Session 2010-11
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CORRECTED TRANSCRIPT OF ORAL EVIDENCE To be published as HC 514-iv

HOUSE OF COMMONS

ORAL EVIDENCE

TAKEN BEFORE THE

FOREIGN AFFAIRS COMMITTEE

THE UK’S FOREIGN POLICY TOWARDS AFGHANISTAN AND PAKISTAN

MONDAY 15 NOVEMBER 2010

RT HON WILLIAM HAGUE MP and KAREN PIERCE CMG

Evidence heard in Public

Evidence heard in Private

Questions 128 – 188

Questions 189 – 208

USE OF THE TRANSCRIPT

1.

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.

2.

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 Monday 15 November 2010

Members present:

Richard Ottaway (Chair)

Mr Bob Ainsworth

Mr John Baron

Ann Clwyd

Mike Gapes

Andrew Rosindell

Mr Frank Roy

Rory Stewart

Mr Dave Watts

Examination of Witnesses

Witnesses: Rt Hon William Hague MP, Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs and First Secretary of State, and Karen Pierce CMG, Director South Asia and Afghanistan, Foreign and Commonwealth Office and Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, gave evidence.

Q128 Chair: May I welcome members of the public to this fourth and final evidence session of the Foreign Affairs Committee’s inquiry into the UK’s foreign policy towards Afghanistan and Pakistan? Our two witnesses today are the Foreign Secretary, William Hague, and Karen Pierce, who is the director of south Asia and Afghanistan. Foreign Secretary, is there anything you would like to start by saying?

Mr Hague: No. I know we may be pressed for time, so it may be helpful if we get on with your questions.

Q129 Chair: I start by thanking you and your officials for facilitating our visit to Afghanistan and Pakistan. It was a very good visit. It was well received, and we sensed that people went the extra mile for us, which is much appreciated.

Foreign Secretary, it is often put to us that al-Qaeda and the Taliban are being grouped together, when they are very different beasts, as you well know. The Government justify their intervention in Afghanistan on the basis that, if they were not there, al-Qaeda would return to Afghanistan and could pose a threat to national security. A number of our witnesses have disagreed with this premise. What evidence do you have to suggest that al-Qaeda-not the Taliban, but al-Qaeda-would return to Afghanistan?

Mr Hague: It is impossible to have direct evidence of something that would happen in a hypothetical situation, but we have the experience of what happened before 2001. Much of Afghanistan was effectively either ungoverned space or Taliban-governed space, and in those circumstances al-Qaeda was able to set up its training camps and bases there. Based on that experience, there must be a reasonable suspicion that the same thing would happen again, particularly where al-Qaeda feels under pressure in other areas. It would be a rash observer who said that they knew this would not happen. It is fair for President Karzai to have included in the conditions that he has set out for political settlement in Afghanistan, that the Taliban and others associated with them should renounce al-Qaeda and renounce violence. That is the line of reasoning.

Q130 Chair: President Karzai actually says that he doesn’t think they will return.

Mr Hague: It is one of the conditions that he has set, and he has set that condition for a good reason.

Q131 Mr Baron: Could you answer the question about the military strategy and the security situation that I posed in PMQs on Wednesday last week? Successful counter-insurgency operations in the past, particularly in Malaya, suggest that not one of the preconditions for success-control of the borders, high troop density levels, a credible Government and support of the majority of the population-exists in Afghanistan. Why do you think that the military, in particular, are so optimistic that they can achieve a successful outcome there, and doesn’t this beg for a more realistic assessment?

Mr Hague: It certainly requires a realistic assessment, but in any realistic assessment the task in which we are engaged in Afghanistan remains phenomenally difficult. That is partly because of some of the factors that you quite rightly describe. Nevertheless, all those factors are being addressed one way or another. The build-up of the Afghan national security forces is very substantial. As you know, and as you saw on your visit to Afghanistan, the Afghan national army is now at 144,000, which is 10,000 ahead of where it was meant to be at this time. The Afghan national police is stronger now than was anticipated. The attrition rates in terms of people leaving those forces month-by-month are diminishing.

The legitimacy and operation of government in a province such as Helmand seem more widely accepted than they were a year ago, or two years ago. So progress is being made in many of those parameters. Even co-operation with other countries-you know about the Afghanistan-Pakistan transit trade agreement-and working with regional neighbours is an area of greater strength for the Afghan Government than before. They all remain very difficult-every parameter remains very difficult-but I think that it’s fair to argue that, at a varying pace, progress is being made in all those ways. So success remains very difficult in Afghanistan, but it is by no means impossible.

Q132 Mr Baron: Do you accept that one of the things that has plagued our presence in Afghanistan is the continual reading out of over-optimistic assessments by Ministers? We are all pleased, obviously, that we now have a more realistic assessment of the current situation in Afghanistan, although some of us would suggest that it needs to be even more realistic than at present. Does that suggest that, in the past, the military were driving strategy, as opposed to the politicians?

Mr Hague: That question has several parts. I agree that over-optimistic assessments have sometimes been made, and the current Government are trying to avoid that. We are learning lessons from what has happened in the past. I gave the first of our quarterly reviews to Parliament in the week in which your Committee was visiting Afghanistan, and I apologise for that. The spending review was the previous week and my own visit to the Middle East was the following week, so it had to be in that week. I will try to catch you in the country at the time of the next quarterly review. I hope that it was regarded by the House-I think it was-as a frank assessment of where we are and did not overstate what has been achieved, but showed that progress was being made in several areas. Much more needed to be done, for instance, in the area of corruption and governance, and we will carry on in that vein with our assessments. We will not encourage false optimism, but we will not be blind to good news, either. There are often more successes to talk about than feature daily in our media. Being realistic in our assessments is important, and hopefully we are getting it right.

Were the military driving the strategy before? You may need to direct that to members of the previous Government-you have directed it to one official who served under the previous Government-rather than the current Government. It is very important on an issue such as this that military and political leaders work well together and that political decisions are well informed by military assessments, otherwise, of course, politicians may make rash decisions without sufficient military awareness. I certainly think that the way we now conduct our National Security Council in the UK-with the Chief of the Defence Staff, senior Ministers and the heads of the intelligence agencies sitting together on this and other subjects on a very regular basis-provides the correct balance in making decisions.

Q133 Mr Baron: Pursuing that theme, can we very briefly explore the extent to which counter-insurgency operations are perhaps undermining our political goals? Whatever happens, there will have to be some sort of negotiated settlement. The military buy you time and meanwhile the politicians must provide the answer. Most would accept a negotiated settlement, yet the military seem to be targeting Taliban leaders as a decapitation policy, if you believe certain reports. Do you think that that is constructive for a negotiated settlement? To what extent can the UK actually influence the US in its approach to the Taliban, in the sense that at least publicly it has been reluctant to negotiate with the Taliban?

Mr Hague: Certainly the UK can influence the US. The Prime Minister and the President discuss that a great deal. I am heading for the United States later today, and that is top of the list of my topics to discuss with Secretary Clinton. We have a multitude of contacts at official level and between our intelligence agencies. I very much agree that it is important to keep the Taliban under maximum military pressure and, indeed, to intensify that pressure in the coming months, if we are ultimately to come to a negotiated political settlement. I do not accept the premise in part of your question that conducting combat operations against the Taliban reduces the chances of a political settlement. Military success and intensified military pressure are important components of bringing about a settlement, and the Taliban should expect intensified military pressure in the coming months in the absence of a political settlement.

Q134 Mr Baron: Finally, Foreign Secretary, do you accept that, when a negotiated settlement-of whatever description-takes hold, it will obviously have to reflect the realities on the ground, such as negotiations with the Taliban and with regional warlords? Is it not possible to have a negotiated settlement and still retain the ability to take on al-Qaeda, perhaps using special forces, should it ever return? In putting a line between the Taliban and al-Qaeda, a negotiated settlement has to take place with the Taliban. That does not mean that we have to make peace with al-Qaeda. Is it not beyond the wit of man to engineer some sort of solution whereby at the end of the day we retain the military capacity to take on al-Qaeda, should it ever return, while progressing with a negotiated settlement with the Taliban in order to engineer a success out of our present circumstances?

Mr Hague: Yes, I hope that that is possible. It is highly unlikely that it would be possible in the foreseeable future to negotiate a peace with al-Qaeda. That would fundamentally be against the beliefs of al-Qaeda. It might be possible to do so with the Taliban or with parts of the Taliban. We don’t know whether that is possible, but it is certainly desirable under the right conditions.

One of the conditions-I referred to it earlier-that President Karzai has set alongside respecting a constitutional framework and renouncing violence is cutting ties with al-Qaeda, so, yes, such a settlement would require a distinction to be made between those who are reconciled and those who are committed to al-Qaeda.

Karen Pierce: Can I just add to that? One factor that we consider when looking at the prospects for negotiation is the level of popular support for the Taliban. It is around 10%, although it varies in different parts of the country. The other thing that we need to consider is that parts of the insurgency now have active links with al-Qaeda, not necessarily inside Afghanistan but certainly links emanating from Pakistan. If we look at President Karzai’s conditions for renouncing links with al-Qaeda, we would also look at the Security Council resolutions in advance of 9/11 that invited the Taliban to give up al-Qaeda-a step that the Taliban didn’t take. The real question for us is to what extent would a Taliban assurance relating to al-Qaeda be capable of being carried out?

Q135 Mike Gapes: Can I ask about the nature of the insurgency? From what we were told, we understand that there are three different insurgencies: the Haqqani network, the Hekmatyar, and the Taliban leader Mullah Omar’s Pakistan-based Quetta. Maybe there are more. Perhaps you can confirm that. Is it your strategy to get all three of those components into a political process, or are you trying to split them and get some of them in on the basis that that will at least reduce the fact of the conflict going on?

Mr Hague: We are trying to create the conditions for a political settlement. The military campaign is a very important part of that, for the reasons I referred to earlier. Who wants to enter into a settlement is not within our control, whether it is all those groups, further groups or any of those groups that wish to do so. It is up to them to decide whether they wish to be part of that settlement. We might wish for however many groups to be involved, but we will see how the circumstances develop.

Q136 Mike Gapes: Finally, in your earlier answer to Mr Baron, you referred to the growing training and support of the Afghan national security forces. Isn’t it the case that there are virtually no southern Pashtuns in those security forces, and that the only Pashtuns are from the east and north of the country?

Mr Hague: It remains the case that southern Pashtuns are under-represented in the national security forces-3% is a widely quoted figure, although more than 40% of the army would be Pashtuns of other origins. So when you say that the only other Pashtuns are from other areas, you’re talking about very large numbers of people. That remains a weakness. It is an important weakness to address over time, but it has to be seen against the context of the very rapid build-up of the Afghan national security forces and the huge improvement in the training of officers and non-commissioned officers that we have seen over the past year.

Q137 Rory Stewart: We are all obviously praying that the surge works, but do we have a contingency plan? If we get through to 2015, we move back to special forces and training operations. How are we going to contain and manage the situation in 2015, if the counter-insurgency strategy doesn’t work?

Mr Hague: We are working very hard to make sure that it does work. Remember that the forces that we are talking about are a key component of this. The Afghan national security forces will be over 300,000-strong by the end of next year, never mind by 2014. The training of non-commissioned officers of the Afghan national army is up by 712% over the last year. This is a very important consideration. This is becoming an army much larger than ours, without yet the skills, logistics, engineering, intelligence and so on that need to be part of a highly effective army. Whatever happens, that build-up is crucial to the future of Afghanistan, so that Afghans can lead and maintain their own security operations from 2014, in line with President Karzai’s objective, irrespective of arriving at a political settlement. You can think of that as the next line of defence after international forces.

Q138 Rory Stewart: So the next line of defence is that the Afghans continue to conduct their own form of counter-insurgency operation post-2015 with the training of the special forces support from the United Kingdom?

Mr Hague: We have made a very clear statement about not being involved in combat operations in 2015, although that does not preclude being there in a training role, for instance. But yes, I think the long-term outlook, if there were to be no political settlement, is that the Afghan national security forces become large enough to be able to hold their own in Afghanistan. That does not mean there would be a peaceful Afghanistan. It does mean there would be an Afghanistan where the writ of Government ran widely enough for that Government to be able to resist being overthrown by force.

Q139 Rory Stewart: Will we be asking the British military to present their troops numbers for 2013 or 2014, and how they will be deployed, at the National Security Council?

Mr Hague: We will look at all such things in the National Security Council which, of course, is now the forum in which such matters are decided. So yes, the Prime Minister will certainly expect the MOD to set forward the plans for the next few years. However, it is quite hard to foresee, at this point, the level of resources and the nature of the activities required in 2013 and 2014. Of course, it is clear that we should have an ever larger training role and, as you know, the Defence Secretary has announced the movement of more than 300 personnel into a training role just in the last few months. But yes, the National Security Council will examine the plans for our deployments over time.

Karen Pierce: That is on the agenda of the National Security Council over the next few months and troops will be linked to tasks, obviously, so we will start there.

Q140 Mr Ainsworth: Can we get some clarity on exactly what the deadline in 2015 is? What is it, when is it, and exactly what does it encompass?

Mr Hague: It is as the Prime Minister and I have stated it: by 2015, we will not be engaged in Afghanistan either in combat operations or in anything like the numbers that we have there today. That, as I was saying to Mr Stewart, does not mean that we will not be there in other roles-in training and so on. However, I don’t want anyone to underestimate the clarity of this, or to confuse the clarity. The Prime Minister has said that very clearly; he means it, and that is what we will stick to.

Q141 Mr Ainsworth: When? 2015 is 12 months long.

Mr Hague: It is 12 months long.

Q142 Mr Ainsworth: There is a general election in May 2015, or that’s what you’re planning, isn’t it? Will it be in January 2015?

Mr Hague: I do not think it is necessary, now that we have said 2015, to try and home in on the actual day in 2015, particularly since we are sitting here in November 2010. It is quite a long way away-in fact, it is further in the future, as you all well know, than our whole operations in Helmand are in the past. So, it is a long time into the future, but we don’t anticipate, in the near future, setting out a particular month or week.

Q143 Mr Ainsworth: Who took the decision?

Mr Hague: The decision was taken by Ministers in the National Security Council and the Cabinet, led by the Prime Minister.

Q144 Mr Ainsworth: Was it taken in the National Security Council?

Mr Hague: It was taken by the Prime Minister in consultation with other senior Ministers, including me.

Q145 Mr Ainsworth: Were you consulted?

Mr Hague: Yes.

Q146 Mr Ainsworth: When were you consulted?

Mr Hague: Before the Prime Minister made his announcement.

Q147 Mr Ainsworth: Was the Defence Secretary consulted?

Mr Hague: I am sure the Defence Secretary was consulted, but I cannot tell you when everybody was consulted. You would have to ask the Prime Minister.

Q148 Mr Ainsworth: We are there as part of a coalition force-we are a very significant part of a coalition force-and we have always tried to be good partners as a country in coalition activities and international affairs, have we not? Is there no conceivable possibility that that will be changed if, let’s say, a NATO discussion takes place about the need for change because the deadlines are not being met, or because of American requests, because we simply cannot get to a position where the Afghan national army or Afghan national security forces are capable of standing up on their own? Is there no conceivable way that that is going to be altered? It’s set. It’s finished. That’s it. It’s a deadline. It will not be changed in any circumstances.

Mr Hague: It won’t be changed. The Prime Minister is being very clear about that. It is a change of policy from this Government, and there have been several. We have doubled the operational allowance for the troops and we have redeployed away from certain areas of Helmand to concentrate on other areas. As you know, there have been several changes of policy on Afghanistan and yes, this is one of them. People can argue about the advantages and disadvantages of it, as Mr Baron has done on the Floor of the House, but we will make the most of the advantages of this policy. Our intentions are clear to all concerned, and what we are going to do by 2015-they are clear to our allies and to the Afghan Government. We don’t want anybody to be in any doubt about that. There are other allies in NATO who have also stated specific timings for the deployment of their forces. We will, by then, have been in Helmand for much longer-50% longer-than the entire Second World War, so we feel it right to say that, by then, we will not be involved in combat operations.

Q149 Mr Ainsworth: This is the change of policy, isn’t it? We’ve changed the area of operations, but that was happening in any case. We had got out of Musa Qala before the change of Government; we were halfway out of Sangin before the change of Government. This, however, is the change.

Mr Hague: It’s an important change and it is a change that we will stick to.

Q150 Mr Ainsworth: Why announce it in public? Why did we think that that would be helpful? It has been said that we did it to put pressure on the Karzai Government, but did it not take the pressure off the Taliban and off the insurgents?

Mr Hague: I think that insurgents will find that, in line with our earlier discussion, they are under intense pressure over the coming months. There is no relaxation in the British or coalition military effort. Since it is only recently, as you know, that all the forces that the commanders have wanted have been available in Afghanistan, that pressure will intensify over the coming months and even over the coming years, when that is added to the increasing role of the Afghan national security forces. It would be quite wrong to conclude that anybody on the other side can relax in any way because we have made an announcement on 2015. It means that there is absolute clarity for the Afghanistan Government and that they know that that is the length of our combat commitment. It means that our allies know that, too. There are advantages to that, as well as, of course, the arguments against it that others have put.

Karen Pierce: I was simply going to say that the NATO summit, which takes place later this week, will endorse the 2014 target date for transition. All NATO’s efforts will go into ensuring that that happens.

Q151 Mr Ainsworth: Sure, but that’s not new. That’s been known for some time. On other nations, we have already lost the Dutch and the Canadians are leaving. In response to Rory, there was some indication that there was going to have to be a plan between now and 2015. How are we going to be affected by the withdrawal of those other nations? It’s all right to say that new nations join, but they are relatively small contributors. The Dutch and the Canadians were very significant contributors, so that is surely going to give us problems.

Mr Hague: Yes. I certainly hope that some of the countries that are withdrawing will be able to stay in substantial training roles. We have, of course, been discussing that with them. It would be highly desirable, given the extent of Canada’s contribution over the past few years. If they are able to do that, I think that that would be very welcome. We have been discussing that with the Canadian Government. There are, as you say, a growing number of nations overall, although not all are making the military contribution that Canada and the Netherlands have made. There are, currently, 48 troop-contributing nations, which is more than there have ever been. That is a fact that can be easily overlooked. In the cases of Canada and the Netherlands, there has been a good deal of advance notice of their intentions. From an operational point of view, given the increased numbers of forces from the United States and from some other countries, the operational gaps will be filled. There is no doubt about that.

Q152 Mr Watts: Foreign Secretary, you have already touched on the fact that there is a lack of trainers in Afghanistan. When we were there, it was quite apparent that the quality of training in both the police and the Afghan army was very poor. Also, the amount of time when people were actually training was very short. First, can you explain why that is the case? Secondly, it would seem to us that there needs to be a real change between 2014 and 2015, not only in the numbers training, but in the quality of that training. When we spoke to the Pakistani generals, they said that although the numbers were quite impressive, what we were doing was creating cannon fodder, not troops, because of the small amount of time that had been given to the training of troops. We heard that many of the Afghan police who had been returned had no idea of the job that they were intended to do. Their pay at one stage was so poor that it was below the living wage, which encouraged theft and extortion. Can you explain the policy for that and why, despite the billions of pounds that we have spent, we have such a poor record in training?

Mr Hague: It remains a huge challenge and you are quite right to highlight it. I don’t want to say, in any way, that this is an easy process or that we’ve achieved all the objectives on training. There are certain improvements that have taken place in recent times. One of those is that the pay of the Afghan national police has been increased and improved, because you are quite right that one of the difficulties has been that it has been more attractive for people to do other things. Afghan national police salaries have been increased, and the training programmes have been improved. Recruitment since then has generally exceeded the targets. I mentioned briefly the attrition rates, and the average attrition rate has gone down to 1.4% per month in the case of the Afghan national police, which is a serious improvement on past years.

There is also increased attention being given to the training of non-commissioned officers and officers, who are absolutely key to the quality and to the leadership that is necessary so that people are not, in the phrase that you were given, cannon fodder. I mentioned some of the figures earlier, but to give some more: the increase in the training of NCOs in the Afghan national army is up 712% since November last year; and the training of officers is up 175%. That will lead, over time, to quality improvements.

The other very important thing that is happening is the partnering of Afghan national security forces with British troops. Most of the work of British troops going forward is in partnership with the Afghan national security forces. In my review statement to the House three weeks ago, I pointed out how some of the operations conducted recently have been led by the Afghan forces, for the first time, in a very significant way. Those are all signs of improvement. Is the level of training the same level that you would get in a European or American army? No, it isn’t, because the emphasis here is on driving up the strength as rapidly as possible, but you can see from the figures that I am giving that the quality of training, the quantity of training and the way in which the troops in the Afghan forces then gain experience alongside NATO troops are all gathering pace and improving.

Karen Pierce: If I may just add one thing to that, Afghan troops are taking the lead in Operation Hamkari, which is the operation around Kandahar. That is proving quite successful.

Mr Hague: Fifty-eight per cent of the operations, I think, on Hamkari have been led by the Afghan national security forces themselves.

Q153 Mr Watts: Just to make the point, Foreign Secretary, it is only a couple of weeks since we’ve been there that the people responsible for the training of troops in Afghanistan were complaining bitterly about the lack of resources-even now as we speak.

We’ve talked about the Afghan national police and the Afghan national security forces. Can I just move on to the Government themselves? One of the important things is that the Afghan people have faith in their own Government. We heard an awful lot about the corruption and the malpractices of the Afghan Government. What have we been doing and what can we do in the future that will build up the Afghan people’s faith in their own Government?

Mr Hague: This is one of the areas where much more progress needs to be made. By the way, I wasn’t arguing, in my earlier answer, that everything was fine on training and that the problem was solved. It remains a huge challenge. You are quite right to say that training requires increased international attention. On governance and on corruption, a greater effort needs to be made.

Some progress has been made. Some of the commitments entered into at the time of the Kabul conference in July are being met. We have seen, over the last few months, some of the Afghan Ministers declare their assets in public. We have seen a great improvement in transparency. For instance, in the Ministry of Mines, more than 100 new contracts were placed, openly, on the internet for people to examine. That is the kind of practice that may help to combat corruption in the future. Certainly, some progress is being made. Nevertheless, we have seen, in events surrounding the Kabul bank and other institutions, very depressing news. We do call on the Government of Afghanistan to make greater progress in this area, to continue to try to win the support of domestic and international opinion.

Q154 Ann Clwyd: I heard your statement in the House of Commons. It was very full and, I thought, very frank. You touched on good governance and you mentioned it again now. What precisely do you mean by good governance? How can it be seen; how do you feel you have succeeded in getting good governance? I imagine good governance would, for instance, include respect for human rights and women’s rights. I hope that might be a topic you would raise with Secretary of State Clinton, if you see her, because that is an issue she is very concerned about. What does good governance mean to you?

Mr Hague: That is quite a wide philosophical question. To begin with, in Afghanistan, it means certain basic things that we take for granted here such as government being present at all. I think we can see some of the progress that has been made. There are 10 district governors installed in Helmand, for instance, compared with only five two years ago. That is 10 district governors who are able to operate. There are 26 Afghan line Ministries now represented in Lashkar Gah. Government is more present in certain very difficult areas of the country such as Helmand, than it was a year or two ago. That is the first requirement of governance: that it exists; that it is there at all.

A second requirement is in the area we have just been addressing, of people being able to have confidence that the Government are not corrupt, that they work in the interests of the people. There is much more to do there: Afghanistan remains near the bottom of the scale on international records for levels of corruption. It has improved a little bit. I think on the world index for ease of doing business, it has improved to 160th in the world, from 168th. It has moved in the right direction. It needs to start moving in the same way on corruption as well. So, we can see a little bit of progress there.

It also means those other things that you are talking about: respect for minorities, respect for human rights, including women’s rights. As you know, quite a lot has been done in that regard. The UK strongly encourages it and has funded projects that encourage the participation of women in Afghan society and politics. It may have been in answer to one of your questions a couple of weeks ago that I pointed out the improved participation of women, such as in the peace jirga in June. There has also been increased participation by women in the recent parliamentary elections. It is very important that we continue to encourage those things, so that they become part of the accepted fabric of Afghan society, before and during the time in which a political settlement is created.

Karen Pierce: The Committee might be aware of the Asia Foundation poll, which measures a number of things every year. One is the confidence of the Afghan people in their Government. That has gone up 4% over last year, admittedly to only 47%, but the trend is upwards.

Mr Hague: Probably more than many Governments in the world have.

Q155 Mr Ainsworth: Returning to the questions we are asking for clarification. Does the deadline of 2015 apply to special forces as well; to all combat troops?

Mr Hague: We do not ever comment, as the former Defence Secretary knows, on the tasks we give to our special forces.

Q156 Mr Ainsworth: So it is not clear whether it applies to special forces?

Mr Hague: I am not giving you a clear answer deliberately.

Chair: We are going into private session. Maybe it could be more appropriately dealt with there.

Q157 Mike Gapes: Clearly, the United States is the most important power in the coalition, but there are lots of reports about internal divisions within the US Administration. We have heard people saying that to us in private in many places, and we have also had it publicly on the record. Some of our witnesses referred to incoherent and contradictory positions in the US Administration. How committed is the US to reconciliation as a strategy?

Mr Hague: The United States is committed to reconciliation. It is also very much committed, as we are-as I have pointed out in answer to earlier questions-to intensifying the military pressure on the Taliban. Those things are not mutually opposed goals, for the reasons I have given. They go together; the chances of reconciliation are increased by an effective military campaign. Is there often a debate within the US Government about this or other foreign policy issues? Yes there is. The United States has the kind of society and governmental system in which any debate about foreign policy often surfaces in public. You would not expect decisions about a matter as important as this always to have unanimous agreement in advance of any discussion, but the United States is in favour of the process of reintegration and reconciliation.

Q158 Mike Gapes: But is the US in favour of the same approach as the British Government, which seems to be that we should be working on reconciliation now, as opposed to a view that seems to be quite strongly held by some in the US that you need to change the balance militarily before you go down that road?

Mr Hague: Sometimes this is an academic argument, because it is not possible to command the timing of a political settlement. It will be important for the military effort to continue and to intensify, I believe, to make that settlement possible. Nevertheless, I would say in answer to your question that there is no disagreement here between the leadership of the US and UK Governments. The Prime Minister and the President discuss such issues regularly, and they are in strong accord about it. We tend to discuss this privately rather than through giving speeches directed at each other, which I think is the right way for close allies to deal with it. We are not engaged in an argument about this at the moment.

Q159 Mike Gapes: Would you agree that the US needs to be directly involved in discussions with the Taliban in order to get a solution to this situation?

Mr Hague: This has got to be an Afghan-led process. There is no doubt about that. An Afghan-led process will bring reconciliation in Afghanistan. We facilitate that process if we think it is appropriate.

Q160 Mike Gapes: When you say "we", do you mean the UK?

Mr Hague: I mean the UK, but the United States also agrees with that policy and is in the same position. It has to be an Afghan-led process, however.

Q161 Mike Gapes: Is the US facilitating as well, or just us?

Mr Hague: It agrees with our policy.

Mike Gapes: That was not my question.

Karen Pierce: NATO has said that it and ISAF facilitate President Karzai’s contacts and provide practical assistance. That includes the US as well as other ISAF members.

Mike Gapes: I do not think I am going to get a better answer than that.

Mr Hague: That is the answer.

Mike Gapes: I am not entirely clear what that means.

Mr Hague: It means the answer to your question is yes. The United States has the same policy as we have.

Q162 Mike Gapes: They have the same policy, but in terms of contacts and what is being done to try and contact elements within the insurgency and within the Taliban, is the US actively engaged in that process at this time?

Mr Hague: I know we will have a private session later, and I don’t think it is right to go into any operational details of these matters in public.

Q163 Mr Roy: Foreign Secretary, I would like to take you to the important issue of winning the hearts and minds of the Afghan people. I was very interested to hear earlier that there is only 10% support for the Taliban in Afghanistan. I would be interested to see if you think that graph is stable, increasing or decreasing.

We have had two sets of written evidence so far from experts. Matt Waldman has said, "There has been a colossal failure by the international coalition to empathise with ordinary Afghans and act accordingly". The Henry Jackson Society has stated, "It is one of the most serious failures of Afghanistan that in many respects the United Kingdom and its allies are losing the war of information with the Taliban". Is that true?

Mr Hague: I think we ought to be able to do better over the coming months and years in the strategic communication of what our objectives are, how we are achieving them and how the nations of ISAF-and indeed the Afghan Government-are working together. I think that this has been one of the weak areas in recent years, and it needs further attention. We are giving attention to that in the National Security Council, from the UK’s point of view. I recently raised it with the NATO Secretary-General as something that requires better international co-ordination as well; so, yes, it is a weak area, and communications is a vital consideration in conflict-communications with the population, both of our country and of the country where that conflict is taking place.

I think that there is room for improvement. That is not to say that quite a bit has not been achieved; as in so many of these fields, there remain enormous challenges, but some progress has been made, particularly on the creation of a more vibrant media in Afghanistan, on people’s access to news outlets and on the variety of information sources that they have at their disposal. All those things have improved, but, yes, more attention is needed in that area, so you are right to raise the question. I think I’ve neglected the first part of the question.

Q164 Mr Roy: Both of them are very similar. As we heard earlier, Karen, you said that support for the Taliban in Afghanistan was at 10%, I am interested to know whether you think that that is increasing, decreasing or a stable 10%.

Mr Hague: I don’t know whether we have any historic figures on that. Polling is not an exact science in Afghanistan, as it isn’t in most countries.

Karen Pierce: We don’t have a poll that shows us whether it has gone up or down in certain areas. In some areas, it’s higher than 10% already, and in some areas it’s lower.

Q165 Mr Roy: If you don’t have a poll and you state that it’s 10%, how can you state that it’s 10%? What I’m really interested to find out is, is it increasing? Are we losing the war for hearts and minds? For example, if the Afghans think that we are going to walk away in 2015, are they more liable to say, "Well, wait a minute, you guys are walking away, I’m going to look at the people who are left-the Taliban-and I’m going to start supporting the Taliban"?

Mr Hague: Karen was saying that there is not the historic data, not that there wasn’t a poll; there have been various surveys. Let’s think of other ways of looking at it. If you look at Helmand, the area with which we and British troops are primarily concerned, in Nad Ali, hundreds of people make their way to the district centre every day, up from a trickle a year previously. In Sangin, Governor Mangal recently held a shura for more than 800 local elders; he thinks that that would have been impossible a few months earlier. Those are not polls, but they are indications of how life on the ground can change in winning over people. There is still an enormous challenge in Helmand, but considering that we have 135,000 children enrolled in schools across the province, which is a 250% increase on last year, there is some indication of how normal life has changed for the people on the ground. That may then give some indication of whether they have confidence in what is happening.

Q166 Mr Roy: Could I just take you further then? It seems to me that you’re saying that this is an area that needs international attention. Through diplomatic means, how can our diplomats in Afghanistan for small periods of short terms be expected to win the hearts and minds over a Taliban ensconced in local villages throughout the country? Those diplomats in Afghanistan are obviously very shielded from ordinary, everyday Afghan people.

Mr Hague: We work on that on several different levels. Our diplomats in Kabul are engaged in ensuring that the media throughout the country understand what we are doing. It would be wrong to say that diplomats and others are cut off from the people of Afghanistan. The people, for instance, who work in our Provincial Reconstruction Team based in Lashkar Gah are working daily on local and regional problems, and are very often dealing with local elders and others on every issue concerning local society and the services provided. That is a fundamental part of winning over those hearts and minds. Karen, do you want to add the details of that work?

Karen Pierce: Thank you, Foreign Secretary. Certainly, some of our diplomats and their colleagues in the stabilisation unit go out and facilitate local shuras, help to provide transport and help to get people together. If asked, they help people to run a meeting. They are out there every day in places such as Lashkar Gah.

One of the areas in which we find that the local authority really has to compete with the Taliban is local justice. The Taliban have these motorcycle courts and they provide justice very quickly. A lot of our efforts, and those of other PRTs, go into helping the local community stand up what you might think of as traditional justice, so that people can get decisions quickly.

It is not so much a hearts and minds issue in that sense, but that people suffer from intimidation by the Taliban. When people are asked what their primary concern is, security comes out as the major one. A lot of what we are engaged in is trying to provide security for local areas, so that people can go about their normal business. For example, in Kandahar, Major-General Nick Carter’s team were involved in building houses and offices for the district governor, so that they could carry out their business protected from intimidation. As the Foreign Secretary was saying, we have seen an increase in the number of people who are coming to the district governor-the provincial governor-rather than to the local warlords for help.

Q167 Mr Roy: Talking to people, all I ever hear from diplomats is that because they were only there for a short period of time, they did not even know the language. Surely that is a barrier to winning the hearts and minds. Many of our diplomatic corps do not know the language when they are there, because they are not going to be there long enough.

Mr Hague: In an ideal world everybody would be able to speak the local language. That would have required being able to prepare hundreds of diplomats long in advance for this. Of course, these are difficult postings, where people usually serve for a year in Kabul with the option of another year, or six months, in Lashkar Gah, with the option of another six months. They are difficult, hardship postings, so it is necessary to turn over the personnel pretty regularly. Does that have the disadvantage that new people have to learn local culture and get to know the locals leaders well? It does, but I think that you can see that that is the only practical way in which we can do this.

Karen Pierce: We do have a couple of speakers in each place-in Lashkar Gah and in Kabul-and we have some very good local staff who are bilingual.

Q168 Rory Stewart: General Caldwell, in his presentation as the three-star general who is commanding the training command, points out that he is already close to being 250 trainers short; he will soon be 500 short; and, within a year, he will be 900 short. The United States is screaming for more support in training. At the same time, the US marine corps is very comfortable in continuing with the two-star command, and would like to take over the PRT in Helmand. Could we not be looking at a political opportunity to shift more of our resources towards training?

Mr Hague: We have done so already. I have mentioned briefly that the Defence Secretary announced that over 320 more UK personnel would be devoted entirely to training. As I said in answer to the questions from Mr Watts, it remains a huge challenge and will require a lot more resources, despite the improvements that have been made over the past year.

It is an important topic for the NATO summit, which is coming up at the end of this week, and which the Prime Minister, the Defence Secretary and I will attend. Yes, it needs more attention. Does it mean that over time, more of the British forces may be engaged in training? There is a serious possibility of that, but we have to do that by working, and co-ordinating, with our allies. So all that we can answer for at the moment is that shift of 326.

Q169 Andrew Rosindell: Foreign Secretary, the public in this country think that we have taken on more than we can chew in Afghanistan. Do you think that we have been over-ambitious? Do you think that our ambitions should have been more modest?

Mr Hague: Our ambition is the right one, provided that we understand that our ambition is our own national security and that our objective is to achieve a situation in Afghanistan where Afghans can conduct their own affairs without presenting a danger to the rest of the world. That does not mean that we will necessarily arrive at a situation where every valley of Afghanistan is entirely peaceful, where there are no difficulties in its governance, or where it has reached a point where it is not 190th on the corruption league, but 10th or 20th. Those are very long-term objectives. So long as the objectives are realistic, it has been right to do what we’ve done since 2001. This was a response to the events of 9/11, when it began and, from 2006, an effort to stabilise the situation in other areas of the country. Provided that we are clear about our objective, it is not over-ambitious.

Q170 Andrew Rosindell: Do you think that there are lessons to be learned for future situations where conflicts need to be resolved and where Britain is engaged in a military sense?

Mr Hague: I am sure that there will be many lessons to be learned, and some of them will require the wisdom of being able to look back on all this in the future. To start with the lessons at the highest level, this country needs to put as many resources as possible into conflict prevention around the world, since we can see how expensive it is and how it costs us dear, in human life as well as in financial terms, to engage in long-term, substantial conflict. I am sure that you will have heard what the Prime Minister and the International Development Secretary have said about devoting more of the international development budget towards conflict prevention. We are working very hard at the moment in the Foreign Office on the situation in Yemen and Sudan. Tomorrow I will chair the UN Security Council on Sudan, where conflict prevention is what we are concentrating on. That must be one of the first lessons.

There will no doubt be other lessons about how a military intervention should be handled, if it has to take place. There will be lessons from Iraq, which the Chilcot Inquiry is looking into at the moment. I am sure there will be lessons about Helmand as well, about the initial deployment and about many decisions taken since then. We have to concentrate in government on finding out ways of success in this situation, and that has to be our prime concern.

Karen Pierce: We have a unit in the Foreign Office that looks at conflict lessons learned, as the Foreign Secretary was saying. It will look at the results of the Iraq Inquiry.

Q171 Ann Clwyd: I want to get back to language skills-because that is one of the lessons that can be drawn from Iraq as well-and the necessity to have people who speak local languages. The last Foreign Affairs Committee report in 2009 says that "the ability to engage with Afghans in key local languages is crucial to the UK’s effort in Afghanistan and we are concerned that nearly eight years after intervening in Afghanistan, the FCO still has no Pashtu speakers". What is the situation in 2010?

Mr Hague: This is of vital importance to the Foreign Office. It is a wider subject beyond the situation in Afghanistan. We are a country noted for the language skills among our diplomats compared with many other nations of the world. But I was very concerned, in opposition, by the closure of the Foreign Office language school. I have been looking in recent weeks at the language arrangements in the Foreign Office. It is quite hard to put a language school back together again, of course, and we have all the budgetary constraints on the Government that we have now. But I am casting a critical eye over the current arrangements to see how they can be improved.

Coming to the level of the specialisms in this area, you are quite right-the Committee has highlighted this before-about the small number of speakers of the relevant languages. Karen pointed out in an answer to an earlier question that we have some people who speak local languages, and of course we make a great use of interpreters. Karen will give you any more up-to-date figures than that.

But I would point out that with the huge number of our diplomats who need to be deployed into a situation like this, and the inevitable human need to rotate them quite quickly, it is unlikely that we will arrive at a situation where a large proportion of those diplomats will become versant in the local languages of Afghanistan; I think that is unrealistic.

Q172 Ann Clwyd: There is just another quick point that I want to put to you, which has been made by several witnesses, on the importance of longer diplomatic postings. Many people working in Iraq, for example, were there for a short time. Expertise was lost when people returned to their base and did not come back. I certainly saw that as a great deficiency, and one that I think the Foreign Office ought to look at in some detail. Rest and recreation are essential, but when some of those key people are absent for long periods-sometimes because of illness-there is a void. That was very evident to me in my frequent visits to Iraq, and I imagine that the same would be true in Afghanistan.

Mr Hague: I take the point about that, although I stress that we have some incredibly hard working people in the Foreign Office and other government departments in Afghanistan. I am always enormously impressed, as I hope you were on your visit, by their utter dedication, often in very difficult circumstances. Certainly I think the Committee is right to raise the point about the length of deployment. This has often struck me in the past, looking at, for instance, the length of service of American military commanders in these situations, who can go on for a very long time, although with substantial breaks back home. They organise it in a different way. But I am not averse to looking at how we can improve this in the future.

Karen Pierce: If I may add to that, just on the language speakers. Because of the programme that the Foreign Secretary has mentioned and his fresh look at this, more people will be trained in Afghan languages over the coming years. But it is obviously not something that we can put right instantly. The proportion of speakers in the embassy-we would call it a hard language-is roughly equivalent to hard language speakers in our other postings. Admittedly Afghanistan is more important, but it is certainly not disadvantaged because it is a conflict zone.

Q173 Ann Clwyd: Could you give us a breakdown of the numbers?

Karen Pierce: I can certainly do that, but I’m afraid I don’t have it in my head. There is an additional advantage to using Afghan interpreters in that it tends to be reassuring to the local community, and the military have found that themselves. It tends to help build trust and confidence so we rely on our local staff quite considerably. On your point about not letting lessons be lost through continuity of postings, we are trying in my directorate to see if we can somehow link postings so that someone would do a rotation in Afghanistan, come back to London and work on the issue and conceivably even share a posting in Afghanistan. We are very keen to rely not just on young people who have no family attachments. We want to try to get more experienced diplomats there. More experienced diplomats tend to have families, so we need to try to get that balance right as well, but it is something that we look at.

Q174 Mr Watts: Foreign Secretary, can I take you back to the 2014–15 deadline by which time you say that, without question, we will withdraw combat troops? We went into Afghanistan because it was a failed state and we thought that the terror attacks would come to our own country if we did not take action. What will happen in a situation where that happens again? Do you or the coalition rule out putting troops on the ground if the situation becomes as bad as it was previously?

Mr Hague: We are clearly aiming here to create a completely different situation in Afghanistan from anything that prevailed in the recent past. I gave figures earlier for the anticipated strength of the Afghan national security forces just by 2011, let alone by 2014. I have indicated how they are already beginning to be able to conduct the majority of the operations, such as those that Karen was talking about earlier. So our objective-it is the internationally agreed objective-is to create by 2014 a situation where Afghan forces can lead and sustain their own operations throughout Afghanistan. It is consistent with that, therefore, for us to say what we have said about 2015 and to believe that if we achieve those objectives with regard to the Afghan national security forces, we won’t be placed again in the situation of 9/11.

Q175 Mr Watts: But the 2014–15 deadline is set regardless of the situation that you find and whether or not the Afghan army and the police are ready and able to take over. So it is possible-I do not say that it is likely-that the situation will deteriorate. At that point, would you rule out coalition troops being used again?

Mr Hague: This is a clear deadline. No one should be in any doubt about this whatsoever. Let everyone’s minds concentrate on this-the Afghan Government, among our allies, as necessary. It is absolutely clear what we said about 2015. If the Prime Minister were here, he would put it in equally trenchant terms.

Q176 Mr Watts: But how would you stop terrorist attacks coming to the UK, if we had a failed state again?

Mr Hague: I can’t anticipate what the situation will be in 2025 or 2035. We are trying to create the conditions in which we don’t have a failed state, and in which a state with one of the largest armies in the world is able to conduct its own affairs at least to the extent of not being a danger to the rest of the world, in line with the realistic national security objective that I set out earlier. I think that is a realistic objective.

Q177 Mr Baron: May I return to the issue of hearts and minds and the situation with civilian casualties? The reports that we have as a Committee are that civilian casualties are going up. This in many ways makes it easy for the Taliban to depict us, ISAF, as the occupying force and Kabul as a puppet Government and so on. History would suggest that, in those countries and regimes that have militarily engaged with the West in the past, the old system has survived. Communism has survived-one thinks of Cuba, North Vietnam, North Korea and perhaps even China. It fosters a feeling of mistrust, which plays into the Taliban’s hands. Is there anything we can do to break into this vicious circle?

Mr Hague: So much of what our military effort is directed at doing, working with the provincial reconstruction teams, is to break into this circle. As you know, the military strategy adopted at the highest level was redefined to be counter-insurgency involving the protection of the local population. ISAF forces go to great lengths to protect local populations, and they often take losses to do so. The majority of civilian casualties are caused by the other side, by the IEDs of the Taliban and others. I think it is very important to remember that. We are the forces safeguarding the civilian population, wherever possible. Karen may have the figures, but I think it is about 70% of civilian casualties that are caused by Taliban activity and IEDs.

Karen Pierce: That’s right-70% of casualties under UN figures are caused by the Taliban. The figure has gone up this year-largely due to an increase in Taliban attacks-and the ISAF and ANSF civilian casualty figures have been falling. I think it is helpful to point out that any casualty caused by ISAF or ANSF is accidental. It is regrettable and we have said so in the Security Council. As the Foreign Secretary said, we take all steps possible to minimise the risk that there will be accidental casualties. The Taliban, by contrast, actually go out and target civilians.

Chair: Foreign Secretary, we have spent the past 55 minutes looking at Afghanistan. For the last 10 minutes, before we go into private session, may we look at Pakistan?

Q178 Mike Gapes: We asked you in September about your reaction to the Prime Minister’s statement in India. He referred to Pakistan looking both ways and alleged that it was exporting terror to India, Afghanistan and elsewhere in the world. It was certainly interpreted that way by the Pakistanis. Was he wise to make that remark in India?

Mr Hague: Yes. A good Foreign Secretary will affirm that a Prime Minister is always wise to make these remarks. I think they were widely supported and respected around the world. It was said at the time by some commentators that that had damaged relations with Pakistan, but I have to say that, in recent months, relations between the UK and Pakistan have been excellent, and the co-operation between our two Governments had been excellent. If there was disquiet in the Pakistani Government about that, it has been more than overcome by the work that we have been doing since then.

Q179 Mike Gapes: We have received evidence from a number of sources saying that Pakistan doesn’t fully co-operate with the UK on counter-terrorism issues. What’s your reaction to that?

Mr Hague: There is a huge amount of co-operation on counter-terrorism issues on a very regular, and very much on an operational, basis. I can’t go into the details of that in public, but I would certainly say that the co-operation on counter-terrorism with Pakistan has substantially improved in recent times.

Q180 Mike Gapes: Would you say, however, that it is not yet as unconditional and full as it might be?

Mr Hague: Those things can be quite difficult to assess. It is often hard to be sure whether a country is giving all the information and co-operation that it could give, but nevertheless I stress again that we have no current reason for complaint about that, and that co-operation has improved.

Q181 Mike Gapes: It was put to us in Pakistan that the Pakistanis would like some sophisticated equipment so that they would be able to do the job themselves much more effectively. Do we have concerns about giving certain equipment to Pakistan, because we are not quite sure where it might end up?

Chair: As it was said in public, President Zardari was saying that he would like to have access to the drone technology.

Mr Hague: The sale of technology from this country is very carefully controlled. We will look at all requests from a friendly country, but I am sure you understand how carefully we control those things.

Q182 Chair: The point was made to us, "Look, you are asking us to do a job out here on the North West Frontier, but you are not giving us the technology we need". Is there a case for doing more to help them on the military front?

Mr Hague: We will always be careful in selling advanced technology to many nations around the world and, of course, we will have to be careful in this case.

Karen Pierce: We are governed by the EU export regime and some of the other regimes, as the Foreign Secretary was saying. President Zardari has been very worried, for a while, about the degradation of equipment among the Pakistani armed forces. Some of that relates to very sophisticated technology; some of it is a bit more basic. The Ministry of Defence is undertaking a review on what help it can give to Pakistan across the board, covering a number of areas, not just provision of equipment.

Q183 Mike Gapes: The Pakistani state, or some of its agencies, were involved in setting up the Taliban that came to power in Afghanistan. They did so at that time with western support, because they were used against the Soviet Union. How confident are we now that elements within the Pakistani state, in particular the Inter-Services Intelligence, are willing and able to tackle those insurgents, given their close historical links with them?

Mr Hague: We have seen a sharply increased willingness in Pakistan to tackle insurgency in many different forms. You are familiar, of course, with many of the military campaigns that it has undertaken and, indeed, the huge losses the Pakistani military have sustained. It is always very important to recognise that. The Government of Pakistan, including its intelligence services, can now see very clearly, after some of the terrible terrorist incidents that they have themselves experienced, the importance of tackling insurgency and instability.

Q184 Mike Gapes: But that relates to their combat, and they have lost lots of people against the Pakistani Taliban. The question is, are they prepared to act against the Afghan Taliban, which might be a kind of proxy, or an organisation, over which they could still have some influence in the future?

Mr Hague: Again, I would say that the co-operation between our countries has improved in this area. But I stress that, in a political settlement in Afghanistan, which we discussed earlier, the active support of Pakistan for that, because of links that were established over a long time, will be very important.

Q185 Mr Ainsworth: Is it a case of willingness or capability to take on the Afghan Taliban? The Pakistani military have been pretty heavily involved in Swat valley. South Waziristan is still not terribly successful. North Waziristan is still a problem, and we have still got Baluchistan, which is the main base of the Afghan Taliban. Do you think there is a willingness and it is a lack of capacity, or do you think that it is a bit of both?

Mr Hague: The military capacity to deal decisively with every threat in that kind of terrain is, of course, quite difficult to come by. That always has to be understood. This is one of the most difficult areas in the world. As you know very well as a former Defence Secretary, Mr Ainsworth, this is one of the most difficult areas in the world to control by military means. Nevertheless, as I said to Mr Gapes, we have seen a greatly increased willingness on the part of Pakistan to confront insurgencies on its own territory and to take action against terrorist groups. I would like to emphasise that today, rather than be critical-we have seen very important steps forward in tackling terrorism by the Government of Pakistan, and of course we want those to continue.

Q186 Mr Watts: Foreign Secretary, we have heard from Pakistan that it has taken a lot of criticism about not taking on the Taliban, but it points to how many people it has lost in action that it has taken against the insurgency. It complains about the borders and the lack of border control. It highlights how many border control people it has on the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan, and it highlights the difference between our forces and its own. Is there anything we can do to make the border more secure than it is now, by putting more emphasis on the need to keep a tighter boundary?

Mr Hague: There may be over time. There have been discussions about this between Afghanistan and Pakistan, which we very much encourage. Again, following up a point I made to Mr Ainsworth, this is one of the most difficult borders in the world to police. In some cases, there would no doubt be arguments about where exactly the border was. Certainly, there have been international initiatives to improve co-operation on the borders, and we encourage those. Karen, do you want to add to that?

Karen Pierce: Just to amplify that point, there is a G8 initiative, which was started by the Canadians, to improve co-operation on the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan with international monitoring and help. We are hoping the French will continue that under their G8 presidency. There is also something called the Dubai process, which looks at the same issue on a slightly larger basis. We hope those things will continue.

Q187 Chair: While we were in Islamabad, the Pakistanis made it pretty clear that they wanted to be involved in any settlement. Do you think we can trust them to be an honest broker?

Mr Hague: I hope all nations in the region, including Pakistan, will be able to play a supportive role in a political settlement in Afghanistan, but we should be careful about defining who is a broker in bringing about such a settlement. This has to be an Afghan-led process of reconciliation.

Q188 Chair: Would you like to comment on US-Pakistan relations? They seem to be rather at loggerheads. While we were there, we picked up hostility to the United States, despite the fact that a substantial amount of aid is given by the United States to Pakistan. I believe we have a role here. Do you agree that we could be encouraging Pakistan and the United States to communicate better with each other, so that they can work jointly towards a settlement?

Mr Hague: Yes. I think that the Governments of Pakistan and the United States communicate effectively with each other. It is very important for the United States and the United Kingdom to explain to the people of Pakistan what we are doing. I strongly welcome the visits by fellow parliamentarians to Pakistan. As was set out in the memorandum sent to the Committee, we have had a large number of ministerial visits to Pakistan under the new Government. On many of those visits, we have gone out of our way to spend our time on the media in Pakistan. I did an exceptional number of interviews on my visit to explain to the people of Pakistan about the role of the UK and the extent of the assistance that we are giving with education. Since then, Britain has been one of the countries that have led the way in responding to the disastrous floods in Pakistan. The UK, the US and our allies have to continue to communicate that as effectively as possible and, alongside a close relationship with India, to build a long-term strategic partnership with Pakistan. Those things go indispensably together.

Chair: President Zardari has said that, when he is next in the UK, he wants to come to address this Committee, and we will be doing our best to facilitate that.

Foreign Secretary, you have indicated that you are happy to sit in private. Could I ask the public if they will vacate the Gallery? Thank you very much.

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

Q189 Chair: Foreign Secretary, although this is in private a record is still kept. We then enter into discussions as to what is public. You are entitled to ask for redactions, and I assure you that we will not be difficult over them.

Mr Hague: I can proceed on the basis that all of this is confidential.

Q190 Chair: All of this is in private, but a record is taken. Eventually a transcript will be published of that content of the session that you are happy to be made public. You are entitled to ask for redactions on anything that you said and, as I have said, we will not be difficult over those redactions.

Mr Hague: Okay. Well, on that basis I can’t be quite as forthcoming as I would be if it was complete confidentiality.

Q191 Chair: You can speak frankly, knowing that anything you do not want to go into the public domain will not go in the public domain.

Mr Hague: Okay. What would you like to cover?

Q192 Chair: We were on the runway in Kabul when we got a message from Karen Pierce that you would like a private session. You have indicated that you perhaps had further things you could say about reconciliation and possibly 2015.

Mr Hague: Yes.

Q193 Chair: We have no fixed questions, although I know that one or two colleagues have already told me about questions that they want to ask.

Mr Hague: ***

Karen Pierce: Thank you, Foreign Secretary. It was an offer, Mr Chairman, not an insistence. I hope it didn’t hold you up on the runway in Kabul.

Chair: Not at all. We were delighted to get the offer.

Karen Pierce: ***

Q194 Chair: Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles sat here a week ago saying that he thought that nothing would happen unless there was political reconciliation and that military strategy on its own could not succeed.

Mr Hague: I think that is right. Actually, I think that was the public perception of the outgoing Government and it is the public perception of this Government. None of us think that there is a purely military solution to this. However, you cannot bring about a political settlement by wishing it. You have to create the conditions for it, and that includes continuing to intensify the military campaign, but also being clear that we are open to a political settlement ***

Q195 Mr Roy: ***

Karen Pierce: ***

Q196 Mr Roy: ***

Karen Pierce: ***

Mr Hague: ***

Q197 Chair: We got the impression from you earlier that the sheer existence of the military pressure would drive them to negotiate.

Mr Hague: That is my view. There is a legitimate alternative view, which I think is what John Baron was asking about earlier, that they will not negotiate if they are under such relentless attack. I tend to the view that it does require the continuing relentless attack to give them the incentive to come to the negotiating table.

Q198 Mr Baron: If I can be devil’s advocate, unless we really ramp up troop density levels, my instinct is we are not going to beat the Taliban militarily. But we can debate that. That is not important. Surely the key issue is that there is going to have to be a negotiated settlement. I think we can all buy that. The question is, how do we get there and who does it involve? At the end of the day, hasn’t it got to involve the Taliban as the main military force-our opposition military force-and the US, the major player in the area?

What has hindered progress in the past is that the US, at least very publicly, has been reluctant to talk to the Taliban. We can have a debate about whether decapitation will work. My instinct is that I don’t think it is going to work. Somebody-or one of the military commanders on the ground-once said that if we kill all the Gerry Adamses on the ground, who have you got left to negotiate with? Putting that to one side, have we not got to persuade the US to open negotiations with the Taliban, and what conditions do you think the US would accept for those talks?

Mr Hague: ***

Q199 Mr Baron: Can I advocate, Foreign Secretary, that perhaps we need to be more forceful? When we were in Northern Ireland, we were negotiating with the provisionals when we were intensifying our military campaign against them. I was there, like a number of other colleagues were, and we knew that that was happening at the time. The Americans, perhaps, have a too simplistic view, that you can take the Taliban on militarily, but you cannot negotiate with them at the same time. At the end of the day, however, it is going to have to involve some sort of negotiated settlement. Should we be more forceful?

May I make a plea for something else? I am going to disagree with a Committee member here. Sometimes, there is muddled thinking. We did not go into Afghanistan to sort out women’s rights. Our objective was very clear, and I sometimes worry that mission creep has also been another factor in the muddled thinking. To my knowledge, our mission was not to go in there and sort out women’s rights. I suggest that that illustrates a tendency to muddle our thinking as to why we are there. Whatever the answer to that question, we have got to, and the US has got to, accept that we have to negotiate with the Taliban. The sooner that we accept that, the closer that we can come to some sort of negotiated settlement. Do you agree with that?

Mr Hague: ***

Karen Pierce: ***

Q200 Rory Stewart: The place that the United States is in seems to make it at least possible that if it does not get where it wants by 2014, it will keep pushing ahead with combat operations. That is at least a strong possibility. At that point, we want to be out of the game-we want to be back in our bases, we want to be training and we want to be doing special forces operations. Our conversations with generals in Afghanistan, including British generals, imply that they are very uncomfortable with that. Some of them said privately that they were hoping that they can fudge it, that they would stick with the Americans and that it is all conditions based. We are with you-we are going to pin them down and we have to get out in 2015. How are we going to ensure that we really pin down the British military? How are we going to make sure that they are actually showing us what their deployment is going to be for 2013–14, so that we do not have a repeat of what we have seen for the last three to four years?

Mr Hague: We are the elected Government, and I think that the National Security Council works very well with the Government asserting their authority over such things. It is not for me to comment on what happened under any previous Government, because I am not privy to their internal workings, but there are members of the Committee who were. We are a sovereign nation, and the Prime Minister feels very strongly about what he has said on 2015, which I support. ***

Karen Pierce: I think that this is where transition comes in. The NATO plan, which will be endorsed at the summit later this week, is to hand over provinces to Afghan lead control and security, and have that done throughout Afghanistan by 2014. ***

Q201 Mr Ainsworth: Rory has hit on a big problem-ungoverned space. We have only just got to the situation where we have the number of troops available to us that we have now. We got there in the spring, in about April, which is when we became fully deployed with the additional Americans and the additional people that we deployed. We have other people pulling back, too. If you ask anyone in Afghanistan below a certain rank what the problem is on the military side, they will tell you that, with the current troop density, they simply cannot provide security to the people with the number of troops that they have got. Troop density, therefore, is a big problem. That set of undeniable facts comes from the people who are doing one of the hardest yards in one of the hardest operations that we’ve had in modern times. You have got to get from where you are now to where you need to be, and not fall off a cliff edge some time in 2015, but be on a glide path between now and then while other allies are reluctant to bring in additional troops and some of them are coming out. Indeed, the American Government may well start running down from next year. How are you going to manage that? That’s going to be enormously difficult to do.

Mr Hague: ***

Q202 Mr Ainsworth: You will leave it until 2013?

Mr Hague: That depends on what is happening. We will look next at how the forces should be deployed over 2011-12. Remember that the distance from now to the time by which we said we will cease combat operations is longer than the whole First World War, and nearly as long as the Second World War. It would have been quite hard in 1940 to say what you would be doing in 1944. Bear in mind that that is quite a long time.

Q203 Mr Ainsworth: I know what your public line is going to be, but the only backfill that you’ve got is the Afghan forces. The Committee has seen them, and I have seen them, over a protracted length of time. They are going to struggle, really struggle, particularly in the south. You cannot get them to deploy to the south. I have heard, and you will know this by now, that they hop off the bus when they realise where they are being sent.

Mr Hague: And yet you have to visualise what they could do four years from now, when they should have very different numbers, very different levels of experience, and, in many cases, much improved equipment. If we can’t get the Afghan forces into such a shape, when will we ever do so? We do feel it is right to set this deadline. There are downsides, some of which have been drawn out in this Committee, but there are upsides as well. If we are succeeding in all the ways that we have discussed today, it will be more than appropriate to have ceased that combat role in 2015. If we are not succeeding in any of these ways, we will have been at this for nine years by 2015. We feel that either way, this is the right decision to take.

Q204 Mr Watts: We are possibly in a situation where, as we pull troops out from combat, the situation gets worse, not better. That is one scenario-it is not the one that you want to see, but it is possible. We can either continue to pull out, or we can maintain the levels, and then come 2014–15, we are faced with pulling out the bulk of the troops and leaving the situation worse. Let me give you a scenario: if that were to happen and the new Afghan Government took the decision that they couldn’t possibly police the whole of Afghanistan and that the deal with the Taliban was, "You can have this part of the south and we’ll stay where we are in the north," and they carved up the territory in that way. That is another possible scenario. What would the British Government’s view be about that?

Mr Hague: I don’t think that would be a very desirable outcome, to have that situation, because it would be unlikely to be stable. It is not a country where you can say, "You just sit there; you stay there, and we’re going to be over here and we’re not going to hurt each other." Past history suggests that dramatic things happen after that, and that you don’t get a permanently peaceful solution out of that. That is not what we’re looking for. We’re looking for a political settlement with a more constitutional basis than carving up the country with the Taliban.

Q205 Mr Watts: What would you do if that were the scenario?

Mr Hague: ***

Q206 Mr Watts: To pursue that, Foreign Secretary: the reason I asked that question the way I did is due to the lack of trained troops and police that we have in Afghanistan after nine years, because we hadn’t got the strategy right. We are determined, as far as I can tell, for the Afghan police and army to police the situation after we’ve pulled out of combat. Why are we not thinking about the likely scenarios, which include the one I have just set out, and have some clear idea of what we would do under those circumstances?

Mr Hague: We are aiming, with the huge build-up that we have described of the security forces, to have a political settlement. To anticipate all the scenarios in 2014-15 is very difficult to do and is a distraction from actually achieving these objectives. It wouldn’t change, in any case, either what we have said about 2015, or the importance you drew attention to in your earlier questions of building up the training effort and continuing that. That remains an area that requires effort, as you have seen on your visit. It has had a lot of additional effort, but it needs still more. If all those scenarios would not change, what we have said about 2015, for reasons I indicated a moment ago, we had better get on with succeeding with plan A, rather than scenarios B to X.

Chair: We said we would let you go at quarter to four. I still have two colleagues who have questions.

Mr Hague: Let’s try to be very quick. I have various things I have to do at four o’clock. A few more minutes.

Q207 Ann Clwyd: What will happen to the interpreters this time round? I wouldn’t like to see the situation repeated.

Mr Hague: You mean the situation that arose in Iraq. That depends on the political settlement, doesn’t it? If we have a country that has reasonable security, proper protection of people’s rights, and an atmosphere of co-operation and partnership with regional neighbours and with the western world, we won’t be leaving interpreters in the lurch. ***

Q208 Mr Roy: Some of us went to Herat on the western border with Iran, and there was obviously a big Iranian influence in the culture of that area. What is your thinking in relation to the relationship between Iran and Afghanistan, and what part does that play in the future of Afghanistan?

Mr Hague: It is a vast subject. It is important that the process of political settlement in Afghanistan is one that the whole region is comfortable with. That just demonstrates the complexity of this. Pakistan is a key player for the reasons that you all outlined earlier. Iran is a not-insignificant player. It is in its interest to have a more stable situation in Afghanistan in the long-term. One of the few things that I was able to discuss constructively with the Iranian Foreign Minister in New York a few weeks ago, given our strong disagreements on nuclear matters and human rights, was that the narcotics trade from Afghanistan has a very serious impact on Iran. There are reasons for Iran to want a stable Government in Afghanistan. ***

I’m glad you went to Herat; I went there in July. Clearly there are parts of that province that would be at the early end of a transition in Afghanistan, because if you visited the factories, the airport or the university that I visited, you get a very different impression of Afghanistan from travelling around in Helmand, which is what we normally do through visiting our troops.

Karen Pierce: ***

Mr Hague: Yes.

Chair: Foreign Secretary, Karen Pierce, there aren’t many corners that we haven’t delved into during the last two hours. Thank you for your honest and frank answers.

Mr Hague: Thank you.

Karen Pierce: Thank you.