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Speech by Dr Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Federal Minister for Foreign Affairs, on tabling an ISAF mandate motion in the German Bundestag on 8 October 2008

08.10.2008 - Speech

– Translation of advance text –

Mr President,

Ladies and gentlemen,

Our engagement in Afghanistan is entering its eighth year!

This is, I know, a real test of the international community's patience and staying power.

And now of all times I say that the reasons we went into Afghanistan in 2001 are just as valid today as they were then!

We gave our word to a nation blighted by thirty years of war and civil war.

We realized from the start the magnitude of the task we'd taken on. And that's why – these days especially – we must honour our pledge.

That's what we're now in the process of doing. The reality on the ground in Afghanistan has two faces. On the one hand we've achieved a great deal.

85% of the population now live within reach of a doctor or hospital – a situation previously unknown. This is also due, by the way, to thousands of kilometres of newly constructed or repaired roads. The international community has cleared over half the mine-infested areas of the country.

That, too, makes every Afghan's life safer.

Economic recovery and reconstruction is making visible progress – not only in Kabul. Take Mazar-e-Sharif, for example. The provincial hospital we rehabilitated there is now the second largest teaching hospital in the country and every year trains 250 qualified nurses.

We're talking about a country where only seven years ago people were stoned to death and music was banned. To all those who try to belittle our successes in Afghanistan, I say this: every bit of ground a farmer can once again cultivate, every child who can go to school, every new hospital, every kilometre of road – every one of these is a small victory for humanity.

No one's being naive here. Of course this road we're on is stonier and longer than we'd all hoped. Every civilian casualty and every suicide bombing is a setback – and these setbacks are increasing, also in the north. Neither the international community nor the Afghan Government have yet effectively tackled corruption and opium trafficking. Terrorists continue to sow fear among local communities in the south and east, for the Afghan-Pakistan border is in practice unsecured.

Ladies and gentlemen,

That's the situation, the unvarnished truth. So what conclusions do we draw? Should we really quit when the going's tough, as some now demand? Is the job to be left to the Dutch, Norwegians, Poles and Finns – because we've shirked our responsibilities?

If countries like us quit, that wouldn't just be a breach of the solidarity we've promised.

Worse still, it would mean abandoning the goal for which we've been fighting for over six years. Our presence in Afghanistan is not and never was an end in itself. We had and have a clear goal. We want people in Afghanistan as soon as possible to take their country's future into their own hands and assume responsibility for its security.

On that we're pulling together with the Afghans, as I know from the many talks I've had with politicians, experts and young students in Afghanistan. We can do it and we want to do it, they say! We still need the help of the international community, however. But above all we need to rely on you staying!

Reliability and trust that we'll stay engaged – that brings us to what is the essence, the core of success in Afghanistan.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Success is our goal, after all, and that's why with our ISAF contribution we're concentrating on training and equipping Afghanistan's security forces. It's a most welcome development that Afghanistan's own security forces, so Foreign Minister Spanta tells me, now participate in 70% of all security operations in the country.

That shows the road we're on is the right one and we must keep going in this direction. So next year we want to deploy up to 4,500 German soldiers under the ISAF mandate, 1000 more than hitherto. We need them not just to train Afghan soldiers but also to provide security for the upcoming presidential and general elections. At the same time we're doubling the number of German police officers serving with the European Union police mission EUPOL.

Ladies and gentlemen,

I appeal to the critics of this deployment: Stay honest! What we're doing in Afghanistan is not improvised and makeshift. We're constantly reviewing the situation to see what's necessary, what new requirements there are and what's no longer needed. We're not just piling mandate on mandate. We say yes to the deployment of AWACS reconnaissance planes and no to deployments that are no longer needed. That's the opposite of "more of the same".

You won't find anything about a possible AWACS deployment in the motion we're debating today. This was a conscious decision by the Federal Government, as some of our NATO partners feel further clarification is required here. In principle, however, this deployment may be necessary. Last year saw a steep rise in the number of civilian flights in Afghanistan's airspace and the Afghans lack adequate ground radar systems to ensure airspace security. So before the end of the year we may well have to decide here in the Bundestag whether Germany should participate in this deployment.

For our Special Forces Command soldiers in Afghanistan there's no longer any need in my view, for not once in the past three years have any of them seen action. That's why I believe it's right to allow the possibility of deploying Special Forces Command soldiers under the OEF mandate to lapse at the end of the year.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Reliability and trust – that's what our Afghanistan policy is all about. In its updated Afghanistan Policy Paper the Federal Government reaffirmed just a few days ago its long-term, comprehensive approach to building stability in the country.

Taking a comprehensive approach also means taking a closer look at Afghanistan's neighbours. Here I'm thinking first and foremost of Pakistan, a key country for peace in the region. Clearly we must succeed in helping Pakistan play a constructive role in stabilizing and rebuilding the region. In the many talks I held on the margins of the recent UN General Assembly session in New York I impressed on my interlocutors how important this was. As a member of the new international Friends of Pakistan Group, we should strive to take forward its agenda. That's what I aim to do on my planned visit to Pakistan in two weeks' time.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Let me emphasize that the extension of the ISAF mandate doesn't mean "more of the same", it's exactly tailored to next year's requirements. We're sending out more soldiers; we're concentrating on the training of Afghan soldiers and police officers; and we're increasing to 170 million euro our funding for the reconstruction effort. Because what we want is for people to feel, see and experience progress!

Ladies and gentlemen,

I'd like to conclude with a word of thanks. Let me pay warm tribute to all those who often risk their lives to bring stability to Afghanistan and help it build a better future: our soldiers, our police officers and our civilian development workers. Their task has not become any easier over the past year. Quite the opposite, in fact! We know what we're asking of our soldiers in Afghanistan and we mourn for those who sacrificed their lives in the call of duty. To everyone helping people in Afghanistan build better lives for themselves we owe gratitude and respect. They all deserve the support of this House. I therefore invite you to support them and the extension of the ISAF mandate. Thank you very much.

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