What are your goals for the Afghanistan conference?
First of all, I would like to make it clear that I never threatened to boycott the conference. However, the London conference cannot succeed if it only addresses the issue of additional troops for Afghanistan. We need a comprehensive political approach. For me, there are five key points. Security and the transfer of responsibility for security to the Afghan Government are of paramount importance. Better governance on the ground and the fight against corruption are also important. What’s more, Afghanistan needs peace within its society and the reintegration of renegades. Fourth, the country’s reconstruction and economic and social development are vital. Fifth, regional and international cooperation with Afghanistan’s neighbours must be fostered. President Karzai mentioned these challenges in his inaugural speech. They should all be on the Afghanistan conference agenda.
At what stage then should Afghans assume responsibility for security in their country?
We should begin work at the London conference to ensure that the process of handing over responsibility for security to Afghanistan can start in 2010. We should strive, wherever local conditions allow, to hand over more responsibility to Afghans for their own country. This is about kicking off a process which will make the withdrawal of our troops a realistic prospect.
Germans are asking themselves why they should send even more soldiers to Afghanistan.
Germany will do more in the sphere of civilian reconstruction. I reject a foreshortened debate which focuses solely on increasing troop numbers. We have only just increased the ceiling on our contingent from 3500 to 4500 soldiers. Some believe it’s good foreign policy if we simply say yes to everything put forward by other governments. We should strive to form our own opinion and then develop a strategy together with our allies.
You’ve also spoken to Bundeswehr troops on the ground. What’s your impression?
We should thank our men and women in uniform for the excellent work they are doing under difficult and dangerous conditions. Those, like sections of the opposition, who are calling for immediate withdrawal are jeopardizing our own security because Kabul would immediately revert to being the terrorist capital of the world.
Do our soldiers lack backing at home?
The opposition parties shouldn’t shirk their responsibility for Bundeswehr missions abroad. The Greens have done so even though they voted in favour of these missions under the Schröder/Fischer Government. I hope the SPD won’t follow their example. In the case of the Afghanistan mission, my predecessor and the current head of the SPD parliamentary group, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, has acted very responsibly so far. I want to expressly acknowledge that.