Defence Committee - Minutes of EvidenceHC 413

Back to Report

Oral Evidence

Taken before the Defence Committee

on Tuesday 4 September 2012

Members present:

Mr James Arbuthnot (Chair)

Mr Julian Brazier

Mr Jeffrey M. Donaldson

John Glen

Mr Dai Havard

Mrs Madeleine Moon

Penny Mordaunt

Sandra Osborne

Sir Bob Russell

Bob Stewart

Ms Gisela Stuart

________________

Examination of Witness

Witness: Sir William Patey KCMG, former UK Ambassador to Afghanistan, gave evidence.

Q47 Chair: Sir William, welcome to the Defence Committee and thank you very much for coming to help us on our inquiry into Afghanistan. The first time I met you I think you were ambassador to Iraq. Then, after a brief session elsewhere, you moved to Afghanistan, which was an interesting succession of jobs. What was your main role as the ambassador to Afghanistan?

Sir William Patey: It was leading a very large team to deliver UK policy and UK objectives in Afghanistan. They were shared objectives, obviously. We were part of an international coalition. In the time I was there I would have defined those objectives as helping build institutions in Afghanistan and helping develop a security framework that would enable ISAF troops to withdraw, leaving an Afghan Government and an Afghan security force capable of maintaining security in Afghanistan. Our subsidiary objectives would have been to strengthen democratic institutions, help the Afghans develop institutions to protect human rights, and help with the development of Afghanistan. So, it was quite a broad range. Many Whitehall Departments were represented in the embassy so it was quite a complex environment. It was one of our biggest embassies. I think it is still our biggest embassy in the world, as we go through the process towards 2014.

Chair: During the next hour or so, we will go through the question of the extent to which you and the country succeeded in those objectives. We will start with an interview you gave earlier this year.

Q48 Ms Stuart: You gave the interview to The Daily Telegraph and in it you suggested that we had taken our eye off the ball in terms of Afghanistan. Could you elaborate a little on that?

Sir William Patey: Yes. They were asking why we had not made more progress and why, after almost 10 years, the country still seemed difficult, complex and, in The Daily Telegraph’s eyes, was not making the progress that might have been expected after nine or 10 years of engagement. So it was in that context that I suggested, and I have said this many times before, not just to The Daily Telegraph, that after the invasion and the overthrow of the Taliban in Afghanistan, my sense, with hindsight I have to say, was that the focus had switched very quickly to Iraq. Indeed, I was the ambassador in Iraq in 2005 and 2006, during what I would regard as the period when we had taken our eye of the ball in Afghanistan. It was clear to me that the focus of the Government and the public was on Iraq. Having arrived in Afghanistan in 2010, it struck me that there was a period where some of the things that we were doing in 2009 and 2010 were things that might have been done earlier. We did not begin building up the security forces of Afghanistan early enough in my view. Perhaps we had not achieved as much as we should have done. The focus was on Iraq during the period of 2003-07.

Q49 Ms Stuart: So at what stage did you realise that we were not doing things that we should have been doing?

Sir William Patey: It was with hindsight.

Q50 Ms Stuart: So it was not while you were in post?

Sir William Patey: No, by the time I got there the focus had switched back to Afghanistan. Some of the decisions had already been made, such as the US surge in troops, for instance, and the additional troops that were sent to Helmand. There was a recognition that we had too few troops in Helmand to do what they were being asked to do. There were too few troops in general to perform all the tasks that were asked of them. Earlier in the period, our ambitions were not matched by our resources. Looking back, it was only in 2008 and 2009 that the resources began to match the ambitions, and the ambitions had been lowered by then.

Q51 Ms Stuart: So, as far as you are concerned, by the time you arrived in Afghanistan our ambitions and resources were matching each other.

Sir William Patey: Yes, they were getting in sync.

Q52 Ms Stuart: I want to expand on this point-many of us first met you out in Iraq, and quite a number of us have been on other Committees such as the Foreign Affairs Committee-because there appears to be a tendency among our ambassadors, when parliamentarians visit them on site, to tell us that they are dealing with the drugs and the terrorists and that it is all fine. When ambassadors come to the point of retirement, they then express surprise at how gullible the politicians are and how they do not realise how bad things really were. When I last raised that point, it was suggested to me that my security clearance was not high enough to know what was really going on. I wondered whether you have observed the tendency among diplomats of seeing the light when they are about to retire.

Sir William Patey: When you are a diplomat you are pursuing Government policy, so you cannot deviate too far from what the Government are saying. In fairness to diplomats and myself, I was saying that we had taken our eye off the ball long before I left Afghanistan. I think that any of you who have known me a while will know that I was pretty frank when you came to Afghanistan. I have not tended to see things through rose-tinted spectacles.

Part of the difference is that when an ambassador is briefing the public or the press, whether it is MPs or anyone else, they are required to explain how the policy might work. They are required to put the best possible spin on it. It is no good if the ambassador starts putting his hands on his head and saying, "My God, it’s all hopeless. We’re all doomed." I suspect that that would not be the way to lead a big team of people who you are trying to get to achieve extraordinary things in extraordinary circumstances, knowing that you will never be able to achieve everything that you have set out to achieve. I think that you just have to accept that ambassadors will put a good spin on it. That does not mean to say that they should be giving you unrealistically rosy pictures when there are real difficulties. You can judge for yourself. I hope that I have tried to give a realistic picture of what could happen-discussing what the better-case scenarios are while being conscious at the same time of the worst-case scenarios. I did not just say that in the interview I gave to The Daily Telegraph after I left; I think if you went back, you would find that I have been saying the same thing consistently.

Q53 Ms Stuart: Should we have the opportunity to talk to your successor, do you have any advice on how we could get the best information out of him or her?

Sir William Patey: He is very smooth, my successor. I think you should ask him honest questions and expect honest answers.

Q54 Chair: Sir William, you say that when you are a diplomat, you are pursuing Government policy, which of course is true. But don’t you agree that that policy depends, for its formation, on Members of Parliament coming out to a country and being given the real facts, as they are on the ground, warts and all? Not, "We’re all doomed", but, "There is a real problem here and that is at risk of failing. This is going well, but that person is corrupt." Don’t you think that we need to be given the absolute truth, as you see it as an ambassador?

Sir William Patey: I do not think an ambassador should be telling you that things are better than they really are, but there is a big gamut within there in terms of how you explain the policy. The Committee, when it comes out, usually asks very pertinent and critical questions, and many of you have your own views on the policy. It is the ambassador’s job to defend the policy within the context of giving you the best possible advice. But there has to be a level of frankness between the ambassador and the Ministers responsible for the policy that is not of the same order, I would suggest, as the level of advice between the ambassador and Members of Parliament. I think there is a nuance there.

Chair: I think I accept that.

Q55 Ms Stuart: With hindsight, do you think that you gave us a sufficient and true picture of the Kabul Bank when we were there last time?

Sir William Patey: I think I did. I cannot recall that I told you about the Kabul Bank, but I would have told you-

Q56 Ms Stuart: I had a feeling that we were on the way to sorting it, but it isn’t sorted. It’s in an even worse mess.

Sir William Patey: Well, it is not in a worse mess. Can you remind me when you were last there? It was about a year ago, wasn’t it?

Chair: January last year.

Sir William Patey: So January 2011. We were on the path to getting the Afghans to take the right decisions on the Kabul Bank, on holding the crooks who had helped themselves to a large pot of money to account and delivering what the IMF wanted them to do in terms of transparency and recapitalisation. We were on the way to getting that. In January 2012, that is what I would have been saying. The IMF programme was resumed. I think the Kabul Bank is on the way up. I am not up to date with what they have done since and whether they have reneged on their commitments, but by the time I left this April, they were on a path to sorting it out, isolating the bank from any further thievery and trying to preserve the bank as a bank for ordinary Afghan customers. It was an evolving picture. I would never have told you that the Kabul Bank was all right. I think it was on a path to solution.

Chair: I think I came away myself with a feeling that it was a very strange affair that needed to be seriously investigated.

Q57 Penny Mordaunt: You also said that the coalition had missed the opportunity to train and equip the national Afghan security forces to fill the power gap left. What do you think has been the outcome of that missed opportunity?

Sir William Patey: I think it means that there is a greater level of doubt about the capacity of the Afghan security forces to fulfil their obligations to provide security throughout the country in 2014 than there would otherwise have been. Indeed, had we started earlier, we might have been in a position to withdraw troops earlier. I genuinely think it was the decision to put a deadline on combat troop withdrawal that really focused people’s resources on what was needed if that was to happen. General Caldwell, who was the general responsible for the training at the time, had made it absolutely clear to his superiors that unless he got certain support in terms of increased trainers and money, he would not be able to deliver; he was very clear about that.

I think the missed opportunity is one of timing. If we had started earlier, we would be further down the path. There would be fewer doubts about the capacity of the Afghan security forces to fulfil the role that will be expected of them in 2015 and beyond.

Q58 Penny Mordaunt: Without the deadline it was just drifting.

Sir William Patey: Steps had already been put in place. As I said, in 2008-09 there was a clear surge in the number of troops, and there was a clear ISAF commitment to provide extra people. There was more money; the Americans were putting in $12 billion a year, at the point when I arrived, to build this force up. That had already happened, so I think the decision to have the 2014 cut-off for combat troops just concentrated people’s minds and gave an added impetus to getting it right.

Q59 Mr Donaldson: Sir William, when we last visited Kabul we met with some of the political leaders including President Karzai, and I must say I came away with a bit of a sinking feeling that the aspirations to create a more stable security climate were not met by the extent to which long-term political stability could be achieved. Has the western coalition placed sufficient importance on creating democratic institutions in Afghanistan and a good, stable Government?

Sir William Patey: Our commitment is very strong. The question is, is the Afghan commitment as strong? I was clear most of the time when I was there that some of our pressure was resented, particularly over the electoral process. We tried to support the independent electoral commission against attempts by all sorts of people-this was not President Karzai; there were all sorts of people trying to manipulate the result after the fact, from MPs to power groups to power brokers, and I do not think that the president was the biggest culprit by a long way in this respect. Often there was resentment at foreign ambassadors and foreign Governments trying to support independent electoral commissions and trying to support the rule of law.

It was not an absence of commitment on our part. Sometimes you have to go with the political reality and know when to draw back and when to push. I think we were up against a body politic in Afghanistan that was not all that familiar with, and had not really adjusted to, the idea that in democracy you might lose, no matter how much money you have put into the election. So I do not doubt our commitment. I am sure you could come up with things we should have done better, but part of the problem was that the system is not well understood in Afghanistan.

Part of our problem is that we get very impatient about the absence of progress in a country like Afghanistan, where it will take decades to get a stable democracy. I always used to say to the Afghans, "We started our democratic process in 1215 and we completed it in 1921 when women got the vote. We are hoping you can do it a bit quicker, but it is a long process." Our commitment is there, and I did not see any lack of commitment in terms of how we allocated our resources.

Q60 Mr Donaldson: But the immediacy of 2014 looms large, and if you are to have an effective Afghan security apparatus you need effective political leadership to drive it, both at national and at provincial level. Is it your sense that that leadership will be there?

Sir William Patey: My sense is that it will probably be good enough. It will not be a finished product and it will depend on what happens in the 2014 presidential election, so there are big caveats on whether it will be sufficient. The next parliamentary election is not due until 2015, but the presidential election is due in 2014 and constitutionally President Karzai cannot stand again. So there is a big question mark. President Karzai is very clear and was clear to me personally and to visiting Ministers and in public that-even if he could-he would not stand again. How that presidential election is conducted and who becomes the president is quite a big question mark over the process. I know that there are parties working behind the scenes to draw up a broad coalition of people who are pro-reform and pro-democratic candidates. Nobody has put their head above the parapet yet, mainly on the grounds that anyone who does is likely to get it shot off-probably literally and metaphorically. Our hope would be that, as we get closer to it and as we go into 2013, you would begin to see what the alternatives are. I cannot predict the outcome, but it will be absolutely critical that that is a decent election, that we get a decent presidency going forward and that there is a good election in 2015 as well.

I have always said that, in my experience of Iraq, Afghanistan and other countries, it is not the first and second elections that really matter; it is the third and fourth ones. If they are of a higher quality and they take place and there is democratic change, you can begin to say with some confidence that you are on a democratic path. We are not yet there with Afghanistan. I think the jury is still out on whether we are on a path to really stable democracy.

Q61 Chair: We are not yet there, but are we getting better?

Sir William Patey: I think the institutions are getting stronger. One of the things that I used to say in Afghanistan all the time-although the House of Commons is perhaps not the place to say it-is that parliamentary elections are a necessary but insufficient condition for democracy. Without the other bits, the elections are a waste of time. Without independent institutions, the rule of law, a free press and separation of powers, you will never really have a democracy. All those things are in place in one form or another and need time to bed down and to find their way. In declaring the election, the Independent Election Commission of Afghanistan proved itself to be a very strong body in the face of physical and political threats to its independence. Whether it will be allowed to continue in that vein is, again, an open question, but these are important institutions that we have spent a lot of time supporting, both publicly, financially and morally.

Q62 Bob Stewart: Sir William, I think most people recognise that in Helmand between 2006 and 2009 things were a bit poor or bad. I know that it wasn’t your time, because you did not arrive until much later than even 2009, as I understand it, but what was your understanding of the strategic plan for when we first moved military forces into Helmand in 2006-if you can remember from your briefings?

Sir William Patey: I think the plan was to deny the ground to the Taliban and to expand the zone of security for the population, so that the Afghan security forces could take over. I think that was the plan right from the start, but, having been on the ground in Helmand and having seen the lie of the land, it was a big ask for the number of troops that we had there at the time.

Q63 Bob Stewart: It does not seem to have been particularly well thought through-at least retrospectively-when we actually moved one battalion into such an area without understanding that as soon as you move out of your base you are likely to be clobbered, which the Americans might not have done prior to 2006. Did you get any feel for that?

Sir William Patey: My experience with our military is that they will do what they are told to do with whatever resources they have. I think those were the resources that were available at the time.

When I was sent to Iraq was the first time that I have ever had my objectives delivered directly to me by the Prime Minister. One of the objectives he set me was to get some troop withdrawals by the following year-by June 2006. It was clear to me that we were looking for extra troops, which we did not have, to send to Afghanistan. We were clearly in Afghanistan with as many troops as we could afford at the time and doing what we could. That is why the surge was so important later on. Not only did we surge troops; the Americans were able to surge troops; and we eventually got to the 30,000 troops in Helmand that I think probably turned out to be sufficient for the job.

Q64 Bob Stewart: You just commented that in your experience the military would do what they were told to do with the troops that they have at hand. Were they told to go into Helmand and do that by some political authority, or was it really a 50:50 deal?

Sir William Patey: I do not know what-

Q65 Chair: This was before your time.

Sir William Patey: Before my time.

Q66 Bob Stewart: I accept that. I am just wondering whether-

Q67 Chair: And to a certain extent we covered that in our last inquiry.

Bob Stewart: I am sorry-I am like a dog with a bone.

Sir William Patey: I do not know the answer to that. I assume they were told to go and do what they could. The fact that they turned up probably created a bigger problem in a place like Helmand.

Q68 Bob Stewart: That is what I am getting at.

Sir William Patey: They poked the hornets’ nest and the hornets got out.

Q69 John Glen: I want to ask about corruption in Afghanistan and your perspective on what the UK did and whether we missed an opportunity to intervene in that area earlier on. What should we have been doing to reduce corruption in Afghanistan?

Sir William Patey: A little bit of humility is what is required in terms of what we can do about corruption in Afghanistan. Remember, we were a player in a bigger coalition.

Q70 John Glen: Given all that-

Sir William Patey: Given all that, we were very clear in focusing our resources on areas where we could make the biggest difference. One of the areas where we could make the biggest difference was in tax collection and customs revenue. If you could get the state’s revenues delivered to the state with as few middlemen and with as little corruption as possible, you were making a huge difference. I actually think we succeeded quite well in that by focusing on the Ministry of Finance and on the Ministry of Mines. If you look at what happened in finance, we have managed to help the Afghans develop a taxation and revenue collection system that means that the customs revenue that they collect at the border actually gets into the Ministry of Finance without being siphoned off by various power brokers.

The Ministry of Mines has introduced a transparent system of tendering-indeed, cancelled a number of contracts that did not meet the new standards-with a commitment to publish on the internet within six weeks of the tender being given. The details were published so that people could not claim there was bribery. The Ministry of Mines closed its own bank account and had all the revenues go direct to the Ministry of Finance. That alone-overnight-produced an extra $100 million into the coffers just by changing the bank account.

The revenue that the Afghans get now is approaching $2 billion. It has risen from $100 million. That has reduced corruption at a strategic level. We have also helped them work through by reducing procedures. It took 52 processes to get a driving licence in Afghanistan, which was reduced to four. That is 48 fewer opportunities for corruption. Also, it is important in developing a proper well-paid, well-trained public service. By getting policemen paid-introducing direct payment to policemen on their mobile phones-they suddenly realised how much they were paid. Cutting out the middleman reduces the opportunity-or the incentive-for ordinary policemen to be corrupt. That has not solved the problem. It will take decades.

Q71 John Glen: When we discuss the issue of corruption, it is obviously one of these situations where the starting point is so far away that any examples you give will sound very impressive. I am not trying to be difficult; I am just trying to get an assessment of whether we did enough early on in a broad range of areas to maximise the influence that we could have had in dealing with corruption.

Sir William Patey: It is hard to see what more we could have done. There is a balance to be struck all the time. You have corruption across the board. You are trying to deal with it institutionally. You have got politicians and Government Ministers who are corrupt. I will be frank: you have a system that itself must balance corruption against other things. Personally, I think President Karzai is not corrupt, but he provides protection for people who I think are. Why does he do that? He has to balance a coalition of power in the country. He is not an absolute ruler. He is holding together a coalition of power brokers. That is why the Kabul bank was so difficult to deal with. There were particular power brokers very close to the top who had family vested interests in this, and were resolutely opposed to a solution.

What could we have done? You could have made corruption your only issue and dealt with it head-on all the time. You would have lost traction quite quickly with most of the interlocutors you were dealing with in trying to deal with all the problems. On a daily basis, I had to decide, when I would go to see the President or the vice-president, what three issues we needed purchase on that I would get him to focus on that day. Corruption was always up there, but there was a point if you pushed when you would come up against an obstacle, decide you would not get any further today and go on to your next subject.

It is a balance to be struck, and I don’t think we ever lost sight of it. I certainly used the public platform I had in Afghanistan to say, "If you don’t sort this, your future is bleak." It was one of my big messages when I left Afghanistan: "Yes, we are committing to support you financially, but you’ve got to be worthy of that support. You’ll be worthy of that support if you start doing something about corruption. We are not going to give our taxpayers’ money directly into corrupt pockets." That was a warning I delivered very forcefully before I left.

Q72 John Glen: Can I move on to look at your perspective on the effectiveness of the UK’s anti-narcotics strategy? I remember when we visited in January last year, we saw some of the work there. When you reflect on it, how do you assess the effectiveness? Again, perhaps you will give your perspective over time of where it really hit and started to work, if it did.

Sir William Patey: By the time I left, I became pretty pessimistic about what we could achieve and had achieved. It was clear we had achieved significant reductions in poppy cultivation in Helmand-a 40% reduction over two years-by a combination of law enforcement, alternative livelihoods and wheat seed distribution. No one thing seemed to work. If you got the combination right-a good governor and a Minister of counter-narcotics who was working with you-you could achieve some progress.

But by the time I left, the overall production of poppy in Afghanistan had gone up. It had gone down in Helmand and up elsewhere. It was a bit like splat the rat, for those of us who are old enough to remember that great fairground game: you splat a rat, and another one comes up somewhere else. Other places that had been poppy-free suddenly became attractive again for poppy.

Q73 John Glen: Was that an inconsistency of resolve across the country, or just tactical moving around by those who were growing?

Sir William Patey: It struck me as the law of supply and demand. We were trying to deal with the supply side, but the demand was as high as ever. It is not my area-I know there are lots of controversies-but I came to the conclusion that we should just legalise it, make it a health issue and take it out of the hands of criminals. But that is another debate, and I am not an expert on that.

I did get very pessimistic about it. The actual farmers were getting very little for this; it was all the narcotics syndicates linked with terrorism, and all that. We did have an impact in the south, in cutting off the Taliban’s supplies and affecting them financially, so it had a good effect on the counter-insurgency; but in terms of the overall aim of reducing significantly narcotics production exports from Afghanistan, I fear we did not do very well.

Q74 Chair: We were hugely playing second fiddle, in everything that we were doing, to the United States, weren’t we?

Sir William Patey: Well, they had much larger resources, yes. That is why we concentrated on niche areas. The only people doing counter-narcotics were us and the US, and the US were spending huge sums of money on it-I have to say to much less effect-and my experience of Afghanistan on absolutely everything is more money is not necessarily a solution. Indeed, sometimes more money contributes more to the problem than the solution. I can understand why money gets thrown at it, because political pressure to solve problems in an instant is as great in the United States as it is here.

Q75 Mrs Moon: Can I ask a few questions about the Afghan national security forces, and whether you feel they will be ready to take responsibility in 2014 for the security of Afghanistan? Will they be ready?

Sir William Patey: I think they will be. Certainly they will have the sufficient numbers that they need. I think they will reach their maximum figure by October this year and then that figure will actually decline, because I think then what you want to do is to concentrate more on quality than on numbers-so there has been a focus on that. I know the vetting process that has already been stepped up with the Afghanistan local police will probably be renewed in terms of the security forces, so you will want a smaller, better-equipped force.

The reason I think they probably can is that where they have been in the lead-and certainly in areas in Helmand-they have shown themselves to be pretty effective. Our own troops, who are a better judge of the effectiveness of Afghan security forces than I could ever be, were certainly saying better things about them in the last year I was there than they were saying in the first year. Our troops, who are not known for holding back their opinions on things like that, were pretty scathing, and by the time I was leaving they were saying, "Oh, not bad; they do things differently, but they’re okay. They’ll do it their own way." The reality is they do not have to be as good as us; they just have to be better than the Taliban, and I think they are already better than the Taliban.

The question is, as Mr Donaldson alludes to: you can have the best security force in the world; if you do not have the right political direction and the right political leadership they will not do very much. That would be my worry about the security forces: not their competence; not their professionalism-as long as we continue to pay. There is a big bill for us for quite a number of years. That was the significance of the NATO summit in Chicago: our willingness to meet that bill. It is way beyond the capacity of the Afghans for many years to come to meet that bill. If we are willing to pay them, the big question mark will be the political direction they get. I do not think it will be their competence. It will be whether there is a political settlement in Afghanistan that endures.

Q76 Mrs Moon: Is 2014 a realistic time scale in which to get them to where they need to be, and what are the obstacles along the way that we need to overcome to make sure that 2014 is going to be effective?

Sir William Patey: We have to work on the competency. Clearly Taliban infiltration seems to be an issue. I noticed that General Allen said he thought it was about 25% Taliban infiltration. The other 75% would be all sorts of different reasons-cultural, and what have you. I think the cultural problems will reduce as we are less in the forefront and the Afghans are in the forefront, doing it their way. With our troops in the background advising, the culture clash will reduce.

I think we have to continue with the training. Britain is making a contribution; I think the first cadets in the officer academy will start in 2013, so you need a good group of officers-well trained. The focus in the sort of two years that I was there was getting the numbers up. In the last year, there was more focus on quality, and I am sure that that will be continuing now, so for the next two or three years it is quality. Remember that, at the end of 2014, it will not be a finished product; it will still be a security force in development. We are not abandoning them; it is just that our role will change dramatically. Our role will be much more on training, than it will be on combat. It is not a sort of cliff face that we are facing at the end of 2014; we just do not expect to be in combat at the end of 2014, but we will still be there helping.

Q77 Mrs Moon: You mentioned very briefly two things: one is the rogue elements within the Afghan police-indeed, some nations have said that they will no longer provide the training missions, because of green on blue attacks-and also corruption. Can you say a little bit about the problems of the presence of those rogue elements and of corruption in the Afghan national police?

Sir William Patey: There are different levels of corruption. You had the low-level corruption in which policemen did not get paid, and therefore they thought it was okay to extort money from the citizens and were immediately at loggerheads with the citizens. That is being addressed, and you see a difference in that with the police-they are getting paid directly and they are better trained. They were not trained: such was the pressure to get police on to the streets, when I arrived, that they were just being recruited and then let loose. Now, no policeman gets deployed without at least six weeks’ training, which includes their role as a protector, so that level of corruption is diminishing, but not eliminated.

What you then need to get in place is the chain of command-the supply chain-to make sure that when money is allocated for uniforms, for buildings and for all of that, it does not get siphoned off. That is part and parcel of it, and not just unique to the police; it the same for the army. Those are the big challenges. I think that at getting the security services into the front line, they are pretty good. It is getting the logistic chain, the command structure, the training and the institutional that will keep regenerating that force and keeping it in check. That is the bit that we really need to focus on in the next two years.

On corruption, it is the same issue. We need an attorney-general in Afghanistan who is going to apply the rule of law and we need a legal system that is going to uphold that law. There is work to be done.

Q78 Mrs Moon: And a National Audit Office.

Sir William Patey: Well, yes.

Q79 Sir Bob Russell: Sir William, I wonder if I could ask a supplementary to the previous questions. You mentioned that Britain will be ending its combat role in 2014, but we are not leaving entirely; we will still be there in a training role. Is that a significant difference to what happened when the Soviet forces withdrew?

Sir William Patey: Rodric Braithwaite will be able to tell you. He is a great scholar on what the Russians did and did not do.

The biggest difference between what will happen in 2014 and what happened with the Russians is that the money stopped, so the security forces did not get paid. It would not have mattered how many trainers you had staying on in training the Afghan forces, the Russians cut off the money supply, and that led to the forces dissipating and being seduced by warlords. That is the big lesson we will need to learn.

Q80 Sir Bob Russell: So provided the money supply continues, there is hope?

Sir William Patey: Yes, I think so. For me, that is certainly the most identifiable point of failure in the whole campaign, if we do not keep the money going.

Q81 Ms Stuart: Can you just confirm to me that I have understood this right? Are you saying that as recently as 2010 we were taking Afghan national police officers on without any training whatsoever?

Sir William Patey: When I arrived in May 2010, Afghan police forces were being deployed without training.

Q82 Ms Stuart: That is certainly, in all the visits I have been on, something I have never picked up. I think we were always given to understand that there was minimalist training.

Sir William Patey: They may have had a day.

Mrs Moon: As for the local police, we were always told that they were not having the training.

Sir William Patey: Even the ALP now get training.

Q83 Chair: Do you know how much training?

Sir William Patey: The national police get six weeks initial training. The ALP has much less. I think it is two weeks.

Q84 Mr Havard: May I turn to the peace process-or the peace settlement? How durable can this be? You have just made a remark about what would happen if the rest of the world community does not come up with finances and resources to support the development of a durable, stable situation. What is your assessment of a peace settlement?

Sir William Patey: I was a great tango fan in Afghanistan-I took tango lessons-and it was pretty difficult to do it on your own. There was a shortage of women, so you had to do it on your own occasionally. The problem is that the Taliban, from my point of view, are not taking this seriously. All the discussions they had with the Americans when I was there were about tactical advantage-discussions over an office in Doha or releasing prisoners from Guantanamo, which the Americans were perfectly happy to do in the hope that it would lead to a process. The Taliban adopted a position of, "We are not dealing with the monkey, we want to deal with the organ grinder" and they refused to deal with Karzai on the basis that the Americans called the shots. That is their position. I noticed Michael Semple, who knows the Taliban quite well, quoting a senior Taliban source saying that he at least had come to the conclusion that they could not achieve their objectives by force. If that becomes the accepted view of the Taliban leadership, that will be progress. At the end of the day, an inclusive political settlement in Afghanistan will require the Taliban to be brought into a political process that is acceptable to the rest of the Afghans. The Talibans think that it is a power-sharing agreement; we get this and we get that. They have to work within a constitution and be prepared to fight elections and act politically as a political party. I do not think that they have made that calculation yet. Quite a lot of the Taliban still think that they can wait till the end of 2014 and take on the Afghan forces, so why make the compromises that a political settlement would require?

President Karzai and the international community have done what they can to create the circumstances, working with Pakistan, trying to bring them in, but until the Taliban think they need to make the compromises for a political process, I do not see it going very far.

Q85 Mr Havard: Can I just pursue that a bit? One of the things that has been said to us is that some of the older Taliban-older in Afghanistan is a relative term-in Pakistan and Quetta may want to give up and come back. We have the reintegration and rehabilitation process. Marc Grossman from the US is still engaged in some process like that, but then there is the Qatar process and President Karzai’s business. President Karzai, when he wants to, steps outside the constitution. He sets up his Loya Jirgas and plays power games. To what extent do you think the constitution is a barrier to a peace settlement and when will it come to a crisis that will show its reform?

Sir William Patey: The Taliban always say that they will not work with this constitution and that they want constitutional change. I think that that is a tactic rather than a reality. There is nothing in the constitution that would really stop the Taliban from coming forward. That is an excuse. I have spoken to ex-Taliban, as they are now known, but they are still in touch with the Taliban people, and they did not really raise the constitution as an issue. It is about how much power they think they can get. If they think they can get power through the barrel of a gun, they’ll stick with that.

So I don’t think the constitution is a problem. It’s there. It can be amended if you get sufficient support. The Taliban don’t need to argue for Afghanistan to be an Islamic country: it is. I mean, they are not alone; there’s a vast majority of people who accept a conservative Islamic country. So that’s not something the Taliban need to insist on.

Q86 Mr Havard: I ask the question because you talked about 2015 and the parliamentary elections, post the presidential elections, and it’s a question of whether, at that point, there is a continuing democratic-style process or whether that process is going to be the election of a Parliament to a different constitutional structure-a federalism, a form of accommodating the warlords. Is that one way of breaking down an excuse or a barrier?

Sir William Patey: Well, they would still have to do it within the constitution. Unless you’re going to abandon the rule of law in Afghanistan, that is the constitution and that makes provision for how you amend it. So they would need to gather quite a lot of support to amend it. You would need to have a constitutional Loya Jirga. You would need to call it and say what it was to discuss, and that would need to be discussed. The ideal solution is one in which there’s a political process backed by everyone-Pakistan, the international community-and in which the Taliban agree to lay down their arms and they form a political party. There may be some deal done that gives them some positions in government in the run-up to an election. They’re allowed to form a political party. You would need to talk about amnesties. There would need to be ceasefires. All of that is the sort of thing that you would expect to discuss in a genuine political process. That hasn’t started.

Q87 Mr Havard: The extent to which we collectively-the whole of the international community-have been participating has provided a substitute economy, effectively, in Afghanistan that has sort of allowed it to develop so far and not develop its own economy. Is that the incentive? Is there some economic incentive for both them and their neighbours that brings them into this process? Will that solve the problem if it is not constitutional matters, human rights and other things?

Sir William Patey: I don’t know how we can give them an economic incentive, because we need to start reducing the amount of money we spend on Afghanistan, not-

Q88 Mr Havard: So how does it become sustainable within itself by 2023?

Sir William Patey: A political process. Well-

Q89 Mr Havard: No, an economic process.

Sir William Patey: The economic process is one where we have to keep helping the Afghans fund their development for 10 years beyond, while they get on with developing their mineral resources, at the same time trying to execute a political process that would reduce the pressure on the security forces-they would not have to be so proficient if there was a political process. You have to work on all these things at once. But I’ve always said we must not make our strategy dependent on a political deal with the Taliban, because that gives them a veto. You have to have a policy that says, "Here is a strategy that is not dependent on the Taliban." Obviously, the Taliban stopping fighting and getting engaged in the political process makes the rest of it much easier. I’ve always thought we would make one of the Taliban the Minister for anti-corruption, or something, and see how he gets on. That would be an interesting development. You have to pursue the political process at the same time as the rest of it, but must not make your strategy dependent on it, because if the Taliban choose not to-

A senior Afghan said to me that he did not think there would be a serious political process until the Taliban had been defeated on Afghan soil by an Afghan army in Kandahar. So you might say we are creating the circumstances for that to happen-that the Taliban will be defeated at some stage in Kandahar by an Afghan army.

Q90 Mr Havard: So their last stand was their penultimate stand.

You also said in the article in March that, not only were the finances important, but the west being diverted elsewhere was important. What happens to the peace settlement if things are happening elsewhere at the time, because nothing here is in a solid state or binary in terms of the calculations for 2014?

Sir William Patey: That is the biggest risk. Our attention span is limited and history tells us that when the troops are out, our interest levels will decline significantly. Look at what happened when our troops were out of Iraq-it was somebody else’s problem. There is a big danger that that could happen in Afghanistan. It is understandable. The fact that 10,000 troops are on the ground and young men and women are dying has a degree of focus and interest that is impossible to sustain. However, we should recognise it as a danger point. We will be diverted; something else in the world will take our attention and our energies, but we all will remember that we should continue to invest in Afghanistan. We at the British Foreign Office and in the United States should have the capacity to keep our eye on more than one ball at once.

Q91 Mr Donaldson: I used to hold the view that the key to progress in Northern Ireland was to defeat the IRA and then negotiate. It did not work that way and, if it did not work that way in a western democracy, there is very little chance of it working that way in Afghanistan. Therefore, the extent to which there is an engagement with the Taliban-whether track two or otherwise-is very important because we could wait a long, long time for the kind of progress at a security level that may never happen.

Sir William Patey: You are absolutely right. I keep using the Northern Ireland example. There is no military plan that has as its objective the defeat of the insurgency. Our strategy is not based on defeating the insurgency.

Q92 Mr Donaldson: No, but I fear from what you said that there may be some among the Afghan leadership who hold to that view.

Sir William Patey: They genuinely want a settlement. They have huge differences about what terms they would be prepared to accept. If you talk to Afghan women, Fawzia Koofi and others, they are very worried that the terms of the settlement would be to their detriment. If you talk to the Tajiks, they do not want to give up the amount of power they have had. They have had more power than they would normally have in Afghanistan, so they will have to compromise. At the end of the day, what does a political settlement look like? How are people’s interests engaged?

I think that the military objective is to reduce the insurgency to a level that can be handled by the Afghans. It will create an incentive. If more Taliban come to the conclusion that they cannot gain power through force, they are more likely to be in the market for the sorts of compromises that might be on offer.

Q93 Mr Donaldson: Coming from a side of the community in Northern Ireland that thought that holding all power was the way to sustain its position, I understand the mindset. But sharing power can actually strengthen your position, not weaken it. A process of national reconciliation is therefore something. Rather than talking about the political negotiations and the hard brokering of "who gets what position in government", perhaps a reconciliation process needs to take place.

Sir William Patey: I agree with you. I encourage you to use your experience in Northern Ireland when you are out there to make that point to the politicians. The only difference in Afghanistan, if you are applying it to Northern Ireland, is that the Catholics have the power and it is the Protestants who are trying to wrest some of it back.

Q94 Sandra Osborne: You have answered my question. You have repeated several times that it would take a long time to have some sort of proper political settlement. I am worried about the position of those in Afghanistan who do not share a fundamentalist position. What can be done to protect their human rights in the meantime after we go and they are probably left in a more vulnerable position?

Sir William Patey: That is why it is important to focus on the constitution and the rule of law, because the legal framework is such that women are protected under the constitution in terms of their rights. Any move away from the rule of law, where tribal justice or ad hoc justice is applied, is bad for women. We have seen that in the remoter parts of Afghanistan. The reality is that it will pretty difficult for women in remote parts of Afghanistan. As you see in Pakistan, it has a rule of law and institutions, but you cannot always enforce that rule of law in the remote parts. That will be the reality for a lot of women in remote parts of Afghanistan. We are pretty powerless to do much about that, but what we can try to do is make sure that women’s rights are enshrined in the constitution, and that there is no derogation from that, and to use our influence.

We can use our influence beyond because if we continue to fund the Afghans, obviously we will make it conditional on things like corruption, human rights and how women are treated. So we will at least give the Minister of Finance, the President and all the others an incentive to do the right thing. So I think we should use our influence to the extent that we have it.

Q95 Sandra Osborne: Have you done that up until now? Have you threatened to-

Sir William Patey: Our influence is going to diminish, remember. We will not be there on the ground in the numbers we are now. So our influence will diminish.

Chair: We have a couple of questions about the future of Afghanistan but you may have answered them already.

Q96 Mrs Moon: Very quickly, I should like to hear your comments on the instability of the next two years. We are leading up to an announced withdrawal by the end of 2014 but already some other partner nations are talking about going before then and who may well decide to go early. What are the risks in the next two years, both to the UK troops who are remaining there, and to any possible stability for Afghanistan post 2014?

Sir William Patey: It is an issue. I do not think we should be too worried about individual countries ending their combat involvement earlier. The French will probably be out of combat by the end of this year. That will not have a strategic impact. There may be others who naturally will come to the end of a combat role. The transition is happening in different places at different times. So there will be particular countries who have been in a particular area where the transition has happened. They will not want to be redeployed anywhere else and so they will withdraw. So if it is part of the overall transition process-I think if there was to be a mass exodus at an earlier stage it would put additional pressure on us and on the Americans. I do not see that happening. Some of the exits were happening anyway: I detect that some of the politicians in those countries are maximising the political benefit from something that was happening anyway to say, "Look, we brought the troops home earlier." There is a plan.

As far as our troops are concerned, we are in Helmand and would not be overly affected by that. We would be affected by a more rapid US withdrawal or a more rapid US redeployment out of Helmand to elsewhere to cover for those countries. So there is a risk that the sort of transition plan that is in place for Helmand gets derailed by the Americans having to redeploy more troops to backfill other countries. I hope that the ISAF coalition as a whole-the big troop contributors-will stay pretty solid. The Germans and the Italians look set to stay to the course. So of the big countries that are there in numbers, it is only the French who have brought their timetable forward a bit and that has been taken into account, I understand.

Q97 Mrs Moon: On a scale from one to 10, with one being highly unlikely and 10 being very likely to happen, with the caveat that the money keeps going in, what are the chances of Afghanistan descending into civil war post 2014?

Sir William Patey: Five.

Mrs Moon: That is not very positive.

Q98 Chair: Is there anything else that you think it would be helpful for us as a Defence Committee to know?

Sir William Patey: All I would say is that, coming out from it and sitting here back in London and not having access to all the official papers and everything, you are driven by a perception of what is going on by the media. We will have some pretty difficult times ahead. There will be all sorts. There will be more green on blues. There are going to be corruption scandals. There is going to be all of that, but I do not think that anything I have seen in the last year is sufficiently bad to derail the strategy.

I do think that we have the right policy in terms of the timetable. We could come out earlier-you could come out earlier and you could increase the risks. The corollary of that might be if we stayed longer we would be more likely-I do not think that is true. I think there comes a point where you have outlived your usefulness, and I think actually coming out in an orderly fashion by the end of 2014 will tip the balance. I think the Taliban will find it very difficult to sustain an insurgency against their own people when we remove their excuse that they are fighting a foreign invader-that will tip the balance. However difficult it is, it is important to stay the course, but I would not be advocating, anyone who advocates staying on beyond, I do not think that is going to make much of a difference.

Chair: Thank you very much indeed. That was very interesting stuff. Most helpful, as we expected it to be, having seen you in Kabul.

Sir William Patey: It’s a pleasure. Have a good trip. I hope my successor has kept that nice malt whisky collection.

Chair: He may have drunk it by now.

<?oasys [pg6,cwe1] ?>Examination of Witness

Witness: Sir Rodric Braithwaite GCMG, former UK Ambassador to the Soviet Union and author of "Afgantsy", gave evidence.

Q99 Chair: Sir Rodric, welcome to the Defence Committee. Thank you very much for agreeing to come and give evidence to us.

Your experience and your writing about the Russian experience of Afghanistan and your experience as British ambassador to Russia has been fascinating to read about. You wrote, in December 2009 in the Financial Times, that the situation in Afghanistan displayed "tactics without strategy". What sort of lessons should we learn from the experience of the Russians in Afghanistan?

Sir Rodric Braithwaite: Of course, you can never replicate historical experience exactly. But if look at what the Russians decided they needed to achieve after they decided there was no point in staying, what they decided they needed to achieve was to withdraw in an orderly fashion, leaving behind a viable Government of their own choice, with armed forces that could defend it. Actually, they did achieve that; they did withdraw in good order. I recommend an article by an American colonel on the withdrawal-he said the Soviet withdrawal was a model. They left, to all intents and purposes, unopposed. They had the great advantage that we do not have-that they only had to cross the river and they were back home. Both the withdrawal and the logistical problem of getting their stuff out was much simpler. They partly solved the problem of getting their stuff out, which you heard a lot about at your last session, by leaving it behind and handing it over the Afghans. A lot of it then just disappeared, but at least they did not have to take it home.

What then happened? Well, first of all, the army they left behind them: you can never believe any figures, or almost any figures, about Afghanistan, but particularly you cannot believe figures, either then or now, about what the size of the Afghan armed forces are. But they left behind a nominal 12 divisions armed with heavy equipment, mostly officered by Soviet-trained officers with 10 years of experience fighting either independently or alongside the Russians. They, on their own after the Russians had left, had several major successes against the Mujaheddin, but what then happened was that it all fell apart. It fell apart for two reasons: partly because the army and the regime fell apart through internal intrigue; but also because the Russians went bankrupt. Najibullah, their chosen man, and the military were wholly dependent on Russian supplies for food, fuel, equipment and munitions, and at the beginning of 1992 they were cut off. Within a few months, the regime had collapsed, the army had split and the civil war started.

One obvious lesson from that is that the Afghan Government will need to be supported for a long time-supported effectively, which is of course the problem. The other conclusion that I draw from that is that the army you leave behind can be as well trained as you like-you can believe the statistics that are put out by military spokesmen if you want to-but that is not the point. The point is whether the army holds together and at whom does it direct its weapons? I do not think that the sort of training that the Russians gave was a guarantee that they would hang together and direct their weapons in the right direction, and I do not quite see why the army we leave behind should be any better than that.

Q100 Chair: Would there be any acts or omissions of the western coalition that you would point to now, with the benefit of hindsight, as having been a mistake or a series of mistakes?

Sir Rodric Braithwaite: This is the Irish question, isn’t it? If you want to get to Dublin, you wouldn’t start from here.

Mr Donaldson: Certainly not! [Laughter.]

Sir Rodric Braithwaite: I think the mistake we made is the mistake the Russians made and the mistake that, on the whole, the British did not make in the 19th century: it is that you can go in there and win a military victory, but you make a great mistake if you do not leave immediately. The Russians could have done that, but they stayed on because they wanted to re-engineer Afghan society and turn it into a stable, well governed-by Soviet standards-country, and of course we wanted to do the same. If we had left after we defeated the Taliban and al-Qaeda at the end of 2001, we would be no worse off than we are now in my view, and in many ways a lot better off. The same is true of the Russians: if they had left after they overthrew the Government that they chose to overthrow, they would not have got involved in nine years of war.

Q101 Chair: Do you believe that our action in Afghanistan was important to our national security?

Sir Rodric Braithwaite: I believe that it was inevitable after the Twin Towers-it was inevitable that the Americans should go in and it was inevitable that we should support them. I have no trouble with that. I do not believe-I’ve never believed-the argument that by fighting in Helmand you will prevent people plotting in the mountains of Pakistan to blow us up on the streets of London. It seems to me that that is a series of non-sequiturs. The success that has been gained against terrorism in this country, as far as I know-and I don’t know very much-is through good intelligence work, good police work and the occasional use of special forces; but fighting in Helmand seems to me to have very little to do with that.

Q102 Chair: So your suggestion would be that the mistake was to extend the control of the western coalition down into the south?

Sir Rodric Braithwaite: Control is a very big word.

Q103 Chair: Okay: extend the presence.

Sir Rodric Braithwaite: Extend the presence and the attempted control. What has been going on-I want to emphasise I am not an expert on what’s been going on-but what seems to me to have been going on is what did go on in the Russian time. We can take the ground-we had the operation a couple of years ago in Helmand, which was successful in a sense-but we can’t hold the ground, and when we leave, the bad guys come back again and start chopping off heads, as they did recently. The Russians had the same experience. The Russians calculate now-at least one calculation-that they would have needed something like 36 divisions to hold the place down and occupy it effectively. Of course, that was never in question.

Q104 Chair: What do you think our mission at the end of 2001-after 9/11-should have been?

Sir Rodric Braithwaite: As stated: to destroy the training camps, destroy the grip of the Taliban on the country, and destroy as much of al-Qaeda as we could-but of course the Taliban and al-Qaeda are totally different. The Taliban live there, they are going to stay there, and they are not much interested in international terrorism, whereas al-Qaeda can operate from all sorts of places. I think that if we had stuck to our minimal objective, we could have achieved it, but then we would have had not much control over the future of Afghanistan: the Afghans would have had to sort it out for themselves-but that is what they are going to anyway, it seems to me.

Q105 Mr Brazier: Directly following on from that, Sir Rodric, if I remember my 19th century Afghan history, which is pretty sketchy, correctly, in both the successful campaigns we conducted there, we sorted them out and got out quickly, although faster in one case than the other, but in both cases we left behind somebody we could live with in charge. The complication in the answer you have just given-although I entirely agree with your analysis-is that simply to have retreated without doing anything at all about who is in charge would surely simply have invited the same thing to start all over again.

Sir Rodric Braithwaite: What happened in the 19th century was that the guy who took charge once we left was the guy that we went in to overthrow-the same guy. The guy who took over after the second war, Abdur Rahman, who was an ideal Afghan leader in many ways, had been living under Russian protection until we pulled out. We were smart to recognise that this was a guy we could work with, and we did work with him for the next 20 years. But we did not impose him, and we did not impose Mohammed Dost after the first war: both of them, as it were, emerged from the Afghan process. The guy that we did impose in 1839, Shah Shujah, ended up hanged on his own doorstep. As you know, a lot of Afghans call Karzai Shah Shujah.

The Russians did manage. Najibullah was the man they left behind. He was their chosen man and he came to a bad end, as you know, but Afghans today are circulating DVDs of his speeches and saying that if he had stayed alive none of this would have happened. I think that’s a myth, but it is a striking sentiment.

Q106 Mr Brazier: Moving from where it went wrong immediately after the invasion to where we are now, can you see anybody emerging who would have the support base, not to run a modern liberal democracy, but to provide a little bit of prosperity and security of the sort that could be workable?

Sir Rodric Braithwaite: I simply don’t know enough about present day Afghan politics. William Patey, I am sure, would have been able to answer that question.

It is usually true that in these sorts of situations, nobody knows who the successor is going to be until he does emerge-we are all speculating about who is going to follow Putin, for example. So first, I don’t know the answer and, secondly, I should be surprised if anybody had a secure answer. I think it is something that will come out of an Afghan political process, which might be quite unattractive.

Q107 Mrs Moon: Lucy Morgan Edwards has written a book in which she suggests that we got it very wrong-that, instead of allowing the loya jirga to go ahead and Afghans to find their own solution, we backed the Northern Alliance and blocked Abdul Haq from taking over in 2002. Would you agree with that?

Sir Rodric Braithwaite: Well, as I say, I am not an expert on current Afghan history and politics. I think what went on in Bonn and the whole process is that we tried to manage, or the Americans tried to manage, more than we actually could manage, and what emerged was probably not what would have emerged if the Afghans had been left to themselves. As I heard William Patey saying just as I came in, you now have a situation where the Northern Alliance and the Tajiks carry, in the eyes of many Pushtuns, far too much weight, far more than they have had historically, and that’s an imbalance that they will be determined to change, I think. So I think I agree with what I think is your premise, which is that we did try and impose a kind of politics on the situation after 2001 which, in the long run, was not going to work.

Q108 Bob Stewart: Sir Rodric, what you have said up till now implies that from 2003, we had a pretty disastrous experience militarily. Have we, by our military interventions since 2003, achieved anything worthy of note, or is it a total disaster?

Sir Rodric Braithwaite: That is a hard question to answer satisfactorily. If you are asking "Was it worth it?" I have to say I am not sure that it was worth it, in terms of lives lost on both sides and money spent-but we are talking about counter-factual history: what would have happened if we hadn’t done it? We don’t know. I think that, as the Russians discovered, we are discovering that the approach whereby you go into a place like Afghanistan in the belief that you can re-engineer the way the politics and society work is mistaken. I do not think one can. To that extent, putting all those people in there could not achieve what is now abandoned but was then our stated objective. What they now call the strategy is, of course, an absolutely minimalist thing.

Q109 Bob Stewart: Again, what you suggest is that we went in the first time-well, we supported in 2001-we achieved a change of regime and we should not have touched it again. By implication, if we had our time again and you were Methuselah and in charge, you would have said, "Let’s not go back in in 2003; it was a mistake."

Sir Rodric Braithwaite: Methuselah is right, but "in charge" is wrong. I think there is an alternative version that if we had not been distracted by Iraq and concentrated on Afghanistan, we would have had the resources to achieve something. That is an arguable point of view, but I suspect that it is not the case, because the basics were wrong anyway.

Q110 Chair: You suspect that it is not the case?

Sir Rodric Braithwaite: I suspect that it is not the case, because I think the fundamental problem would have been the same even if we had thrown all those resources at it in 2003. You mentioned a book but there is another, perhaps the best book on the subject, by a Norwegian woman called Astri Suhrke, who has been in and out of Afghanistan for 20 years. The book is called "When More Is Less", and it is really about that: could we, with more resources, more aid and more military effort, have achieved more than we have? If it had not been for Iraq, could we have achieved more? Her answer is no. I think that it is a very well argued and sober book. As I said, it is probably the most sensible dissection of the problem I have yet read.

Q111 John Glen: Can I ask you about corruption and what interventions have been made? I am not sure whether you were here when Sir William took us through some of the work done with respect to securing the system for collecting money, so that revenues would get to the right place, but do you think, in terms of the work done on dealing with corruption, that we intervened early enough and hit the right things? Given all the constraints and reasonable expectations of where the starting point is, how do you see that?

Sir Rodric Braithwaite: Again, because I am not an expert, I have to answer it rather a priori, if you don’t mind. As a general proposition, if you throw billions of dollars into a small, poor and badly traumatised country, a lot of it is going to end up in the wrong place. It is not only Afghans who are corrupt; it is a lot of other people, and a lot of that money has not ended up in Afghan pockets. I think that we are a bit too ready to blame Karzai and his people for things which are at least partly our fault, even if we did not intend them. That is the first thing.

The second thing is perhaps more debatable and less politically correct. If you go back to Abdur Rahman, he ran Afghanistan very effectively by a combination of nepotism, putting his relatives in the places that matter; cronyism, putting his chums in the places that matter; ruthlessly dealing with anybody who didn’t measure up; and bribing a lot of other people. If you like to call that corruption, it was part of the system, and we encouraged it with what we called subsidies. Karzai has never been given the chance, actually. I mean, every time he gets up and protests about something or other-you know, every time a wedding party is killed-we slap him down and tell him he is ungrateful. How is he to run the country in that way?

Q112 John Glen: Is it just that the starting point-the level of complexity and sophistication to the arrangements of governance that are needed in the short term-is so sophisticated and difficult that any intervention you make will hit only part of it, and it takes a while to understand that sort of ecosystem?

Sir Rodric Braithwaite: I wonder whether it is ever possible to understand it sufficiently to intervene effectively. Politics-everybody’s, including ours-are very, very complicated for outsiders to understand. We don’t speak the language of most of them, we don’t know the history or the people. How are we going to intervene effectively to manipulate politics of that degree of complexity? I think that is something that is not only true in Afghanistan; it’s true of lots of places. So, again, I am afraid it’s the Dublin question. We shouldn’t have started from there.

Q113 Ms Stuart: If I remember rightly, I think you say in your book that there wasn’t any corruption under the Russians because there was no money to be corrupt with.

Sir Rodric Braithwaite: If I said that, I was exaggerating.

Q114 Ms Stuart: But in a sense, the point that you make is that, because you have chucked so much money at it, it’s no good harking back to a time when there wasn’t corruption.

Sir Rodric Braithwaite: I would not say that there was no corruption, because there was certainly corruption, but it wasn’t megabucks because there weren’t megabucks. However, there was corruption all right. The Russians are fairly corrupt themselves. Their soldiers sold stuff and all sorts of things went on at all levels of the Russian army, but the Russians made some attempt to limit corruption in various ways and they mostly failed.

Q115 John Glen: Respecting your lack of immediate knowledge on the narcotics side, we had quite a depressing picture of where we have ultimately got to with the counter-narcotics strategy. Do you have any insights into how we tackle narcotics and whether we have made any meaningful progress?

Sir Rodric Braithwaite: I don’t think that I have any insights that are worthwhile. The Russians were concerned about narcotics and they took some action against the problem, but it was not particularly effective. They had a very strong interest, because even then-in the ‘70s-drugs were passing from Afghanistan and central Asia into Russia and exacerbating the problem there. I don’t really have a position on the present situation, except to say that one of the solutions being suggested-buying up the poppy crop and turning it into medicinal drugs-seems to depend on the proposition that we can always outbid the villains in the price we pay to the farmers, and I would have thought that is not so. The villains are always going to be able to outbid us.

Q116 Mrs Moon: You talked about how the Russians built up an equivalent of the Afghan national security forces, and we have done the same. Why will the present creation of the Afghan national security forces be more successful and more enduring than the Russian forces, other than the fact that hopefully we will not go into financial meltdown in the same way that the Russians did?

Sir Rodric Braithwaite: I was not trying to imply that they would be more successful.

Q117 Mrs Moon: You weren’t?

Sir Rodric Braithwaite: No. The other point is that the most corrosive thing going on at the moment is green on blue incidents. There were almost none in the Russian period. There were some, and of course again you can never be quite sure that the figures are right, but they would be measured in dozens-if that-over nine or 10 years.

Another advantage that the Russians had, of course, was that they were building up: the Afghans had an army when the Russians went in. Abdur Rahman started building them an army, so they had a proper army, which was well equipped and on the whole-at least the officer corps-well trained. They were not trying to build an army in the middle of an insurgency-in the middle of a civil war. They were building it before and by the time that they got there the civil war had started, but there was still a recognisable, reasonably coherent and competent-when the wind was in the right direction-Afghan armed force. The Russians had people attached to it at all levels, down to battalion level, and they got killed but they got killed by enemy action, not by the people they were fighting alongside.

Q118 Mrs Moon: So why are we having more green on blue attacks? What have we done wrong and what could we have done differently?

Sir Rodric Braithwaite: Again, you are asking me rather more than I know, so I am speculating. I think it is a measure of the extent to which we have made ourselves unpopular. When the military spokesmen say, "Well, it’s not as bad as you think it is, because these attacks are mostly not Taliban-driven," that seems to me the opposite of reassuring. It means that ordinary Afghans in the armed forces are getting sick of us. Maybe they have been corrupted by the Taliban, but who knows. The main thing is that quite ordinary Afghans are doing these things, and the effect it has on our soldiers who are having to mentor them is, of course, very damaging. You now have this system that the Americans have introduced-what they call "guardian angels"-which is that each group being mentored is overlooked by an American with his finger on the trigger.

Q119 Mrs Moon: What did the Russians do differently? What was positive about what they did that we have not done? Any ideas?

Sir Rodric Braithwaite: I have asked Russians and Afghans-I emphasise that it is a small statistical sample; it is not a Gallup poll-how they got on with one another, and the answer was that they could recognise themselves in the other. One Russian soldier I spoke to, who was a peasant from a poor part of Russia, could recognise the Afghan peasant living the same sort of live as he did: eating badly, badly dressed and so on, so there was some element of that. A lot of very, very bad things happened, but there was also some element of a kind of ability to communicate across the culture that we do not have.

Another thing was that the Soviet army had a lot of soldiers in it who spoke the local languages, because they came from the same ethnic backgrounds-say, Uzbeks, Tajiks and so on. So you would get a Soviet armoured vehicle going into a village, with one of the guys in it being able to speak to the locals. I do not want to exaggerate that, because they had a problem with interpreters, too. On the other hand, before the war started, they had massively trained people in the Afghan languages. A lot of guys in their last year of university were simply mobilised and sent down to Afghanistan because they could speak the languages. So they had various ways of getting across.

Of course, dreadful atrocities were committed as well, by both sides, and I do not want in any way to underplay the brutality of that. It was a very brutal war, but it had this other element in it as well.

Q120 Sir Bob Russell: Sir Rodric, as I understand it, despite leaving Afghanistan with a strong Government and army, the Soviets still had to conduct a seriously difficult fighting withdrawal. Are we likely to have to do the same?

Sir Rodric Braithwaite: The answer is they did not have to conduct a serious fighting withdrawal. There was sniping-they went on losing people at a rate that we would find unacceptable-but the withdrawal was not opposed.

Q121 Sir Bob Russell: So it was not a fighting withdrawal?

Sir Rodric Braithwaite: No.

Q122 Sir Bob Russell: Would you anticipate that there would be a fighting withdrawal this time?

Sir Rodric Braithwaite: To start with, perhaps it is worth trying to understand why the last one was not a fighting withdrawal. It was very well planned from a military and logistical point of view by the Soviet army. As I say, they did not try to take all their kit with them, so they did not have that logistical problem, which Bob Fox told you about. Throughout the war, they were negotiating at all levels with the other side. Local commanders, lieutenants would ensure that they had some way of communicating with the local-

Q123 Chair: Can I ask you to do your best to speak into the microphone, please, because we are having a bit of difficulty hearing you?

Sir Rodric Braithwaite: Sorry; my voice is not working very well.

They did negotiate and come to agreements with one another at very local levels right up to the top. There were negotiations between the Mujaheddin leadership and the Soviet generals at various points. During the withdrawal, they had done their best, as it were, to talk their way through the barriers. That broke down, and these kinds of agreements, ceasefires and so forth were always breaking down for various reasons, but then, for one reason or another, they would get resumed. That was the reason why there was not a fighting withdrawal.

The only major fighting that took place was in January, less than a month-three weeks-before the final withdrawal, and that was initiated by the Soviet side. It came about because Najibullah wanted the Russians to deal with Massoud, the Tajik commander who was based in the Panjshir valley, which is a strategic threat to the Salang route, the main route between Russia, the Soviet Union, and Afghanistan-Kabul. He asked his friends in Moscow to instruct the Soviet generals in Afghanistan to deal with Massoud. The generals objected strongly to that. They said it was pointless and they were right. They had not managed to deal with him in nine years; why should they be able to deal with him in a matter of weeks? They were overruled and they conducted a two-day bombardment of Massoud’s positions, which resulted in quite a lot of Massoud’s people being killed, although, as usual, nobody knows how many, and not very many Russians. After that, there was no serious fighting on the withdrawal route and, indeed, there was no serious fighting on the ground. There was a continual drip, drip of casualties from sniper fire and things like that.

Q124 Sir Bob Russell: With that historical perspective, are NATO forces in a better position to withdraw than the Soviet forces were?

Sir Rodric Braithwaite: I don’t see why they should be. There is no absolute reason why they shouldn’t be. What happened in the Soviet time was that the Mujaheddin were holding their fire because the Russians were leaving and they wanted to position themselves for the fighting that would take place after the Russians had gone-namely, the civil war. There wasn’t much point in their fighting the Russians once the Russians were going. I would have thought that something similar would apply today. On the other hand, of course, all the routes that we withdraw through are complicated in various ways. I am thinking of the Khyber pass and so on. As I said earlier, the Russians got in their vehicles, drove north, across the river, and they were back home.

Q125 Sir Bob Russell: My final question, Sir Rodric, is this. If you were asked to write a report to the Secretary of State for Defence, what lessons would you tell him that the UK armed forces and NATO should learn from the Soviet withdrawal when planning our withdrawal?

Sir Rodric Braithwaite: Bits and pieces of the MoD keep on asking me that question. [Laughter.] Beyond what I have said, I am not sure that there are all that many lessons. The situation is different. One of the advantages that the Russians have always had in managing their logistical affairs, which they are very good at managing, is that they do not have to worry too much about the welfare of their soldiers. The soldiers get cold and hungry, and some of them die, but they get moved around very efficiently. We can’t do that.

Q126 Sir Bob Russell: So that is one lesson that we will not follow.

Sir Rodric Braithwaite: Absolutely.

Q127 Mr Havard: They could probably teach them a few lessons about corrupt government as well, while they were at it, couldn’t they? Now, now; I’d better get on with this. I want to ask about the peace settlement, if there is to be a peace settlement, and its durability, if it can be made durable. What do you see as the obstacles currently facing everyone in trying to achieve this peace settlement by 2014?

Sir Rodric Braithwaite: I find the idea of achieving a peace settlement that one would recognise as such in the history of diplomacy rather incredible. A peace settlement-

Q128 Mr Havard: There was a very nice description at Chicago of what it is supposed to contain.

Sir Rodric Braithwaite: Chicago?

Mr Havard: The Chicago conference of NATO. There was a very nice description of what it is supposed to contain.

Sir Rodric Braithwaite: Yes, I know. It is very-I am trying to think of the right adjective; I was going to say "colourful".

Q129 Mr Havard: It is certainly ambitious.

Sir Rodric Braithwaite: Yes, ambitious. We have, for obvious reasons, not much negotiating power, I wouldn’t have thought. We have, therefore, very little leverage to impose our view of the right outcome. I think it goes back to what the Afghans decide they want. That depends on how Karzai is going to talk to the Taliban, and how the Pushtuns are going to talk to the Tajiks, and a whole lot of things over which our influence is rapidly decreasing, it seems to me. So a settlement that you could recognise as such by 2014 seems to me beyond my imagination, anyway. I assume that we will leave. I assume that we will say that our strategy has been successful, therefore. I assume that after that we will, I hope, go on supporting the Kabul Government in an effective way; but our record-I mean not only in Afghanistan, and not only this country-of sustaining support after the crisis seems to be over and we have come home is not very good: the first thing.

The second thing is that making sure that the kind of assistance that we give actually achieves a real objective on the ground is going to be complicated. I think we have to do what we have to do, which includes continuing to support the armed forces, continuing to support the economy-and the Afghan economy has never balanced its books since near the beginning of the last century; and after 1945 it was largely aid-dependant the whole time. I suppose that will not change. So there are some things that we can do, but they are not very dramatic ones.

Q130 Mr Havard: You talked earlier about them having an army: Afghan national forces-a nationalised force, as it were; but where it might train its guns was an interesting question in this period. What are the incentives for the neighbours? What are the incentives for the Taliban who are in Pakistan? What is the incentive for Pakistan and the other neighbours geographically-Iran, China-to contribute in terms of some sort of consistent accommodation, if not the ambitious peace settlement described at Chicago?

Sir Rodric Braithwaite: Well, all the neighbours, of course, have their own interests, and much more durable interests than ours, in Afghanistan. The trouble is that the interests very often conflict with one another, India and Pakistan being the obvious one. If the Indians and Pakistan behaved differently and were prepared to agree with one another on how they should treat Afghanistan, a lot would change; but that does not seem very likely.

Of course, Iran is another one which has a strong, legitimate and on the whole quite often constructive interest in Afghanistan; but they tend to be excluded by American desires or obsessions. I think the Russians have an interest, and they are still very well connected in Afghanistan. They know lots of people. I think they are mainly Northern Alliance people, but they can make an input; and of course the immediate neighbours also have an interest.

A fascinating thing, which I don’t know enough about, is that China seems to be the only country that is taking a long-term optimistic view of Afghanistan, the way it is piling in and buying up the mines, and so on. What they know that I don’t know-of course, I don’t know; but I think one of the questions is how they are going to keep their people in those mines secure, and how they are going to get the stuff out.

Q131 Mr Havard: That was very Rumsfeldian, almost; but you mentioned Russia’s role. Do you think Russia has a particular contribution it could make, here, in this transition period?

Sir Rodric Braithwaite: I do not think it is a particularly strong one, but I think it is better to have them on the same side as us, because they do know about the place, and they can influence some of the players, and it would be silly not to take advantage of that, I think.

Mr Havard: What do you think is going to happen if we do not have this peace settlement, as described, by 2014, and combat troops come out in an orderly fashion? What is your prognosis?

Sir Rodric Braithwaite: Well, I think the question was asked earlier. Civil war is an obvious possible outcome. The last civil war was horrific. A lot of people, including some Afghan women and the sister of an Afghan that I met when I was in Kabul, welcomed the arrival of the Taliban, knowing what the Taliban were like; because it could not be worse than what was going on at the moment. So it is not at all an attractive prospect. I still think that whether or not it turns out to be as bad as that, it is something that the Afghans will have to sort out for themselves. The very few Afghans I have talked to recently have said that that is their strong view. There are two or three officers who have been training here, rather impressive people, and their view is that when we leave, they will then be able to start sorting things out.

Q132 Mr Havard: Do you see the neighbours, the Russians and so on as being agnostic in that?

Sir Rodric Braithwaite: They will all be tempted, won’t they, to fiddle around in the chaos, but I think that the Pakistanis and the Indians are the key. I do not know of any particular evidence that shows that what they are going to do will be wholly constructive.

Q133 Mr Brazier: Picking up on that, the punchline of your original article in The Telegraph, which many of us read with interest, was that none of this is contributing very much to tackling the problem of fanatics from the Afghan-Pakistani border blowing people up on British streets. Obviously, the position of Pakistan, next door, is pretty insecure, and it is a nuclear power. More specifically, the problem along that border, as you pointed out, still exists. Most of the players in that area have a strong interest in security. We share an interest with the Russians and the Chinese, although we do not always see a way there. I am not suggesting producing liberal democracies, but in trying to resolve the fact that along that border, mostly on the Pakistani side, there is a very dangerous mixture of people who may pull down the Pakistani Government, what wider things should we be trying to contribute in terms of influencing policy there to try to bring stability to the region?

Sir Rodric Braithwaite: First, you talked about terrorism. I made the point that the Afghan Taliban are not international terrorists. The people who are international terrorists are Pakistani Pushtuns with the odd Afghan Pushtun thrown in. That is why the war in Afghanistan is irrelevant to that issue, except in so far as it makes it worse because it radicalises Muslim opinion all over the place. That goes back to what I was saying that from our point of view, the most effective thing that we can do, and I think that we are doing-I have to say that I only read the newspapers-is to collaborate with the Pakistan intelligence authorities so that we have the best possible stream of intelligence coming out of the Pakistani places where British terrorism is partially generated and then following it up at home.

The border, which everyone blames Mr Durand for, is the line we drew through the Pushtun tribal territories at the end of the 19th century, and it is part of the problem. In so far as the Afghans have an interest in that area, their belief is that it should all belong to them, including the Pakistani side. They believe that it is all Pushtun and should all be theirs, which the Pakistanis will never accept. Afghanistan was the only country that did not recognise Pakistan independence in 1947 because that dispute had been going on for 70 years already. In terms of dealing with the problem, you suggested that somehow we might successfully engage the other locals in a way that would do that. I have to be very sceptical about that. I do not see why the locals should take much notice of us, and that includes the Pakistanis, the Indians, the Afghan Pushtuns, the Pakistani Pushtuns and everybody in the area. They will not take much notice of what we think.

Q134 Sir Bob Russell: Sir Rodric, I hope I misunderstood something you said earlier; are you saying that it is your anticipation that after the withdrawal of combat troops, Afghanistan will descend into civil war, if not immediately, then within a few years?

Sir Rodric Braithwaite: I suppose the short answer is yes, but nothing is certain in the future. Civil wars end when both sides get weary of them, and it may be that after 30 years of war, people are weary enough to think, "Surely we must try and find another way." It may be, as some people like to argue, that the Taliban have learnt their lesson in the past 10 years or so. It may be that the split between the Tajiks and the Pushtuns can be managed-it used to be managed and maybe it can be managed again. I think it would be silly to make an absolute prediction of any kind. I think that there is such a risk however.

Q135 Sir Bob Russell: So it is a risk?

Sir Rodric Braithwaite: It is a risk. Not a very low risk, but as I say, nothing is certain on the one hand, and on the other hand, I do not quite see what we can do about it.

Q136 Sir Bob Russell: My next question was, in order to assist the weariness towards them not having a civil war, what can we do to assist in that not happening?

Sir Rodric Braithwaite: I do think that getting out is quite a-there will be less of a reason to kill people. One of our arguments is that when there is an incident of civilians being killed by NATO troops, we say, "Well, the numbers are going down and in any case the Taliban kill more civilians than we do," but Afghans do not like their families being killed whether it is done by NATO or the Taliban. If it is by NATO, they blame NATO. On the other hand, another argument is, "If you weren’t here, the Taliban would not be killing us." Who knows? It is an argument that at least it is in the family with the Taliban.

Q137 Ms Stuart: Just a thought, because we keep thinking about India and Pakistan, which is quite right, let’s look at the other side of the border. Given that there is a clear Ottomanisation of Turkey’s foreign policy and you see Turkish investment in northern Afghanistan, is there more that we could do via Turkey as a player?

Sir Rodric Braithwaite: I do not know much-really anything-about the Turkish involvement, but it does make me think. I mentioned the Chinese. If the Turks are doing it and the Chinese are doing it, somebody is doing something positive that is perhaps going with the grain, whereas I think that what we have been doing has been going against the grain. They are doing it in the north. I do not know that the Chinese are trying to develop very much in Helmand yet-

Q138 Ms Stuart: Essentially, they are after rare earth, aren’t they?

Sir Rodric Braithwaite: That seems to me positive. If the Turks are willing to do it and the Chinese are wiling to do it, perhaps we should simply let them get on with it and let them be driven by ambition and greed of a rather positive kind.

Chair: Sir Rodric, thank you very much indeed. That has been another very helpful evidence session of great interest.

Prepared 8th April 2013