Report on UK's foreign policy approach to Afghanistan and Pakistan

02 March 2011

The British Government must use its influence to persuade the US to engage more fully, and swiftly, with the process of political reconciliation in Afghanistan if the US wishes to disengage its forces there, says the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee in today's  report.

The report states that although the current international emphasis favours intense military pressure, aimed at defeating the insurgency, it is clear that military pressure alone is not enough to bring security and stability to Afghanistan. Chair of the Committee, Richard Ottaway MP, says,

"There is a danger that without appropriate political leadership, the current military campaign is in danger of inadvertently de-railing efforts to secure a political solution to what is essentially a political problem. The US should not delay its significant involvement in talks with the Taliban leadership because, without US support in this respect, there can be no longer-term peace in Afghanistan."

The evidence presented to the Committee has suggested that the current full-scale and highly-intensive ISAF counter-insurgency campaign is not succeeding. Richard Ottaway says,

"We question the fundamental assumption that success in Afghanistan can be 'bought' through a strategy of 'clear, hold and build'. The distinction between al-Qaeda and the Taliban, which is so often overlooked or confused in current debates, is crucial to generating appropriate policy responses in Afghanistan. We question the Government's logic that a full-scale counter-insurgency campaign aimed at the Taliban is necessary to prevent al-Qaeda returning or that it could ever succeed."

Stated goals

The Committee says that despite the significant resources that have been invested in Afghanistan, and the enduring, wholehearted and admirable commitment and sacrifices of British personnel, the UK has not yet achieved its stated goals.

There is also evidence to suggest that the core foreign policy justification for the UK's continued presence in Afghanistan, namely that it is necessary in the interests of UK national security, may have been achieved some time ago, given the apparently limited strength of al-Qaeda in Afghanistan.

Although the Government disputes this, the Committee is seriously concerned that this fundamentally important assessment appears to be based on intelligence that has not been subject to parliamentary scrutiny.

2014 deadline

Ten years after its initial intervention, the international community's involvement in Afghanistan is now being heavily influenced by an ISAF-agreed 2014 deadline, when plans to transfer security and civilian control back to Afghans are due to come into force.

Yet, the security rationale behind the UK Government's decision to announce the 2015 deadline for the unconditional withdrawal of UK combat forces remains unclear and there are a number of potential risks inherent in such an approach. Richard Ottaway says,

"We recommend that the Government clarify why the decision was taken and why it was not taken in the National Security Council. However, given that the decision to announce a deadline has now been taken and could not be reversed without causing irreparable damage to the UK's standing at home and abroad, the task must be to ensure that the 2015 deadline has the effect of focusing both Afghan and international minds on the core tasks at hand."

The Committee is mindful that some of the conclusions in the Report, because they are critical of Government policy may, by implication, be interpreted as a criticism of the men and women who are applying it in the face of extremely hazardous, hostile and difficult conditions. The Committee wish to place on record that nothing could be further from the truth. Richard Ottaway MP says,

"Her Majesty's Armed Forces have our full support in tackling the challenges before them and their efforts are rightly described in so many instances as heroic. It is our hope that this Report will be received in the constructively critical manner in which it is intended, and regarded as a contribution to the wider debate which is taking place on how to improve a situation to which there are no easy solutions."

Further information

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