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Speech by Federal Foreign Minister Steinmeier in the German Bundestag on extending the Federal Armed Forces Mission in Afghanistan

28.09.2006 - Speech

Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, if you take a look at today's newspapers, you can see that once more many people knew all along: Afghanistan is lost. That is in part the tenor of some German papers. Some say so because they always knew that we had no business getting involved in the region; others because the international community once again did everything wrong from the very outset; the third group say it is because we have too many soldiers in Afghanistan, the fourth too few. To my mind, the key message is: Afghanistan is only lost if we give it up.

It is true that we had all hoped to be further on than we are after five years of reconstruction. It is also true that there have been and will continue to be setbacks, and in some regions the situation has even worsened. I'll come back to that in a moment. But it is also true that a generation of young people who had no prospects or education five years ago is vesting all its hopes in us, not just in the Germans but in the international community. The future of this generation depends on whether we deal responsibly with the commitment we have entered into. It is ultimately also true that regardless of the humanitarian aspect, there were reasons why we embarked on the dangerous path to Afghanistan shoulder to shoulder with other Europeans and the Americans.

Some seem to have almost forgotten that during the years of brutal Taliban rule, Afghanistan had become a training centre for global terrorism. The resulting dangers were certainly far from theoretical. Just two weeks ago, I'm sure you recall, we remembered the victims of 11 September. You know that the trail of blood leading out of the Afghan training camps didn't end in New York but also stretched to Europe.

The 22 years of war, civil strife and Taliban rule did not just leave a desert of rubble in the villages and towns. What is almost worse because it can only be put right with great perseverance and patience, is the destruction these 22 years wrought on daily life, on the hearts and minds of the people.

So how do things look today? Many of you will have been to Afghanistan by now. Two generations of young, qualified workers who would have been trained are lacking and urgently needed. The worst thing about the destruction in the hearts and minds that I mentioned is that it will take a long time to rebuild trust in the authority of state and political institutions, above all in the police. That is why I urge that we continue with the reconstruction that we started with the Bonn Conference, with patience but determination. This is a task not just for us, but for the entire international community.

Despite all the concerns I of course share about the security situation, above all in the south of the country, we must not overlook the successes. Many others will expand on this in a moment. I just want to say that 7 million boys and girls who weren't allowed to go to school five years ago now have the opportunity to attend lessons. Admittedly, this development does not go far enough. In large stretches of the country, the people have seen nothing of our commitment over the last five years. Of course I agree with many of you that the growing drug trade, the increasing drug cultivation and the resulting corruption threaten the success we have seen on stabilization. Where stabilization has not paid off, the Taliban use the opportunity to portray themselves as the supposed guardian of the people. They are waiting for the international community to ease its efforts due to their violence.

We must not withdraw, of this I am absolutely convinced. We have to continue our efforts and where possible step them up, what is more on the basis of the Afghanistan Compact and in line with the Afghanistan Paper currently being discussed in Bundestag fora.

For me, there are four key points here which I would like to outline:

Firstly, the ongoing political reconstruction has to take account of the country's socio-cultural make-up.

Secondly, we want to and must maintain and indeed where possible strengthen our efforts to build up and train the police – that is the central sphere for which we bear responsibility.

When talking about extending possibilities we should work, as indeed I shall do, to find partners within the European Union to help us.

Thirdly, I am absolutely convinced that we should set further focus in the sphere of education. I said before that the civil war and Taliban rule destroyed not just Afghanistan's physical but above all its intellectual infrastructure. That is why I am pleased so many schools have been rebuilt and re-opened. But that is not enough. We need many more. Here, too, we have to up our commitment.

The fourth and final point is that there is no ideal way to solve the drug problem. We all know that. But I assure you that the Federal Government will do all it can in future to act in a more coordinated and efficient way with the international community. This holds true for combating drug cultivation and for improving regional cooperation and building a well-equipped Afghan border police force.

Looking at what Germany has done above all in northern Afghanistan, we can be proud despite all the changes which I am certainly not trying to paper over. At the recent NATO Foreign Ministers Conference in New York, we discussed how the good example of civil-military cooperation in northern Afghanistan can be applied to other areas. I feel this pays tribute to the commitment that our soldiers and many civilian aid workers are demonstrating.

I hope for broad support for the Federal Government's motion to extend the mandate by a further 12 months. That would be a clear signal not just for the soldiers but also for the many civilians involved in aid in Afghanistan who are working in an environment which remains very difficult.

Thank you.

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