So what is the concept the German Government wants to take to London – more soldiers or more civilian development workers?
Our top priority is to ensure that there is economic development in Afghanistan. In London we will also propose a reintegration programme for so-called “less committed fighters”. By that I mean that moderate followers who are not violent terrorists fighting out of ideological conviction, those who go along often because there is an economic incentive to do so, are given the option to leave the Taliban, to reintegrate into society.
But intelligence officers in Kabul say that’s unnecessary because a reintegration programme is the last thing the Taliban are interested in.
That’s why I’m not talking about the violent, hard-core Taliban terrorists who, blinded by their extremist views, are determined to kill us because we live, and enjoy living, in an enlightened, liberal Western society. Rather I’m talking about the moderates, for example those who are recruited in rural areas. Often they go along because they have no other economic prospects. We want to give this chance at a new beginning a try by making it part of our Afghanistan policy and that is why in London we will agree to establish a fund for this purpose. That is what we have discussed ahead of the conference, setting up a fund that will support the reintegration of moderate Taliban.
To what degree are you and your fellow Minister Mr zu Guttenberg on the same page? There are rumours that he wants to send up to 1,000 new soldiers. You’ve always been against increasing the number of troops.
I have never said that there absolutely cannot be any troop increase at all. I have only said that the top priority is civilian reconstruction. We should first look at how the current Bundeswehr contingent could be restructured. How many more of them could be used to teach and train soldiers and police officers in Afghanistan? After examining these options, we can consider whether there should be an increase in the number of troops. After all, our strategy is focused on the goal of withdrawing. We don’t want to be in Afghanistan forever so we have to organize the transfer of responsibility, and we can only do that by creating independent, self-sustaining security structures in Afghanistan and by supporting their development.
You just said that you want to withdraw at some point. The SPD (Social Democratic Party of Germany) is now saying that 2015 should be the final deadline for withdrawing. It seems like you can’t quite agree on this point. Will you be able to come to some kind of agreement with the SPD on the Afghanistan strategy?
This week, just like we did last week, we’re going to try our best to engage in discussion with the opposition. But I will not make myself dependent on party political manoeuvres by the opposition. This Afghanistan mission was started by the SPD-Greens government, it was continued by the Grand Coalition and now we have to see that we restructure it so that it is more successful. That is why I ask the Social Democrats not to shirk their responsibility by hiding behind a pretext. It simply can’t be that just 80 or 90 days after the new government took office, the SPD has forgotten everything that they did during the years they governed.
President Obama’s special envoy Richard Holbrooke has said that there’s nothing left to negotiate in London, the strategy has been decided and it calls for more soldiers. Do you think you’re going to convince him otherwise?
That’s his opinion. As I see it, all the other allies have a different opinion, and in all modesty I’m glad that my goal of having a truly broad-based political conference in London has been realized, and I’m happy to have been able to contribute to this.