very limited. Policing and securing such terrain would require resources that most countries would struggle to provide, and would require a far closer working relationship with the Afghan authorities than exists at present. Although regular discussions now take place between Pakistan and Afghanistan and there is said to be increased technical co-operation between the two countries' armed forces, police and border management officials, it remains to be seen whether this can be translated into practical co-operation on the ground.[75] For its part, the UK is supporting the development of border co-operation centres designed to promote co-ordinated operational planning between ISAF and the Afghan and Pakistani security forces.[76]

A selective Pakistani approach to the insurgency?

46. Although witnesses expressed disquiet about the lack of cross-border co-operation, they were more concerned about Pakistan's approach to tackling the Afghan insurgency within its own borders. The FCO states that Pakistan is "increasingly recognising that it has suffered, particularly in the border areas, from instability in Afghanistan" and that this has prompted Islamabad to increase military and security co-operation with Kabul.[77] The UK's official position, as put to us by the Foreign Secretary, is that "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 […] rather than be critical".[78]

47. Witnesses and a number of interlocutors disagreed with the Government's official position. Dr Gohel stated that "the rhetoric by the Pakistani military has not been translated into any substantive action with only half-hearted measures against the various Taliban factions headquartered in the country".[79] Pakistan has conducted an intensive counter-insurgency campaign within its borders over the last two years, sustaining considerable casualties in the process. However, its military offensives have not targeted the Afghan Taliban or its former proxies in Afghanistan including the Jallaludin Haqqani and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar militants, or Kashmiri separatist groups such as the Lashkar-e-Tayyiba, which have been responsible for attacks on Western targets and the terrorist strikes on Mumbai in 2008. Looking ahead, Sir Hilary Synnott told us that Pakistan was unlikely to change its strategy in respect of the Afghan Taliban".[80] Dr Gohel concurred:

    The [Pakistani] 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. […] They are not going to give up something that they invested so much time in just because the West is getting angry.[81]

48. Official Pakistani statements reject claims that Pakistan is not willing to tackle the Afghan Taliban, and the Pakistani military argues that action is simply prioritised according to threat and its limited counter-insurgency capabilities, which it states have hindered its ability to tackle certain groups, particularly in the more inaccessible border areas in the north west of the country. Indeed, President Zardari reiterated this point to us in October, when he called for the UK to support the provision of military hardware that he said would allow Pakistan to target groups of concern to the West. Certainly, Pakistan's military, although the sixth largest in the world, has not until recently been configured for counter-insurgency. It has instead been designed for conventional warfare and a perceived existential threat from India.[82]

49. However, it is worth noting that since 2001, Pakistan has received in excess of $12 billion of overt military-related aid from the US alone. In addition, in October 2010, to mark the end of the US-Pakistan Strategic Dialogue process, the Obama administration announced a $2 billion military aid package for Islamabad. As Sir Hilary Synnott explained to us, the US decision to open its arms markets to Pakistan "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". Sir Hilary added that while "Britain has not fallen into that trap",[83] it has nevertheless provided significant financial and other assistance to help Pakistan improve its counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism capabilities. Indeed, as part of its wider programme of defence engagement, the UK has provided assistance to build the capacity of the Pakistani Army to conduct effective operations in Pakistan's north-western border areas.[84]

50. Consequently, witnesses were largely of the view that the failure to tackle the Afghan Taliban in Pakistan was less to do with capabilities and more to do with will, or lack of it. The Henry Jackson Society's written evidence states: "The reluctance of the Pakistani authorities to collaborate in disrupting the activities of the Afghan Taliban operating from within their country has been enormously damaging to the counter-insurgency effort in Afghanistan".[85]

51. As noted above, in spite of the return of a civilian government in 2008, the military and one branch of its intelligence agencies, Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI),[86] retain a pivotal role in Pakistan's defence, foreign, nuclear and internal security policy and drive Pakistan's current policy towards Afghanistan. In August 2009, our predecessor Committee expressed concerns that there was a lack of uniform and widespread support within the military and ISI for the need to tackle the Afghan insurgency from within Pakistan. A number of subsequent reports, including that authored by Matt Waldman for the London School of Economics, have highlighted concerns about the Pakistani military's approach to, and control over, the Afghan Taliban. Mr Waldman concluded that "Pakistan appears to be playing a double game of astonishing magnitude" in Afghanistan.[87] Despite repeated statements by some officials in the Obama administration in Washington that Pakistan is working hard to crack down on militants, a private White House review used unusually strong language to suggest the Pakistani military is not doing nearly enough to confront the Taliban and al-Qaeda, according to a leaked report to Congress. The report notes that from March to June 2010, the Pakistani military "continued to avoid military engagements that would put it in direct conflict with Afghan Taliban or [al-Qaeda] forces in North Waziristan. This is as much a political choice as it is a reflection of an under-resourced military prioritizing its targets".[88] The December 2010 White House review of progress in Afghanistan also concluded that consolidating gains in Afghanistan "require[s] that we make more progress with Pakistan to eliminate sanctuaries for violence, extremist networks".[89]

52. Professor Shaun Gregory told us: "with respect to the Afghan Taliban our interests and our objectives in Afghanistan are at odds with Pakistan's and co-operation has been meagre. At best Pakistan has not significantly retarded the Afghan Taliban's return to dominance in the Afghan Pashtun belt from safe havens in Pakistan; at worst—and more plausibly in my view—it has aided that process".[90]

53. Speaking last August in Bangalore, the Prime Minister said, "we want to see a strong and a stable and a democratic Pakistan […] But we cannot tolerate in any sense the idea that this country is allowed to look both ways and is able in any way to promote the export of terror, whether to India or whether to Afghanistan, or anywhere else in the world".[91] The FCO's written evidence stated:

    In our engagement with Pakistan we consistently maintain that the presence of militant and terrorist groups poses a grave threat to the Pakistani state as well as to the stability and security of the region and beyond. […] The most serious international terrorist threat to the UK continues to come from al-Qaeda core and associated militants, located in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan.[92]

54. We conclude that it was inappropriate and unhelpful for the Prime Minister to have made negative remarks about Pakistan's record on counter-terrorism in India. Nonetheless, we further conclude that the substance of his concerns remain pertinent.

The West's lack of political leverage

55. Previously, under the Bush administration, US effort was largely focused on targeting al-Qaeda operatives and networks in Pakistan. To this end, between 2001 and 2007, the US gave more than $10 billion in traceable aid to the Musharraf regime, the vast majority of which went directly to the military.[93] In his book 'Descent into Chaos', Ahmed Rashid reflects the views of many commentators who believe that the US's strategy of offering aid with few, if any, conditions attached, produced few strategic returns.

56. The change of emphasis under the Obama administration towards seeing Pakistan as both part of the problem in relation to Afghanistan, and potentially part of the solution has, in the view of witnesses, been only partially successful at best. Under the new strategy, both countries are treated as a single 'theatre' (dubbed 'AfPak', a term and concept which infuriates many Pakistanis). There are regular trilateral US-Pakistan-Afghanistan talks and an ongoing "strategic dialogue". In addition to diplomatic initiatives, the US has committed to providing the Pakistani security forces with operational and development support to improve their ability to mount successful counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency operations. Non-military aid to Pakistan also tripled to $7.5 billion over five years, but was conditional upon Pakistan demonstrating its commitment to uprooting al Qaeda and other violent extremists.

57. Although Pakistan has come under sustained pressure from the US to turn against the Taliban since 2001, receiving significant rewards in the process for doing so, the underlying fundamentals of Pakistani security policy have not changed and the Pakistani state's ongoing preoccupation with India and Kashmir and its belief that India represents an existential threat, continue to underpin and drive Pakistan's foreign and security policy and its policy towards Afghanistan.[94]

58. Professor Shaun Gregory's written evidence concluded that "over the past nine years—despite billions of dollars of military and civilian aid and much diplomatic attention—the US, UK and NATO have been unable to pressure Pakistan into serious downward pressure on the Afghan Taliban, something General Petraeus has said would be critical to NATO success in Afghanistan".[95] He attributes the West's inability to "force Pakistan to act in our interests" to "the counter-leverage they hold over us", namely that up to 80% of NATO's main logistics lines flow through Pakistan, that ISAF relies on Pakistan for base infrastructure and over-flights to prosecute the war in Afghanistan, that the West relies on Pakistan for intelligence particularly on al-Qaeda, and that the West relies on Pakistan's Army and ISI to "keep Pakistan's estimated 60-100 nuclear weapons out of terrorist hands". Professor Gregory concludes:

    In other words we are too dependent on Pakistan in too many grave security areas to seriously question their Army/ISI. We know Pakistan are—from our point of view—duplicitous with respect to the Afghan Taliban, but there is little or nothing we can do about that and we should not expect Pakistan to work against what it perceives to be its own interests.[96]

59. Our other witnesses were also of the view that the UK, and even the US, with its ability to offer considerably more aid, have little leverage over the Pakistanis. The only way this could change, Sir Hillary Synnott told us, 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 [2009] about the start of the withdrawal [in July 2011]. As long as they have that conviction, they have got us over a barrel".[97]

60. We received evidence that the UK should make its support for Pakistan more effective and heard accusations that "in the past, there has been a failure of connecting aid, loans, and grants to specific policy goals". Dr Gohel argued that the UK should be "linking economic and military aid to performance on those areas we judge to be most important. In addition, the aid process must be far more transparent".[98]

61. We conclude that the continuing existence of Pakistani safe havens for Afghan insurgents makes it extremely difficult, if not impossible, for ISAF's counter-insurgency campaign to succeed. It is of considerable concern that the UK is in a situation where, along with its key ally the US, it is reliant upon, but appears to have little influence over, Pakistan, considering the capacity of that country substantially to affect the longer-term prospects for peace in Afghanistan.

Direct US action in Pakistan

62. Allegedly because actionable intelligence was sometimes being passed to terrorists and because the US lost faith and trust in the ISI to round up al-Qaeda affiliates and target those providing sanctuary to the Afghan Taliban, the US has in recent years used unmanned aerial vehicles, or 'drones', equipped with missiles to eliminate members of al-Qaeda.[99] More drone attacks are said to have been authorised under the presidency of Barack Obama than during the entire presidency of George W. Bush.[100]

63. While the drone attacks appear to have been successful in eliminating large numbers of senior members of al-Qaeda and the Taliban, and are perceived by the military to be necessary to improve security conditions in Afghanistan, they have been tremendously controversial among the majority of the Pakistani population. Professor Gregory's written evidence stated that "the US would like to expand its drone operations into northern Balochistan—and perhaps elsewhere in Pakistan—but this is likely to be resisted by the Pakistan Army/ISI and government".[101] During December a number of media reports emerged which suggested that US military officials were seeking to expand the "flight box" for drone attacks, but that this had been rebuffed by the US Department of State which was concerned about the potential backlash in Pakistan.[102] Following the White House's December review of the situation in Afghanistan, the New York Times reported that senior US military figures were pushing the Obama administration to expand cross-border commando raids against Taliban and al-Qaeda militants in Pakistan.[103] The US administration denied that there was any substance to this and other similar reports.

64. In spite of the US's attempt since 2009 to re-calibrate its policy towards Pakistan, considerable tensions remain, and relations are often fractious at best. Pakistan strongly resents being viewed by the US predominantly through the prism of the Afghan conflict and what it perceives to be the transactional relationship that the US has imposed, with little apparent regard for Pakistan's own strategic interests. The ability of insurgents in Pakistan to carry out attacks against Western interests is a major concern. We conclude that drone attacks are already a high risk strategy and we further conclude that the use of ground attacks, without the express consent of the Pakistani government could significantly undermine the Pakistani government's authority, provide militants with an excuse for targeting Western interests, and have the unintended consequence of significantly escalating tensions between Pakistan and the West. We strongly urge the Government to do all that it can to ensure that future US policy on Pakistan does not further undermine the stability of the Pakistani state.

67   HC 302, para 166. About two-thirds of Kashmir has remained with India since the 1947-1948 war and for many Pakistanis, this represents the unfinished business of Partition. Back

68   Named after Sir Mortimer Durand, Foreign Secretary of British India in 1893 when the boundary was drawn up. Back

69   The New York Times, 2 February 2011 Back

70   Ev 76, quoting Chris Alexander, "The huge scale of Pakistan's complicity", Globe & Mail, 30 July 2010. Back

71   Ev 32 Back

72   The New York Times, 2 February 2011 Back

73   Ev 48 [James Fergusson], Ev 50 [Matt Waldman] Back

74   Ev 81 Back

75   Ev 21 Back

76   Ev 31 Back

77   Ev 20 Back

78   Q 185 Back

79   Ev 61 Back

80   Q 82 Back

81   Q 82 Back

82   Foreign Affairs Committee, Global Security: Afghanistan and Pakistan, para 171 Back

83   Q 71 Back

84   Ev 31 Back

85   Ev w4 Back

86   A domestically focused 'Intelligence Bureau' (IB) also exits, as do a number of military intelligence organisations. Back

87   Matt Waldman, "The Sun In The Sky: The Relationship Between Pakistan's ISI And Afghan Insurgents", London School of Economics, Crisis States Research Centre, Discussion Paper 18, June 2010, p.22 Back

88   Ev 75 quoting Ed Henry, "White House report critical of Pakistan's activity against militants", CNN, 6 October 2010 Back

89   "President Obama's remarks on the strategy in Afghanistan", New York Times, 17 December 2010 Back

90   Ev 82 Back

91   Speech given by the Prime Minister in Bangalore, India, 28 July 2010 Back

92   Ev 31 Back

93   Craig Cohen and Derek Chollet, "When $10 Billion Is Not Enough: Rethinking US Strategy toward Pakistan", The Washington Quarterly, Spring 2007, 30:2 pp 7-19 Back

94   Foreign Affairs Committee, Global Security: Afghanistan and Pakistan, Ev 162  Back

95   Ev 83 Back

96   Ev 83 Back

97   Q 82 Back

98   Ev 81 Back

99   Ev 60 Back

100   The Guardian, 7 October 2010 Back

101   Ev 82  Back

102   Wall Street Journal, 22 December 2010 Back

103   New York Times, 21 December 2010 Back

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