Living in the crisis zone posting in Kabul

04.12.2013 - Article

Our colleague Fabian Otten, assistant desk officer for politics, protocol and press in Kabul is helping to prepare the Afghan presidential elections which are set to take place next year.

2014 is the year in which Afghanistan’s future will be determined - over the next 12 months, the country will not only see the withdrawal of international combat troops but also presidential elections, which mark a defining moment for the Afghans. Our colleague Fabian Otten (25 years old) reports on his daily life in Kabul, where the security situation is tense - and on the representatives of an active Afghan civil society group that he is supporting as they prepare the elections.

Armed vehicles at the airport in Kabul
Armed vehicles at the airport in Kabul© dpa/Picture Alliance

The German public’s view of Afghanistan is first and foremost shaped by the deployment of German soldiers. The fact that many development workers are also here, along with one of the largest German embassies in the world, is often overlooked. Moreover, Afghanistan is mostly associated with war and terror and considered by many to be a failed state. My friends and family were thus concerned when I told them that in the summer I was going to move to the Hindu Kush for a year.

Daily life in a tense security situation

It is difficult to envisage life on posting in a crisis zone like Kabul in advance. Every day brings a new reminder of the difficult security situation, the town’s landscape is dominated by high walls, barbed wire and the oppressive presence of security forces. In some streets, the concrete walls are so imposing that you are reminded of when the Berlin Wall stood.

Fabian Otten (top left) with participants of an Afghan executive seminary for diplomats
Fabian Otten (top left) with participants of an Afghan executive seminary for diplomats© AA/Paaksima

In this environment I more or less move from one protected compound to another. Journeys in armed vehicles, controls at numerous checkpoints on the way, vehicles checks with under vehicle search mirrors as well as searches by sniffer dogs trained to detect explosives are all part of daily life. Working in a city like Kabul is a challenge.

Yet the exceptional circumstances mean there is an incredibly strong team spirit both in and beyond the Embassy. Convivial evenings with colleagues or in other embassies offer at least some reprieve from the limitations imposed by the security situation.

Elections represent a defining moment

As international combat troops are due to withdraw in late 2014, many Afghans are concerned about the future. Furthermore, presidential elections are scheduled to take place at the beginning of April. Whilst elections in Germany are generally a calm event, here they represent a defining moment. After his two terms in office, President Karzai cannot be elected again. These elections offer the chance for this country to see the first peaceful transfer of power in decades, and so naturally they have aroused great interest within the population, as well as a desire to participate - besides the existing election registers, a further over 3.1 million Afghans have signed up, despite threats from the Taliban and other rebel groups.

Shops in Kabul
Shops in Kabul© AA/Otten

I am pleased that through my daily work I am making a small contribution to enabling the elections to be a success. As part of my work I cooperate with a local television station and those funding the election process to help run election awareness campaigns. Moreover, we are assisting an Afghan non-governmental organisation in managing an independent election observation mission. Working with Afghan journalists, I have been impressed by their high level of professionalism.

2014 is the year in which Afghanistan's future will be determined

Given the withdrawal of international combat troops and planned presidential elections, Afghanistan is at a crossroads. Despite the many difficulties it faces, I am firmly convinced that the country is on the right track. That is why I have decided to extend my time in Kabul by a further year, which will enable me to be here in person to experience 2014, the decisive year for Afghanistan, complete with the presidential elections and the withdrawal of combat troops.

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