Cablegate: Paddy Ashdown On Way Forward in Afghanistan

DE RUEHLO #2596/01 3231612
R 191612Z NOV 09

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 LONDON 002596


E.O. 12958: DECL: 11/12/2019


Classified By: Classified By: Richard LeBaron, Deputy Chief of Mission, for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d)

1. (C//NF) Summary. British Parliamentarian and former UN High Representative in Bosnia Lord Paddy Ashdown recently shared his views with DCM LeBaron on the way forward in Afghanistan. Ashdown stressed that while finding a solution would not be easy, success was absolutely critical. Any strategy for the way forward must address three key issues: 1) legitimize Karzai, 2) deal with corruption and 3) provide for decentralization. Public support, both at home and in the field, is contingent on building a better case and crafting a better message. Our messages must resonate in the West as well as in Afghanistan. Provided that the new U.S. strategy addresses these main concerns, Ashdown assured us that we could count on Liberal Democratic Party support for the long haul. End Summary.

2. (SBU) British Parliamentarian and former UN High Representative in Bosnia Lord Paddy Ashdown recently shared his views with DCM LeBaron on the way forward in Afghanistan, a subject on which he has written frequently in the local press. As a senior political figure and former leader of Britain,s third largest party, Ashdown,s opinions carry significant weight, particularly in light of his military expertise and former international roles.

Success is Critical -------------------

3. (C//NF) Ashdown observed that while there was neither a good nor an easy solution in Afghanistan, failure would likely result in total chaos. Such chaos would lead to a breeding ground for extremists, a source of international instability. Failure would also deliver what Ashdown referred to as possibly a "fatal blow" to NATO's credibility.

Legitimize Karzai and Deal with Corruption ------------------------------------------

4. (C//NF) &Karzai II must be different from Karzai I,8 Ashdown insisted. There can be no progress without a change in the status quo. There need to be significant credible and meaningful reforms if Karzai is to regain any national and international legitimacy -- including rooting out corruption. Until and unless the corruption is dealt with it will be increasingly difficult to deal with a Karzai government. Ashdown noted that one of his top priorities had he actually been appointed as UN Commissioner to Afghanistan would have been to build up and train an independent judiciary capable of tackling the corruption within the government.

Decentralize ------------

5. (C//NF) Ashdown argued that one of the initial mistakes made in Afghanistan was to impose the Western model of centralized government on a society that has been dominated by tribes for over a thousand years. If we want to be successful, he said, we need to work within the existing social context and support a more decentralized approach. Ashdown added that building up the local and regional structures would have the added benefit of weakening Karzai's personal control, enhancing the government,s international legitimacy.

Winning Public Support at Home and on the Ground --------------------------------------------- ---

6. (C//NF) Noting the low levels of support for the war in Afghanistan among the British public, Ashdown argued that if HMG wants to win public support it needs to do a better job of making the case -- convincing the public this is important and demonstrating on the ground the ability to turn the situation around. The British public has not had to deal with such large numbers of casualties in recent history. That said, Ashdown argued, they are ¬ squeamish8 and will &be in for the long haul8 once the case is properly made.

7. (C//NF) Perhaps as important as finding a new message at home is the challenge of finding a new message on the ground, Ashdown said. &Making the world safe for democracy,8 simply does not resonate well in Afghanistan; it is far too Western-centric. Ashdown argued that, if we want to win over the Afghan public, the international community will have to come up with a message that Afghans can support.

Liberal Democrats Support in Afghanistan ---------------------------------------- LONDON 00002596 002 OF 002

8. (C//NF) Ashdown assured us that, if President Obama,s Afghanistan strategy addresses some of these concerns, the U.S. can count on Liberal Democratic support. This fits with party leader Nick Clegg,s November 13 Times op-ed (ref A), in which Clegg implied he would struggle to support a plan that did not meet the very high bar that he believes President Obama needs to set. (Liberal Democrats currently hold 63 seats in Parliament (out of 646) and the latest polls show their support at 19 percent.) Visit London's Classified Website: XXXXXXXXXXXX

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