June 22, 2010

To Talk or Walk in Afghanistan - Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles

Amongst the furore generated by Gen. McChrystal's slagging off of his bosses and colleagues in Rolling Stone Magazine, everyone seems to have missed the fact that Britain's highest representative to the AfPak party has resigned.

It seems Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles, the British government's special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, resigned over differences concerning talks with the Taliban.

The Guardian says:

While insisting Britain should support the US, he was quoted as saying in the Canard Enchaîné: "We should tell them that we want to be part of a winning strategy, not a losing one." The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) said his remarks had been distorted.

As for the Washington Post:

He had pushed for a political solution in Afghanistan and for higher priority to be given to talks with the Taliban and other insurgent groups, while expressing skepticism that increased military force could prevail.

Quite a few officials in Afghanistan have said Sir Sherard did not see eye-to-eye with Ambassador Holbrooke, the NATO representative Mark Sedwill or Gen. McCrystal.

"Cowper-Coles has been more downbeat, warning that the current battle in Afghanistan was "a civil war" and that the international community had "backed the wrong side", according to one non-British diplomat.

"He had increasingly come to believe that "sod-all can be done" about turning round the fortunes of the nine-year war, a top diplomat said, and is believed to have pushed strongly for the withdrawal of British troops as soon as possible."

I heard Sir Sherhard speak at a dinner organised by the Pakistan Society in London a couple of weeks back. He didn't say anything telling in terms of policy, but it was easy to see from what he said and how he said it that he had figured out exactly how to strike a chord with the kind of people who run Pakistan. I'm not qualified to speak about Afghanistan policy, but Sir Sherard seems like the kind of official I'd want to listen to.