Examination of Witnesses (Questions 69-79)|
TUESDAY 22 JANUARY 2002
Today, Mr Bergne, we continue our inquiry into
the foreign policy aspects of the campaign against terrorism.
We have three groups of witnesses: the second on terrorism, as
such, and its exponents; the third on the Middle East; and you,
Mr Bergne, we welcome on Afghanistan and Central Asia. We welcome
you as a former adviser to the Committee; a distinguished ambassador
both to Uzbekistan and Tajikistan; and, latterly, in October and
November of last year, the Prime Minister's envoy to Afghanistan
and, effectively, to the Northern Alliance. We look forward to
your evidence to assist the Committee in this critical area.
69. Can I ask you some questions in the context
of the Bonn negotiations and the agreement on provisional arrangements
in Afghanistan. I believe you wrote that, "During my mission
I was able to play a certain role in moving the Northern Alliance
leaders towards accepting the concessions that would be necessary
in forming a post-Taliban government". What concessions did
the Northern Alliance leaders make to secure the agreement at
Bonn? Why did they make these concessions, and to whom? Secondly,
to what extent does the authority of the new interim administration
extend throughout Afghanistan?
(Mr Bergne) I should emphasise the reference
there to "on the wings" or "the peripheral".
Could you read again what I said.
70. "During my mission I was able to play
a certain role . . . ."
(Mr Bergne) I was not a member of the British observer
delegation, which was headed by Robert Cooper, who is a member
of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. It was agreed with the
Prime Minister that I should go to see if I could be of any assistance
in the wings of the conference. I think I was of some marginal
assistance, in that I agreed with Robert Cooper that, for example,
one group which the British observer team had not been able to
establish contact with, and about which the British observers
knew relatively little, was the so-called Cyprus group. There
were several groups represented at Bonn: one being the Rome group
which represented the King; one being a group from Pakistan, who
were largely Pashtuns in exile in Northern Pakistan; and there
was another group called the Cyprus group with whom the UK had
relatively little contact. I was able to establish contact with
them, and introduce them to Robert Cooper. I also was able to
establish contact with Mir Wais son of Ismail Khan who, if you
remember, was one of the warlords in the Northern Alliance operating
in the area of Herat. He was representing his father at the conference.
The British observer group had not had any contact with him before
then. I also established contact with the daughter and son-in-law
of Pir Gailani who was a Pashtun exile in Northern Pakistan, with
whom they had not had any contact either. My function really,
insofar as it was useful, was in introducing these people to the
British team. I should make it clear that the British observer
group was an observer group, because they did not take part in
the actual negotiations between the different parties from Afghanistan,
which was organised of course by the United Nations. These negotiations
between the different Afghan groups took place behind closed doors
in rooms to which the observer team did not have access. I think,
by introducing these various groups, with which the British team
had not had contact up until then, I was able to promote a dialogue
between them and the British observer group and promote the observer
group's knowledge of their attitude and position.
71. I understand the point you are making that
you were assisting observers rather than part of the negotiations.
Are you basically saying to the committee you are not able to
answer these questions because you do not have any information
about what concessions were made and to whom? "In your view"
would perhaps be a way of phrasing it.
(Mr Bergne) I can give you my opinion. The Northern
Alliance was represented by a man called General Qanuni, who was
the Minister of the Interior and is now the Minister of the Interior
in the new government. He represented both the Panjshir group
of the Northern Alliance, that is to say, Dr Abdullah, General
Fahim Khan and President Rabbani, all of whom were members of
the Tajik group of the Northern Alliance. I think when the Northern
Alliance was victorious in Kabul there was a certain feeling amongst
some of them perhaps that they deserved a good degree of recognition
in the forthcoming government: while, on the other hand, accepting
that of course Pashtuns would have to play a role in the future
government of Afghanistan, their main concern being how do you
find Pashtuns who were not being infected with the Taliban's virus,
to coin a phrase. I think the concessions which they made, if
you like, were first of all on the part of President Rabbani,
that he should abandon his hopes of remaining President of a state,
which he had been recognised to be by the United Nations up until
that point; and by the military leadership that they would perhaps
not remain in complete military control of the country after their
victory, and would have to allow the United Nations to form a
multilateral force to go in.
72. To what extent does the authority of the
new interim administration extend throughout Afghanistan, in your
(Mr Bergne) I do not know is the answer to that. I
have not been associated with Afghanistan since I came back.
73. Then you may have difficulties with the
next few questions. To what extent do senior figures in Afghanistan's
interim administration view themselves as acting on behalf of
the Afghan people as a whole? Is there a danger that the administration
might become divided along ethnic lines? Finally, how vulnerable
politically is Hamid Karzai, and to whom? Has the interim authority
headed by him grown stronger or weaker since it was established
(Mr Bergne) I think in answer to the first question,
clearly, there is a danger that rivalries may develop between
not only ethnic groups but regional groups in Afghanistan. There
is no doubt that some people in the government may see themselves
as representing their region or their ethnic group rather than
Afghanistan as a whole. At the same time, I think there is a widespread
recognition that regional and ethnic problems have been one of
the factors behind the instability in Afghanistan in recent years,
and indeed behind the war, and efforts must be made to overcome
that. I am reasonably optimistic that the different ethnic groups
represented realise that they have to rub along togethernot
so much rub along together, because they have rubbed along together
one way or another in the history of Afghanistan, and there have
been periods when they have got on very well one with the otherbut
that they should see themselves as representing Afghanistan as
a state and the people of Afghanistan as a people, rather than
just their regional interests.
Sir John Stanley
74. I would like, Mr Bergne, to take us back
a few months to the point between the September 11 atrocities
and the subsequent decision to go to war to remove the Taliban
regime. The war has resulted in large damage cost, running into
very substantial sums of money, and has also, of course, resulted
in the deaths of a significant number of civilian casualties.
That war would have been avoidable if the Taliban regime had been
prepared to give up Osama bin Laden. The Prime Minister, when
he made his second statement to the House on 4 October, said this:
"We must bring bin Laden and other al-Qaeda leaders to justice
and eliminate the terrorist threat that they pose. We must ensure
that Afghanistan ceases to harbour and sustain international terrorism.
If the Taliban regime will not comply with that objective we must
bring about change in that regime to ensure that Afghanistan's
links to international terrorism are broken". The question
I would like to ask you is this: do you think, with obviously
now the benefit of hindsight, there was any realistic prospect
of the international community being able to avoid the war in
Afghanistan by bringing pressure in a different way, in a more
intense way, on the Taliban regime so that they responded to what
the British Prime Minister and President Bush were demanding at
the beginning of October, namely the giving up to the international
community of Osama bin Laden and his close associates?
(Mr Bergne) Briefly, no. I think that both the British
Government and the American Government examined what alternative
forms of pressure there might be, to which you refer; and, indeed,
examined these together with the Government of Pakistan, which
played a very significant role, as you will remember, in trying
to persuade the Taliban to give up bin Laden, and failed on two
separate occasions. Of course, they did not take, "No"
for an answer the first time and sent a second delegation to Kandahar
to try and persuade them to give him up. Although I was not directly
involved in the Government's deliberations at that time, from
what I heard considerable thought was given to how pressure might
be brought to bear on the Taliban government to give him up. In
the short to medium term, at any rate, no effective pressure was
75. Not putting words into your mouth, you say
it as you wish, but my understanding of that reply is that you,
from your expert position, are satisfied that the international
community, including the British Government took all reasonable,
possible steps to try to avoid having to go to war to remove the
(Mr Bergne) I do not want myself described as an expert
on what happened with regard to Afghanistan before I was asked
to go there. I was asked to go there on about 17 or 18 October
and I left four days later. Until 17 October I had no idea I was
going to go to Afghanistan; nor had I ever been to Afghanistan;
and I was not engaged in Afghanistan affairs in any way. I cannot
claim to be an expert of any sort, but particularly not in the
period before I was asked to go. Really I cannot answer that question.
What I have given you is my opinion based on what I have heard
from the press, from discussions with people in the Foreign Office,
but I have no knowledge of detail.
Sir Patrick Cormack
76. Can I just take you back to Bonn, Mr Bergne.
How great was the influence of the King behind the scenes and
those who supported him, or was it negligible?
(Mr Bergne) Negligible.
77. There was much talk at the time, as you
well remember, and has been some talk since, although not so much,
but you do not think there is any particular place for him in
the future of Afghanistan?
(Mr Bergne) No.
78. One thing you have mentioned, the bane of
Afghanistan, is the tribal conflict and warlords. Are you encouraged
by the general change, by the individuals who are represented
(Mr Bergne) Not by all, but by several of them, yes;
by many of them indeed. I think there is a strong and well educated
younger generation of Afghans who are determined to develop their
country in a different way from the path it has followed in the
79. Just following on from that, if there is
to be this new administration in Afghanistan, what kinds of assistance
do they need, other than humanitarian assistance?
(Mr Bergne) I can hardly think of any assistance they
do not need.