Chief Ajmal Khan Zazai
Tribal Leader, Afghanistan
On: Afghanistan – A Viable Alternative Approach
April 2nd 2008
John Pugh MP (introducing Chief Khan and David Simpson)
“…David Simpson has been in Afghanistan for many years and has shown me photographs of some of the inaugurations of the Taliban movement. We discussed Afghanistan because his feelings about Afghanistan are very powerful and he has a great love for the Afghan people. He introduced me to Ajmal. He was sophisticated, well dressed, and an articulate intelligent man. I learned that he was a paramount chief of nine tribes, and his father and grandfather had a long history connected with Afghan politics. His father lost his life in a political cause, Ajmal is a paramount chief of the Pashtoon and has been educated in Canada; he has a public relations company and he is company director. But he is, more importantly, somebody who puts his life on the line in what I think is an entirely worthy cause. The reason why I brought Ajmal is because I feel a sense of despair about what’s currently going on in Afghanistan and I think he’s a credible component of an alternative (Afghan government), a coherent alternative.”
Chief Ajmal Khan: “I am a tribal man; I speak from my heart. It is time the West listened to us; the tribes are open for a dialogue with the international community to bring peace and stability to Afghanistan. In the past we have warned the West what could happen in Afghanistan – with all the training camps back in the 90s, but unfortunately no one listened; if the West had listened to my father in the 90s, we could have finished the al-Qaeda problems in Afghanistan in their infancy but unfortunately no one listened; then 9/11 happened and 7/7 and many training camps continued.
The world would have been a better place if the West would have listened; now the West must listen to us. Our country is slipping again into a dark age and we should prevent that from happening. Afghanistan is a wealthy country. In the papers available this evening, you will see that Afghanistan has minerals. If these minerals are brought to market and exploited, Afghanistan will be a rich country in the region. To make things work at this stage, the tribes in Afghanistan are ready to work with the International community by all means possible.
We have to ask the question from ourselves why young men are being killed and injured on both sides: why? The West is backing the present government; we are looking to strengthen the ingredients in that government to stand up to the warlords. These are the same warlords who are manipulating that government and manipulating the Afghan nation. The West does not understand how the people of Afghanistan feel. It is looking for comfort. It just does not want to see it is working very hard – and the return is little. We have a so-called democratic Afghan government but I have to say, unfortunately, it has failed. The West is not looking for alternatives.
The condition in the country is worse; some reports say in the West that 30 percent of the country is under government control. If lucky, in fact, it is 30 percent of just Kabul! The government unfortunately is inefficient. It is certainly not doing what needs to be done. It is involved in widespread corruption, and in unlawful activities. Democracy does not mean only that people go to vote. Democracy has values. Those values have to be understood by the people and that only comes with education. Unfortunately, at present, 80-85 percent of all our people are uneducated. How would they know what democracy is all about? What democracy means on the ground – what democracy is delivering in Afghanistan, in the minds of the average citizen, and I say this with apologies to ladies present – is drinking alcohol, and womanising!
We have a perfectly acceptable form of indigenous Afghan democracy. People in the West have failed to understand this. We elect our chief from our tribe then he goes to a local government. It is much the same thing as you have with a counsellor from your own region that you elect and then they go to local government. That Afghan democracy – the Loya Jurga – is a very ancient form of the democracy and it has worked for us for many centuries. This is not just in my opinion but in many, many opinions in Afghan society and around the world. It is the vital solution for the present in Afghanistan.
We need to take the whole nation on board. What does that mean? It means that we have a population of 30 to 40 million Afghans population who at the moment are not on board! They do not have representation in the present government. That is why the people are not siding with the present government. They are going against the government.
We have warlords in the present government; this is an open secret. There are people who have committed atrocities against the same nation that they are representing in the government.
Please do not to confuse a tribal chief with a warlord. A tribal chief makes his money in peace and warlords make their money in war! I think that this is the most simple and humorous way to explain this.
Kathy Gannon, recipient in 2002 of the International Women’s Media Foundation Courage in Journalism Award, and who wrote ‘I for Infidel’, said that ‘when you look into the Afghan Government, you will see so many mass murderers all in one place!’ The Afghan people do not have the representation in this so-called democratic government. We gave the chance to President Karzai to come like a lion after the three years rule of the Northern Alliance and solve our problems; we voted for him, he got 54 percent of the votes from Pashtoons. What then did he go and do? Having an elected democratic government, he made compromises with the warlords. How could that happen? If you have a democratic government, you have to bring in the people who want to work for the nation, for the country; he didn’t; instead he brought all the warlords back onto the stage.
When I say that we can work with the Taliban, I do not mean the hardliner Taliban. The hardliners and Al-Qaeda will continue to fight. They will continue fighting you. They will continue fighting us until they get power. With Al-Qaeda, you can not discuss anything. The people who are against the government however, if they were somehow induced to join the Taliban for financial or other reasonable reason, these people we can talk to. We need open dialogue with them. Lord Ashdown said in his excellent book that ‘elections are better later than sooner but if elections are called before there is stability and law and order, all that you do is make it easy for the bad men and the corrupt ones to get to parliament.’ This is what happened in Afghanistan. These men have committed heinous crimes and atrocities against the Afghan nation.
The Afghan Nation was looking to our elected President to get the bad men out from his government and send them to the Hague to face the music!. We, the Afghan people, the tribes in particular, do not believe in bloodshed but we believe in justice and that justice has to be served. We assure you that the President will get the backing of our nation and the support of all the tribes if this happens.
The people must have their genuine voice heard. How is it possible that we are having an election in 15-16 months in Afghanistan? Consider: there are 34 provinces in Afghanistan, out of those 34 provinces 12 of those provinces are completely insecure and in a state of warfare; 146 districts are under the constant attacks of the Taliban. How in the world are we going to have fair and clean elections? Suppose for a moment that in England, with half of the country insecure, how can you have a fair election? We believe in democracy, but in a different form of democracy. We believe in the democratic elections for the nomination of the right people who are un-corrupt. How are you going to have elections in a country like ours in which almost half of the country is insecure and there is no stability? Provinces are controlled by the warlords and the drug barons.
Millions of dollars are being poured into the Afghan economy and given to the government and they have not managed it properly. Most of this has been misused and wasted. The Afghan nation wants, and respects, uncorrupted, just and strong leaders. They certainly do not accept or respect brutal men.
Before anything else, there is a pressing need to bring security and stability to Afghanistan, that is, if you want to achieve any development. There is no use in building a hospital that will be blown up tomorrow by the Taliban. We need to enforce law and order first and foremost in order to put the country on the right track. Then, not too far down the line, it will be followed with investment in the country and in the Afghan economy. A peaceful and prosperous Afghanistan is in everyone’s interest.
When there is peace and security in Afghanistan, our neighbours will flourish and the enterprise between these countries will come together the link with trade. This will mean prosperity for all of the countries involved as well as stability in the entire region.
Allow me to correct a common misapprehension: that the Pashtun tribes are only in the south, south east and the east of Afghanistan. This is not the case at all – or that the north of the country is peaceful. There are Pashtun Tribes living in the north, west and centre of the country. Tajiks and Hazaras are living among the Pashtoon tribes in the east, southeast and the southern parts of the country. Through the long history of Afghanistan all tribes lived side by side. They had successful integration. Why, if there has been successful integration, are there so many problems now? All potential for order was all disrupted when the Russians invaded Afghanistan and in the long civil war.
Three thousand years ago Alexander the Great tried to conquer Bactria, the then Afghanistan, but he was faced with severe resistance in the region, so his advisors, advised him that he should marry someone from the tribes. So he married Rokhsana, who was a daughter of a powerful Tribal Chief. By marrying her, he got the allegiances and the support of all of the tribes and this enabled him to conquer India. Of course, this option is not available for Mr Bush and Mr. Brown (laughter) but there are alternatives and the solution still lies within the tribes which will work, and bring stability and put the country in the right direction.
We have many problems with Al-Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan. They are aiming at one thing, and that is to prolong this nonsensical war. They want to stretch it out. They don’t just fight, they lay suicide bombs and some are shooting from a distance at Coalition forces, but in sum all of these actions mean that they are prolonging the war. Their objective is to drain the wealth of the USA and of the other countries in the coalition and the ISAF and this ends in many casualties for military personnel. There will be domestic pressure on the governments in those countries to pull out of Afghanistan.
If this happens, it is very, very dangerous for us Afghans. Our country will be divided among the warlords that are still there. The country will go back to a deadly civil war and all the hopes for the developing this country will be lost, possibly forever.
I make mention of comments of General Sir David Richards who served as a major commander in Afghanistan. He said: “if conditions for ordinary Afghans do not improve soon the majority will switch their support to the Taliban.” The Afghans know the strict and unlawful and harsh way the Taliban rules, and yet they still may want to join it; why? General Richards says that as many as 70 percent of the population would prefer to return to Taliban rule if the US-led coalition fails to start achieving concrete visible improvement of the lives of ordinary people. General Richards’s worries have already started to turn into reality.
The tribes on both sides of the Durrand line are against Taliban and Al-Qaeda. Not all of the tribes that you hear about in the news are siding with the Taliban. That is not the case. I have just returned from the frontiers. The tribes in the Kurrum agency Tribal areas, the Ali Sheerzai, Orakzai and many other tribes who are very prominent and very strong tribes, had a big gathering in Sada (Kurrum agency) and they all condemned the rise of the Taliban in Pakistan and they condemned the Taliban’s brutality. The people of the tribes in the frontier are not siding with the Taliban. This is a good sign and this should be looked into very seriously by the international community, especially the Americans.
There is another problem which the Kabul government didn’t fix. We were not expecting it to happen immediately but a four-to-five year time span represented a reasonable expectation. There are four million Afghan refugees living in Pakistan and Iran. These people now feel they have no future, and this situation should have been redressed.
The drug problem: This poppy cultivation has affected the West. There are many families affected by these drugs. Poppy cultivation has brought a shameful name to my country. This is not a problem that cannot be solved. The poppy cultivation could be, and will be, eradicated if we are given our rightful chance to do this. In Paktia province – my province – we had poppy cultivation for three years, starting in 2002, so the tribal chiefs and councils decided to act and in three years we brought it to zero cultivation.
We looked to the United Nations. I went to see the UNIMA. I saw the President, but no assistance was given to these people – but still they are not cultivating the poppy and this is without the help of anyone from the international community. With the removal of the drug barons, warlords in the government, and the corrupt officials, this trade could be stopped elsewhere – but again with the help of the tribes. It is much easier to do than people think. We get this image in the media in the West that if the poppy cultivation stops, Afghan farmers will starve. We didn’t starve; none of my people in my tribes starved. I invite you to think about this: the Afghan poppy crop, according to some figures, is generating four billion dollars a year and yet it is also said that 800 million dollars of that goes to the farmers….it has been seven years that they have been growing the poppy, so take 800million dollars and multiply that by six or seven. We are talking of a few billion dollars, maybe three and a half or four billion dollars. If that sum is divided by some two thousand farmers, the very people alleged to depend on this crop could have been millionaires now not farmers. The figures don’t have to be exact but the principle is clear.
I always hear people say that ‘we want to win the hearts and minds of the Afghan people.’ I am here and my heart is open – if you would like to try and win it? What is true of me is true of us all.
I thank Mr. David Simpson (referred to earlier by Mr Pugh) who is a true friend of Afghanistan, and who is a member of my family, who is very close to me and was very close to my father over thirty years. I also thank Dick Wallis, John Pugh, Brian Tomes, and all our friends who supported us in our cause to bring peace security and stability to Afghanistan. I also thank the E-AG for their share of support and to Justin Glass, its Director.”
Q: “How do we move from where we are now to where we wish to be in the future, given that there is a war going on, corruption is rampant and we have a holy unreliable government? How can the tribes help us to deliver a better solution and in any case are the tribes united with some spirit and one mind to do so?”
Ajmal Khan: “The problem is that a so called democratic government unfortunately failed. President Kazai might be a good man but the people surrounding him before the fledgling democracy properly opened its eyes, the warlords, hijacked the government and so the people’s hopes faded away. Now, as to what could be done? We need to give the Loya Jirga a chance. We need to give the people of Afghanistan a chance in order to make decisions. We need to bring these tribes, these Afghans, on board with this new government or any future government in order to solve the problem.
The tribes, according to much information, are unfortunately supporting the Taliban. They are sheltering them, guiding them and protecting them. We have the same tribes as part of your government – but they will be the people who will fight these guys and we don’t have that many troops. We have 30,000 in the Afghan national army; then, lo and behold, two weeks later there are ten thousand. Some run away, and so forth. It is not a proper army. The international community are not contributing many troops to my country so you have to bring these people on board. If you bring these people on board, corruption must be fought, and we have to be very strict on this. We can’t just allow people who are corrupt and who are warlords to stay in the government. The Afghan nation knows that – they are aware of that – and then, to compound the present problem, you have virtually no one who is uncorrupted who wants to be a part of this present government, and you have no one wanting to accept that government. As I have said before the Afghans want to be uncorrupted. I’ll give you one example, at the time when the communist party took over they killed a lot of people, innocent people we have one man who was the of the communist party and served as an interior minister. He returned and now he is a member of the parliament; they accepted him. The only reason that the Afghan nation accepted and respected him was because he was not corrupted. The Afghans are just as civilized as you are, in the way that we accept these realities, as well as the practices of normal human beings. You respect good people, you respect uncorrupted people and you hate brutal ones.”
David Simpson: “I have been working very closely with Ajmal and his father. We fought together against the Russians and against the Taliban. Ajmal‘s father was a very great and wise man and was brutally murdered for his beliefs in a free and prosperous Afghanistan. I would like to ask Ajmal what you think that your father would do now?”
Hugh Leach OBE: “I am not at all surprised that Afghanistan is unhappy. It has taken us two thousand years to develop democracy since Athens and it has taken us three hundred years to do so in this country.
In the West people vote politically. I understand from Ajmal about the elections in Afghanistan. You have one hundred and eleven political parties for a chamber of only three hundred and sixty five deputies! There are only 141 members – and the people don’t vote in favour of some political manifesto. There actually isn’t one to speak of. They vote because of the candidate is of their tribe, or their family, or their ethnic and moral and professional division. The result is a parliament formed along these lines. The Loya Jirga is actually far closer to democracy as an option than we recognised it to be from the start. The Loya Jirga is actually based on Islamic principles. The problem in the early days in having a relationship with the tribes was that it was through the tribal chief. The third caliph was elected through a tribal decision; the early political measures of these nations are very relevant.
A Loya Jirga: that is the point. In Islam, a Shura consultancy is a fully acceptable form of democracy and indeed Rashid Ridder and Muhammad Abdul, two well-known, early 20th Century Islamic reformers, were trying to get a plan for an Islamic democracy on these lines. My question to Ajmal is that people may say, well the Loya Jirga are not elected. But if the tribal chiefs fail, they are removed. The questions then to Ajmal Khan is that, how are you going to have the Loya Jirga based on Shura, and how you are going to reverse the present thinking? Also, how are women going to be represented?
Mid-1988, I had been travelling in Morocco. Purely on my own initiative, I thought I would see how they sorted out class. I went to Afghanistan and met with many Pakistanis. I was talking to some local tribal members and they were surrounded by a whole lot of American arms. As I was talking to them, men flew over to me. I was startled. One of them grabbed me and said, “At the moment, the Russians are our enemies.” He then pointed to the American arms. “But I’ll tell you this; in the long term our real enemies are the Americans.” I really was shaken by that. But those who know Afghan history are aware that Afghanistan has been many times made un-Islamic because of Islam’s epitome (sic). In today’s newspaper Paddy Ashdown talked about the progress that the British soldiers have made there, but that he needs another 10,000 to finish the job.
How is it to be sure that with say nearly 60,000 troops, we will not be seen as an occupation force and at beck and call of the Americans? Obviously we must be seeing the transparently subservient performance by first-class military. I mention a mid-19th Century German – Wolff- who returning from his first visit to Marcarver, then returned to Afghanistan. He recounts how all the tribal leaders said to him, “We can not do rules. We are always with the strongest party.” That, I suspect, always has been, and always will be. My question to Chief Khan is, is that still the philosophy of the tribal leaders and how can we be sure we’re still with the strongest party?
I might just add one thing. Like anyone else who has travelled to Afghanistan, you fall in love with the people and you fall in love with the country.”
Chief Khan: “Let me answer firstly the question about the women’s place in the hierarchy. If you look back to the Afghan history to the time when the King was convening the Loya Jirgas, there was – you will see very clearly – a representation of women. Women were not sidelined or undermined. At the present, after the first Loya Jirga with the agreement with President Karzai, we still have representation of women. Before that, in the government, we still had the representation of the woman. So women always played their role, not in big numbers, but there was a representation of the women.
About the troops: we didn’t believe that in Afghanistan it was an occupying force in the beginning because the coalition were there in order to topple the Taliban government and then there was the United Nations umbrella and that agreement. But there were certain things that happened including misinformation was fed to the Americans and the coalition forces. Unfortunately innocent lives were lost. That really turned the whole thing upside down. The people’s sentiments against the foreign troops changed a bit. I agree that sending extra troops to Afghanistan is not the answer. Not 10,000, not 20,000, not 30,000. What I believe, and we believe this very strongly, that minds and hearts have to be won. But they have to be won very fairly and honestly, not just by words. We have to get the people on board. I’m not saying a Loya Jirga is only comprised of the tribal chiefs. A Loya Jirga is comprised of intellectuals, tribal chiefs, pious men; the royal family always played a significant role in it. That’s how it’s done. And then when you have that and a fair government, then you can have the backing of the people. So in my opinion, sending extra troops is not the solution. We still have a chance. This is very important. Please look into this. We still have the chance to make a difference. That’s the point. That’s the point that I’m here today to make. We still have time; it’s not too late. In Iraq, it may be too late. But in Afghanistan, we still have a chance. If we do it right, I assure you, we are going to eliminate this war once and for all.
About the philosophy about the tribal chiefs: I don’t think that happened in Afghanistan. Not in a Loya Jirga. There is representation of all the tribes there. That’s exactly what we’re missing. We’re missing the reintegration of all the tribes. We’re missing the trust that they had before in the time of the King. We had a peaceful time in Afghanistan under the King for 40 long years. The main thing was the tribes worked with each other; that’s what we’re missing now. Some say Pashtuns are 70 percent of the population but even if it is less than that, the majority is the majority, whether it is 50 percent or not. That is not important. What is important is that all these Afghan tribes work co-operatively with each other. That’s what I meant before with integration.
I will answer David Simpson’s question about my father differently. As a young man I went to Canada back in 1990. I had my education there. I was not aware of what was happening in Afghanistan. It’s happened that because of my position that I’ve had to take the lead in the Shura and the Loya Jirga.
I’ll tell you a joke, if you don’t mind. There was a picnic on a nice, sunny day by the side of the river. All the families were there, and the kids were playing. Then a kid fell in the river and started drowning. So a gentleman got into the water and saved the kid. When they got out, everybody said he was our hero. And do you know the first thing that kid said. He said (looking towards David Simpson), “Who pushed me?” (Laugher) What I’m carrying on is my father’s dream. I’m continuing to fight for it but he’s pushing me.”
David Simpson: “Having lived in Afghanistan, believe me, Afghan women are not suppressed. I actually saw a big man, 6 foot 4 tall, quiver when his wife shouted at him. I’ve seen men crying after their wives have seen them having a glass of vodka because they know they’re in deep trouble. You have to understand why they’re so protective of their wives. Before the Russian invasion, in Kabul there were discos, women wore mini skirts, women showed their hair. But with the invasion of the Russians, the tribes all came together against them. Millions lived together in huge refugee camps. (Women were kidnapped and raped and many were forced into brothels by the Warlords). Afghans wanted to protect their women. So it changed things. But in Afghanistan, women have great respect.”
William Morris: “I am the Secretary-General of Next Century Foundation. We work on conflict resolution. And so Afghanistan. I had a word with a reporter from the Times and she said to me, “If NATO fails in Afghanistan is there any point to NATO?” I think the point is that – following up on Ajmal’s point- there is no point in having more NATO forces in Afghanistan. That is a major error. We don’t have this government because we dismantled the Taliban. The Taliban still has a great influence, more so than NATO. The Taliban is in the areas around the borders of Afghanistan and Pakistan. The Taliban are commissioned and this form of democracy is not going to defeat them. Nor do we have the will to do what’s required to impose stability and we failed to get Paddy Ashdown in there. We didn’t come out strongly in having a senior figure going in and doing what’s needed in terms of peace making. So having utterly failed to do that, there’s no chance for this government to impose a Western style democracy in Afghanistan now.
In the North, things have improved at a slow pace, but on the Western side, things have been very bad. The thing is that with what is going on in Afghanistan, compared with Iraq and Pakistan, all is not completely lost. But if the British and the UN merely left, we’d be back to where we were before 9/11. What we need is a Loya Jirga, very clearly. We need a conversation that brings in all the elements, all the Afghan elements, not the outside or foreign ones. I agree with everything Ajmal Khan has said. I have one particular point to add. I wonder whether that dialogue should include the Opium Poppy warlords who may be looking for a way out. Because in the long run, if Afghanistan goes on as it is, they would be facing the bullet. They may be good people. So I wonder if maybe that dialogue should include them. I would like to ask Ajmal, because my concern is that we will face a civil war if we don’t in some way bring them into the dialogue.
And are the Afghans looking back to the past? I’d like to understand what your feeling are on a royal democracy, because I believe it’s important to understand where you’re coming from on that as well.”
Chief Khan: “I think you speak from my heart. This is exactly what the message is. First, I will come to the warlords. This is something which has been misrepresented in the West that the warlords are so powerful that they can wage a war against anyone! I think, if you look at reality, these guys are just paper lions, paper tigers, nothing else. If you have these warlords back in the Loya Jirga, you are corrupting it in the same that that it was initially corrupted after the agreement with Karzai was first drafted. No, we believe these people have to face the music. Whatever they have done, they have committed atrocities and crimes against the people of Afghanistan and they have to be held responsible in the same fashion that it happened in the Balkans in terms of Milosevic.
The role of the Royal family: we believe this very strongly, not just the Pashtuns, but all the Afghans, that the Royal family is above politics and politicians. They have a very significant role in Afghanistan. Initially when Mr. Karzai came to Afghanistan after the Bonn Agreement, before he came to Kabul, he went to Rome. He met the King and received his prayers and backing. Then he came to Kabul. So when he came to Kabul everyone thought he ‘is a King man! Okay, we support him.’ But that was a different story. And when our king was sidelined, unfortunately, from playing an active part of the government, people were very much disheartened and upset. All the tribes – all the people and I’m talking about a very large majority of the people – intellectuals, politicians, Afghans, and the tribal chiefs felt like this. But it happened, unfortunately. The Royal family can play, of course, a significant role at this critical stage. Seeing your democracy, on the British lines, it is something that I like very much.
I’ll tell you a story. I went to Southport to see John Pugh but he was not there at the office at four o’clock or four thirty. So we were waiting there at the office and then he came, in his jeans and just a jacket and he had leaflets in his hands. So when we asked him where John was, he said he was John Pugh, and that he was leafleting. And I wondered “He’s an MP. Why would he go?” And then he explained to me your tribal chief system. I said to myself, that they are very honest people. An MP goes to the streets in his own constituency handing out leaflets! That doesn’t happen all over the world. It doesn’t happen in Saudi Arabia. It doesn’t happen in America. But it happens here. So the constitutional monarchy is something that the Afghan people will accept – and it will work for us.”
William Morris: “I’d like to clarify I haven’t misunderstood your views on what you’d like to see for the Afghan government and the conflict there.”
Chief Khan: “Let’s put it this way, it’s the views and the reality on the ground that we see. Sending more troops and not having a dialogue and not bringing the people on board, is not the answer. It’s not going to solve any of the problems. You solve the problem on the ground by having a dialogue with the people, bringing them into the government. Sending extra troops wouldn’t hurt but, in my opinion, I think this is the wrong move.”
Dick Wallis (Substitute Chairman while Geoffrey Clifton Brown MP is temporarily absent to vote in Parliament): “To complete this round of introductions, I am an ex-naval officer with a second career in new technology, navy IT in telephone. I have a basic question on Afghan education. We’ve been reminded that it has taken us nearly 2,000 years to get to where we are today in this beautiful palace of democracy. I’d like to ask Ajmal where he sees the priorities for education in Afghanistan. Should it be at the primary level, or the secondary level, or at the graduate level, and what can we in the UK do to fast track that process bearing in mind that 85 percent of the Afghan people are illiterate due to no fault of their own?”
Chief Khan: “Without education, no country can prosper and move forward. Unfortunately, at the time of the Taliban, they banned schools for girls. With a new government, a lot of schools can open and girls can go to school. We accept that six million kids, or near that figure, should go to school. But is there education in the school? Are they teaching them manners? Are there enough qualified teachers? The answer is no, not at the moment. The other problem which we have: building schools. It is not a solution at this critical time, because when schools are built unfortunately the Taliban just brings them down. They burn them and then kill the teachers. Yes, we have to do a lot in the education sector when peace returns.
When you go to Kabul – not to those famous schools which are built by Germans and French and Americans – if you go to an ordinary school in Kabul you will see overcrowded conditions. This is my son. (Ajmal Khan indicates his son) He’s 13 and half years old. We moved to Kabul in 2002. We built our house and lived there. I had to move back after living there for three years. After he would come home from school, he was always complaining, saying there was no education. I said, “Son, I went to the same schools and you have to go to the same school.” But when I went inside and I saw the overcrowded conditions with no teachers there, I felt that we had to move back to the frontiers for the better schools. That’s what the problem is. We don’t have enough teachers. We don’t have enough space and because of this, the kids do not get a proper education.”
Riad el Taher (Friendship across Frontiers): “Don’t you feel that Afghanistan has been failed by the so-called government? The Afghan condition has to deal with the U.S. and British foreign policies. Wouldn’t it be better if the Western authorities pull out and the Arab neighbours were able to influence Afghanistan?”
Second Questioner: “How does Afghanistan hope to attain economic stability in the future? With as many resources in the nation as the countries to their left and right, what could be done to improve the lives for the people living in Afghanistan?”
Chief Khan: “On the Taliban: I do not agree with what you say save that we need to get into dialogue with them. But we don’t believe that it’s about the government, because we elected the government. About the foreign invasion, we don’t believe it’s a foreign ‘invasion’ because there was a problem about the Taliban. There was a problem with al-Qaeda, and we couldn’t solve the problem. In its welcoming stage, at that time in 2001 when the American ‘interfered’ in Afghanistan, we were thinking that Afghanistan is going to flourish and we were all happy. But, unfortunately, evil was replaced with evil. The same warlords who were involved in atrocities were empowered again. So that was something which was a big mistake. I hope that answer your question.”
About economics: “Unfortunately, nothing has been done to lift our economy. There is no infrastructure. We have no exports from Afghanistan. All our minerals are under the ground frozen. Some of them are stolen by the warlords. I’ll give you one example: the emerald mines that we have in the valleys. They were showing three million pounds worth of revenue per year. They were paying a tax to the government. A company just offered three hundred million per year for the mining rights. Now that’s money which can come to the Afghan government. In our mines, there was the gas which we supplied before the time of the Russians. Ninety percent of the natural gas in Russia came from Afghanistan. The people, the Afghans, are good in doing business also on a small scale. Afghan business men went to Afghanistan to invest. They were kidnapped for ransom. They all run away. We have no economic reforms there. There are many companies that want to go there, but there is no security.”
David Simpson: “I was in Peshawar for one of the very first Taliban rallies. The Taliban rose because after the civil war, and the brutality of the warlords who committed indescribable crimes, the warlords committed. Really something had to be done. So the Taliban arose to get rid of these evil warlords, and initially, what I was told.
I asked one of the Taliban leaders: “How are you going to do this?”
He said, “We’re going to go in very, very strong. We’re going to disarm the country. We’re going to restore disciple and order.”
I said, “What then?”
“Oh, then we’ll ease up.”
But they arose because of the need of the people. The need of the people was to get rid of the evil people who were ruining their lives. Now, the Taliban was hijacked. But, there were two Taliban’s. There’s the Afghan Taliban and there’s the Arab Taliban. The Arab Taliban hijacked the government. They tried to impose their strict form of Wahabism on the Taliban. There’s still two very different Taliban’s. There are young men who are fighting to feed their families. And we had a position with Ajmal’s father were we had 20,000 Taliban. We converted them to us to help to defeat the Taliban. These were young men, with chiefs like Ajmal, who said we just want to feed our families. So we said to the West, we can pay these young people 40 dollars, the same as the Taliban, and Taliban will come over. But nobody listened to us. Nobody listened.
There are good Taliban, and their commanders we should talk to. They want to talk to us. They’ve spoken to Ajmal. They’ve even been to the embassy and offered to surrender. The Taliban commander offered to surrender, and it was not accepted, when he had 600 men under him. Now he commands 10,000 men.”
Questioner: “Thank you for your wonderful speech. I have been in the same situation. How far do you assess we would actually engage the Taliban in dialogue? Also, we have the situation now with Pakistan where the incoming government also says they’re going to enter into a dialogue with the Taliban and recognize them. So we have a meeting on both sides of the border. The other problem I see is between Pakistan and Afghanistan there needs to be a decrease in the level of hostility and an increase in cooperation. With Musharraf on his way out and with a new government that seems to want greater dialogue between Kabul and Islamabad, how do you assess the two scenarios? The possibility of terrorism and the dialogue with the Taliban: where is it going?”
Chief Khan: “About the dialogue with the Taliban: We didn’t have so many problems in 2004 and the elections. There was not that insurgency which is now happening in Afghanistan or the so-called “pocket resistance.” There were small bombings and small shootings, but not on such a large-scale. What exactly happened? After President Karzai became the elected president, all these Taliban’s even voted for him. The reason they did so is because they thought this man is going to get rid of the warlords and bring the peace and stability and they felt that they were going to have a peaceful life, maybe even be part of that government. That hope was not realised. When the American strike happened in the North of Afghanistan in Marizharif, over 8,000Taliban members were apprehended and brutally killed by the warlords by horrendous means such as suffocation. We have the videos and the evidence. So that really sends a strong message. It’s like same thing, you have my enemies in your house, and would I come and sit down in your house? I don’t think so. So you have to get something done, you have to come and sit down and talk to me. So that dialogue for President Karzai is not working. It’s failed. The only reason it’s failed is because he’s got the enemies on the inside. The enemies are the Taliban.
About the tribes: war played a significant role in curbing this problem. I mean, we, yesterday, had a Taliban problem. Now Pakistan has a Taliban problem. So we see this as a mutual problem. Yesterday the Pakistan was sending Taliban; today the Afghan government is sending Taliban, whatever. So that sort of thing we don’t understand. But the tribes are fed up with this. If recently you’ve looked at the papers, in the Kurrum agency Tribal Areas there was a big gathering of all the tribes to condemn that, and they’re against that. I was talking to a lot of people in the area and they couldn’t believe the rise of the Taliban in Pakistan has been so strong, so overwhelming. Yes, if the governments in Pakistan are faithful and friendly, this problem could be solved. They have to work together.”
Colonel Philip Schofield MBE RGJ: “I would like to thank Ajmal Khan for having the courage to be here and to discuss this problem. (Applause). My question deals with strategy and re-establishing a stable Afghanistan. What should the role be of the military in Afghanistan after the Loya Jirga?”
Questioner: “Chief Khan, could you clarify the role of the tribe in Afghanistan? How big of a role it plays and how divisions could play a part?”
Chief Khan: “We’re all Afghans. We are Pashtuns, Persians, Tajiks, Hazaras or Uzbeks but we are all Afghans. This is the main point – thank you for bringing that up. The integration of the tribes: we lost it at the time of the Russian invasion and we lost it in the Civil War. That’s what we’re aiming for in order to get everybody back on the platform and they have to be one thing and that’s Afghans. Thank you for bringing that up. I do appreciate it.
In regards to the previous question: I’ve spent some time with my father in the valleys. You asked about the intervention of the military for their own interests in Afghanistan? Well, I also think you’re serving the Afghan interest now. In a way because we had a problem with the Taliban and, yes indeed, there was a mistake that happened. But at this stage I can not reveal this. It’s not because its classified information but the pull-out of your soldiers from Afghanistan is going to leave that country without peace.
I think, if you pull out, we’ve failed. I mean, up until now. Now, your role after bringing the people on board – the people and the tribes which include the people of Afghanistan – is to help establish a clean, uncorrupted government for which the Loya Jirga will pave the way. Your role will be training a new army and helping us build a new Afghanistan. Yes, you can play that role for 5, 10, 15 years, whatever we require, because we don’t have that specific army – and won’t have it until the army is recruited. You came there to stabilize the country and strengthen the Afghan government, but I’m afraid that didn’t happen.
The pull-out should not happen now. You should enter into a dialogue with the Taliban – if the proper representation is there. That will not happen now. If you stop fighting for us now, I don’t know what the strategy is. But in a later stage, when you have the same people that are fighting against you after this new government, that, I don’t think, will happen. Some fighting will continue. As I said before, there are hardliners and you cannot convince them. The fighting will continue, but it will move from the cities and the districts to the villages to the mountains. And we always have some sort of small wars in the mountains, or at least we have had it for long time.”
Dick Wallis: “A lot of people have questions now. We’ll take three at a time now.”
Questioners: “Chief Khan, the Durand Line: it’s a very touchy subject, extremely touchy. Not a single man, not a group of people, can solve the problem. It’s my opinion and I’ve been discussing it with other Tribal chiefs and other Afghans and even politicians from Pakistan, I think there is this choice that we’ve heard about for the last 50 or 60 years – the arguments over the Afghan border, somewhere in the Indies River, so that’s not really something that’s accurate – I believe the choice should be given to the people on the other side of the Durand line. I do not think this should be coming from the Afghans, claiming territories. It should be a choice of the people. If the Pakistani tribes which are on the other side are also Afghan, the same language, let’s say Pashtu, and they say they want to join Afghanistan, I think the international community and the United Nations should look into that. But if they say no, than I think it should be acceptable by the Afghans.”
Questioner: “The move of the Afghans was quite exceptional in terms of getting the government against the West in terms of their strictness about the poppy policy. In terms of the British government seeking to disband the drug trade in Afghanistan, which has been one of the sole sources for national income because of the constant wars. This has created a barrier between the West and Afghanistan. Can this be resolved?
Chief Khan, I agree with you and think this is one of the points over which our president criticised British soldiers and the reason he criticized is because one of his governors, who is a drug baron, could do a better job. So probably he was producing more and that’s why the British tried to stop him. Yes, I agree there is no counter-narcotics that is effective. Basically, the police are involved in it.”
Questioner: “How many tribes are with you?”
Q: “A Loya Jirga is a great event, a great council, and it will be a great asset to Afghanistan. The first Loya Jurga was convened to prolong President Karzai’s time because the Bonn agreement was drafted and the Jurga people voted for him to prolong his transition of government for another period. When you invite all these representatives of the people, this is exactly what we are trying to put forward. When you have representatives from the tribes – and then you send them away home, and then you have the election which is very costly for us, and then of all sudden send people in who have money, and who buy seats, and we have seen a lot of reports that corruption was seen in these elections. We would like have representatives of the Loya Jurga to be part of that government. That means the rep goes to the district, how may tribes – five six ten, send reps to province, then they got to province. We screen 70% to 80% in order to have the real representation of the people. Once that happens, we would like this time to be part of the government that would form the transitional or temporary parliament, senate, control committees, and also they would work in their respective provinces with the Jurgas there. This is the way forward in order to bring people on board and to be part of the government. The same basis as it happened 40 or 50 years ago. I don’t want to mention names but D…. is not a representative of his tribes. They hate him! Things are changing dramatically in Afghanistan. This is a country which you can’t predict. In London you can’t predict three things – and one is the weather (laughter). In Afghanistan, you cannot predict things because so much changes. The meeting of Akbar Boy (sic) is also a leader. There is a way forward – backed by the Americans and the British and the NATO; I guarantee that – and people then in Afghanistan are not going to side with these warlords. This is a serious matter, and we have to take it very seriously.
Recently I had a visit to the High Commission in Kabul. It happened right after the expelling of two diplomats because they were accused of fuelling the war in Afghanistan. I didn’t have the counsellors or the people from my tribe. I had people accompanying me from four other provinces. I just wanted to show the FCO there that it is not just about one province or one tribe leading the others: it is about all the nation. It is about Hazaaas, or Uzbeks, or Tajiks; its about everyone. We have a list of people who are not Pashtuns, who are members of Parliament, the Senate, who are not Pashtuns, but they are supporting us. This is a national movement.
Without volunteer work, how would that be possible? Volunteer work is so important. Then investment in that country. And skills and training. I worked with NGOs; I worked with kids in Pakistan when I was 18 years old. I know this can be.:”
Lord Denman: “Reading the papers we have in front of us, there is an article by Adam Holloway MP in which he says that the attitude of our Ministry is to pour money into administrative districts which are largely corrupt and do damn-all good. Now this is a decision that is made in this building. If we say that as a body, that our government might behave a bit more sensibly, that might be the best message to give you.:”
Questioner from Amnesty International (asking about Women’s rights)
Chief Khan: “The persecution of the Afghan woman Parliamentarian: Mali Joya is a brave woman, critical of the government. We admire her. The representation in the Loya Jurga has always been there for women. When you have all the representatives of the nation present, they speak for and about the government – and then someone like that woman gets expelled! There are the rights of the people. She was not criticising ministers for nothing; she had a point. This is a reality – and she was representing the people. So if we in future have a Loya Jurga or a Parliament, and someone in that Parliament criticises it, I think its entirely up to that Parliament to correctly deal with it. The ten to fifteen percent of the people who are in the Parliament at the moment and who are representative of the people – are critical of the government. But they don’t have any real voice because of who is in power. The warlords control everything. So when you have a system that is clean, fair and representative of the people – and we have a recent instance in history, 40 years ago, with the King in Afghanistan – then Afghanistan’s ills will be solved.”
Chairman Frank Cook: “Let me introduce myself, I am Frank Cook, a Member of Parliament for Stockton North. For me this is rather like all our yesterdays, because I’ve got contact from almost every single one of the generals we have here (names listed) and he and I were posted together on the Parliamentary Assembly, in fact we helped to form it. I think we were the last two remaining members of the original delegation. Michael Jackson and I met in Bosnia, where he told me everything I ought to do, and quite a few things that I didn’t ought to do! He did it very effectively. Then we had a very good weekend in, was it in Leiden or Amsterdam that we were lecturing the NATO Parliamentary Assembly. General Johnson of course was very helpful with the special mission I had to undertake with Chris Donnelly in Croatia.
He was very helpful in preparing me mentally for that, and we were moderately successful. But the man of the moment, for this evening’s event, it started with a phone call from the Secretary General of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, Simon Lunn at that time, who said I have to go to Afghanistan. I said I don’t think I do, it wasn’t particularly in my schedule of something I want to do. He said you’re going to have to do it. I said “I don’t really have to do anything at my age”. General Jones said “We’ve got to have a Brit on this party and it’s got to be somebody we can rely on.” I said well that’s strange to think you could rely on me. However, I went, and before going, Chris Donnelly said “Ah there’s a fellow there you ought to meet.” He told me I should look out for David Richards. But of course what he didn’t tell me was that he was GOC and I was going to have to spend some time with him anyway. I’ve got to tell you, I enjoyed every second. He helped me enormously with both of the reports I have given to the NATO Parliamentary Assembly on Afghanistan, and another one coming in five weeks time. Nobody could be more diligent and more determined to present a balanced picture. And so it is with considerable pride and pleasure that I have to opportunity to introduce to you now, Sir David Richards.”
Sir David Richards: “Well, ladies and gentleman, wonderful to be here. I see some old friends of mine in the audience. There’s Mike Jackson, who will claim all the credit for anything good that I say, and even my cousin, Nigel Richards. I see Nigel over there and many others. It is really good to be in such distinguished company. I’ll talk for about twenty minutes or so, and then take whatever questions you might like to throw me. I’ll try to focus on Afghanistan, but within that, there are lots of other things to do with strategy and with the army more particularly that I’ll be very happy to have go at.
Talking about Afghanistan, I think the theme really is can Afghanistan be won? As I mentioned at the beginning, we’ll embrace more than just Afghanistan because it’s so intertwined with strategy. Grand strategy doesn’t exist in this country anymore, and those sorts of things, but I’ll focus a little bit to begin with, on Afghanistan.
The deeper question than “Can Afghanistan be won?” is “Can Western armies win insurgencies?” It is a question particularly of Muslim-led insurgencies or those in the Muslim world. I heard an excellent talk by some people you will know, General Martin Van Crevald the other day, arguing that all counter-insurgency campaigns had been a failure. Now I think he’s over-egging the pudding no doubt, but maybe there is something in what he said. A lot of you, and I’ve been subject to it, have thought about Malaya as an example of a successful counter-insurgency. My own judgement is that in that respect, Martin Van Crevald was wrong and that Malaya was a successful counter-insurgency campaign, and there are some lessons that one can draw from that campaign and into Iraq and Afghanistan. But only some, the scale of what we were doing in Afghanistan is completely different to what was actually never more than quite a small insurgency in Malaya. Many explain why today’s counter-insurgency is hard. The small size of volunteer, tech-heavy Western armies, and I’ll come back to that, modern media scrutiny, the history of decolonisation and the strengths of nationalism, Islamism and indeed much more. But I’ll actually allow you to draw your own conclusions on this wider issue from what I have to say about my own experiences in Afghanistan.
We were instructed to go out to Afghanistan, I commanded something called the Allied Rapid Reaction Corps. Mike Jackson commanded a couple before me and took the headquarters to Kosovo, and then a couple of years before that General Mike Walker had commanded it and taken it to Bosnia. We had a good track record to build on, and in 2004 when the NATO leaders met in Istanbul, basically Tony Blair volunteered the arc to lead the next and most significant and difficult phase of NATO expansion, which was from the centre of Kabul, north and west.
Then in my time, and it was our responsibility to do it, into south Helmand, Kandahar, and then on into the east. It is interesting to speculate whether or not, if the European countries of NATO had known in the autumn of 2004 what was going to confront them a couple of years later, whether or not they would’ve signed up to it. I think there is good reason for thinking that perhaps they wouldn’t. You’ll be aware and I’ll be very happy to take any questions on the subject, and things like that which have made it a rather more difficult a task than we all would have wished. I may say that at no point did I or anyone at my headquarters made the mistake of blaming the individual soldiers or the contingents from those countries.
For example, I had many good friends in the German army who are frustrated that they are not being allowed to do more with us down in the South. But they, like me, do as they’re told by their political leaders in their case and you get on and do whatever you can within the constraints placed on you. I would like to say that part of that general mood into the south and east, was the enormous amount of help we got from the Americans. I am not alone to appreciate that today the Americans are probably the finest counter-insurgency army in the world. We had a bit of a claim on that until the last 18 months or so, when, like so often the case with that notion, they realised where they had been going wrong. They are hugely, collectively and individually self-critical. I’ve been on forces where quite literally I’ve been amazed at how they can be so critical of their own efforts, and that’s often when I’ve been the only non-American in the room, but they turned round their approach. General Petraeus, in particular, led the way in Iraq and has written an extremely good, new book about how they should go about counter-insurgency. We have much to learn from them. One reason is not that we lack the theory, because we do, and I’ll return to this. We lack the money to do it properly. If anyone thinks you can succeed in a complex counter-insurgency without huge gobs of money and resources, particularly non-military lines of operation, then we would have a pretty good debate about it because I can assure you, you cannot.
The reason that the surge has worked so well, in Iraq is not just the number of troops that have been deployed, but at the same time they have put in huge amounts of money. And interestingly, buying off potential opponents, the sorts of things that our forefathers did as we ran our empire in the 19th century, but which today, for moral or ethical reasons, we seem to shy away from. I often think it’s because it’s convenient for us to shy away from it for moral reasons. Out there, as many of you know Afghanistan pretty well, that is actually the norm and unless we are prepared to do that sort of thing, we certainly will make it harder for us to succeed.
We know the military solution alone is not, well there is no military solution alone, and what were we doing really? We were setting the conditions for others to exploit. But I would say there’s a lot of stuff about hearts and minds, that in Afghanistan quite early on all of us who were involved in it, learned one thing: If you cannot persuade a population, in the case of Afghanistan, who’s been through hell and back over the last 30 years or so that you are militarily capable of succeeding. I’m not saying winning the sense of a victory, but succeeding at the technical level, which is ultimately part of a bigger effort perhaps at the higher level. Then you won’t win their hearts and minds in the sense that they literally cannot give themselves to you if they think you’re going to lose militarily the next day. In operation Medusa which was the first and only time NATO was seriously challenged in a conventional sense, the Taliban had occupied some ground just south-west of Kandahar. They had occupied it in great strength, about a thousand plus soldiers dug in, overhead cover for those of you in the military, and even a little field hospital. David said to the local population, and indeed, we were hearing this up in Kabul, he said we will stay here; they dominated the roads that networked through Kandahar, Helmand and onwards towards Iraq, until they have to attack us and then we will defeat them. It wasn’t bad tactics actually, they nearly did succeed.
In September, it became obvious what they were doing, mid-August, we would have to attack them, and we were minimalist in our approach because we had no troops. It may surprise some of you that I had no reserves, not even one company of reserves. When it came to an operation like this, it meant that we had to be terribly careful what we were doing. If it wasn’t for air and aviation artillery, I have to say, things like that compensated for our shortage of troops, we almost certainly would have failed. Actually only one thing prevented us from failing, and that is the relative stupidity of the Taliban, those that pummel their chests and say we’re going to defeat the NATO forces here. Instead of doing what they should have done, which was to go around up into Kandahar, we were in very limited numbers, in an attack, which was really nothing but the Second World War, but with a lot of extra firepower. Had they round us into Kandahar, there was not one thing we could have done about it.
They would have been able to infiltrate Kandahar and that could well have led to the collapse of the Karzai government. In fact, President Karzai, he said to me at the time, “if they get into Kandahar, I am finished.” The reason being that it is, as many of you know, the very centre of the Pashtun people, it is where the king came from, and all the things that you would associate with a very proud people. If Karzai had lost Kandahar, his credibility was gone at the same time. Interestingly, the Northern Alliance, led by the Tajiks and some Uzbeks in the north, the vice-president offered me 20,000 fighters whenever I needed them. If that happened, and the Taliban took Kandahar, he used rather a funny term for someone in a land-locked country; he said “we won’t wait for the tide to lap up against Kabul next time.” Thinking of course back to1996, where that is exactly what had happened. We defeated them, and I’ve never been touched by so many people with beards in my life. But the important thing is, it wasn’t until NATO did that, however unpalatable it might have been in some respects it wasn’t until we could prove to the Afghan people, particularly the Pashtuns down in the south, but also to an extent, those in the North, that we could do the dirty business if we needed to, that they were going to give us their hearts and minds in the sense that you and I would normally associate that term with.
It’s something I think is important for those that don’t know the country well. This is not necessarily all about building hospitals, schools, and that sort of thing although that is a key part of it. You have got to have a hard edge military operation as part of this, and the belief that the Taliban is some look-alike Che Guevara organisation; nothing could be further from the truth. Not one of them would worry about planting a bomb killing every one of us. These are not necessarily, and they are reconcilable elements which I work hard on trying to bring into the camp, but there are some that you should have no illusions about and probably can only be killed or captured. Naturally, we normally go in for the latter, quite rightly.
But if it wasn’t all about military activity, and I have to say, in my own case, I only spent about one quarter of my day on military things. The rest of it was spent on reconstruction, development, governance, and here we are in the House of Parliament. Governance is the most important single thing to get right, Pakistan, and then maybe security. It wasn’t structured in that way, you’ve got to do one thing one day and another the next. But it’s very interesting that as military commander, much of my time was spent on non-military activities.
A lot of my time was also for short bursts on military activities, I remember in particular that week of Operation Medusa, when we did have to persuade some nations to stay with us because it was a close run thing in that respect. I can see two people in the audience who know the truth. They know well that we weren’t far off for a short period from losing Medusa. Not because of the guys on the ground, but because nations wobbled and they hadn’t realised that if we had lost that battle then NATO would have lost. The whole effort would have been as I described and as President Karzai mentioned to me. But I’ll come back to that if I’ve got time in a minute. I could add counter-narcotics as another area of activity, but I think I’ll save that for any questions because it’s a whole subject on its own and I didn’t actually formally have responsibility for counter-narcotics. It was not, believe it or not, a specified NATO task. I only did it if we had anything left over to help, and we rarely did. You all know that there is much talk about something called the Comprehensive Approach in London at the moment.
The problem is that here in London at the moment, we think that if we are joined up here, we are automatically going to succeed in Afghanistan. It’s perhaps a bit of a hangover from the period where we did run an empire. I make the point, kindly I hope, that in many respects it doesn’t matter at all if you’re joined up here in Whitehall, if you’re not joined up in theatre. We are big part players here, albeit that if you read the media, Helmand is desperately important but it’s not desperately important if you’re sitting in Kabul. It is just another province. It has become more important because of narcotics. There’s a whole big country there, and Helmand wasn’t originally going to be a province that we thought we were going to. I was going to be in Kabul, we thought British troops and British brigadiers would be in Kandahar and it would be a very good fulcrum during my time in the country. For some reason, and I can only speculate, we ended up in Helmand. It might have had something to do with drugs…We had picked up the……narcotics. I also think it was because we were leery of putting too much effort into Afghanistan when we were so fully and obviously committed to Iraq. Ironically, Helmand at the time seemed an easier option for some decision-makers here, than Kandahar, and now look at the number of people we have involved in the operations in Helmand.
What it does mean is, and it’s very important to grasp this, that you can do as well as you like in Helmand, we the Brits, can do as well as we like in Helmand, but if Kandahar collapses, Helmand will collapse within days because of the psychological pull of a problem in Kandahar. What we mustn’t do is Balkanise the operation in Afghanistan and over-focus on Helmand. We have got to see it as a national effort. At the very least, we have to see it as a regional effort, and must be prepared, in military terms, but I’d also say in economic and governance terms, to switch our effort to where it is most important. Not be tied in some rather artificial way to only doing good work in Helmand, because if it goes wrong in Kandahar, all that effort will come to nothing because you’ll have lost the confidence of the Pashtun population if Kandahar doesn’t succeed.
So, Comprehensive Approach, it is actually right that we’re joined up in London much more, but we’ve got to be joined up in theatre, and you’ve can’t allow yourself to be over-focused on Britain’s apparent chief responsibility in, at expense of the greater (….TAPE CUTS OFF FOR TWO SECONDS) one reason we’re not joined up, is because there’s an absence of strategy. I know that is a common theme here and I won’t repeat observations on it that many of you will be aware of. I think that although Paddy Ashdown used this in an excellent Financial Times article explaining why he wasn’t going to go and be the big man in Kabul…others will claim that he gave it to me, probably Mike Jackson. It was none other authority than Sun Tzu that said “a strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory, but tactics without strategy is purely the noise before defeat”. There is a real risk that we are over-focused on tactics, and I talked about Helmand, as an example of that. We’re not drawing on some comprehensive strategy, which is no good just for the UK, but which all nations resolved in this great effort have got to share. Military men here will know we talk about unity of command.
At the very least we should be striving for unity in effort. I came back to this country very briefly in June 2006, I was asked to give a speech, and I got in awful trouble not knowing it was on the record for… the international community’s efforts in Afghanistan as something close to anarchy. I wasn’t allowed to say that, but it was true, take it from me. One reason is that those in positions of responsibility don’t really think strategically. They need to rediscover this, or else things like Afghanistan will continue to take far too long to deliver on.
The woeful state of government in Kabul, is slowly getting better. I emphasise that I am not one of those people who is trying to create Switzerland in Afghanistan in ten years time. We have got to have mechanisms that suit the Afghan people and the Afghan culture. Well intentioned people in the early days imposed an American model on a nation that just wasn’t prepared for it, nor understood it. So we’ve got neither one thing nor the other. We’ve got a bit of a Western model, we’ve got a bit of an Afghan model, and neither has really come together in the way that is necessary to achieve that critical mass of good governance, let alone persuade people that the Taliban isn’t still an alternative. I say that in the knowledge born up of perfectly good statistics, we are failing to meet the expectations of the people at the speed which they rightly now expect of us. It’s partly because in the early days well intentioned people promised all sorts of things. One reason that area that I described south-west of Kandahar turned against us, is that around 2003, people went in there, promised them the earth, they agreed to stop growing poppies and then over the next two years nothing happened.
There was a Taliban element to it, but one reason, undoubtedly, was because they felt they’d been cheated. It’s very important that you don’t make promises to Afghans that you can’t subsequently meet. They’ve got very long memories. I fear that what is happening to a degree now, collectively and individually, many promises have been made, expectations have been raised, and there is a risk, as much as the majority of the people in Afghanistan want their government and the international community to work, there is a risk that we don’t keep pace with their expectations. Because we don’t have enough troops and can’t guarantee their security over time, the Taliban come back in and say we told you so, that nothing has happened, you got rid of your poppy growing and nothing has come in as a substitute. It’s not a matter of not promising we’re right to do that, it’s a matter of delivering on our promises much more quickly.
Just an observation on the army, there is never going to be enough troops available in this day and age for us to secure the whole of the country of Afghanistan. We totally understood that, and we created something called the Afghan development zone concept which primarily was designed to secure a sufficiently large area in a number of provinces within which we could demonstrate a really good pace of improvement to demonstrate to the people and to the Taliban that we were succeeding and rather like the ink spot theory, that effect would spread out psychologically and physically on the ground. The problem is that we still don’t have enough troops to get that quite limited concept to work properly. There is no surprise to those of us who advocate this for why the surge in Iraq succeeded. In an ideal world, you would have sufficient boots on the ground; secure every street corner if you like so the Taliban can’t move around. We’re never going to reach that level as I said but you can do it within certain areas. This is an important spin-off in the way we structure armies, and it rarely is dependant upon how you think, and it’s an interesting strategic issue here, how you think we will be employed over the next 10,15,20,25 years. If you believe that China is a major threat in the traditional, conventional sense, then you will need to invest in a lot of high-tech stuff to defeat that sort of threat. My own private view is that that is most unlikely; it was again Sun Tzu who said “the acme of military skill is to defeat your enemy without firing a shot.” I personally can’t see why China would risk everything they’ve achieved over the last forty years.
There is a risk, but I personally don’t see it as being particularly great in the short, medium or even long term. If they want to conduct state on state warfare, then why not do I through economic means? Through proxies, terrorists, guerrillas, every Chinese restauranteur picking up a Kalashnikov and having go at it. That is much more the Chinese way of conducting any sort of operation, historically. Much cleverer, and without any of the huge risk to everything they’ve achieved. Either way, you can see this is a very important debate, because at the moment, defence spending is insufficient to prepare for that sort of eventuality, which means lots of boots on the ground, which also would enable us to do the sorts of things we’re doing in Afghanistan and Iraq more proficiently versus the need for submarines, aircraft carriers and all those sorts of things. So this is a very important debate. Unless this country and other countries are prepared to put more money into defence, I see a big decision point coming. It all depends on how you think the military is most going to be used over the next few years.
I think at that point, I would like to draw to a close. I could talk about the personalities I’ve met, Karzai and many others but again, I’m very happy to take questions on this. They are absolutely central to my story and indeed to our chances of success in that country. Remember that we’re not trying to turn Afghanistan into Switzerland. We need tailored Afghan solutions. We need to put much more into governance, in particular. And we need to bring Pakistan much more into the fold. Unless we do, we will always have opposition in waiting just across the border. It’s a very complex issue, and again, I think it needs to be much more aggressively pursued for the long term. They tend to be seen too frequently as separate issues. For example, we were very close to persuading President Musharraf and President Karzai to set up a joint Afghanistan/Pakistan action group which was modelled on a system that the military introduced in Kabul bringing Afghan government and the international community together. We had actually got both presidents to agree to do that in the case of Afghanistan and Pakistan. Could I get any support for that over here, or within NATO channels?
Not any at all. I think partly it was because of a certain view that soldiers should stick to soldiery. I often remind them that that is not historically the case, that this is a partnership. I may make one final observation. Across the road at the Foreign Office I have lots of very good friends, amongst them there is a feeling that we do soldiery, they do state building. Why is this the case? We used to have soldier-diplomats. What I am suggesting is that this is a perfectly respectable thing for soldiers to do. Why do I have a problem with that? I think it’s because in the era of the Cold War, for forty-five years, soldiers on the whole did technical things. We were deployed in Germany and the rest is done at a higher level, in the Foreign Office. I remember even Margaret Thatcher taking part in it. We got comfortable in our respective boxes. We now should come out of that and rediscover our roots, if you like, and look at the best man for the job and best organisation for the job. I feel we are as guilty of that in the Army as many of my good friends in the Foreign Office we need to go back.”
Sir David Richards (in response to a question): “Well certainly not, I think its jolly good actually. I think it’s the sort of thing we were trying to do. I was pretty involved in the creation of auxiliary police, and the thinking was very similar to that which you’ve just outlined. Of course, on the Pakistan side, as you know, the Frontier Corps is really doing what you’ve just described. The problem is it’s ill-resourced, particularly in respect to the Pakistan army. I think they feel rather un-loved, to be frank. But they are doing it. There is no such force on the Afghan side, partly because of money. The Americans, and I don’t agree with the chap who described it as new colonialism. I think it’s actually an extremely good idea in principle. Even the Americans, who are pouring billions of dollars into Afghanistan, bought the idea of pouring yet more money into that force. There are lots of people, lots of tribal elders who volunteered to do it. There is then the issue, and it’s linked to a degree, of creating more warlords.
Some people felt that having just got rid of some, not all by any means, that we risked arming particular tribes and that could be the source of downstream conflict between them. I think on balance, depending on whom you chose, that it was probably a risk worth taking. But you can see that it was probably a legitimate problem that had to be thought through. So, those are the sorts of reasons; money, tribal factors, that has led the idea to be stillborn in practice. I think though if President Karzai and others who are dealing with this were here, they would say, surprisingly, it’s the sort of thing we ought to do but always seem to find a reason at the end of the day why they can’t. And I think it’s because of the centralisation of power, and feeling like they might lose it, and those sorts of things as much as anything else. So I think you won’t see that in the short term, as much as it is a very good idea in principle.”
Sir David Richards: “Well I think it’s a hugely important question which I think we’ve talked about before, before I went out there. My frustration, and that of many other people who have Afghanistan at heart, is that they’re not doing well enough. So one man’s glass is half full and the other is half empty. But I think there is a consensus that NATO is still not yet at the crossroads of where it goes on.…or goes in the opposite direction, but it’s not far off it. The idea that you can have 5 or 6 or 7 NATO nations prepared to fight, I have to say differently, because you know getting back to organising a theatre conflict. If these nations cannot be used, if the armies of these nations cannot be used together they’re most required, that is a huge weakness in any military campaign and that is largely the case today. Only the American army, and I include our own in this, other than the limited, only about a battalions worth based in Kandahar, only the American army can be used anywhere in the country. Even the British army, logistically, cannot be employed that far away from Helmand. We just don’t have the logistics to get it to Oruzgan province or Zabol or whatever it might be. You could do this but it would take a huge effort, and it would be expensive. So only the American army is big enough and interestingly, the American army is growing by about 70,000, the US Marine Corps by about 30,000, the Australians are growing their army, the Dutch are growing their army. We are actually supposedly going down because we can’t recruit even to the current level. That is why the question of the future, whether we’re going to engage full-bloodedly in the war is so important.
But just to revert to your question, I think my own view, is that at the working level of NATO if you’re out there on the ground in Afghanistan, there is an amazing spirit of cooperation. The boys are getting on with it. I never once, as I said at the beginning, held it against my five different national commanders, one of each region, an American, an Italian, a German, a Frenchman, a Canadian, and then a Dutchman. We worked very well together actually, within the constraints that the politicians running all those countries placed on us. I think if NATO doesn’t work, and I’ve often said this to people, if it doesn’t succeed the way you’re inferring, don’t blame even NATO, you have to blame the politicians of the countries that are contributing to NATO. NATO is as good as you wish it to be but if you’re not prepared to resource it properly or understand it properly, there is a huge risk for the future. There is a huge amount of ignorance, in London for example, about NATO. Before we deployed I went across to the Cabinet Office to talk to the people there who were responsible for it and one person who was responsible for so-called British strategy did not even know that Britain had signed up to a NATO strategy, strategy in the sense you and I would understand it, but it was a campaign plan. They did now know that we had committed a huge amount of British assets to a particular line of action that they were going to undermine by going down a much more British-centric route. That doesn’t say much for the UK, as much as it does for NATO…But what would replace it, and all those sort of things that have come up before and I know that many…”
Question from a retired politician…”the political situation in Pakistan …and seems to be very unsettled. If a really unfriendly government was to take office in Pakistan, and wanted to cut our supply lines, how quickly would we have to abandon the whole operation in Afghanistan?”
Sir David Richards: “Well, pretty quickly is the answer, although there are alternatives. But you’d have to set them up, so if they wanted to do it, we’d be in a right pickle. But you can’t for example, use the railway coming through from the North, that goes just on to the north of Iraq, onto the border there, and there’s obviously road routes across Russia and then Kyrgyzstan. But I think it would be a huge price to pay, and I don’t think it’s tenable. That is why it must be viewed as a regional issue. If you look just at Afghanistan, just as it is wrong for the British to over-focus on Helmand, so it would be wrong for us to over-focus on Afghanistan. You’ve got to view Pakistan and Afghanistan, and I would argue, others, Iran, potentially, as part of the single issue which is why the whole issue of strategy, and I like this strategy, I think it’s something that we need to address. I would say I don’t think there’s much chance of what you just painted happening. I got to know the Pakistanis pretty well and I met President Musharraf four times, and I know most of the leaders there, not of the new government, obviously, but those that were in power based on the military. They’re very clear that a Taliban-led government, a militant Islamic government in Kabul would almost certainly lead, inexorably, to something similar in Islamabad. They’re determined to not let that happen. 80% of the Afghan population do not want us to fail. There’s no majority, by any means, in fact the supporters of the more militant views in Pakistan are very small in number. I don’t see it as a major threat, but we do need to invest time, money, effort in Pakistan.”
Geoffrey Clifton Brown, Chairman of the E-AG: “Sir David that was a fascinating talk and I hope I paraphrase correctly what you said. In order to have a successful, long-term exit strategy from a counter insurgency situation, you’ve got to have strong national government. When I was in Kabul last year, I was told there were only about 200 people in the government who had adequate skills. So on other words, the Karzai government is extremely weak and indeed has got elections next year and may not survive. We’re trying to build up the army and the police with mixed success, so how can we create a long term successful exit strategy.”
Sir David Richards: “That’s a fascinating question which is why governance is such an important dimension to this. And just one little aside, I tried for most of my time there to persuade any external government, which wanted to consider it to set up a school of administration, to grow the next generation of civil servants and politicians and administrators generally. I think that there is now one, but it’s taken all this time to pick up on this key point: that the Afghans just don’t understand what it is we’re often asking them to do. They have no experience; it’s not the way they ran their country. I think that, you first of all have got to accept that we are in there for the long haul. That is, so that sends a good message to the Taliban who often think that they’ve got the time and we’ve got the watches, which you’ll be aware of. By making it clear that we are going to take a long term approach, set up schools of administration, mentoring them much more enthusiastically and in much greater numbers. That is one way of doing it, but we are going to have to combine that with a much better funded military effort. Not to kill lots of people, ironically to do just the opposite. If you’ve got lots of troops, you don’t have to kill lots of people. Using firepower and aircraft is sign of military weakness in a counter-insurgency, not a sign of strength. If you’ve got a lot of people, you can freeze activity and you can do all the good things. That, I think quite rapidly would turn the population much more readily to our side. But it’s a long term, properly funded, comprehensive solution. Have we the stomach for it, I think is the big issue. Do we see it as our generation’s war which has got to be won just as our grandfathers were determines to win the Second World War. I think this is linked to the business of the first question about the nature of future conflict, why this is a hugely important commentary on the approach to the problems of our time in sense of strategy.”
Sir David Richards: :William thanks for that. Commercially aware, militarily aware, I couldn’t agree more. We need to work on that. I don’t want to keep going back to our first discussion, but this is why this is such an important issue. We are not full-bloodedly learning how to do counter-insurgency. We think we can do it pretty good on the backs of other types of more traditional soldiery. The American army, and I don’t want to keep going back to them but I do think they’ve got this now and they are resourcing it. They are increasing the number of people who do contracts, for example, with the local population, they’re expert in it. It might surprise you, but we’ve been involved in the Middle East and Afghanistan now for a number of years yet we still have no where near enough language speakers, no where near it, woefully short. Why? Because when we come back, we are lured off to go do other things, good things, if we’ve got resources to do it. We’re not full-bloodedly focusing on winning this generation’s war, is really my message. What you’ve outlined there is just one example of it. We should have a combined civilian/military headquarters in which, depending on the state of play, the soldier takes the lead at any particular time or in any particular place and on another occasion it could be the civilian. If a civilian can’t do it, allow the military to do it, but we need to be resourced to do it. We’ve got the talent, I would argue. Today I spent a very good day down in Chatham with the Royal Engineers.
I was watching a range of 332 different civilian skills that they are taught, but all in woeful numbers, such woeful numbers that all they can do is repair old barracks in places like Helmand. They could be out there doing things. They can do all the design of new buildings, we’ve got contract officers who can go out and are reasonably savvy commercially. What three things should we do or should have done? We all have a different view, but one thing is that you’ve got to hang around a bit longer in the numbers needed. General Shinseki, a very brave chief of staff of the American army was effectively first sidelined then sacked by Donald Rumsfeld for daring to say he needed 400,000 troops to remain behind in Iraq to run it properly. If ever a man was brave and paid the penalty, it was he.
He’s very quiet about it now as a matter of interest, out of huge loyalty to the American government. Either that or he gained a lot of money that no one is aware of. But that’s one thing. Give the military the means to do it. In the early days there were no civilians who could go in there. A few Foreign Office guys went in and did terribly well in very limited numbers, at the time we could have done so much more but there’s all this stuff about no that’s not our business, so nothing happened. During that vital first three months I remember Mike and I went through Iraq to Baghdad in May. You could drive around without anyone worrying. We were treated like heroes, everyone saying Manchester United. Three months later because we’d done nothing except talk and organise ourselves things were different. That is why this issue is so important. If there is to be another conflict whether it’s a border war or wars of migration or whatever it might be, it would be very similar to this type of war. We need to decide whether we’re going to do it properly so that we have a core of civilian/military expertise that can go in at the drop of a hat, kick-start, and generate immediate activity to restore the long term involvement, which is now our lot.
Certainly in Afghanistan and I suspect longer in Iraq than we think. So those are the sort of things I think we need to get right, and could’ve got right if we’d had the time to think about it. But there are two separate issues. I am hugely in their debt. I have to say I’m humbled by why people go back to do these things more than once. I think the first time it’s understandable, they have a curiosity about it as anything else, going back again and again, we do need to look at it. You’re probably aware there is a study just started under Major General….designed to try and find some answers, but I don’t think I’ve got time to give you more than to say I’m with you in spirit. And somehow I’m going to persuade you all to keep on going.”
Chairman Frank Cook MP: “I do need to introduce the gentleman who is to propose a vote of thanks. He might even make reference to the time he told Wes Clark to go away in short, jerky movements. But what I must tell you about it, on three occasions I lectured at the Carlyle US Army War College in Pennsylvania. On one occasion I heard of Wes Clark going there to lecture them, indeed as I had been lecturing them, and he gave them an account of what happened with Sir Michael and what had been said, and what had happened. But what he didn’t know, sitting in the audience was Michael’s … at that time, who promptly got to his feet and gave an accurate account of what happened. At which point, Wes Clark turned round and left the room. I have great pleasure in—can I introduce you as Jekyll or Darth Vader?—”
General Mike Jackson: “Thank you very much. I agree with just about everything you’ve said, and if I may, put a line of emphasis under certain points. I’ll start with this whole question of the United Kingdom’s ability to devise a …discharge…strategy. It’s fundamental to what we do in the wider world. I don’t think we actually understand how to devise a strategy. I was not surprised, but reminded … that people who are devising what they call a strategy, have no idea that they were doing an operation as part of the overall NATO campaign.
I can’t emphasise it enough. What is the objective? Until we start thinking as a country, as a government, along those lines, and start to put Whitehall departmental and sometimes personal turf wars to one side, in order to achieve that national strategic objective, we may not do as well as we would wish. It’s being brought out very clearly, in Helmand, and it is certainly true in the south of Iraq, when everything in London was seen through a …prism…or a Helmand centric prism…….than either of those two. Now we just need to lift our game. The comprehensive approach is impeded by the inability to define and implement strategy, because we have the turf wars. It is bad enough within a single sovereign nation, there is additional friction which comes of having to conduct that multinational orchestra …
They think the west will lost patience, that they will become exhausted and they win because they will endure. We better start thinking along those lines, or they might just do what they want. That strategic willpower to see the matter through, to win, very good phrase, to win this generation’s wars, because perhaps our children and grandchildren won’t thank us too much if we do not produce that strategic willpower and that strategic endurance. So my last point to emphasise is it’s the debate which we haven’t really properly started in this country, and that is, what sort of defence, and against what sort of enemies. It is true that the Taliban and Al’Qaeda do not support large fleets of submarines. It is true that neither of those organisations have combat fighters or strategic bombs, absolutely true. And nor I suspect even if they could, they probably wouldn’t want to.
They’re doing far better in the unconventional, the asymmetric way. But, we’re not, in my view, putting all our effort into doing what we should be doing which is winning this generation’s war, because there is a reluctance to concede that never again will this country have to fight the force on force, state on state, conventional whoever it may be. Never again will we have to do that, therefore we can dispense with these large, expensive machines. That is a matter for grand strategic debate. So I think the message here is that if we feel, as we should that defence is that fundamental to our well being in our future. It’s about high time we have that debate. And decide if we’re going to take risks, where are we going to take them? On today’s operations or on the future of conventional capabilities, or perhaps in an uncertain world it might pay to up the insurance premium. It will be an issue debated in the next general election. Suffice it to say all the great things he has done, are mainly because he was pretty well taught by the odd senior officer here and there.
But he did those great things in Afghanistan, and it comes as no surprise to learn that you name shall ring in corridors and streets of Kabul and elsewhere. It’s a long haul, David; I know the strain of getting all these things, getting the ducks in a row, political as well as military, in difficult circumstances. He did a great job and he has done a great job tonight. David, thank you very much, good luck in the future.”
Chairman Frank Cook MP: “Ladies and Gentleman, you’ve had a rare opening course of wisdom and real politique. That’s a precursor of course, to the dinner which will take place at St. Ermin’s. But before you depart for that, some of you might not be going there; the next meeting is on Tuesday, the 3rd of June, it’s a special dinner debate. And in fact, you’re going to be entertained by another friend of mine who’s now an MEP, a highly entertaining speaker I promise you, he entertained me at dinner one night and had me in stitches throughout, but it got my weight down. Do travel safely between here and St. Ermin’s, hope to see you there. Those of you that aren’t going there take care between now and next time. If you’re driving home, do make sure you have a car. “
Chairman, Frank Cook MP: “We’re intending, because of the passage of time, to conduct the verbals over the distribution, consumption, and clearing away of the…Normally they are a less than noisy munch so we hope you don’t mind this and can cooperate. I have a couple of announcements before we get into the main bit. First of all I’ve got to thank, once again Brigadier….for the food and drink that you’re enjoying here. I remind you that your next speaker is to be addressed as Curtis Lansbergus who gave me a lecture on politics, very quick, which I passed on to the US Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs. When he told me of the socialists, the communists, and the capitalists, who had agreed to meet at a certain time in a certain place to discuss matters of common interest. The time and the day came.
The communist was there on time, and the capitalist arrived on time, but there was no sign of the socialist. They waited very patiently, and were somewhat irked by this delay. When he finally turned up they demonstrated…who looked suitably chastised, hung his head and said “I’m sorry, I had to stand in the queue for the …” The communist said “What’s a …?” The capitalist said “What’s a queue?” They use that as a model in the US…. Perhaps Obama Bin Laden and Hilary Clinton might be able to make sense of it. (ooooo) …John McCain. You’ve already had an ample diet of wisdom this evening, in portions that I’ve rarely experiences in 25 years active politics, and over 50 years trying to create the activity before getting in here, but you’re in for further treats. I don’t know how on earth he’s going to follow what he said earlier today, because it was so complete in my mind. However, I’m going to give you once again, Sir David Richards.”
Sir David Richards: “Well Frank, thank you very much indeed. I didn’t have the opportunity earlier to remind you when you kindly mentioned when we first met. I was in Kabul… in the middle of the old containment, interestingly. It’s not really containment, but it’s something you talk about in your excellent recent book…I got no money for my writing… There I was in the middle of the containment, and in …and I thought what a very modest man he is, and you’ll see some of that today. But within a very short period, he absolutely had the essentials of the problems he would be confronted by in Kabul, and I’ve never forgotten that.
That’s why, as I mentioned earlier, I put a certain amount of effort into …which I think still today…rigorous…feel for the sort of things we’re confronted by…and I think there’s another one on the way…So thank you very much indeed, it was a great help when I heard you were coming in tonight. What do I say? Can I ask how many people were not in the House of Commons? Right, ok…I suppose if there was one strategic issue which General Sir Mike Jackson, and he is kind to me I tell you, …you are a kind chap…write another book…The reason I …The reason I think any soldier in the room would recognise what I was saying… simple logic…we’re reaching a point when this country needs to decide what it is they want their security forces, defence forces, what you like… we cannot go on preparing for a massive re-run of the cold war…China, India, Russia…this generation’s war against militant Islam. It’s not a debate that’s being had at the moment, but it needs to be had because the crux will be coming, and I think quite soon. We just don’t have enough money in the pot to be all things to all men. So that, I suppose was the strategic point, which I think was well understood by those who were there. Rather than labour that, I’d rather just focus on a few more, and I think more anecdotal tales about Afghanistan.
Like a lot of people who serve there, it very quickly got into my blood…served with me, I would say under me, but …felt like I was serving under them. …You’re only acting major now…but it does…blood…in your blood, the Afghan people…sitting beside a very important one. …that you could probably ever come across. They are also very hard, and they don’t like…all the sorts of things that you and I would like to think we are…to quick with me and I spoke about, our failure to live up to expectations we have raised, which in an orally based society, they don’t write things down, but… they listen…NATO guy, the American soldier, they’re not, they’re still there. We have raised huge expectations, and there is a real…that we failed to meet them in the time frame that they legitimately had come to expect was reasonable. It’s not surprising that these wonderful people, were any of you in the Hippy Generation…drugs and all that stuff. But I met many, speak for yourself General Jackson, …and were coming back, often as academics, interestingly, said if this country left such a mark on me as we went through it in the 70s that we wanted to come back to see what we could do to help. …it gets in your heart, and it makes you do things like speak to the E-AG, although I got an excellent dinner for it…thanks to Augusta……Talking of the people…couple of little anecdotes. One, the soldiers that are conducting this operation.
I think whatever nation we come from, we would be immensely proud of the people…soldiers; they are actually people that are doing your business and my business for us. There was a fear…would this generation live up to their fathers and grandfathers and their great-great grandfathers and so on. Let me reassure you that they are in every respect. …on arrival in the army, but somehow we seem to be turning them round. The Victoria crosses are no more easily earned today, and in many cases is much harder than it was when the great award was first introduced…I sat on boards that look at these things and it is hugely difficult not just to get the Victoria Cross…there are countless acts of great bravery…not for their nation, not even for Afghanistan, but for their muckers next door, that you would be immensely proud of. They’re all from towns, villages, cities, and of course, I have to say, from many other countries that are doing great stuff. One story if I may. I
talked about the Battle of Medusa in the House of Commons, which was a really important moment in that we had to demonstrate to a sceptical population that NATO…could beat the Taliban militarily. We were going to win the war, but we had to demonstrate that we were up to the task…back in 2006 there was huge doubt about that about whether NATO would manage. …There was probably more doubt in Afghanistan. The Taliban are very good at manipulating modern media, and they also have more traditional means of …So we had this challenge, and we had to overcome it. I remember the day I gave the orders to do it, not certain that we had the resources to actually succeed…certain that we had to do so. It’s one of the few moments that I actually properly earned my pay. I know that frequently I didn’t earn my pay, as many of you know me well, I was hugely well-served by a fantastic headquarters. After the battle…went on for about ten days…pretty big defeat, they never tried it again. I went down to visit the soldiers and the officers that had actually done it. There were very few British, by the way, mainly Americans, and one particular American I remember, Colonel Steve Williams, this guy had been minding his own business in Kandahar Airfield when …Canadian commander…you need more troops…had no one else.
So I said you need more troops, there must be people in Kandahar Airfield that you can use. Steve Williams was equivalent to the army air corps, but they are soldiers more so, before they’re pilots, and they same applies to our army air corps…When this chap who was basically running the …on Kandahar Airfield said I’ll run a battle route…This chap got together about 12 …vehicles…undemanding task guarding the Airfield. Within a couple of days they were in battle against this very determined Taliban defence. Whereas the first scuffles failed, they had to cross a river directly at a well dug in position, the American Colonel Steve Williams was up the river and came at it down the far side of the bank…starts to crumble away at the defence that had been established there. If…Montgomery was here he would recognise the term crumbling, because of course it was exactly what…Montgomery used…suddenly the Taliban…
I went down there …Steve Williams, and to congratulate them. I don’t want to get into the nitty gritty of soldiering, but it was quite an amazing thing they succeeded in doing, helped by the air forces and others, but at the end of the day, it was a small number of very brave men that forced the Taliban out of it’s position…He took me on a walk of the area, I was quite keen to see how much damage had been inflicted on the local village. He said, “Well, let’s go up in a minute and have a look at it.” They walked up one…got to the village, it wasn’t too bad. …There were actually no civilian casualties. We then decide to walk back another track to where the helicopters were going to pick us up. We walked down the track, came around a corner (I’ll have to shout at this point), coming towards us were some Canadian engineers…what British generals did…across the mine detectors coming our way. I said “Oh my God, you mean this bit hasn’t been cleared?” “It would appear not”…………
…not all. The governor of Helmand province…by all of us out there…run Helmand as a sort of…but I won’t go into the detail of how he did that…$32 million dollars in the process from it…he said to me when President Karzai insisted I meet him, that he was always rather opposed to the fact that we had…toppled him…I am your friend, I said, well I thought you are, but can you explain why. He said well I’ve just killed many of your enemies, and I said, well thank very much, but I didn’t ask you to kill anyone did I? No, I know you couldn’t ask, and I know you couldn’t…so I’ve gone and done it for you. I had only been in the country about a month and a half, and I thought well this is interesting. To cut a long story short, and I believe this is broadly true, he thought that …were in Quatar, and he knew I couldn’t get into Quatar, so he’s gone and done…for progress.
About two months later, he and someone called …the son of a very famous Muslim family, he came to me and said we’d like to…well not certain about this because he’s been killing…without authority…here in Afghanistan mate, grow up. ,,,Come back in three and a half months time and we’ll see how we’re getting on…as he was busily undermining his successor…in Helmand…I said …anyway, he came back three and a half months later, got the timing wrong here, and I said to him after an hour, come back in two months and two days…
Two months, two days, he rang about religiously, I left Afghanistan two months, one day later…But that’s the sort of place it is, humbling because of the huge…problems. Opportunities are amazing if we full-bloodedly took hold of them…are people who want up to succeed…we are at risk of tiring their patience. If you are the average Afghan, if there is such a thing, in a village in the south of the country and you see nothing but conflict coming your way over the next 5 to 10 years because we can’t deliver on our promises. As much as they want us to succeed…they will start tiring of us. That’s why my strategic point is: do you want to find the resources, the money, the troops, and the full blooded approach to success that will allow us to claim some sort of not victory, but success in Afghanistan. I think that is the big issue for our generation. Do you want us to win in this generation’s war in the way that our grandfathers and fathers did in the Second World War. It is that that is confronting us today…the people of Afghanistan deserve that level of support.
I think they do. We need to decide whether we want to do it or not. I fear we haven’t met that responsibility. If we don’t then we should really find a route out, because the worst of all worlds is continuing to kid ourselves that we’re on a route to success when …not that brilliant. That’s really the thrust of it, if I said many more things I would repeat myself. Pakistan…that’s a nation that we have got to bring into the ..one way or another. I’ve been having a fascinating talk about Pakistan continuing influence on Afghanistan but will a new government offer a chance at something different? Well many sceptics would say it doesn’t. What’s China’s role? What is Russia’s role? What is Iran’s role? The thing is , as General Mike said earlier…we don’t have a strategy for dealing with this part of the world. You cannot view it as an Afghan problem, you have to view it as a global problem. Certainly it is a big regional problem…strategy. The UK can’t do it by itself, get NATO, get the EU galvanized to do more. At the moment we’re way off anything like a coherent and united strategy for dealing with the country and that region. I think on that point, Frank, I will take any questions and join in the debate. Thank you.”
Chairman, Frank Cook MP: “I did learn earlier this evening that there is strong feeling that whilst the boys in the armed services can celebrate … and their courage and their achievements, …David was generous in his praise of my somewhat feeble efforts to …to the attention of the NATO parliamentary assembly. I have done that for some years…continue as long as I am required to do in the future. But I couldn’t do that without the support and help and encouragement of my wife…she and I are very happy to be with you again this evening. But she is not the only wife doing this, David Richards has a wife, all of us here have wives, and some of them know other people’s wives I suppose. That’s the way the world goes on. I think we ought to bear in mind, that whilst its fine to celebrate the men of the species, I think we ought to thank god for the female of the species…I’d like you to toast our ladies. We’re about to open the debate with a brief…from Sir Geoffrey James, and then we’ll …a number of questions and answers…those who were seeking my eye in the Commons…maybe one or two more. But for the moment I would ask you to welcome Sir Geoffrey James…
Sir Jeffrey James: Thank you very much indeed, I’ve been asked as one of the sort of people that David mentioned, someone who has been to Afghanistan a long time ago and it’s in their blood.
I was on my first diplomatic posting in Kabul in the early 1970s, when the relationship between Britain and Afghanistan was still very close in everyone’s minds. Historically, intellectually, and spiritually almost, and there was a degree of respect of both sides of a shared mutual history of the last 150 years or so. Part of that history, I think was embodied in the writings of Kipling; he has some very good truths, which are just as valid today. In one particular poem of his, ‘Arithmetic on the Frontier’, I might just quote from him. “A scrimmage in a Border Station—A canter down some dark defile—Two thousand pounds of education—Drops to a ten-rupee jezail—” Then later in the same poem, he comments “Strike hard who cares -shoot straight who can—
The odds are on the cheaper man.” Now I think that obviously military technology and transport have moved on. …between, if you like, Western forces, their enormous trading, their equipment…against a relatively weak Taliban, in those terms where I think, still, the advantage is with the cheaper man when it comes to anything other than …as David has mentioned. But going back to ’73, it may be hard to remember that Afghanistan then was a peaceful country. It had not been involved in any serious conflict, internal or external, for about 50 years. There was a latent/decent democracy coming together, a parliament, things were beginning to work.
There was Cold War rivalry between the Soviets and the Americans, mainly in the form of road building. Kandahar Airport was built by the Americans in those days, and overall, Afghanistan seemed to have a future. But what changed? I left the country in early 1973, and about 3 months after that, and I don’t think the two events had any connection, there was a coup. Which I’m sure the Russians could have stopped if they wanted to, but they allowed it to happen. Which overthrew the king, brought in a nationalist who they thought was a communist, called Daoud.
Five years later, Daoud beginning to abdicate Soviet interest and beginning to suppress communist parties who the Soviet Union supported. So, we did have a coup that the Soviet Union instigated to bring the Soviet-inclined communist parties to power. That in turn gave rise to civil war as the Afghan…foreign ideology. And then we have the Soviet invasion to keep their pocket government in power, and that upped the civil war into a jihad for the next ten years or so. What happened during that time? I think we need to remember that during the 1980’s the Western powers, which were principally American and Britain too, and some others, plus Saudi Arabia, piled an enormous amount of support into that jihad.
Now much of this support was pretty indiscriminate. Most of it was channelled through the Pakistan military intelligence service who weren’t too squeamish about who it went to. What we find, of course, is that once the Soviet Union had collapsed, and communist government in Afghanistan disperses, we helped create the Frankenstein which then became the Taliban. I think we need to remember our own role in this and I think there are still some constructive things we should learn for the future. I’ve been asked to remake a few points in very general terms to get the debate going. What I will say are general points but with a wider applicability maybe not just to Afghanistan but to other situations, Iraq or whatever. In terms of managing conflicts like this, I have just a few questions.
One of the key things is that we seem to always have a failure to appreciate the political, economic and social dynamics of a military intervention before we intervene. We don’t think things through carefully enough to see what will be the consequences of military action. As a result, we get ourselves into some pretty sticky situations. This, I think, is related to a second point. We tend to put far too much faith in military solutions. I am not in any way decrying the role of hard power, it’s absolutely essential, and I think our own forces do a fantastic job in the situations and circumstances they are given. But policies which are largely security-led are generally not going to succeed in these kinds of conflicts in the long term.
We do need to take a much broader view. Thirdly, and I think this is to my mind a little bit of Western arrogance; we tend to put far too much faith in the appeal of our own ideas. We know what democracy means, but does the average Afghan think in the same way about what democracy is? Therefore, I think we do not give enough importance or emphasis to the local cultures in which we’re operating, or the local institutions. That doesn’t mean Parliaments and Cabinets; it means the ways in which those societies act among themselves. We put far too little emphasis on understanding these and working with them. Our vocabulary s entirely Western-dominated and I don’t think it often relates to the circumstances we’re working with.
Fourthly, I think that this is a point which David has mentioned, I do think that in Afghanistan we have simply committed far too few resources overall for the job at hand. The diversion into Iraq, just a few months after those of Afghanistan was a huge mistake in those terms, because took our eye off what was meant to be the ball, which was the fight against international terrorism and it meant that for 2,3,4 years, we were not focusing on what the real situation was in Afghanistan. I think that too few resources overall but also too few resources reaching the right places. A great deal of resources were put into somewhere like Afghanistan and Iraq is actually spent on ourselves. Four-wheel drive for government vehicles, we do have to get around, and the security for ourselves. A great deal of the money is actually not being used for local people and the local economy. And as we’ve heard, a great amount money that we do put in, that reaches the local economy, ends up getting siphoned off to the wrong areas.
So there has to be some way in which we can ensure that the resources we have and deploy, do actually reach the right part of the ground. We do need to take a much longer-term view of these kinds of situations and conflicts. We tend to be governed by the 3-year spending round. That is as far as our strategic view goes. We do need to be prepared for a long haul. There are no easy answers in all these situations. We always tend to underestimate the difficulties of reconstruction, rehabilitation or whatever it happens to be. These are long-term processes which require a long-term commitment, a political commitment on the part of our governments. One other side of this, again something David has mentioned, we tend to have too little knowledge and too little experience of the complicated societies and situations in which we’re working.
People go to Afghanistan for periods of 6 months or a year at the most. Few of them are there long enough to really be able to get under the skin of the culture, and begin to make a difference in that sense. Whereas, as David said, we’re here today and gone tomorrow, but the Afghans are there for all-time. My final point, you’ll be glad to know, concerns the neighbours of Afghanistan. And here again I just wonder whether we’ve got the balance right. Over the years, we’ve given an enormous benefit of the doubt to Pakistan despite the unsavoury nature of the regime, but also because of the evidence that there are elements within the Pakistan system which are actually operating against our interests, by actively supporting the more extreme elements in the jihad side of the Islamic society. On one hand we give a lot of benefit of the doubt to Pakistan, on the other hand, we maintain a thoroughly hostile relationship with Iran, at the other end of the extreme.
Whereby we seem to be incapable of finding any sensible modus operandi for security cooperation over Afghanistan When looked at objectively at least, there should be a great deal of common interest there. I’ll throw those issues onto the floor, and we’ll open the debate in that way. Thank you very much indeed, for inviting me along, I’ve enjoyed it enormously, and I’ll hand it over to you, thank you. “
Chairman: “Normally in the Commons we talk about catching the speaker’s eyes, you’re going to have some difficulty this evening because I’m very short in stature to start with, and I’m sitting on a very low seat, so you probably need to go fly-fishing. A number of individuals were seeking to question Sir David earlier today. Please give your name clearly, and if relevant, the organisation that you represent or from which you originate.
Hi my name is Ajmal Zazai, I am a tribal chief from the south-east of Afghanistan, Patia Province. We greatly appreciate what Sir David Richards has done in Afghanistan. Especially, I would like to bring attention to Musa Kallah (?)I think we hear a lot about him in the news this weekend, khala musa became one of the Hollywood celebrities. It shows how the British played a negative role in order to give the power to the Taliban.
Actually what Sir David Richards did in order to give the power to the tribes, to the people who belong there, as you mentioned before, we are not going to be there but the Afghans are going to be there. These are the people from the soil, so he empowered the people. What the people, the tribal elders and the tribal chiefs did, they got rid of all the corrupt officials from the so-called democratic government. That is probably why Karzai didn’t like it and why it was openly criticised. That criticism came to Switzerland when our President criticised the British role.
All of the Afghans are extremely upset about this. The British have been contributing a great deal in forces and also in money, but unfortunately our president was misguided by some of the elements surrounding him. To cut it short, I would like to mention border security. The border security which was mentioned by David Simpson earlier has got nothing to do with becoming warlords. I am a tribal chief; I am an elected body from the tribes. I will never go against my tribes. This is the system we’ve had for the last hundred years. When we empower the King and the Royal family, the tribes were disarmed, and they were not part of any movement except bringing peace and stability to Afghanistan. Unlike the coalition forces in power, these warlords in Afghanistan, where the Taliban was the initial creation because of these people.
They went against our nation and unfortunately atrocities were committed. And that’s the reason our people started fighting your forces in Afghanistan. No one knows better than Sir David Richards. My question is very simple. More troops, I don’t think that’s the answer because it’s going to be more taxing on you, and more soldiers are going to be dying, more soldiers will be losing hands, legs, and that’s not a solution. That’s going to be costly for you. If it was really the solution, I think 300,000 troops, when they march in Iraq, it would have been the real positive solution for it, but its not, now its 167,000 and they’re going to withdraw more. 135,000 Russian troops marched in Afghanistan and they had to leave.
We strongly believe, and I think the Generals will agree with me, that extra troops in Afghanistan are not the solution. The solution, in my opinion, is to bring the nation on board, get rid of the government we have that is corrupted by the warlords, and have a fair, clean government. The government would be made from the Afghan form of democracy which is Loya Jurga. I would like to ask the real opinion of the General. 34 provinces are in Afghanistan, 12 are under war, 146 districts are under constant Taliban attacks. These are not my figures, these are the figures of the United Nations and ..office. Can we have fair and clean elections? If we have elections then we’ll have the same president back in power and the same warlords for another 25 to 30 years. Will you be able to hold onto that country for that long? The Russians could only hold on for 9 years and they had to leave. That’s all, thank you.”
Sir David Richards: “I said in an interview for a book that is coming out shortly by a chap called…Ferguson. He wrote something, and I’m sorry if it sounds slightly egotistical, “I had an interview with General Richards and he said something that humbled me.” Now I don’t think I’ve often said anything that humbled anyone, and I didn’t know at the time that that was the case. But what I said is “It’s all very well when you are an analyst, a journalist, an academic coming up often with the benefit of hindsight. Or in your case, with the benefit of Afghan foresight and wisdom, it’s very easy to come up with a clear cut solution to the problem. Of course, I lived with the problems, it’s not that simple. You’ve got different people saying this, you’ve got great pressures there, you’ve got governments here, and you’ve got no money if you do this, money if you do that. The reality of living in these environments is that they are very complex. As much as I agree in principle, there is no one, simple solution. Let me just elaborate a little bit because I’m sure you’ve got the gist of it. Why do I say we need more troops? One reason is because there is not going to be a fair election next year, currently. Quite clearly, because the statistics that you just reminded us of are absolutely right, give or take.
If you had more troops, and I don’t know how many more, but Dan McNeill at one stage said we need 400,000 troops to meet the current U.S. Doctrine on how to conduct a successful counter insurgency. We won’t get 400,000 troops, no one can do it. I’m on record as saying we need to double the amount we’ve got in Afghanistan at the moment, because as I said in the Commons, you can geographically limit one’s ambitions but do sufficiently well to reach a critical mass of activity that gets into the minds of the people. So that’s one reason. It’s not to kill more, or to be killed more, and I know it’s very expensive. It’s actually to kill less. A point I hope I made in the House of Commons. You use firepower because you’re weak, you’re vulnerable. If in a perfect world, you had your 400,000 troops, you’d do very little killing.
They physically couldn’t get into the towns or villages that you would be dominating. So it’s worth remembering that in a perfect world that’s what you would do. We won’t ever be, and never can be in that perfect world; we never have done and never will. But you can design tactics that allow the essence of it to be achieved. I don’t think there’s going to be an election that you or I would describe as free and fair. I’m not going to get drawn into the politics of it. I do know that President Karzai is extremely unpopular within large sections of the Afghan population. I think it would be wise of me to just comment on that fact rather than to elucidate. I know that one of the problems is how do you generate a suitable and plausible successor when many of those that could do it are outside the country, often for their own safety.
There are people like Ajmatghardi(?) who very narrowly missed becoming secretary general of NATO, that would make a very good president. They can’t generate any momentum, electorally, when they’re outside the country, and it’s too difficult for them to go into the country. I think there’s a plausible next president on my left. Maybe you need one more turn of the handle, yet. And then I can come and be your military advisor, which I’d love to do. He says he’s like soldiers, he says he’s a simple soldier, doesn’t understand politics. When you hear an Afghan tribal leader say “I’m a tribal leader, I’m not a politician” do not believe it. “
Chairman: “The young lady there. Name and where you’re from please?”
Amanda Sanderson, guest. “First of all, as an army wife, thank you very much for the toast earlier. We greatly appreciate it. I would like to know what the army has done since 2003 to improve the care given to families and the soldiers themselves who develop PTSD- post traumatic stress disorder. Especially in the light of combat stress’s conservative estimate that 1 in 10 soldiers returning from theatre will develop PTSD. Thank you. “
General Mike Jackson: “Thank you for the question. General David, who is very good at this, he made it an art form, knows when to produce the hospital pass. 2003 was the year I became CGS. But PTSD, history seems now to be very clear, doesn’t appear immediately. The physical wound is immediate. The mental wound can take ten or more years to emerge. And that’s pretty clear from the Falklands, certainly. We’re sitting on a bit of a time bomb. There are cases now, but we are sitting properly on a time bomb and I’ll put this in the most politically neutral way I can. Most soldiers who are going to develop PTSD, by the time they do, will have left the army. Their first point of reference is their local general practitioner. Fine man or woman he or she may be, will have, in all probability, zero knowledge or even comprehension or what that patient has been through. So the GP will do his/her best to then refer to some psychiatrist, but then the same point is valid. The National Health Service, since we no longer have a defence medical service worth the name, does not have many people who really understand the mental pressure of the battlefield. What I would hope is to get defence onto the radar screen of the national debate as the next general election nears. Because it ain’t there now, and until we get it there and there is real electoral pressure about these issues, I’m afraid I’m a cynical old fart who doesn’t think much will happen from the odd, lone voice. There has to be a real groundswell of popular opinion saying “up with this we will not put.” We have to engage the people more in what we’re doing.”
General Sir David Richards: “I can’t add too much, but just to reassure you, my wife and I get this everyday. I think the Americans have a lot to teach us in this respect. You specifically mentioned the families of people affected in this way. I think for too long we’ve viewed the families of servicemen as sort of adjuncts to the main piece. We talk about welfare, now that has a pejorative overtone, of many stratus of society. As the new commander and chief down at Land Forces, I say that’s no longer good enough. We’ve got to view families as a main, core activity of the army. I think it will take a bit of time to deliver the civil service on this, because its money. But we’ve got to do it for the reason that General Mike says, that this is no longer good enough. We’re going back to my other strategic point. Until we decide what it is that we’re doing, that this is our generation’s war, this type of thing, we won’t grip it.
At the end of the Second World War I think everyone understood these things, it was a national effort. But we haven’t got that national effort today, and we need to raise the consciousness. I think people like me, as I was quoted in the Sunday Telegraph some ten days ago, I’m trying to do it, but we are walking on a bit of a tightrope serving soldiers, and that is why it is so important that Mike and others pick up this for us. But we’re doing it as well, and making sure they do understand that this was in particular to do with compensation claims. They are actually nowhere near sufficient either. But PTSD is in the same bracket, we need to raise the consciousness of everybody, and we are on the case, just to reassure you. There’s a long way to go, and all your support is dreadfully important.”
Chairman: “Sorry that I couldn’t get you in earlier this evening, but now is your chance.
Charles Bennett, opium elimination program advisor in Helmand from April 2006 to April 2007. Actually that is rather a misnomer because we ended up doing all sorts of other things as well. First of all, I among others, when arriving shortly after the British took over Helmand, I was slightly surprised to see what had been announced as a brigade was really rather more like an enlarged battalion group with a lot of …Other civilian officers present explained that everyone knew this wasn’t enough but acted, when it became apparent that more would come in. This of course has happened, but I fear this has been rather too little and too late. If indeed we had the troops there now, and had the troops there two years ago quite a lot could have been achieved. Many opportunities have been missed. The population generally, because of this and because of a failure to deliver development is slipping away from us. Most people who are apt to be on our side are losing faith both in the West and in the Afghan government. Helmand is an agricultural province, and any solution to the narcotics problem cannot be dealt with separately, it is intimately bound up with security and development, so the solution has to be agriculturally based.
To my knowledge there has not been a single British agriculturalist there since an American agriculturalist left some months after we took over. What money has been spent there, a lot being wasted on people like myself, has often been put into projects that are at best meaningless and at worst negative. An example being, building checkpoints with Afghan national police which the population were begging us to stop, but were being done in some cases, purely because it counted as development and people could expend part of their budget. I keep in touch with my old team, the same problem still arises, as we mentioned earlier. Six month tours particularly for intelligence and ops staff, commanders but also infantry units. As I know having been a native officer in the UDR in Northern Ireland, in that if you’re a native, as I was, you know that just as the troops are getting used to it, and know what they’re doing, they’re pulling out. Of course, with all respect to the family side of this matter, does mean we’ll lose operational effectiveness that our American colleagues can actually probably gain from. Earlier in the evening I mentioned forming an equivalent to the old frontier scouts units in Pakistan.
I can see the attraction of this, but with all respect to the general, I fear that the local perception of the Afghan national military police in Helmand was that indeed we were licensing bandits, and this was what the Americans came to as a conclusion. On the contrary, the Afghan national army was generally well received, certainly MP units. The AMP in general is the greatest recruiting sergeant the Taliban has. So another effect of inadequate troops on the ground, as has been mentioned; excessive use of air power, force because we have to defend ourselves, but also we rely on people___(tape cuts off)“
Countess Esterhazy: “General Sir David, and also to Geoffrey James and I liked your humour. You are a true diplomat, and the government is a fool not to use you as an expert. Secondly, my concern is that if we go down this route of which the press want to embrace us in. Afghan is a lost cause. If you speak to people, oh it’s been going on a long time. That is not a good idea.
We have to be optimistic. We must be optimist and we must support the future. Because having decided we should go and do something we must now carry it through. No man setting his hind to the plough must look back. I think it was a biblical text quotation. If we don’t, our troops will be disheartened. We must give them the moral support they need. It is a good war, and I believe in Afghanistan there are some good projects going on that I support. We must find a way of employing the people so they don’t join the Taliban and we must try and support those who are doing a very good job out there, because if we don’t the whole thing will fall apart. So full marks to the general, full marks to all those who are trying to do something, and let’s try to get our government behind this, and get the press behind it, and stop them being negative, and let them get positive. Thank you. (murmur) No there is no question; it’s a comment of support. I’m a moral supporter.”
Chairman: “Can you give your name please?”
John Quick, E-AG member. “When you mentioned the coup, you should know President Karzai has just allowed the royal family to be able to search for the burials. So the mourning of Afghanistan’s political situation can perhaps start when those people are properly buried. I think that is an important issue. To you sir, I just wanted to ask you firstly if you knew that the …strategic settlement has been agreed by John Nigaponti(?) between India, Afghanistan and Pakistan. In effect, arranging an arc of stability between the military to bring economic base. And as in the old days when one could drive from Delhi to Kabul, it may be now be a realistic view. I’d just like your comment on whether the military has been in your thoughts or if you had any involvement in that. It’s a very important issue that a lot of people have been working on for many years, particularly the business sector.
The second question is as far as what one regards as the military and the NGO, we have 2,000 NGOs in Afghanistan at the moment, we have 40,000 troops as you say. Forty different countries are there, and 62 other countries who are wanting influence in Afghanistan, with a terribly weak government. I think it’s very wrong for people to downgrade President Karzai at the moment. We need stability in governance, and I’d just like you to answer that. Whether in your role of bringing the military, did you have anything to do with the NGO community? Because I know they’re very jealous of the military because you do get on and do things. I had that experience because I was working for the Ministry of Education in both the interim government and the transitional government. We were only able to do things quickly with the military, the NGO community did hold us back. So just those two comments, thank you.
Well, the Arc question; I was very involved in the early period of that development, mainly between the Pakistan and Afghan armies. The Indians came on late. I think it’s a very good thing in principle, but I wait to see how it flowers and if it flowers. The armies are very influential in those areas, but actually, with the exception of the Pakistan army, they are very much dominated by the political environment from which they spring. I don’t think, at the moment, the atmosphere between Pakistan and Afghanistan, for very good reason and from both perspectives, is sufficiently good to give me huge confidence that it’s going to lead to anything particularly useful in the short-term.
It’s a necessary start to a regional approach. I would say the Indians and the Pakistanis are hugely suspicious of each other. As much as I like and admire both nations in many respects, they cannot help but be mischievous with each other. I saw it on a daily basis and of course the Afghans were, to a degree, exploiting both those nation’s predilection to behave in that way, which wasn’t very helpful.
So I think it’s an early but useful start, long way to go. As far as the NGOs are concerned, we did take our responsibility as the one organisation in Kabul that had the capacity to organise, very seriously. The military’s bread and butter is analysis, planning, decision, implementation. You’d be surprised how few other organisations do that. If you think here in London, in Whitehall, forget it. What they think is a strategy, as General Mike said earlier, we think of as a couple of loosely connected thoughts. In a tension and violence-strewn environment like Afghanistan, we suddenly found the NGOs coming to us. Fortune favours the brave.
On May 30th, 2006, there was rioting in Kabul. For the first time, the people at the NGOs, diplomats, all that sort of thing, realised that this thing wasn’t going so well. It was the result of an accident when an American convoy ploughed, quite accidentally actually, into a small market. If that had not happened, I would not have gotten the support of various people to form the policy action group, which actually did, although it’s a slightly oblique answer to your question, lead to much greater cooperation across the peace. It just shows that without that event, President Karzai himself would not have done it. I went to Annif Atma(?), the education minister, and told him I needed his support. I couldn’t get traction on anything. …house of commons I said that I described the international community’s effort as a narkick(?) particularly with respect to the NGOs. I said we’ve got to have some mechanism.
You think they would have had it after four years. There was no mechanism for bringing together the Afghan government and the Irani government, or President Karzai, save for on his mobile phone. That’s the way they do business. No way to get his government ministers together with the international community. It took us soldiers to realise that this couldn’t work, and it took that one event to persuade people to do it. (Inaudible reply from the audience) I’m not talking about our response to that, that was a different thing. But the event itself led to much greater cooperation. Without that event, I don’t think they would have it today.
As it is it’s hardly working, not as it should have done, but we do have a mechanism for doing it. I apologise for the length of my answer. It’s very important. The NGOs had a long way to come to us as well. We’re going to them; we used to have frequent security briefings and all that sort of thing. But you’re right; there is an innate caution and slight antipathy, in some cases considerable antipathy to the military. We’ve got to work, ourselves, in overcoming that, as well as them coming to us.”
Chair: “There are still a number of people trying to catch my eye. The witching hour has arrived. I’ll allow one more question as long as it is brief.”
Jonathan Mueller: “Yes I will be very brief. My name is Jonathan Mueller, I used to speak for Dick Cheney, I used to speak for Madeleine Albright. Tonight I only speak for myself, thank god.
Do it briefly please! Don’t interrupt me! (laughter) I have friends in the United States, highly decorated military officers who now are writing papers about how it’s impossible for an outside power to win a counter insurgency, so there is no point in trying. Now, for better or for worse, the United States still has the capacity to lead that nobody else does. So I take this as a very dangerous exercise in isolationism. I would like to hear from both General Sir David and General Sir Mike, what you make of this trend.”
General Sir David Richards: “It’s a really important point that goes to the heart of this big issue that I was getting at. Are we in our generation’s equivalent, and I am careful how I term it, equivalent of the Second World War, or the First World War. Is this our generation’s conflict of a generation or is it not? If you feel it’s not, then you can take the view that those senior American officers have taken.
You could probably get away with it. It’s difficult, it’s costly, all the things we know. I personally believe that that is unacceptable and that one of the countries concerned…actually deserve better of us than the isolationism that you’re hinting at. It is very expensive, it takes long-term commitment, it needs more troops, it needs less tanks. If you’re looking for a substitute; aircraft carriers, submarines, and that sort of thing would do, if you can afford both, and I’m personally pretty convinced we can. It’s a hugely important issue, I don’t believe it’s not winnable, I just believe it needs a lot more effort. It can be done. And if not, if we lose, the people of Afghanistan will be much poorer, but so will our people. It will come back to bite, I’m certain of that. “
General Sir Mike Jackson: “I’m sitting my protégé asunder. He does it better than I do now. Everything just said, amen. Can I put one more thought in your head, that this is not primarily a military business. We are talking about situations of conflict. And conflict, by and large, is a political activity from which there can really only be a political solution. The role of soldiers, and indeed policemen, and indeed of NGOs, and indeed of engineers, and indeed of lawyers, I mean whoever comes in to help this transition through, the end game is a political solution. What is the purpose of intervention? A country at peace with itself, stable, at peace with its neighbours, with some institutions that work, rule of law perhaps, a difficult concept for some, an economy moving on, humanitarian problems solved, refugees are home. There is an essential part for soldiers to play in this, but it is far from sufficient. It is all those things, the comprehensive approach of which we’ve spoken. That is what it’s about. Easy to say, bloody difficult to achieve, particularly when some of the other actors seems reluctant to come on the stage.”
Chair: “Despite the unanswered questions and the quest for more information about this, we’ll never learn enough about it anyway, I think you’ve had a most wonderful enlightenment this evening. Rarely have I heard so much candour given so freely and openly. I think that not only Sir David, but also Sir Mike, he keeps coming back like the song, doesn’t he? Both of them deserve the most hearty round of applause. (applause) Our activities wouldn’t be concluded properly were it not for a formal vote of thanks, and would you believe we have another general here? It’s a remarkable evening in that sense. I’m going to hand it over now to General Sir Gary Johnson, who was so helpful to me in the Caucasus and the Balkans. When you’re giving your vote of thanks, will you present this to our main speaker please? It’s the only fee that he’s getting for the evening.”
General Sir Gary Johnson: “Generals, buy one, get three free. We hunt in packs, Frank. At this stage you don’t want a lot of talk from another speaker, so I want just to pick out a couple of points before proposing a formal vote of thanks. At the end of the Cold War, I sat in the office of the Chief of the general staff of the Russian army, lately the Soviet army, and on his wall was a picture of red hillsides, blue sky, helicopters, gun ships, tanks, firing going on. I said “Afghanistan?” He said yes, I said “Were you there?” He said “Yes, I was divisional commander.” I said “If you came to my country, I could take you to many places where you’d see a similar picture, but instead of tanks, there’d be horses. And if you’d asked us, we’d have said don’t invade Afghanistan.” We did it three times, this is the fourth. I wonder what he’s saying now. (laughter)
But, we are there and we are where we are. If you listened to the two generals today, you’d have taken two themes from them. The first is great pride in what our soldiers are doing and the way that we are handling it. We can take great pride in the way the commanders are handling it. That is a theme that we need to put our support behind. The second theme is one of great frustration. From a recent chief of the general staff to present commander and chief of the army, general frustration with what the military are being asked to do with the resources they are being given and the impact that is having on the soldiers, the soldiers’ families and our ability to sustain this pressure over a long period of time.
Make no mistake, I can see it, because I’m out of it, but our army is taut as a piece of elastic, and we don’t want to pull it tauter. There is a real problem looming that has come up today that politicians have got to get their minds around. Are they going to back it or are they going to back off it? They are not willing to grasp that in either of the main parties at present. Now the thing about strategy where the frustration came out, reminded me that I recently sat with an American friend and he said to me “Do you recall why the Roman Empire fell apart?” I said “Well I think I was taught at school that it was because they got a bit fat, dumb, and happy and they got pretty corrupt, and they lost the will to win.” He said “Absolutely right, and that’s what you are getting now. But what was the real reason they fell apart?” I said “You tell me.” He said “Their total failure to control mass immigration from less fortunate parts of the world.”
Well, that’s a bit black and white but there is a thought in that, and it relates to what David has been saying about this generation’s war and the way that warfare and strategy is going. We are not fighting the wars that our fathers and grandfathers fought. But if we don’t understand the problems that are on us and the threats which are on us, which are those of turbulence, water, resources, population, ideologies, pressures. If we don’t think in those terms, then we will be planning for the last war. And it’s not just this generation’s war, as David rightly says, it’s our children’s war, and our grandchildren’s war. If it isn’t a war, it’s a struggle to keep our freedom and our values and our way of life as we know it now, and for which we are so grateful. We need to take very careful heed of what General David is telling us, backed up by Mike Jackson, about the way we’re going forward to the future. It’s a muddle at present, we need greater clarity in it. Now as we came in here today,
I reminded David that we served together happily, I think it was happily, a quarter of a century ago. He reminded me that it was his job to keep me going on… by feeding me oatmeal biscuits. I think he was saying to himself, “you only got to the top of the army because I was feeding you oatmeal biscuits.” So I reminded him that I had the last word. So that I can say he only got to the top of the army, clearly, by feeding his superiors oatmeal biscuits at all times. But to be serious for a minute, we’ve had a smashing evening. We’ve had addresses from David which give me great hope and great belief the army is in good hands. If you have commanders of the breadth of vision, and the straightforwardness and the openness and the character of General David Richards, by god we’re a lucky country. Sir we thank you for the evening, thank you”. (applause)