Tuesday 4 August 2009

A report someone didn't want you to read

Clearly someone in Whitehall didn't want too many people to read Britain's Parliamentary Select Committee on Foreign Affairs' report on Afghanistan. They chose to release it on Sunday, immediately after the House of Commons had closed for its extended summer holiday and without issuing a press release.
Entitled Global Security: Afghanistan and Pakistan, the report is strongly (but carefully) critical of the present government's policy (there is a Labour majority on the committee), but more critical of both EU and American policy under President George W Bush. Germany also comes in for criticism for failing to train the Afghan police.
On American policy, the report says:
"Some, though certainly not all, of the responsibility for problems in Afghanistan since 2001 must be attributed to the direction of US policy in the years immediately after the military intervention in 2001. The unilateralist tendencies of the US under the Bush administration, and its focus on military goals to the exclusion of many other strategically important issues, set the tone for the international community’s early presence in Afghanistan."
The committee is also critical of Coalition bombing, saying that:
"The use of air power and acts of considerable cultural insensitivity on the part of some Coalition Forces over an extended period have done much to shape negative perceptions among ordinary Afghans about the military and the international effort in Afghanistan. This problem has caused damage, both real and perceived, that will in many instances be difficult to undo."
For those of you not used to the UK system, these reports are compiled by MPs, who take both written and oral evidence. They are published without interference by ministers and are often critical of government policy. Even so, this report is particularly critical of both UK government and international policy.
The committee makes strong points about corruption, concluding that "virtually no tangible progress has been made in tackling the endemic problem of corruption, and that in many cases the problem has actually become worse. ... policy commitments, action plans and all manner of strategies are of little value if they are not accompanied by the political will on the part of the Afghan President and government to drive forward change and tackle corruption at senior levels."
It says Britain should relinquish its role as lead nation on drug eradication in Afghanistan and cede this responsibility to the UN, together with ISAF.
Overall, the international community "has delivered much less than it promised and that its impact has been significantly diluted by the absence of a unified vision and strategy, grounded in the realities of Afghanistan’s history, culture and politics."
On the subject of Pakistan, the committee singles out the madrassahs for criticism and suggests Saudi funding is behind some of the most radical ones. The committee has noted a change of attitude by some Pakistani generals but remains concerned that "this may not necessarily be replicated elsewhere within the army and ISI."
The report suggests the British government should "address" the problems created by the imposition of the Durand Line on local Pashtun tribes. Good luck on that one, particularly since the report also reveals, astonishingly, that no-one in the Foreign Office can speak Pashto!
Other problems noted:
  • "We conclude that there has been significant ‘mission creep’ in the British deployment to Afghanistan".
  • "The UK deployment to Helmand was undermined by unrealistic planning at senior levels, poor co-ordination between Whitehall departments and crucially, a failure to provide the military with clear direction".
One final point: some of the best material submitted to this inquiry is not included in the main report. For that you have to dig into the background documents. Check out the evidence given by intrepid journalist Sean Langan who was held as a prisoner on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border for two months earlier this year. He made his oral presentation shortly after being set free. Of his captivity, he says:
"On my most recent trip, I became all too aware of just how much of a safe-haven the tribal areas of Pakistan have become. I was surrounded by Taliban training camps, who test-fired their weapons on a daily basis, and I was told Arab mujahideen openly patrol the roads. And before being released after three months in captivity - I was brought to a Taliban safe-house in Peshawar, just minutes away from the Pakistan military HQ. Which is why I agree with the American general who said NATO operations in Afghanistan are like "mowing the lawn". The seeds of the insurgency are sown in Pakistan, and that is where the focus needs to be."
Can't disagree with that.

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