Session 2010-11
Publications on the internet










Evidence heard in Public

Evidence heard in Private

Questions 89 – 101

Questions 115 - 127
Questions 102 - 114



This is a corrected transcript of evidence taken in public and private and reported, in part, to the House. The transcript has been placed on the internet on the authority of the Committee, and copies have been made available by the Vote Office for the use of Members and others.


The transcript is an approved formal record of these proceedings. It will be printed in due course.

Oral Evidence

Taken before the Foreign Affairs Committee

on Tuesday 9 November 2010

Members present:

Richard Ottaway (Chair)

Mr Bob Ainsworth

Mr John Baron

Sir Menzies Campbell

Mike Gapes

Andrew Rosindell

Mr Frank Roy

Sir John Stanley

Rory Stewart

Dave Watts

Examination of Witness

Witness: Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles, KCMG LVO, former HM Ambassador to Kabul, and former Special Representative of the Foreign Secretary for Afghanistan and Pakistan gave evidence.

Q89 Chair: I welcome members of the public to this sitting of the Foreign Affairs Committee. It is an evidence-taking session in our process of producing a report on policy in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Our main witness for the first part of today’s sitting is Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles, who retired from the Foreign Office at the end of October. He was our Ambassador in Kabul from May 2007 to February 2009, and the Foreign Secretary’s Special Representative from February 2009 to September 2010.

Sir Sherard, thank you very much for coming along. You are very welcome. Is there anything you would like to say at the start, or shall we go straight into questions?

Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles: Perhaps I could make a couple of comments.

First, thank you for inviting me; as a former official, I am very flattered to be asked. I know and have met many of the members of the Committee in my professional career as a diplomat. That includes the former Secretary of State for Defence, Bob Ainsworth, who is with us today, and the hon. Member for Penrith and the Border, Rory Stewart-we worked together in Kabul on a number of projects, and we were there as recently as March.

I particularly welcome your inquiry because, with the mid-term elections in the United States behind us, we have a major American review of policy coming up next month. If I may say so, I think that the Committee’s inquiry is very timely, because the central lesson that I took away from my three and a half years working in and on Afghanistan is that it is a political problem that needs political treatment and a political process. It is a political and a regional problem, and it is time for the politicians to take charge of the project, as I believe the new coalition Government is doing. That is another reason why the interest of this Committee is so important and so timely.

Q90 Chair: Thank you. That was a very helpful kick-off. Following on from that, do you think that the present Government have the right strategy in their approach to Afghanistan?

Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles: Yes, I do. I was lucky enough to be present at a seminar at Chequers that the Prime Minister convened on 1 June. It was very much in the style of the seminars that Mrs Thatcher used to convene at crucial points in policy making. Outsiders, including Rory Stewart, were at an opening session; and then officials and Ministers were together, drawing conclusions for policy.

I do not think that I am breaking any secrets if I say that the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister, the Foreign and Defence Secretaries and other Ministers present, drew what I believe is the right conclusion-that this needs a political approach. But at the same time, we need to show unstinting support for our military effort, and it is particularly timely two days before 11 November that we pay tribute to what our troops are doing. However, military effort by itself is not enough. It is not grand strategy. As General David Richards would be the first to acknowledge-and, indeed, General Petraeus-the military campaign is about suppressing locally and temporarily the symptoms of a very serious disease, which is affecting the whole of the Afghan polity, not just the Pashtun areas in the south and east, or the Pashtun pockets in the north.

Afghanistan needs a new political and regional settlement, which cannot be delivered by military force. Military force can contribute-there is no military solution but, equally, there is no non-military solution. Military force plays a part but, in my view and my experience, it should and must be a subsidiary part. That is why politicians like you-like this Committee-need to develop and encourage the vision of a political approach to solving the underlying tensions that are giving rise to the violence.

Q91 Chair: When you say that it is time for the politicians to take charge, there is a slight inference that they are not currently in charge. Could you elaborate on that point?

Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles: If I may be pedantic, it is your inference, Mr Chairman, not my implication.

My message really is that we have got, on both sides of the Atlantic, extremely capable and enthusiastic, unquenchably optimistic and fiercely loyal-to their institutions and countries-military machines, which have naturally adopted a can-do attitude and driven forward. This has distorted the understanding of the problem, because the real problem is much deeper. It is a problem to do with the fact that the peace that was negotiated at Petersberg outside Bonn in December 2001 was a victors’ peace-the vanquished were not present. The constitution, which we are fighting, dying and spending getting on for £6 billion of taxpayers’ money a year to support, is unstable, because it is highly centralised-I am glad to say that it was designed by a Frenchman and imposed by an American. But it is not sustainable, because it does not go with the grain of Afghan tradition. We need something much more decentralised.

In the end, what will bring security to the Pashtun areas and, indeed, to the whole region will be the solution that Lord Curzon adopted as Viceroy on the north-west frontier. He pulled our troops back east of the Indus and decided, rightly, that the policy for pacifying or stabilising-I hesitate to say pacifying-the Pathan tribal areas was one of empowering the tribal leaders, under the supervision of the Government, to secure and govern those areas for themselves, with a representative shura of local tribes, punishing them if they misbehaved and rewarding them with bags of gold if they succeeded. The modern-day equivalent of the Curzon formula has to be the right approach. Garrisoning these areas with alien troops might produce temporary suppression of the symptoms, but it won’t cure the underlying disease.

I know that General Richards and General Petraeus understand that. What has been missing is the political strategy which, if I may say so, can sound a bit like Liberal Democrat community politics-

Sir Menzies Campbell: There is nothing wrong with that.

Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles: It has got to be top down and bottom up-easy to say, difficult to do, but no other solution will work. We need to remember that the Afghan army, which is only 3% southern Pashtun, is almost as alien to the farmers of the Helmand valley as the 3rd Battalion The Rifles or the 82nd Airborne Division of the United States army.

Chair: I think some of my colleagues will come back to you later on that.

Q92 Mr Roy: Sir Sherard, may I take you to our relations with the United States and our influence, whatever that might be? You insist that Britain should support the United States and are quoted as saying, "We should tell them that we want to be part of a winning strategy, not a losing one". What is the reality in relation to the influence that we can bring to bear on United States thinking on both Afghanistan and Pakistan?

Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles: Well, that quotation you attribute to me I think comes from a French diplomatic cable which was the result of a lunch with my deputy in Kabul, but the author bigged it up in order to impress people in Paris. It is not something that I ever recall saying.

The central point, if I may say so, is more important than anything else. Only the United States can succeed in this venture. America is necessary, but not enough for a solution. 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. I would like to go into that more during the private session. David Miliband and I worked extremely hard over 15 months to proselytise for a political solution and process, with some success. My friend, colleague and sometimes sparring partner, Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, gets Afghanistan in the way that few other American policy makers do. He is a highly intelligent man, who understands from his days as a foreign service officer in south Vietnam about the nature of insurgency and the need for a political solution to the problems. However, the problem often lies elsewhere in Washington. Sometimes, if the only or main tool in the toolbox is a hammer, every problem can look like a nail. I know that the Prime Minister understands that. We need to give an American Administration the courage and the cover to start on a political process.

In February 1963, after the United States army and marine corps had won a great victory over the Viet Cong and the north Vietnamese army, the dean of American broadcasters, the David Dimbleby of the time, spoke to the American people on CBS evening news on 23 February. He said, "The best we can hope for is a military stalemate. We need a negotiated solution; an honourable and political way out for an honourable people that have done their best".

It is about encouraging all the good instincts of the Obama Administration, as set out in the Bob Woodward book. Britain is uniquely well placed to do that and Ambassador Holbrooke is one of those who really understands that. If I may say so, General McChrystal also understood it and General Petraeus understands it. Moving America in that direction, when many Americans think that the Taliban were somehow directly responsible for 9/11-they were indirectly, but they were actually horrified immediately after the event at the way their hospitality had been abused-is difficult in American politics. Britain can help do that.

Q93 Mr Roy: Are we major or minor?

Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles: We are major. We are very much premier league and everyone else is sort of champions league.

Q94 Mr Roy: Everyone else?

Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles: Yes, everyone else in terms of contribution, influence and access, intelligence, military and diplomatic matters. A member of my staff was in Holbrooke’s office and we had a member of Holbrooke’s team in my office in London. We are major league, but if you read the Woodward book, you see that most of it is inside baseball between the players in Washington and on the ground. Perhaps we could go into more of that in the private session.

Q95 Mr Baron: Sir Sherard, may I turn to your thoughts about the very public announcement that the Government plan to withdraw troops by 2015 as an outer deadline? For some, that presented a bit of a mixed message. One moment we are focusing on conditions-and achieving those conditions-for a full withdrawal, and the next we are setting a deadline. The two things do not sit easily next to each other. Critics would point to the fact that that could be exploited by the Taliban to convey the impression that they are on the road to victory so there is no need to negotiate. It may encourage the Afghan people to just sit on the fence and wait it out. What are your views? Were the Government right?

Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles: I support the idea of deadlines. I didn’t initially when I first arrived there, but the Taliban can read the politics of the western troop-contributing democracies as well as anybody. They are perfectly aware that American troops are due to start leaving in July next year and that the next British general election, all being well, will be in May 2015. The Prime Minister has said that our troops will be out of combat, not out of Afghanistan. I have always thought that a long-term definition of success in Afghanistan will be, "Are troops out of combat?" We won’t be seeing Helmand and the tribal areas garrisoned by anyone very much-perhaps the towns and the roads-but we will have a long-term British military training mission in Afghanistan, and DFID needs to be in Afghanistan for 50 years. I think a deadline helps show the Taliban something that President Obama very wisely said in one of his early interviews. Contrary to what some of the neo-cons had said, President Obama told The New York Times, I believe, a month or so after he took office that America sought no long-term, permanent presence in Afghanistan.

Of course, most Afghans believe that we and America are there to seek some long-term military presence, some kind of neo-colonial, long-term hegemony over the area. They don’t believe that rationally-many people in Helmand believe that we are there to avenge the battle of Maiwand-but they do believe it, so announcing that we are going, that we are getting out of combat, is a good thing, in my view. It was a courageous thing for the Prime Minister to do, and the right thing.

Q96 Mr Baron: Do you not accept, though, that there is a danger in sending mixed messages? We seem to be saying that we will leave in 2015 whether we have achieved our objectives or not. That can be a dangerous message to send out.

Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles: It is a risk, and it needs to be accompanied with a vigorous political process and strategy. As with strikes by our special forces, you need to strike with one hand and offer a political process with the other. In Northern Ireland, every armoured vehicle had on the side an 0800 number for people to use to signal that they were wanting to come over. 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 delivering.

Q97 Mr Ainsworth: Sir Sherard, 2015 is not far away. You spoke about the lack of understanding in large parts of America about the limitations of the military alone to achieve anything in Afghanistan, but we have invested an awful lot of blood and treasure in Afghanistan, particularly since 2006. Looking forward, what do you think is likely to happen when we leave and the Afghan operation is over?

Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles: If we were to leave precipitately, there would be chaos. There would be civil war and a battle across the south between the Taliban and the narco-mafia, broadly defined. We have not really succeeded in building a durable causeway of good governance between the narco-mafia on the one hand and the Taliban on the other. What many southern Afghans want to know is who will be in charge of their village or valley five months or five years from now, and they will back the winner. For many of them, the Taliban are harsher but fairer than a predatory narco-mafia/Afghan Government.

I strongly oppose too precipitate a withdrawal of troops, which would do great dishonour to the sacrifice of our troops, and undo, or threaten, everything that has been achieved for the people of Afghanistan. I am glad to see that some of the members of the Troops Out Movement, with whom I have debated in the past, have adopted a more nuanced approach to this recently, and that is a very good thing.

The key question-this was Mr Baron’s question-is how you accompany a military draw-down with a serious political process. The analogy that I have used-I thought of it a few weeks ago-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.

The only question, I think, is not whether there’s a negotiated withdrawal; there will be a negotiated end to this conflict, as to all conflicts. The question is, do we get ahead of the tide of history? Do we have the confidence and courage to say, "Look, this needs a comprehensive negotiated solution, regionally and internally", or do we say, "We don’t want to get involved. We’ll subcontract it to the Afghans and the Pakistanis"? In the end, we want what the Taliban want, which is the withdrawal of foreign forces. The conversation is about the conditions accompanying those foreign forces.

If we want to protect what has been achieved, we will do it best, in my view-and, if I may say so, in the view of your former colleague, David Miliband, in his article as Foreign Secretary in The New York Review of Books, and, I believe, of the present Minister as well-by having the confidence to take the initiative ourselves rather than saying, "After you, Claude", and letting it drift on.

Q98 Mr Ainsworth: Forgive me, but what is precipitate? You’ve just told John Baron that 2015 was a good idea, with no conditions base. That is about four years away now, yet you’re saying that precipitate withdrawal would be a disaster. What is precipitate?

Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles: Precipitate is starting to withdraw next month or next year. It is pulling back significant numbers of troops and just evacuating areas and letting chaos reign. Nothing that has been achieved will be preserved or sustained unless it’s accompanied by a political settlement. Even the Afghan army at its very best and the Afghan national security forces are not going to be able to hold these areas absent a political settlement.

Q99 Rory Stewart: Sherard, you said very clearly that you and the former Foreign Secretary were pushing very hard for a political solution. I think the sense, to follow on from the Chairman, is that you felt you didn’t make as much progress as you would have liked. You’ve been very diplomatic about the military and their position, but there’s certainly a sense that what the MOD was pursuing was slightly at odds with that political solution. As the Foreign Affairs Committee, we’re here to look at the relationship between the Foreign Office and the Ministry of Defence. Do you have some practical suggestions or thoughts-going forward, not backward-on how one could get the relationship a little bit better in terms of how soldiers relate to political priorities?

Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles: Well, that, my lord, is what is called a leading question. I do have a number of practical suggestions; perhaps we can go into more detail in the private session.

I think it is a question of politicians and civilian officials having the confidence to question some of the very optimistic military advice they get. I’m not in any way blaming the military-you couldn’t have a serious military unless they were incurably optimistic-but I saw in my three and a half years papers that went to Ministers that were misleadingly optimistic. Officials and Ministers who questioned them were accused of being defeatist or disloyal in some way.

One of the most moving experiences for me as Ambassador was in Helmand, when a young and very courageous officer in the Grenadier Guards came up to me and said he’d been at school with one of my sons. He said, "Can I have a private word with you, Sir? The strategy isn’t working, but whenever I try to report that up the line, my superiors say I’m being defeatist and I must re-work my papers, because cracking on in Helmand is what it’s about and success is coming". We have had success in Helmand and we are getting better, but it’s tactics without grand strategy and without a political approach. It is suppressing locally and temporarily the symptoms of the disease. It is not curing the disease.

Q100 Rory Stewart: Just following on from that, if we are to get ourselves, by 2015, to a situation in which we have ceased combat operations and are training and doing special forces, how are we, as the British Government, going to get the British Army in a position to be ready for 2015? Many senior generals are still saying, "It’s got to be conditions-based. This is a fungible deadline. We’ve got to stick with Petraeus all the way". So what practically does one do to get us from where we are to where we want to be in 2015, in terms of the military?

Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles: It’s not a question of Britain doing it alone. There’s a great conceit, really. I remember that when I first started as Ambassador there was a stack of papers headed "The United Kingdom strategy for Afghanistan" and "The United Kingdom strategy for Helmand". The reality is that the United Kingdom cannot and should not have an independent strategy for Helmand or for Afghanistan. This is part of a collective effort.

We still deceive ourselves in thinking that we can somehow operate independently, but we can have a major influence on collective strategy, above all through our relationship with the United States. It is very much about the civilian side of the US Administration, the US Embassy, the State Department, the National Security Council and the Central Intelligence Agency all making the kind of input that is necessary for an orchestrated de-escalation of military operations and a move towards the kind of new, negotiated, fair, political settlement that includes all parties to this multi-decade, multidimensional, multifaceted conflict. That is terribly easy to say in a Committee Room in the House of Commons, but difficult to deliver on the ground. But the truth is that the Afghans know how to do it. The system is called jirga-in Arabic it’s called shura. It is about sitting together and thrashing out your differences.

Q101 Sir John Stanley: Sir Sherard, you pronounce yourself satisfied with the British Government strategy towards Afghanistan, and I assume that you are satisfied therefore with the broad ISAF strategy. But do you think that we have a satisfactory strategy to deal with what appears to me to be the single most corrosive area of impact on the effectiveness of the Karzai Government: the exercise of power by the Taliban through fear, intimidation, risk to family and cold-blooded murder? We see right now a systematic programme of assassination of government officials in Kandahar, as they try to see who exerts the real authority in that crucial city. Do we have a policy that can deal satisfactorily with the exercise of power through fear?

Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles: No; clearly, Sir John, we don’t, but as in Northern Ireland, Malaya, Palestine, Vietnam and Algeria, the solution is not going to be to try to suppress it by force alone. You need to protect the population, but to make the young men who are mounting the violence feel that they have a political stake in modern Afghanistan.

The truth is that in 2001, when our special forces and our intelligence services helped the northern warlords to push the Taliban out of power, first in Kabul and then in Kandahar, the Taliban weren’t defeated. They were pushed south and east and down, but they were never defeated. They were pushed out of power, but they weren’t defeated and they were not part of the subsequent political settlement. They are violent; they are unpleasant. But, in my view, for many southern Pashtuns they represent a less bad alternative-a fairer, more predictable alternative than a corrupt and predatory Government. That is why we need to use military force, but it must be accompanied by a political outreach and a sense that these people can be brought into a fair, political settlement.

Chair: Sir Sherard, that’s very helpful. Thank you. You have indicated that you would like to say some things in private, so I propose that we now move to the private session. I am afraid that I have to ask members of the public to leave. We will be going public again at five o’clock, when we have two witnesses on the video link from Washington.

Resolved, That the Committee should sit in private. The witness gave oral evidence. Asterisks denote that part of the oral evidence which has not been reported at the request of the witness and with the agreement of the Committee.

Q102 Sir John Stanley: Could you tell us what in your judgment would be the minimum settlement that the Taliban would accept, taking in and getting support for that settlement from their top leadership in Pakistan?

Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles: Yes. Very, very good question-and very difficult. As you know, Sir John, from your experience as a Minister in Northern Ireland, one cannot know when one enters a negotiation how it will end up. People’s opening positions are not necessarily their concluding positions. All I can say is that from intelligence, from the websites and from my talks with people with access to the Taliban, it’s rather like the FLN in Algeria, the IRA or any resistance movement-for example, the Jewish resistance movement against our presence in Palestine. There is a moderate camp that is fed up with fighting and that wants a political deal, and there are hard-line rejectionists.

The key to a successful negotiation is to engage those moderates, that being a relative term. There has been plenty of signalling that they realise they made very serious mistakes during their last time in power. It is rather like a political party here reinventing its policies in opposition. You have the new Taliban-I suggested once that their symbol should be a red rose, because they like roses-and many of their extreme policies have been abandoned. You’ll be able to watch television; they’ve said that they will allow girls to go to school; and they have said that beards will not be compulsory. They’ve realised that they made some horrific mistakes, but there’s an old guard sitting there in Quetta and in Karachi who need to be isolated. We need to drive a wedge. Pakistan and the Afghans needs to work with us but, in the end, it needs America in there, because only America will be trusted as the authoritative interlocutor.

President Karzai is a much better man than he is made out to be. He’s gone from hero to zero, but the truth is somewhere in between. He’s a great king, but a poor chief executive. He’s never going to be seen as the credible interlocutor for the Taliban. You need a four-way conversation-America, 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 longer we leave it, the more uncertain it is that the Taliban will talk. They may not talk. They need pressure from behind-as the Government of the Irish Republic put pressure on the IRA-and enticement and pressure, including military pressure, from the front. You may not succeed, but it is the last best hope we have of an honourable way out and of protecting and preserving the sacrifice of our troops, and the billions of pounds and dollars that have been spent in and on Afghanistan.

Q103 Mike Gapes: Why should the hard-line Taliban in Quetta not sit out this timetable, knowing that American and British public opinion is reluctant at best, and that other NATO allies are wanting to jump out as quickly as possible? What possible incentive do they have to negotiate seriously?

Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles: Well, there’s a wonderful document that you should get your Clerks to find for you. It’s classified "secret NOFORN," but it has appeared-or at least it has been summarised-in The New York Times. It is called "The state of the Taliban 2009" and it is based on hundreds of interviews of Taliban detainees by American special forces. It shows, perhaps surprisingly, that the Taliban are human beings. They think, as you suggest, Mr Gapes, that they are winning, but they are tired of fighting. 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 an honourable recognition that they weren’t defeated in 2001; they were pushed aside. They want to be dealt back into the political settlement.

But you’re quite right. Every day that goes by without us launching a serious negotiation, the more likely it is that they will say, "We’ll just sit this out and once the Ifranji"-the foreigners-"have gone, we’ll fight it out. We’ll probably take parts of the south, and other parts of the south will be in the hands of the narco-mafia." The realists among them recognise that they’re never likely to rule the whole of Afghanistan again. That’s the aspiration in former article 1 of the Irish constitution, which says that the territory of the state is the whole island of Ireland. That’s no longer a serious aspiration for the Taliban.

Q104 Rory Stewart: We’re all praying that we can do this with the United States, but we might need to think about a plan B. It’s possible that we’ll get to 2014 and hawks in the Department of Defence and in the United States will still not be ready to negotiate, and will still want to push ahead with the counter-insurgency campaign, calling for more resources and more time, at a moment when Britain will say, "No more combat operations". How do we prepare for that plan B? How do we make sure we don’t end up with a repeat of Basra, where, at the very last moment, we diverged from the United States? How do we use the next three years to make sure that we can get to that position in 2014?

Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles: I devoutly hope that we will not get to the position you describe, because it would have a major impact on the transatlantic relationship. There is a risk, with the Republicans in the ascendant in the House, that there will be pressure on President Obama, against his better judgment, to ramp up the military campaign yet further. You’re quite right to point to that, Rory. The only way is gradually to move the British Army and British forces-one must never forget the Royal Marines, the Royal Navy or the Royal Air Force, but above all the Marines and the Army-from a ground-holding territorial operation to a functional operation, to switch them out of holding territory into a training role, which could be in the south as well as in the north, and to do that by evolution, rather than by revolution, always taking the Americans with us, but being very firm with them about what we want and what we don’t want.

There have been cases, I’m sorry to say, of different branches of the British armed forces telling the Americans different things without ministerial authority, because they wanted different things for their own agenda. This needs clear ministerial direction and a clarification of what Ministers want. Some of these mil-mil conversations end up with things being pre-cooked between the US and the UK militaries before they are subject to political approval back in London, and/or you get different parts of the military lobbying for their own hobby-horses without clear political approval.

Q105 Rory Stewart: So the answer, finally, would be that we need to make sure that British generals ultimately get it very clear in their heads that the 2015 deadline is serious, and that they can’t fantasise about it being fungible or about the idea that if Petraeus can somehow pull off an extension, they, too, can pull off an extension.

Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles: Well, I wouldn’t put it, personally, quite as harshly as that. I don’t think we will end up there. I think it will be a much more nuanced draw-down. I think there will be a negotiated end. Four years is a very long time in Afghan politics.

Q106 Sir Menzies Campbell: I was very interested in what you said about Karzai. Eighteen months ago, at the Wehrkunde in Munich, Holbrooke treated him with public disdain. It is no secret that the relationship between the two of them has been pretty poor. Just how much could Karzai contribute to a settlement of the kind you have described? What would he bring with him that he alone could provide?

Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles: What he brings, Sir Menzies-I am very fond of President Karzai. I know him extremely well. I used to see him once a week as Ambassador. The hon. Member for Penrith and The Border and I have been walking with him in Scotland with the Prince of Wales. He is a great king, but a poor chief executive. ***

What he can bring to a settlement is that sort of quasi-monarchical leadership. He is a man who symbolises his country’s rebirth. He is fluent in Pashto, in Dari and English. Many of his instincts about civilian casualties and private security contractors are right. He is a true politician, a true retail politician, who feels what his people feel. He is just an absolutely hopeless administrator, and he doesn’t realise that governing means choosing. He thinks that governing means avoiding a choice.

Q107 Sir Menzies Campbell: So who is going to fulfil the chief executive role, if not him?

Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles: No. This is very sensitive territory, but many of us dealing with this problem have suggested President Karzai shouldn’t be removed. He can’t be removed.

Q108 Sir Menzies Campbell: I don’t believe he can.

Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles: He should be encouraged to take his place in history, in a gradual way, presiding over a peace process. A new constitutional settlement might well involve the creation of a Prime Minister-like post in Kabul, that could be held by a Tajik, with a redistribution of power between the Executive and Parliament within the Executive-and above all between Kabul and the provinces and districts. ***

Q109 Sir Menzies Campbell: That project for 2007 was made more difficult by the results last week. In one of the euphoric post-election speeches by the Republicans elected, I heard the person say, "We’re going to get a victory in Afghanistan". If that sort of attitude pervades the House of Representatives, then it’s going to make it very, very difficult for Obama to move in the direction you suggest.

Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles: I agree, Sir Menzies. General Petraeus himself said that this isn’t about victory; it’s about a long-term military struggle. But I don’t think it need be about a long-term military struggle if a political approach is adopted. We mustn’t forget that according to the strategy that we have signed up to, we are supposed to have stabilised 40 districts in southern and eastern Afghanistan by the end of next month. We are nowhere near achieving that-that performance measure has been forgotten. Forty districts next year and 40 the year after is an almost impossible target, and it certainly won’t be done by garrisoning these areas and putting men in forts. For the Pashtuns, seeing a man in a fort is a provocation not a pacification.

Q110 Chair: Sir Sherard, may I share a problem with you? I have just been told that due to a technical glitch we failed to record the first 10 minutes of this session.

Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles: Thank heavens.

Q111 Chair: Maybe you feel relieved. Do you feel that you have covered the points that you wanted to make about the role of the military after those 10 minutes?

Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles: Yes. In the United States there is a problem.

Q112 Mr Ainsworth: You talk about the United States going forward and a potential problem with the change in Congress, but what you haven’t said-you’re not saying it, or I haven’t for quite a long while that it’s the case-is what has been the problem to date, and where it has come from. I know that you have some views on that.

Rory Stewart: You are being diplomatic, Sherard.

Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles: I am being very diplomatic. Neither the former Defence Secretary nor the former director is going to tempt me into being completely frank. There is a very serious problem for us with the United States as an ally. It is a house divided-in Kabul and in Washington. The Woodward book doesn’t give the half of what is really going on between them all. We are a very minor player in what is inside baseball; we are the major outside player, but we are still a minor player. It needs a lead from the top. It needs the Prime Minister of the day to speak very robustly to the President. But all down the line, it needs us to be much more conditional in saying that we are prepared to go along with something that is a result of often sins of omission as much as commission by the American Administration. Again, that is easy for me to say, but difficult to do.

The truth is that, at root, the American Republic is not really equipped, constitutionally or in any other way, for that kind of quasi-imperial expeditionary adventure. Americans are too nice. They are not interested and not very good at ruling other people, which is essentially what this is about-ruling them in a benign sense, temporarily, in order to prepare Afghanistan for independence, as it were. America is not equipped to do that. It has huge resources and a very confident military, but very weak other parts of the machine. But I would not want that attributed to me.

Q113 Chair: Do you feel that you have covered all your bases now? Have you got across all the points?

Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles: Yes. Thank you very much.

Q114 Chair: On behalf of the Committee, I thank you very much. One usually goes through a ritual passage of thanking the witnesses, but I genuinely thank you for what has been an invaluable contribution. It is much appreciated.

Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles: I really mean it when I say that I welcome this inquiry. The timing couldn’t be better and it is about all our knowledge of history, which Britain has uniquely-we really do do it better. It is about the politicians taking charge. I met Obama’s Vice-President-I had lunch with him alone in Helmand in January. As happens with American politicians when they meet the British Ambassador, he said to me that he felt the need to quote Churchill. Apropos of nothing, he said, "Mr Ambassador, Churchill said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others". I said to him, "Mr Churchill also said something else, Mr Vice-President. He said that you can rely on America to do the right thing once it has exhausted all the alternatives". Your inquiry is about helping America now to do the right thing. The military campaign is not wrong, but it is not enough.

Chair: I think we can safely quote that.

The public were readmitted.

Examination of Witnesses

Witnesses: Gilles Dorronsoro, Visiting Scholar, South Asia Program, Carnegie Endowment and Gerard Russell MBE, Afghan specialist, Carr Center, Harvard Kennedy School of Government, gave evidence.

Q115 Chair: May I welcome the public back to this session of the Foreign Affairs Committee and our inquiry into Afghanistan? You might well have been entitled to expect a video-link to Washington at present, but technical gremlins have intervened and we only have an audio-link. So I will be grateful if people try to avoid rustling papers and things like that, while we do our best to deal with the audio-link here.

We have two witnesses in Washington at the moment, Gilles Dorronsoro, who is a visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment Foundation as an expert in Afghanistan and South Asia, and Gerard Russell, who is a fellow at the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy in Harvard University.

May I give a warm welcome to both of you?

Gerard Russell: Thank you.

Gilles Dorronsoro: Thank you.

Q116 Chair: Do you have an opening statement or anything similar that you would like to make? Or shall we go straight into questions?

Gilles Dorronsoro: I am happy to go straight to the questions.

Gerard Russell: I am happy, Mr Chairman, going straight to questions, having submitted a written statement earlier.

Q117 Chair: Okay. I read that with interest, Gerard.

Would you like to comment on what impact you feel the surge has had on the security situation across Afghanistan and on what its longer-term effects are likely to be?

Gilles Dorronsoro: I would say that altogether the surge has had two different effects. The first effect is in the south, in Helmand and Kandahar, where most of the troops have been directed. The further short-term effect has been more violence, with a lot of casualties on both sides. The Taliban has taken a more careful approach in some places, but they are not done; they are still there.

In the other part of the country, what is clear is that the Taliban have the momentum-especially in the east and north. In the last year, the last six months, they have made a lot of progress. So, altogether the surge is not working the way that it was meant to. There is no change in the overall balance of power and the Taliban are still making problems.

Chair: Thank you.

Gerard Russell: Let me just add to Gilles’s statement a couple of other thoughts. First, it is difficult to get a clear picture of the military situation. There are so many conflicting reports. However, it is easy to see, over the course of years, certain trends. What those trends highlight is that no matter what efforts are made on the military front, the political and law enforcement side of the equation is more important in terms of getting communities to side with the Government.

Earlier this morning, I was hearing from Michael Waltz, who was the UN’s commander in the field in Khost province. He was relaying the comments made to him by an elder in the Mangal tribe, down in that area, who said basically, "You can give us all the aid you want to build the schools, as many as you wish, and we welcome that, but if somebody comes and puts a knife to my throat in the night, what am I supposed to do?" That isn’t actually something that a military operation can easily address. It is an issue of getting communities to stand together against the Taliban and the Haqqani network. In that particular respect, I’m afraid, I don’t yet see great progress being made.

My second point would be that as a shaping operation that can enable talks to happen, the surge could be extremely effective, provided that is the strategy that is followed.

Q118 Chair: Right. Well, we are informed that it is the strategy that’s being followed. The number of insurgents killed is often used as some sort of measure of success. Do you have any views on this? Is that a reasonable way to look at the situation?

Gilles Dorronsoro: I would say that that is not a reasonable way of looking at the situation. As far as we know-but I’m not even aware of very good information on that-thousands of Taliban have been killed since the beginning of the surge. The political impact is difficult to appreciate. Most probably, all the older generation of the Taliban have been killed, and you have now new militants who are more radical, probably, and less willing to negotiate with the coalition. I would say, no, it’s not a reasonable way of looking at the situation, because more violence-the body count-means that Afghan society will be more polarised. It’s going to be us against them. In this case, I don’t see how the foreign troops would get any kind of support from the Afghan population. That’s exactly what we are seeing now in Kandahar, where they are not able to find local notables, local tribal leaders, local people to work with.

Chair: Gilles, could we ask you in your answers to get a bit nearer the microphone? Gerard is coming over very clearly, but we suspect that you’re a bit further away from the microphone.

Q119 Mr Baron: Hello there. Thanks for joining us. Can I ask a question? Most people I ask this question seem to agree with the premise of it, but struggle with the answer. History suggests that for a successful counter-insurgency campaign, you need various preconditions such as control of the border, good troop density levels, credible Government and the support of a majority of the population. To many, not one of those conditions exists in Afghanistan. What makes you think-if you do think this-that we are going to have any measure of success in that country?

Gerard Russell: Well, I would ask Gilles to speak first, actually, because I think his view is very clear on this.

Gilles Dorronsoro: I think it’s a very good point. It’s a very good series of questions, actually. South of the border, the border is out of control. The Taliban have a clear amount of support inside the Pakistani Government, so Pakistan is a sanctuary. In Kandahar, the Taliban are fighting two hours by car from their sanctuary. So the border is out of control.

The second point is the level of troops. There are comparatively a lot of foreign troops in two or three provinces and the south, possibly, but you have to see that, for example, for all the north you have little more than 10,000 troops, and it’s not exactly a secret that German troops are not very-basically, this country is open to the Taliban insurgency in the north, because there are not enough foreign troops and it’s not possible to send enough.

The third point is about the Government. We all know about Karzai’s Government. It’s going to be extremely difficult to drill an Afghan national army and, of course, an Afghan national police in the next three or four years. I do not trust the quantitative approach: "We have more policemen or soldiers, so it’s good". What we have to look at is their level of training, their competence. Here we have a problem. I don’t think we’re going to have an Afghan national army able to stop the Taliban or contain the Taliban in two years.

The last thing is the population’s support. The Taliban have a kind of support in a lot of places. The fact that the Afghan Government is now absent from lots of provinces, makes the Taliban more and more a kind of parallel Government, and because they are involved with some kind of order they have some kind of popular support. So, for all these reasons, I think that the situation-

Chair: Gerard.

Gerard Russell: Gilles makes a lot of very good points. It is difficult for me to comment on military strategy, but I know that there has been some concern that to have secured the borders would have been a more effective approach than to have got into the population centres. I am not a military expert and I wouldn’t pretend to be, but it is certainly true that that question is a very good one.

I would, in general, make a comment about the lists. Of course, there is an excellent list of points and of questions that should be asked about the counter-insurgency campaign. I suppose that the other question to ask is, "Can a foreign force ever really hope to be effective in countering an Afghan insurgency?" One of the things that concerns me, looking back on the campaign to date, is whether we were right to think that it was ever going to work to put foreign troops into Afghan population centres-towns and villages-and keep them secure. It often seems to have been the stimulus for confrontation rather than the resolution of it, and for me that points to a much greater potential that existed for foreign forces in Afghanistan to have been all along in a position where they acted as a weapon of last resort, rather than being the front line of engagement with the Taliban.

Q120 Mike Gapes: Can I ask you about the long-term commitment of the coalition to troops remaining in Afghanistan? A number of countries have already withdrawn or indicated that they intend to withdraw, and we know that President Obama made a political commitment to begin a reduction in US troops from July 2011. What’s the attitude of the US military to that commitment and, regarding the long term, what’s the attitude to whether there will be a deadline, like the British Prime Minister has signalled, of a complete end to a combat role by 2015? Is there an American view forming about something similar and, if so, what is it?

Gerard Russell: In the readings that I’ve made, there isn’t very much said directly by the military about the issue of the July 2011 date, but from those who have served in the military and are close to the American military, you see a great deal of criticism, and there is a feeling from some who have been in Afghanistan that it leads to an inevitable ebbing of American credibility in the country.

The other side of the picture is, of course, that with such a large presence in the country, inevitably the political cost increases all the time, and arguably the levels of casualties and expense are simply unsustainable and therefore a reduction has to come at some point. But in answer to your direct question about the American military’s attitude, my guess is that they are unhappy, and I think that they would be similarly unhappy with any end stage that would be set, even if it were 2015. My instinct, to be honest, when reading Bob Woodward’s book, Obama’s Wars, was that, having received an increase in troops in Afghanistan, there would perhaps be a feeling in some parts of the military that it would be really very hard for the civilian Government now to reduce forces even in 2011, by any significant degree.

Gilles Dorronsoro: I think that you have two different dynamics. The first is that the Europeans must be out of Afghanistan by 2014.

The second dynamic is that the US military is always asking for more resources. Since 2002, you have a surge every year in Afghanistan. Every year, you have more troops and more money, and the result is not that great. What you are trying to do in a way is trying to stop the unending increase in resources. I don’t think it’s going to work, because the deadline has been pushed back. For example, when I came to Washington two years ago, the deadline was 18 months. In 18 months, we needed to see something on the ground. If not, we would have to withdraw. Then the deadline was 2011. It’s no longer 2011, in fact; it’s going to be 2014. I think there is an increased dynamic inside the military. It’s never to say, "Okay, we have to negotiate". It’s always to ask for more resources. Obama doesn’t seem to be able to stop these demands. I think with the result of the latest election in the House especially, it will be more and more difficult to stop any increase. What we could very well have next year 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.

Q121 Mr Baron: May I turn us briefly to the 2015 deadline? A recent US Government inspection found that something like a quarter of Afghan soldiers could not work unsupervised. Only about 3% come from the predominantly Pashtun south. Some would suggest the Afghan police are corrupt and ineffective, and we know the attrition rates are high. So say the sceptics. How optimistic are you that the 2015 deadline is realistic, and what level of security do you think the Afghan forces will be able to provide?

Gerard Russell: There is a 2015 deadline and there’s a 2014 deadline, which is even more ambitious and which is President Karzai’s. You have focused on one point that I think is of critical importance, which is the number of Pashtuns who are in the Afghan security forces. Although Pashtuns from the east and the north can to some extent fulfil a role, it’s very hard for those who don’t speak Pashto to do the job that particularly the police are meant to do, which is to integrate themselves with the community and establish co-operative mechanisms with the community. That I would highlight as a serious problem. I’m glad that the UK and the US have begun to address it by this issue of community security. Whatever issues it brings with it-it brings many risks and dangers-it’s the only way of getting Pashtuns to serve, given that the police are widely seen as a Tajik-dominated service.

You’re absolutely right to highlight the risks and threats. I will only say that on the optimistic side-it is important, given the amount of pessimism there is, to emphasise the optimistic side-when Najibullah was left on his own by the Soviet forces and they withdrew, giving him money and weapons but very little in the way of soldiers on the ground, many people predicted that he would fall within weeks or months, yet he survived for three years with not a terribly good security force, although perhaps it was a little better than it is now, and there was a lot of pessimism about his prospects. That helps to emphasise that this may need to be an issue not of military force as conventionally understood but of psychological or moral force. The question is really whether the Afghan Government can command the loyalty of their subjects, rather than necessarily a question of how good their soldiers are.

Gilles Dorronsoro: Yes, I totally agree with what Gerard said. If you think about the Afghan national army as a way to contain the Taliban, it’s not going to work-first, because the Taliban are already penetrating the Afghan national army and the Afghan national police. What we have seen in a district north of Ghazni recently-last week, I think-is that the whole district went to the Taliban, joined up to the Taliban. That kind of thing can happen again and again in the next two years. So the ANA and the Afghan police are not going to stop the Taliban. They could be part of a political process. They could be part of negotiations. They could stabilise the situation after the political lead, but right now, what we are seeing in Ghazni and what we saw in Laghman province last summer, for example, is that it is clear that the Afghan national army does not have the autonomy to operate alone. Secondly, the ethnic composition of the army is a real, serious problem. I don’t see how you can train officers in two or three years, considering that the overall state structure is truly disappearing in a lot of places in Afghanistan. That is the problem. How can you build an army without a state?

Q122 Rory Stewart: Gilles, following on from your conversation about the state, what is the state theory of the coalition? Is it trying to create a centralised state, a decentralised state? How does it think that Afghanistan runs? It keeps saying that we need governance, but what is this governance?

Gilles Dorronsoro: Actually, I don’t think there is a theory. I think that there are a lot of local initiatives. Altogether, that doesn’t make sense for me. You also suspect that for efficiency’s sake you have to deal locally, so you don’t deal with the governor if the governor is not good. You go through the provincial reconstruction team-the PRT. Most of the work of the coalition is done in parallel with the Afghan state. In a lot of cases, that is destroying the credibility of the Afghan state. That is the first dynamic. That is true also for the NGOs to a certain extent.

The second dynamic is that we want to enforce regulation at the top. We want to fight corruption at the top. Of course, it is not working. Well, it is working in some specific cases, such as the Ministry of Mines, for example, where it seems that something is moving. But overall, it is not possible, because it is going straight to Karzai and to people who are extremely close to Karzai. Some of those are working for the CIA, which creates a problem every time we try to fight corruption. There is a temptation to deal locally with whoever is in control. There is the temptation to put pressure on Karzai at the top, but all that doesn’t make for an overall coherent policy.

Gerard Russell: Thank you for the question, Rory. I agree with Gilles about the way that things have worked in practice. If I may, I will give two slightly separate responses to your question. First, in respect of development and national strategy towards Afghanistan, you rightly identify that the emphasis has, in theory, been on a top-down model of governance. In particular, whenever it has been proposed, for example, to enlist Afghans in a local fighting force in a community initiative of any kind, there has always been the desire to link that into the Ministry of Interior, which to some extent defeats the purpose. One of the problems in the south and east of Afghanistan is that the Ministry of Interior has lacked credibility and been seen as a body that was ill disposed towards Pashtuns.

To some extent the top-down approach is the result of theory and empirical evidence, I suppose from the Balkans. To another extent, I’m afraid, it’s a failing of the international community that it tends to engage most easily with those who speak its language, particularly those who speak English, those who are educated, and those who live in the capitals. In the case of Afghanistan and Iraq, it is very often those who have come to the country from America, who are almost by definition ill-suited to lead a country in a state of conflict, because they lack credibility on the street, because they don’t speak the language of the ordinary person, and because they have been insulated from the sufferings of their country over the last 10 or 20 years. When I look sometimes at the structures in Kabul that are in charge of local government, I remember what Wilfred Thesiger said in the 1950s about those who were sent from Baghdad to govern Maysan-of course, a place that you know well, Rory. He said that such people never had a deep-seated investment in the places to which they were sent, and therefore never troubled to really understand local issues or to resolve things in a way that would deliver long-term stability. It would have been much better from the beginning if we had tried to find solutions at a local level. We have done so, as Gilles describes, in a somewhat haphazard way and without a proper strategy.

The second point that I wanted to make was allied to that. Besides the issue of the Kabul-down approach, there has also been the PRT-up approach. Somewhat disjointed, partly because each country, with its own province to look after, has adopted a different approach.

Q123 Mr Roy: Gentlemen, as the years go by, what level of support for reconciliation is there from the American people, the US Administration and the US military?

Gerard Russell: I’ll go first, and Gilles can come in just a second. I feel that there is some confusion over the word "reconciliation", which is used in two different senses.

One is to describe the possibility of proper negotiations with the Taliban. I shall give an example of this. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) successfully mediated with the Taliban to produce the piece of paper with Mullah Omar’s signature on it; that is used for giving polio vaccinations in places like Laghman, and has given to this day protection from the Taliban. That is one sense of reconciliation. It means something of that kind; a negotiation with Mullah Omar, with the Quetta Shura. In another sense, it is used to mean persuading Taliban to defect.

These two exercises are totally different in kind, even if they may have some things in common, just as persuading Soviets to defect in the old days of the Cold War was not the same as negotiating with the Soviet Government. I would wish to distinguish between the two, and I am afraid at this stage-well, there has been progress towards an understanding of the importance of both of those things, but the idea of persuading individuals to change sides is much more popular.

Gilles Dorronsoro: Well, I totally agree with what Gerard said. First, reconciliation in the sense that you are going to ask Taliban to defect to Karzai’s side is not working. Actually it is not working; it never worked. What you have is very small groups or some individuals joining the Government, but it has no strategic impact. The more you’re fighting, the more you’re killing people, the less you will see people defecting, because it is the mechanism of polarisation. It is absolutely classical in Afghan society, so this policy is going nowhere.

The second policy, which is political talk with the Taliban leadership, never even started. It is clear that it is not supported by the US military, and not even by the State Department, so it’s a dead end. So in the next few months, you are going to see probably some move towards tribal militias, but it’s not going to work. You’re going to have a small-scale defection here and there, and no political talks.

Q124 Mr Roy: Is there a difference in thinking on the willingness to accept reconciliation between the Administration and the US military?

Gerard Russell: In the sense of accepting the idea of negotiating?

Mr Roy: Yes.

Gerard Russell: It is quite hard to see the exact dividing line. I am not sure, but it’s a division between military and civilians. There are plenty of people, including former senior people in the US military, who see the importance ultimately of negotiations. I do not know whether Gilles and I agree about this. I don’t necessarily say that negotiations are a thing that will work today, but I wish that there was some evidence that genuine effort was going to go into creating an atmosphere that would permit talks to happen at some stage in the next year or two. So, I don’t say that America should declare immediately its intention of negotiating, given that the Taliban would not necessarily accept such an offer. I think that the resistance, fundamentally, is an issue of public opinion, and that is where it has to be addressed.

Gilles Dorronsoro: What I am seeing right now is that the strategy is, mostly, a military one. There is no real political side-no one is going to negotiate with the Taliban, let’s say until at least next year, the end of next year. Negotiation doesn’t make sense right now.

What the US military and, probably, the US Administration want is to put military pressure on the Taliban. But what is probably going to happen is that next year the Taliban will be stronger than this year-everything points in that direction. So, it will be more difficult to negotiate next year than this year. That is why I am not terribly optimistic about negotiation, even in one or two years.

Q125 Mr Ainsworth: You are pretty pessimistic about the ability to align maybe what has been UK policy for some time now-that is, that military effort has to be combined with a political solution and reconciliation. To what degree do you think that we are going to be able to exercise influence over the United States, or are you totally pessimistic about our ability to shift American policy in this regard?

Gerard Russell: It’s Gerard speaking, if you can’t tell from the accents-I hope, by the way, that you admire this example of Anglo-French co-operation.

Chair: We do. And we are getting the hang of the accents.

Gerard Russell: Excellent. I am glad to hear it.

I think there has been progress and some of that is due to Britain. You heard today from Sherard Cowper-Coles, who did a great deal to push this agenda forward with, I think, some success. It is a big leap for a Democrat President to make, and it carries a lot of risk. That is why I say that public opinion is very important. There are a lot of political bear traps in the reconciliation process and, particularly, in public declarations of a desire for negotiations. I don’t necessarily say that that has to happen. I wish there were more evidence of a low-level practical approach, such as that adopted in Northern Ireland, where there was at least a link between the British Government and the IRA for many years, even though it was kept secret. As to whether that would happen, I think it is possible, because I think there is more pragmatism in the Administration than necessarily comes through in public declarations, but very difficult. It requires continued argument from commentators and from those countries and Governments that see the need for it.

Gilles is right to point out the difficulties. Equally, of course, peace processes in the past, including in Northern Ireland, were regarded as being unlikely to succeed, and yet people tried them and, eventually, they got somewhere. I think that there are some grounds for optimism. In the regional picture, both China and Iran will have a strong interest in stability in Afghanistan. It might not look like stability of the kind that we originally imagined, but they do need to protect their investments, and they have opportunities in Afghanistan-particularly, of course, mineral deposits, but also as a transit route for supplies of various kinds, not just natural gas. For that reason, I am a little more optimistic than Gilles. Either through a formal process of talks with the Taliban or through a de facto armistice on the ground, perhaps, if we are clever enough, a form of peaceful co-existence can be engendered. I haven’t given up on that.

Gilles Dorronsoro: A way to answer the question is to notice that Afghanistan was totally out of the agenda at the last election, so Obama doesn’t feel a lot of pressure from the Democratic left to make a deal in Afghanistan. On the contrary, he doesn’t want to look weak on foreign policy-that’s the usual problem for Democratic Presidents-and the House, of course, is going to put on pressure for a more military approach to the Afghan conundrum. So Obama, I think, is not going to take risks on Afghanistan, because there is no pressure from public opinion to do something to get out of Afghanistan, really. My feeling-the presidential election is in 2012-is that Obama is not going to do anything very strong or dramatic until 2012. After that, we’ll see if Obama is re-elected or not, but for this mandate, I think it’s basically not very likely you will see something.

Q126 Andrew Rosindell: Can I ask you to comment on how you see the role of Pakistan in all this, and how that impacts on the situation in Afghanistan, particularly with regard to US policy and their approach to Pakistan? Do you think Pakistan is a country we can rely on?

Gilles Dorronsoro: This is Gilles speaking, but I think you understand that. I don’t think there is a US policy towards Pakistan, or I don’t understand what it is. You have a clear US policy towards India. We have seen that in the last few days. Towards Pakistan, it’s a mix of different things that lack intellectual coherence, and that is producing very contrary results.

Concretely, when it was time to put hard pressure on Pakistan between 2001 and 2004–05, when the Taliban were still very weak, the White House did not put any kind of serious pressure on Pakistan. Now the situation is such that even if Islamabad and the military wanted to break the Taliban and secure the border, it would not be possible. It’s now that the White House is putting some kind of pressure on Pakistan. Even this pressure is half-hearted, so you have the worst results. First, the Pakistani establishment doesn’t trust Washington, because it is obvious that Washington’s long-term interests are towards India; Obama’s last trip to India is very clear about that. So there is no trust. Secondly, for example, the drone attacks on the border are resented by a large part of the population. It’s not going to work long-term to secure US interests. It’s a kind of mixed bag of things that could work but are done half-heartedly.

The result of that is that the Pakistani military support the Taliban and will continue to support the Taliban to the end. Just from that, you’re sure that the Taliban will not lose the war in Afghanistan, because they have a sanctuary. Altogether, I think people in Washington should reconsider their whole strategy towards Pakistan. It doesn’t make sense the way it’s done right now.

Gerard Russell: I must give a very brief response to your interesting question, and then I fear I have to leave, but Gilles will be able to stay a little longer. The Pakistani position is conditioned by many factors, some of which are outside our control. The relationship with President Karzai among some in the Pakistani establishment remains difficult. I think ultimately, they just don’t believe that the current Government in Kabul are well disposed to Pakistan or will survive very long after a US draw-down. There’s no doubt that the news and the prospect of a US draw-down is going to influence their thinking.

However, I am more optimistic than Gilles on one point. I think he disagrees with me on this, but I don’t see that Pakistan will necessarily be interested in pushing for a Taliban victory that would include the fall of Kabul and the north. I think it improbable that they would push for that if they felt that it would ultimately destabilise their investments and China’s investments in southern Afghanistan. China has invested $4 billion in the Aynak copper mine, which is vitally important for China’s growth, and China is Pakistan’s most important partner. It is beyond the US, in terms of importance, simply because it is there on Pakistan’s borders and it is their most reliable ally. So, in that sense, I have some optimism that although bits of the Pakistani establishment certainly support the insurgency, none the less, the overall national interest will point to some kind of compromise in the end, and will not drive them to seek the fall of the entire country, as the Taliban did in the ’90s.

Chair: Gerard, we have just one more question left. It will only take a couple of minutes. Are you able to stay for another couple of minutes?

Gerard Russell: I can stay for just two more minutes.

Q127 Sir John Stanley: You said right at the beginning that the American military did not like deadlines being put up by which time they had to withdraw. I would suggest that the American military are perhaps even more concerned about not being left as the only fighting force in a particular location. If that is not a particular concern to the American military, I think that it is a deep concern to the American politicians. We see now that the Canadians, the Dutch, the Australians, the British-all those countries-have set dates for coming out of combat operations, or there is a serious debate as to how long they should stay in Afghanistan. Do you see the American civilian political leadership being prepared to stay on in Afghanistan beyond, say, 2015, or do you think that they will actually end up coming in line pretty well with the British Government’s policy of coming out of combat operations by 2015?

Gerard Russell: It is a very difficult question to judge. I think that either scenario is possible-[Interruption.]

Chair: Are you there? Okay. Thank you very much, colleagues. We meet again tomorrow at 2 o’clock. Meeting over.