Written evidence submitted by John David Bowen-Jones (AFG0022)
1 David Bowen-Jones made two “World In Action’ programmes around the village of Malajat outside Kandahar in 1981 and 1989 and between 1980 and 1989 spent several weeks on several occasions around Malajat and Kandahar, Arghandab and Ghazni. He made many news reports for major TV channels around the world. He was Executive Producer of an Emmy nominated and Peabody award winning documentary on US policy (Red Flag Over the Khyber) for PBS Frontline in the US. He was co-producer and in-area Director of several FCO/COI initiated video briefings for foreign embassies.
2 A great deal of film and video was also gathered to understand and inform about events and structures on the ground but has never been made public or fully deployed. As part of that exercise some dialogue took place with British intelligence services. I have addressed the questions the Committee has set out at this stage. My answers are about my own opinions based on experience, however the unpublished material itself forms an important body of evidence that I feel should be examined and discussed at some point in the near future.
3 Material to support my evidence -
Over 9 years, I made six extended trips into Afghanistan and several to Peshawar, Islamabad, Quetta and Waziristan and visited other areas including Swat and Chitral. I stayed in combat zones mostly around Kandahar, centering on the village of Malajat. I also made film reports around Ghazni. At the end of this period I had first hand experience and involvement in discussions and arguments in the Mujahideen and local communities as ISI started to deliberately create and support (with American and Saudi supplied money and weapons) extremist factions amongst people who I knew personally. Two years later many of those people became the Taliban. They and ISI have used the same infiltration and persuasion techniques ever since. The techniques have succeeded because they have been consistent over a longer time scale than Western politicians are used to.
4 I also conducted many long interviews with President Zia Ul-Haq, Benazir Bhutto, and many of the leaders of Afghan Mujahideen, from Hekmatyar, Sayaf and other militants to many more moderate Afghan leaders. I also interviewed the US ambassador of the time and refugees. I had frequent and sometimes extended contact with intelligence operatives, ISI and smugglers of various kinds.
5 I crossed the lines and interviewed President Najibullah. I had extensive formal and informal talks with the Kabul regime´s Governor of Kandahar, and various Ministers in Kabul. In Kandahar I spoke to men and women teachers and pupils in schools, pro Government merchants and farmers, including amputees from Islamic courts. With the Mujahideen I attended Madrasa teaching sessions and Jirgas. In Islamic ad hoc local courts I spent time with judges and religious leaders and observed sentences of execution and flogging.
6 Response to questions posed on https://committees.parliament.uk/work/1465/government-policy-on-afghanistan/
7 What should the UK's objectives be in its relationship with Afghanistan? How should these be prioritised, and what trade-offs should be made to achieve them?
8 To restore the sources of local power and influence from within tribes, villages and clans and fill the void that has been occupied by the Taliban.
9 To establish viable economic systems in the rural communities that will enable the traditional Afghan local self sufficiency – albeit at a standard of wealth below the norm for many other countries.
10 To ensure some recourse to justice according to the guidance of Islamic teaching and the consent of the local populace. To make sure the functions and personnel of policing and judgement are acceptable to the local community.
11 To restore dialogue and cooperation between local actors despite slightly differing views.
12 To acquire and build intelligence to assess the above.
13 To ensure that intelligence informs policy.
14 To take a view in decades. To give the location-based foundation re-building, referred to above, priority over shorter term solutions based on military action or centrally enforced ideas.
15 To make sure that the links between intelligence and knowledge on the ground is recognised and is then co-ordinated. Intelligence assessment, FCO and Intelligence service advice, Ministerial review and briefings to Downing Street must be linked together. Downing Street must inform their policies with closer knowledge of what is happening and how it is happening outside the cities in Afghanistan.
16To actively resist efforts by the ISI and other elements in Pakistan to encourage extreme Islam in Afghanistan.
17 To support more moderate civilian rule in Pakistan.
18 To prevent allies from using obvious advantages of military and economic power to try short cut solutions against what is happening on the ground, where Afghans rather than outside actors actually live.
19 Stop using power dynamics based on urban developed societies. Respect and understand the usefulness as well as the limitations of a traditional way of life that turns out to be capable of safer and more humane ways of existence than the alternatives brought to bear on Afghanistan by superpowers since 1979.
20 To understand and work to influence Afghan society and adjust social norms by identifying key local actors, working out why and how they can mobilise local support and how they can be supported or resisted to promote long term UK policies.
21 All of the above calls on intelligence to observe and analyse on the ground by recruiting, supporting and training UK or Allied personnel who speak Pushtu and Dari. It is also necessary to find Afghan national and tribal assets inside Afghanistan that are developed with in-depth local knowledge and not with wishful thinking. This very difficult task will demand a long view and deep involvement, assessment and continuity at senior levels within Government.
22 What steps is the Government taking – alone and with partners – to mitigate the impact of the Taliban takeover on UK security, with particular reference to terrorist groups such as Al-Qaeda and ISIS?
23 The Taliban have gained power by filling voids created by failed institutions, by exploiting distrust of the importation of out of area forces and police and by reforms that have failed, often because of the speed and superficiality of the attempts that have been made
24Evidence – Bad roads built, weapons and money given to the wrong people, lack of knowledge of what happens to money spent, acceptance of misinformation from Pakistan, reluctance to act on intelligence about unsuitable leaders (Karzai, Hamid Gul in Kandahar).
25 What are the humanitarian and human rights implications of the Taliban takeover? How can the UK support those at risk – particularly women and girls – both in the immediate and longer term? What steps is the Government taking to do this?
26 Outside my area of detailed knowledge. I have observed that women in certain roles (for example, women reporters in combat or unstable areas) are accorded “Honorary Man” status by even traditional tribal leaders. There may be defined Ministerial functions for women as a starting point that could be tolerated by the Taliban, not a satisfactory policy but the longest journey starts with small steps. Empowering women in small ways in rural communities is as important as awarding university degrees in the capital.
27 What does the withdrawal from Afghanistan mean for future UK foreign policy, including relations with the US, the Indo-Pacific tilt, and the strategic approach to overseas aid?
28 The order of importance of the factors you mention should be reversed. Overseas aid and the development of intelligence from inside Afghanistan should be first priority. A similar re-evaluation of the benefits of a longer term approach apply in other areas.
29 Whatever the effects of an Indo-Pacific tilt, the key to productive engagement is to be recognised as a knowledgeable and above all consistent partner. Consistency depends on not attempting impossible or inadequately researched and assessed initiatives.
30 Relations with the US, Pakistan or other partners should not obscure the UK´s own analysis and judgement. Just because a train is moving does not mean it is going in the right direction.
31 How does the Taliban takeover affect the role of Russia, China and other powers in the region, and how does this affect UK interests? Where do regional powers’ interests overlap with those of the UK – including on security, migration, and economic ties – and how can the UK work effectively with these states to pursue them?
32 Outside my area of detailed knowledge
33 How should the UK approach any opposition or armed resistance to the Taliban?
34 Investigate the level of support amongst the community from whence it comes. Work out how economic support and training might be reliably supplied - and from whom and by which routes.. Assess how law enforcement, medical services and necessary seeds, livestock, markets, irrigation and refugee services would function during resistance to Taliban. Wait for as long as it takes for the time to be right before intervening.
35 What MY OWN EXPERIENCE and examination of my film and video observations show -
36 The Taliban are a natural consequence of the war that began in 1979 and the processes that developed thereafter. British intelligence knew that the situation would give power to Islamic extremists. That intelligence came from information about what was happening on the ground. The British Government were presented with the intelligence and information contained in this report from the 1980’s onwards. The information was not developed or acted on and had no influence on policy.
37 Recently, in the House of Commons, former Prime Minister, The Right Honourable Theresa May MP asked the Prime Minister, “British intelligence was so poor that we didn't foresee the Taliban's rapid march on Kabul. Did the UK government fail to understand – or ignore - the fragility of the Afghan government and forces?
38 In this report I intend to evidence the “failure to act’’ over the decades and to highlight the consequences of this.
39 THE FIRST MISTAKE
40 There was failure to develop or act on the intelligence available inside the communities in Afghanistan outside Kabul.
This war started 40 years ago not 20. The rise of the Mujahideen began as they fought the Russian backed regime in the eighties. Of 7 armed Mujahideen groups fighting the Afghan Communist regime around Kandahar during the eighties, at least 3 of the largest were moderate groups with popular support among villages and farms (including Malajat). In the early eighties British intelligence was aware of the moderates and had reports on the cultures that kept their social structures viable. The actual interactions and alliances on the ground were not followed or communicated by Western Intelligence agencies.
41 THE SECOND MISTAKE
42 Best judgement and consistent focus was diverted by the agendas of US and Pakistan.
43 US and Saudi supplied money and arms were diverted by Pakistan ISI to the Haqquani network, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and other extremist groups vital to Taliban success. Moderates and communities that they were part of were were deprived, tricked out of and robbed of the support they needed. The US supported and enforced this policy.
44 We see a failure to understand or use the tribal code of Pashtunwali, its influence on Islam and the common factors with our own aims. We did not talk directly or sufficiently to Afghan actors on the ground. We did not support or help to grow indigenous moderate forces. Taking an Afghan insider's view, we did not identify or counter the fulcrum points used by extremists in rural and other key communities
45 THE THIRD MISTAKE
British Intelligence may have failed to act according to their own judgement or gave up trying to inform the policies
45a What was actually happening in rural communities was increasingly ignored and much understanding about it was dissipated. What information and understanding that was gathered was ignored by Ministers.
46 Like so many current policies, intelligence services and policy makers did not consistently seek out or use what was actually happening to the communities and relationships on the ground in Afghanistan.
47 THE FOURTH MISTAKE
48 In the UK, the chain of intelligence from the Afghan countryside, through the FCO and on to Downing Street and from there to policy development seems to have been broken. (The elements in this chain need to be examined in detail in a suitable environment).
The power given by us to the wrong people within Afghan rural communities ensured that extremism triumphed. British intelligence at first seemed to understand this but eventually. acquiesced.
49 Why did UK Ministers not listen or demand any answers? Why were Afghan farmers, tribes, villages and families in the key areas around Kandahar and in other areas ignored in policy development?
50 Policies were developed outside Afghanistan and in ignorance of Afghan communal culture and activities.
51 The US ambassador to Pakistan in the eighties declared that US policy in Pakistan and Afghanistan was driven by the aim of protecting oil supplies. The policies of US intelligence agencies were naive and based on ignorance. This in turn misinformed the US Administration and the military – who coerced and distracted their allies.
52 Because no assistance was provided for yearly seed and irrigation repairs, the war bred groups who alone had substantial income and advantages from Pakistan Intelligence Service (ISI).
53 The lack of law and order made local arrangements for judges and courts of crucial importance. Civilians were desperate for protection from crime and robbery. Moderate and competent judges and Mullahs were ousted in favour of well funded and comparatively heavily armed Islamic executioners.
54 Arrangements could have been made between the Kabul and Provincial government to talk directly with a majority of local factions to minimize civilian casualties, promote the free movement of doctors, protect trade centres and arrangements and keep agricultural land and irrigation viable. No Western intelligence agencies helped in these arrangements or understood how they could be developed.
55 Lack of action in populated rural areas and cities outside Kabul has consequences
56 In some cases, armed extremist groups and other warlords were rapists. The Taliban started when students (called Taliban) went to punish rapists at a roadblock that a warlord had set up near Kandahar. We are responsible for such warlords being armed, paid and supplied. We failed to support those many tribal and village leaders who agreed with our own civic values and had alternatives to Taliban methods and personnel.
57 I have extensive film and video records gathered over 9 years that show the facts on the ground that were ignored by our own establishment. It shows how resistance to the Soviet Union and Arab terrorists alike sprung naturally from rural people and Afghan tribal and social structures. It shows the distinctively Afghan local justice and social interactions that were suborned and sabotaged by outsiders with US and Saudi money.
Carelessness and mistakes in the Pushtu areas in south Afghanistan and Pakistan over 40 years (not 20) enabled the rise of Islamic extremists and the creation of the Taliban.
58 A specific example
After the Russian exit, a Colonel from Pakistan ISI was in the area offering arms and money and even ground to ground missiles to those groups that would support Islamic extremists (focused on groups led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and Haqquani network, people who are now senior in today’s Taliban). In contrast to the cease-fire and cooperation suggested by the majority of Mujahideen at that time, these groups wanted to bombard the city and civilians of Kandahar with missiles to force immediate regime change.
59 Just after the Russians left, the mujahideen offered a ceasefire in the area surrounding Kandahar and asked me to present it to the then Afghan President Najibullah (“The butcher of Kabul”). I surrendered to the Khad (Afghan security police) and after interrogation was flown to Kabul by Afghan military aircraft where I interviewed the President and ministers. They were interested in the proposals which were followed up. I was escorted back to a Mujahideen area near Kandahar and rejoined the guerilla fighters, mostly National Front of Afghanistan, a moderate group in active cooperation with most of the war lords and factions in the area.
60 Available detailed recordings and explanation
My films show attacks by Mujahideen, Sharia law trials, extremist and moderate judges, behind the scenes meetings and arguments between different factions, uncompromising statements by the US ambassador at the time, Islamic Afghan leaders and fighters (not an exhaustive list).
I had 12 Mujahideen bodyguards while in and around Kandahar in the eighties, I am told 6 eventually became Taliban in the nineties.
61 Proof of the above evidence is the film of all this activity including arguments in the villages and interviews with major players in Pakistan, Kabul and on the ground. Knowledge of the relationships and influences could have prevented Taliban dominance if acted upon. What knowledge there was, was never acted upon, ceased to be gathered and was knowingly sabotaged by US policies. The purpose of the British intelligence actions and plans in this situation is not known. But we know that they had awareness. British Ministers showed little interest in getting further information or developing different approaches – in my opinion.
Some of the film material has been shown in public but a lot of it has not been. Intelligence agencies and the military have I believe obtained access to some of it. I have colleagues and friends who between them have made more that 40 trips inside Afghanistan who have similar material.
62 Links to some relevant video-
63 A film made that follows a moderate religious leader Ismael Gailani and the village of Malajat http://www.tvppclientarea.uk/wp-content/uploads/clientassets/AfghanDBJ/WhenNightComesToKandaharWIAdbj.mp4
64 This “World In Action” was among very few made by an indie production company (TV Production Partnership Ltd- my own company). This long version details rivalries between Kandahar groups and has not been shown in public