5 Prospects for a political settlement?|
The international context
98. With a date for British combat withdrawal now
set firmly for 2015, the UK Government is keen to see the start,
as swiftly as possible, of an Afghan-led process of political
reconciliation that "seeks to address the concerns of the
insurgency and its support base",
provided that the eventual settlement "is representative;
gives no one group disproportionate influence; upholds human rights
and the rule of law and is in accordance with Afghanistan's Constitutional
However, like so many other
aspects of policy in Afghanistan, this is an area where the UK
is heavily reliant on the actions of others, not least the US,
to see its goals come to fruition.
99. In theory, the policy of political reconciliation
has the support of a range of key players. In his inaugural address
in November 2009, President Karzai offered his commitment to it,
saying that security and peace cannot be achieved through fighting
and violence. This was subsequently reinforced at the London Conference
in January 2010 when the Afghan government committed to take this
forward and to "offer an honourable place in society to those
willing to renounce violence, participate in free and open society
and respect the principles that are enshrined in the Afghan constitution,
cut ties with al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups, and pursue
their political goals peacefully".
Then in June 2010, some 1,600 Afghan participants at a Consultative
Peace Jirga held in Kabul endorsed plans to negotiate with elements
of the Taliban leadership.
100. Although a number of prominent Afghans disagreed
with the process and outcome of the Jirga, opinion polls and surveys
appear to show a level of support among Afghans for negotiating
with the Taliban. In a recent survey by the Asia Foundation, 83%
of respondents supported the Afghan government's attempts to negotiate,
compared to 71% in the previous year.
To this end, the international community has offered funding and
other resources to facilitate the process; at the London Conference
over £100 million was pledged from nations including Japan,
Germany, Australia, Spain and Greece. The UK pledged to contribute
£5 million in 2010-11.
101. Many witnesses indicated that the international
community's approach remains incoherent in several respects. Matt
Waldman stated: "Some military officials see reconciliation
as a tool of counter-insurgency to induce high-level insurgent
defections, and thus weaken and divide the enemy. Some see it
as a way of cutting deals with the Taliban in order to facilitate
foreign forces' departure. Others see it as a process to address
grievances between hostile groups, especially the government and
Taliban, in order to resolve the core conflict and achieve a more
inclusive political settlement".
Similarly, James Fergusson stated that "dialogue is blocked
by international incoherence and insurgent mistrust of the coalition,
which is compounded by the military surge".
Others pointed to the international community's focus on re-integration
at the expense, perhaps, of political reconciliation. While re-integration
aims to provide economic incentives and opportunities, including
vocational training and community projects in agriculture or reconstruction
to persuade insurgents to desist from violence, reconciliation
focuses more on negotiations about future political structures
and attempts to reach out to those more focused on, and motivated
by, political goals.
102. Crucially, according to our evidence, two key
players, the insurgents and the US government, appear to be less
than wholehearted in their support for moving forward swiftly
with reconciliation. Also of concern is the fact that Pakistan,
whose position will be crucial in the success or otherwise of
any negotiations, shows no intention of revealing its hand over
reconciliation to its Western allies. We consider these issues,
and what role the UK can play in this area, below.
The key players, their positions
103. For the purposes of propaganda, the Taliban
is keen for the insurgency to be regarded as a unified movement
under the banner of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, which
is ostensibly controlled by Mullah Mohammed Omar and the Rahbari
Shura (Supreme Council). In reality, the Afghan insurgency is
a mix of Islamist factions, power-hungry warlords, criminals and
tribal groupings all pursuing their own economic, political, criminal
and social agendas and interests, from local feuds to establishing
a pan-Islamic caliphate. Three major groups operate under the
banner of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan: Mullah Omar's Taliban,
the Haqqani Network and the Hizb-e-Islami faction led by Gulbuddin
Hekmatyar. While the latter two sometimes co-operate with the
Taliban leadership, they are considered autonomous factions.
Thus, whilst official Taliban statements maintain that there can
be no reconciliation talks with the Afghan government until foreign
troops leave Afghanistan, in reality the situation, involving
a range of groups with different motives and backers, is far more
complex and nuanced, and has previously spawned preliminary discussions
under the patronage of various interlocutors including Saudi Arabia
and the United Nations.
104. Having recently inflicted more casualties on
coalition troops and Afghan security forces than at any time since
late 2001 when it was ousted from power, and in many cases having
extended their grip on Afghans' daily lives, there are those within
the Taliban who argue that insurgents have little to gain from
accepting an offer of reconciliation.
We were told that although the movement was suffering, and many
commanders were being killed, the insurgents have taken succour
from the knowledge that the government is widely loathed and that
they have a plentiful supply of recruits and a sanctuary inside
including many coalition military sources, adopt a different perspective,
arguing that military pressure is causing a degree of battle fatigue
and forcing many insurgents to re-think their position and consider
reconciliation. Writing in Foreign Affairs in 2009, Fotini
Christia and Michael Semple observed:
The idea that large groups of armed men bent
on killing Americans and other Westerners can be persuaded to
change sides may seem fanciful at first. But it is notat
least not in Afghanistan. After continuing uninterrupted for more
than 30 years, war in Afghanistan has developed its own peculiar
rules, style, and logic. One of these rules is side with the winner.
] Afghanistan's recent history is replete with examples
of commanders choosing to flip rather than fight.
105. What remains unclear is which elements of the
insurgency might 'flip', and under what conditions. Michael Semple
told us that most of the Taliban leadership might be pragmatic
enough to consider entering peace talks if it was felt to be in
their interests and would have little hesitation, as part of a
deal, in agreeing to sever all ties with al-Qaeda.
Similarly, Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles said:
They hate foreigners, and among foreigners they
include not just Americans and Brits, but Arabs and Pakistanis.
They are primitive, conservative, religious nationalists. They
want what you and I want, which is a better education, a better
future for their children and to get back to their farms. They
want honourable recognition that they weren't defeated in 2001;
they were pushed aside. They want to be dealt back into the political
106. We were told by Michael Semple that "a
lot of people will show their true colours when the time is right",
but that already "there is a significant level of interest
among the original Taliban leadership with the "make-or-break
role in any reconciliation process [resting] with the Khost Talibs
and the Kandahari Talibs".
That is not to say it is all easy and that it
is going to happen tomorrow, but those are the people with whom
we assume it is possible to sit down and have a very sensible
discussion. They understand a lot more about the world than they
are often given credit for, and they have a vision of a political
107. The Haqqani network, which is most closely associated
with al-Qaeda, and which operates out of Waziristan in Pakistan,
appears to be less inclined than the Taliban to negotiate, and
Michael Semple told us that it was "generally assumed that
it would be impossible for them to go along with a negotiated
settlement", although he added that he had "heard a
few signals saying that that's not actually the case".
Indeed, since we heard Mr Semple's evidence, a number of media
reports have indicated that the Pakistani military has been exerting
pressure on the Haqqani network to enter into reconciliation negotiations.
The need for confidence-building
108. Asked about the conditions that need to exist
before insurgents might be persuaded to take part in negotiations,
Michael Semple told us that they might be prepared to, "if
they realised that they had no realistic military prospects of
toppling the government in Kabul and taking over the country."
However he qualified this by saying, "but what I really don't
buy is this notion that this means that those on the international
side and the government of Afghanistan have to sit back and wait
for a transformation of the military situation".
Mr Semple said that "before you get anywhere near negotiations,
a lot of Taliban say, 'what kind of protection or guarantee can
you provide for us when we eventually enter a reconciliation stage?'"
Others too, cited the importance of taking low-profile actions
to boost confidence and combat the mistrust which exists on both
sides. Thus far,
with a view to doing this, the Afghan government has established
a Detention Release Committee to review cases of suspected insurgents
detained without evidence or charge. The Committee is part of
the Afghan government's efforts to foster goodwill and trust and,
in what was seen as a further "sweetener" for a future
deal, the UN Sanctions Monitoring Committee also agreed in late
July 2010 to remove a number of individuals from its sanctions
list. Although the de-listing was generally welcomed in Afghanistan
as a practical step towards reconciliation some human rights activists
have warned it might lead to impunity for alleged perpetrators
of war crimes.
We were also told that mistrust is being created by the coalition's
emphasis on reintegration of fighters at the expense of genuine
high-or mid-level talks.
The role of the Afghan government
109. The task of confidence building is made more
complicated by the fact that, as Michael Semple told us, the Taliban
"do not particularly trust President Karzai" and are
"unconvinced" that either he or the Kabul administration
exercise real authority or have staying power. Added to this is
the fact that many non-Pashtuns are said to mistrust President
Karzai's attempts to reach out to the Taliban and are deeply suspicious
that any Karzai-Taliban deal will only strengthen Pashtun hegemony
in the country and further reduce minority rights.
Mr Semple explained that the insurgents "vary in their degree
of allergy to Kabul. They certainly do not expect that a process
where exclusively the Taliban talk to Karzai, who talks to the
Kabul government, would be terribly fruitful. In my contacts with
the Taliban they have been pretty consistent in saying that they
expect an international role".
Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles told us that President Karzai is "never
going to be seen as the credible interlocutor for the Taliban".
He was of the opinion that President Karzai "is a man who
symbolises his country's rebirth", and as such what he could
bring to a settlement was "quasi-monarchical leadership".
However, Sir Sherard stressed that what was really needed was
"a four-way conversationAmerica, Pakistan, the Taliban
and the government of Afghanistan. The key link in that is a serious
discussion between quiet and muscular American diplomacy and the
Taliban we can find."
The US role
110. The problem for those, like the British Government,
who seek a swift start to negotiations is that while the US has
said it supports "re-integrating" low-level Taliban
fighters, it has not declared whether it is willing to negotiate
with the Taliban leadership. Indeed, it has previously declared
that Mullah Omar is 'irreconcilable'.
As the author and journalist Ahmed Rashid notes, "The United
States still sees the battle in Afghanistan as a two-sided counterinsurgency,
and its focus is on the military situation".
Yet all of those from whom we took evidence were convinced that
the US's direct endorsement of, and participation in, talks was
essential if a peace settlement is to be brokered and the conditions
achieved to facilitate the withdrawal of western troops and ensure
the longer-term stability for Afghanistan and the wider region.
111. Speaking in December 2010, President Obama stated
that "we will [...] fully support an Afghan political process
that includes reconciliation with those Taliban who break ties
with al-Qaeda, renounce violence and accept the Afghan constitution".
However, there was no mention of what the US is looking for in
a deal, what it is willing to do to bring about that peace or,
crucially, when that process might commence. Many in the US, particularly
in the military, are reported to believe that talk about reconciliation
is premature and that Coalition Forces must first gain the upper
hand over the Taliban before even considering reconciliation.
For many witnesses, American thinking on reconciliation remains
incoherent and contradictory,
a point which is also apparent from Bob Woodward's recent book
Obama's Wars, which details the positions of key US individuals
and institutions on Afghanistan. Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles told
us that "the Woodward book doesn't give the half of what
is really going on between them all". He concludes that the
US is essentially, "a house dividedin Kabul and in
112. There are two key consequences of a failure
to engage swiftly and launch serious negotiations between the
US and elements of the Taliban. The first is that the Taliban
will be more likely to try and outlast the international community
and "fight it out" once Coalition Forces have gone.
The second is an increased risk that the regional situation will
deteriorate as key neighbours try to use the vacuum left by the
US's reluctance to promote reconciliation to push ahead with a
political settlement which favours certain countries or interests,
at the expense of others. Ahmed Rashid has written extensively
about this. He states that the Obama administration must start
asserting major diplomatic pressure to ease regional tensions
and persuade all of Afghanistan's neighbours to agree on a common
position of non-interference".
Many Afghans fear that if the US waits too long to decide about
talking to the Taliban, control of the situation will fall to
Pakistan's ISI, as happened in the 1980s and 1990s. Such a state
of affairs would be poorly received by most of the regional powers,
particularly India, Iran, Russia and the five central Asian republics.
In the wider conflict that could follow, al-Qaeda and other extremist
groups could benefit.
Rashid adds that Pakistan and Iran in particular want to ensure
that by the time the United States is ready to talk to the Taliban,
the region's future will already be shaped by local powers, limiting
Washington's options. He states that Afghanistan's ethnic and
sectarian divisions are being exacerbated in the process.
DIVISIONS IN THE US POSITION OVER
113. During our visit we gained the impression that
the sheer size and power of the US military ensured that the US
military remained largely in control of US Afghan policy, a point
which is also detailed in Bob Woodward's book 'Obama's Wars'.
We also sensed that with the July 2011 deadline looming, its priority
was creating the conditions for troop withdrawal and that it sought
to use overwhelming force to defeat the Taliban rather than using
the surge as a tool to induce peace and reconciliation.
114. Indeed, although we heard repeated references
during our visit to the number of insurgents killed, captured
or considering 're-integration', we heard little recognition within
military circles of the importance of higher-level political reconciliation.
Gilles Dorronsoro was one of those who told us it is "clear"
that reconciliation "is not supported by the US military".
He added that the "dynamic" inside the military is "never
to say, 'Okay, we have to negotiate', it's always to ask for more
resources". He stated that President Obama "doesn't
seem to be able to stop these demands".
Several witnesses were of the view that because of the change
in the political balance of power in the US House of Representatives
following the 2010 mid-term elections, and the difficulty in creating
the conditions for security transition, it would be increasingly
difficult for the US President to refuse further resource and
troop increases if the US military issued such a request. Gilles
Dorronsoro stated, "What we could very well have [in 2011]
is demands for more troops in Afghanistan to compensate for the
withdrawal of the Europeans and, very likely, the degradation
of the security in the north and east of Afghanistan".
115. There appears to be little doubt that many within
the US military do not consider it appropriate for the international
community to negotiate with insurgents until Coalition Forces
have gained the upper hand on security. However, in contrast,
Sir William Patey, HM Ambassador to Kabul, has said that "the
history of conflict tells you it is possible to fight and talk
at the same time".
Likewise, James Fergusson told us, "many senior British figures
believe it is time to start trying to negotiate a settlement with
the Taliban [...] yet official policy is simply to go on supporting
the US's military strategyeven while this is demonstrably
Sir Sherard stated: "As with strikes by our special forces,
you need to strike with one hand and offer a political process
with the other. [
] In my view, the tragedy of NATO policy
in Afghanistan is that we have had far too much of the right hand
and not enough of the left hand. You need both: you need the political
process to harvest politically the success that the military is
116. We conclude that the predominance of the
belief that negotiations cannot commence until the insurgency
has been defeated militarily is a matter for considerable concern,
particularly given that the prerequisites for such a defeat do
not appear currently to exist.
What role for the UK?
117. In an Afghan-led process, the UK's direct role
in reconciliation should by right be a limited and supporting
one. The UK could, as the Post-War Reconstruction and Development
Unit suggests, use its experience from Northern Ireland and elsewhere,
to support Afghan leaders in designing their reconciliation strategy
and enforcement arrangements.
It may also have a role to play in encouraging regional neighbours
to act in Afghanistan's interest, as we discuss below at paragraphs
132-136. However, arguably its most strategically important task
is to convince the US of the merits of moving swiftly towards
an endorsement of, and involvement in, talks with the Taliban
leadership, and to highlight the significant risks to the West
of not doing so.
118. We were encouraged to hear from a number of
sources during our visit that the FCO's thinking on the timing
of a political settlement appears to be more sensible than that
of the US. However, the decision of the UK's Secret Intelligence
Service to spend more than a year nurturing contacts and paying
significant sums of money to a man whom they thought was one of
the most senior commanders of the Taliban, only to find out he
was a fake, inevitably took up resources that, over a period of
14 months, could have been spent on other endeavours.
119. On the positive side, as Gerard Russell's written
evidence noted, the UK's longstanding openness to the possibility
of reconciliation with the Taliban is gradually becoming orthodox
doctrine among commentators in America.
However, it is yet to become official US policy, and, as we discussed
previously, official statements still tend to focus on the need
to push ahead with 're-integration' rather than high level political
120. James Fergusson said that influencing Washington's
thinking on direct talks with Quetta should be central to the
UK's strategy and that "as the second largest troop contributor
in Afghanistan, the UK is surely better placed than any other
NATO ally to steer the US in the direction of negotiations".
Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles said, "Only the United States can
succeed in this venture. [
] One of our chief roles, and
one of the chief benefits of our massive contribution is the influence
that it gives us with the American military and in Washington."
121. A number of recent media reports suggest that
the US position may be beginning to soften somewhat and Gerard
Russell suggested that there is "more pragmatism" in
the US administration that might be apparent publicly, but for
it to be exploited, "it requires continued argument from
commentators and from those countries and governments that see
the need for it".
Sir Sherard explained that the late Ambassador Richard Holbrooke
fully understood the nature of insurgency and the need for a political
settlement, but he added that the problem often lies elsewhere
in Washington. He continued:
Sometimes, if the only or main tool in the toolbox
is a hammer, every problem can look like a nail. [...] It is about
encouraging all the good instincts of the Obama administration
]. Moving America in that direction, when many Americans
think that the Taliban were somehow directly responsible for 9/11they
were indirectly, but they were actually horrified immediately
after the event at the way their hospitality had been abusedis
difficult in American politics. Britain can help do that.
122. In Gerard Russell's view, "It is a big
leap for a Democrat President to make, and it carries a lot of
] There are a lot of political bear traps in the
reconciliation process and, particularly, in public declarations
of a desire for negotiation".
Michael Semple told us:
[P]reviously it was very difficult for the US
to contemplate something as radical as entering into a political
accommodation with the Taliban. It is very difficultit
goes against many of the received narratives. That is why, as
things have moved on over the past two or three years, publicly
the US has moved [into]the position of being supportive of reintegration
but hasn't been taking public stances in support of reconciliation
with the Taliban leadership. I believe that there is an inherent
logic in reconciliation that ultimately is bound to appeal to
the US, and I would expect a significant change from the US to
be supportive of reconciliation on the right terms. [...] [M]aybe
there has been US foot-dragging, but I think there is a pretty
serious prospect that the US, as part of its commitment to try
to wind down the military entanglement in a sensible way that
will lead to a stable Afghanistan, will come out more clearly
in favour of reconciliation.
Both Michael Semple and Gerard Russell suggested
that at this stage it might be sufficient for the US to adopt
a more low-level practical approach which would avoid the political
pitfalls associated with grand and public declarations supporting
the reconciliation process.
123. We conclude that the US is facing a rapidly
closing window of opportunity to push ahead with political reconciliation
through which it can help to bring peace and stability to Afghanistan
and the wider region and, in the process, ensure that the sacrifices
made by allies and Afghans alike are not in vain. We further conclude
that the UK Government is to be commended for its support of political
reconciliation, but recommend that it re-double its diplomatic
efforts to bring whatever influence it can to bear on the US to
highlight the need for US leadership on the issue of reconciliation.
124. Pakistan is not the only regional player that
has a critical role to play in Afghanistan's future, but given
that elements of the Afghan insurgency continue to receive sanctuary
and support from within Pakistan, a constructive Pakistani role
in the Afghan reconciliation process is crucial. Michael Semple
told us that of all the regional powers, Pakistan probably has
the potential to help most in reconciliation and also "to
spoil it if it were to so choose".
Witnesses were also in agreement that the arrests in early 2010
of the Taliban's military commander, Mullah Baradar (who is reported
to have pursued unauthorised negotiations with the Afghan government),
and others, amounted to a shot across the bows to demonstrate
that the Pakistani military would obstruct talks unless they were
fully involved in the negotiation process. As James Fergusson
concluded, "Pakistan, through the ISI, controls what the
Taliban do. It is the puppet master in many ways".
According to Michael Semple, Pakistan's influence lies not in
choosing proxies in the insurgency and pushing them towards the
negotiating table but rather, "in dealing with the US, Kabul
and the other people involved, [it] gets a chance to say, 'Look,
we're concerned about A, B and C and who can help us'".
125. The FCO states that Pakistan "seems to
be taking a greater interest in a political settlement in Afghanistan
through offering support for an Afghan-led reconciliation effort",
and as we noted above, there are some reports which suggest that
the ISI are starting to exert some pressure on particular insurgent
groups in this regard.
What Pakistan might push for in talks remains unclear. Sir Hilary
Synnott told us that if Pakistan's constructive support is to
be secured, it is important that "we look at these issues
through their perspective, not ours, and realise that their interests
are not the same as ours. If you look at it very coldly in that
way, that gives you lots of indications and limits your expectations
about the art of the possible".
Witnesses suggested that Pakistan's first concern is that there
should be viable stability inside Afghanistan so that Afghan problems
do not affect Pakistan, and that its second concern is to ensure
that there should not be adverse Indian influence in Afghanistan,
to the point where Pakistan worries that the Afghan frontier is
a hostile one.
126. While Dr Gohel stated that the Pakistan army
wants to see a settlement that brings the Taliban back to Kabul
in a power-sharing deal which would take Afghanistan back to the
pre 9/11 position,
Gerard Russell told us he had "some optimism" that although
parts of the Pakistani establishment support the insurgency, the
overall national interest "will not drive them to seek the
fall of the entire country, as the Taliban did in the '90s".
Pakistan will be particularly keen to make sure that the interests
of its most important and reliable ally and neighbour, China (which
in December agreed to a $35 billion trade deal with Pakistan)
are not endangered. China has already invested considerably in
Afghanistan, including some $4 billion in the Aynak copper mine,
which is vital for China's growth. As Gerard Russell explained
it seemed "improbable" that Pakistan under these circumstances
would "be interested in pushing for a Taliban victory that
would include the fall of Kabul and the north [...] if they felt
that it would ultimately destabilise their investments and China's
investments in southern Afghanistan".
127. Although witnesses were unanimous that Pakistan
must be involved in a political settlement, they argued that Pakistan's
long-standing support for insurgent groups, especially the Haqqani
network, meant that their inclusion in talks must be handled carefully.
From an Afghan perspective, too, there is said to be "deep
ambivalence about Pakistan's role in negotiations given the long
memories of Pakistani connivance in the destruction of Afghanistan
in mujaheddin times".
128. In spite of the risks, witnesses were of the
view that the international community had no alternative but to
trust and work with the Pakistani military. Dr Shaikh told us
that the international community knows that they will "ultimately
work for its own interests" and that often these interests
are "at cross-purposes with the interests of the international
community". However, she added that as long as it depends
on Pakistan to help it prosecute the war in Afghanistan, the international
community has no choice but to rely on Pakistan.
Matt Waldman argued that a careful balance had to be struck between
expediency and Afghan sovereignty". He added:
If Pakistan believes its influence is insufficient,
it will not support the process, yet the perception of excessive
influence could trigger opposition within Afghanistan and countermeasures
from regional states. Concerted efforts are required to reduce
the extent to which Pakistan perceives a threat from India, and
to improve the two countries' relations.
129. Michael Semple told us that "we should
never forget that Pakistan is the second largest beneficiary from
successful reconciliation, peace in Afghanistan and a movement
towards getting back on tracksecond only to the Afghan
people themselves". He added that it is "important to
deal with Pakistan in such a way that you encourage the good and
discourage the bad, so that they actually take a positive stance
towards reconciliation, let the space be used for pursuing reconciliationafter
all, that is what they say they want [...]."
130. Whether this can be successful or not will depend
to a great extent on the US's current and future posture towards
Pakistan. As we discussed above at paragraph 57, this has not
always elicited many rewards and therefore, in this context, we
welcome the tone and content of the remarks made recently by the
US Vice-President, Joe Biden, during a visit to Islamabad when
he explicitly rejected the idea that the US would abandon Pakistan
in the aftermath of the Afghanistan war, stating that this was
"one of several widely held 'misconceptions' about US intentions
in the region". He added that both democracy and stability
in Pakistan are in the "vital self-interest" of both
countries and that "the only productive way forward is a
long-term, enduring partnership".
131. We conclude that the UK's influence and role
in respect of Pakistan is probably limited when it comes to reconciliation
in Afghanistan. However, it is in the UK's national interests,
far more so than in those of the US, to see a strong and democratic
Pakistan emerge. For this reason, it is imperative that the UK
encourages the US to adopt a policy in relation to Pakistan which
takes account of Pakistan's security concerns and which therefore
may help to induce Pakistan's constructive role in reconciliation
in Afghanistan. We are under no illusion about the difficulties
involved in this, not least because the UK can only exercise limited
influence over the US and because both the UK and US policies
in the past have not resulted in significant shifts in Pakistan's
position on the Afghan Taliban.
THE WIDER REGION
132. There was strong consensus amongst witnesses
that Afghanistan's longer term security, and that of the broader
region, meant that a strong regional element to any future political
settlement would be required. With all of Afghanistan's major
ethnic groups, including the Hazaras, Uzbeks, Tajiks and Pashtuns,
having ties to neighbouring countries, international recognition
of the importance of regional co-operation in support of Afghan
stability has grown since 2001 and regional co-operation was a
major theme of the London and Kabul Conferences.
As the FCO's written evidence states:
None of Afghanistan's neighbours have an interest
in either a return to Taliban rule or absolute chaos in Afghanistan.
They have all, in different ways, suffered as a result of Afghanistan's
varying levels of instability during the past 20 years (drugs,
refugees, border management, economic impact). Some, such as Iran,
are sensitive to any long-term Western military presence in Afghanistan.
Russia and China do not want NATO to fail, because of the risk
of extremist contagion. But they, too, are sensitive about the
prospect of a long-term western military presence in Afghanistan.
133. As has been well-documented in a range of publications,
Iran's influence in Afghanistan has increased significantly of
late. We saw for ourselves in Herat the positive effects that
benign Iranian influence can have on security and prosperity.
However, on the other hand, reports of Iranian support for the
Taliban and of Afghan politicians show the dangers in the unfettered
influence of a single regional neighbour. The challenge for the
international community will be in ensuring that the benign elements
of Iran's support can be maximised whilst minimising those aspects
of Iranian policy which are known to have had a malign effect.
China too, as we discussed above at paragraph 126, having made
significant investments in Afghanistan, also has a potentially
important and positive role to play. As Gerard Russell explained,
"It might not look like stability of the kind that we originally
imagined, but they do need to protect their investments".
134. Regional diplomacy would also provide an opportunity
to ensure that Pakistan's concerns about adverse Indian influence
in Afghanistan are dealt with separately rather than via Afghan
proxies. As Michael Semple told us, "It would be absolutely
inappropriate to think of India being talked out of Afghanistan
[...] but there have to be some guidelines about what crosses
the red line in terms of constituting a threat to Pakistan. [...]
The practical way probably to deal with this would be somebody
taking forward a reconciliation track, particularly something
like an international mediator, who would probably need a regional
support group to work with them and to provide mutual reassurances".
Harnessing regional support, and the unique benefits that each
neighbour can bring to bear, is therefore crucial, as Sir Sherard
The key question [
] is how you accompany
a military draw-down with a serious political process. The analogy
that I have used [
] is of a double-decker bus. You need
an American chassis, an American engine, an American driver and
an American sat-nav system. The passengers on the lower deck of
the bus will be the internal parties. This is about far more than
just talking to the Taliban; the Tajiks are increasingly alienated.
On the top deck of the bus, you have all the external parties.
The largest passenger will be Pakistan, but India, China, Russia,
Iran, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, the emirates and the lower tier of
the -stans will all be there. The bus will be painted in Afghan
colours and have a UN conductor on each floor and, with luck,
a British back-seat driver.
135. The UK has been a strong advocate of a regional
(yet Afghan-led) approach to tackling Afghanistan's problems.
The Government's written evidence states that the UK continues
to encourage Afghanistan's neighbours and influential international
actors, like Saudi Arabia, to play a constructive role in reconciliation.
In 2005, the UK was instrumental in setting up the Regional Economic
Co-operation Conference on Afghanistan (RECCA), the only regional
economic initiative with Afghanistan at its centre. The UK continues
to support regional co-operation in support of Afghanistan through
funding the establishment of a Centre for Regional Co-operation
(CRC) in the Afghan government's Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA).
This Afghan-led centre is tasked with promoting economic integration
between Afghanistan and the broader region.
136. We conclude that the UK Government is to
be commended for its advocacy of a regional approach to political
reconciliation, and we recommend that the FCO continues to make
the case to its allies for their wholehearted support in this
The terms of a negotiated settlement
137. The ultimate shape of a potential negotiated
political solution to Afghanistan's conflict is impossible to
predict. However, most analysts are in agreement that there will
have to be a power-sharing agreement, and constitutional or legislative
changes. As a result, there are fears that this could jeopardize
civil and political liberties, and the rights of women and minorities
138. The Taliban's oppression of women in Afghanistan
from 1996-2001 is well documented. With the fall of the Taliban
regime, some headline improvements could be seen: girls began
to return to school in larger numbers, women became more visible
in public life, many returned to work and the Afghan Constitution
was drafted in a way designed to guarantee women equal rights
and a quarter of seats in parliament. However, there are concerns
that these limited improvements are in danger of receding if the
Taliban and other insurgent groups who are said, in many instances,
to hold similar views about women, regain power under a future
Oxfam GB is one of many NGOs which argue that it is vital for
the UK and others to ensure that ordinary Afghan men and women's
voices are effectively represented in negotiations, and that any
future political settlement guarantees their rights.
Michael Semple told us:
I can feed back from some discussions I have
had [...] with various figures in the Taliban whom it is possible
to get access to, at which I have asked [...] what is likely to
be their attitude to women moving into some kind of roleswhether
it be in negotiations, or into future relationships or roles in
the political system? The sensible ones say quite clearly that
they realise that there are bottom lines. They also generally
make a point of saying that they have moved on, and that they
have recognised some of their failures during their period in
139. Giving evidence to us, the Foreign Secretary
stated that the UK strongly encourages and has funded projects
that encourage the participation of women in Afghan society and
politics, and pointed to the improved participation of women in
the peace jirga in June.
The issue of women's human rights in Afghanistan is an important
issue and one that we will return to cover in more detail in our
forthcoming inquiry into Human Rights.
140. Michael Semple told us that it would be wrong
to think that "the western powers [...] will somehow be sole
guarantors of the rights of Afghan women". He explained:
The way I understand it is that the pragmatists
in the Taliban would see benefits of being part of the political
system and benefits of being accepted by the international community.
Then you realise that they have to move on this themselves. They
would probably prefer to be seen, in a sense, to be making that
move themselves, rather than having their arms twisted the whole
way. I think that there is a prospect for a positive outcome,
but going about it the wrong way could undermine it.
141. Michael Semple told us that, "They understand
a lot more about the world than they are often given credit for,
and they have a vision of a political settlement".
However, as Matt Waldman stated, the extent to which the Taliban
seek administrative, as opposed to political, power is not entirely
Prospects for success
142. We conclude that at present the conditions
for a political settlement do not exist, not least because the
international community's approach is incoherent, Afghan leadership
is not sufficient, the US approach is overly focused on re-integration
at the expense of reconciliation and, in the resulting political
vacuum, regional powers and Pakistan in particular, are forging
ahead with their own agendas on reconciliation, not necessarily
in the interests of Afghanistan or the wider region.
173 Ev 9 Back
"Quarterly report on progress in Afghanistan", Foreign
and Commonwealth Office, 27 October 2010 Back
London Conference communiqué, January 2010 Back
"Afghanistan in 2010: A Survey of the Afghan People",
Asia Foundation, 9 November 2010 Back
Ev 9 Back
Ev 54 Back
Ev 50 Back
Ev 5 Back
The Guardian, 9 March 2009 Back
Q 33 [Matt Waldman] Back
Fotini Christia and Michael Semple, "Flipping the Taliban:
how to win in Afghanistan", Foreign Affairs, July/August
Financial Times, 5 February 2010, Irish Times, 3
June 2010 Back
Q 103 Back
Q 13 Back
Daily Telegraph, 13 December 2010, Guardian, 7 October
Q 7 Back
Q 16 Back
Q 7, Q 33 Back
Ev 50 Back
Ahmed Rashid, "The Way out of Afghanistan", New York
Review of Books, 13 January 2011 Back
Q 17 Back
Q 106 Back
Q 102 Back
"A New Strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan", The
White House, April 2009 Back
"Why the US must talk to the Taliban", Washington
Post, 18 March 2010 Back
Ev 54 [Matt Waldman] Back
Statement by President Obama on the Afghanistan-Pakistan Annual
Review, 16 December 2010 Back
See comments made by General Petraeus, Fox News, 25 August
Washington Post, 23 January 2010 Back
Q 112 Back
Q 104 [Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles]; Q 7 [Michael Semple]; Q 124
[Gilles Dorronsoro] Back
"Why the US must talk to the Taliban", Washington
Post, 18 March 2010 Back
See also "History is repeating itself in Afghanistan",
Independent, 18 December 2010. Back
Q 124 Back
Q 120 Back
Q 120 Back
"Achieving Progress in Afghanistan: the political dimension",
Meeting Transcript, International Institute for Strategic Studies,
8 July 2010 Back
Ev 48 Back
Q 96 Back
Ev 25 Back
See for example, Daily Telegraph, 26 November 2010. Back
Ev 56 Back
Ev 49 Back
Q 92 Back
Q 125 Back
Q 92 Back
Q 125 Back
Q 12 Back
Q 21 Back
Q 52 Back
Q 21 Back
Ev 20 Back
Q 85 Back
Q 21 Back
Ev 80 Back
Q 126 Back
Q 126 Back
Q 52 Back
Q 85 Back
Ev 50 Back
Q 16 Back
Washington Post, 13 January 2011 Back
Ev 20 Back
Ev 20 Back
Q 125 Back
Q 21 Back
Q 97 Back
Ev 10 Back
Ev 20 Back
See for example the discussion of this issue in "'The Ten-Dollar
Talib' and Women's Rights - Afghan Women and the Risk of Reintegration
and Reconciliation", Human Rights Watch, July 2010. Back
Ev w16 Back
Q 10 Back
Q 154 Back
Q 10 Back
Q 13 Back
Ev 52 Back