Policy statement by Federal Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle: Progress and challenges in Afghanistan

16.12.2010 - Speech

Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, colleagues,

When it took office a little over a year ago, this Government made a no-holds-barred analysis of its involvement in Afghanistan. The international community had already been engaged there for more than eight years. Its great efforts appeared to be leading nowhere, and there was no end in sight for its mission.

This Government has placed our engagement on a new footing with the comprehensive Afghanistan Policy. We have described the situation realistically. We have set ourselves realistic goals. Together with the Afghan people and our international partners, we have closely coordinated these goals, our strategy and the means to carry it out.

With the backing of this House, we have sent more soldiers and police officers to up the speed and quality of training for Afghan security forces. We have mobilized additional support for civilian reconstruction. We have been a driving force behind the political solution and smoothed the way for the reintegration and reconciliation programme. We have reformulated our own expectations, more soberly and more realistically. Good governance remains the ideal measure. Realistically speaking, however, what we can hope to achieve in Afghanistan in the foreseeable future is good enough governance.

We have said goodbye to the image of a development worker in uniform.

The image may in the past have made it easier for some Members of the Bundestag to approve sending the Bundeswehr to Afghanistan. Nonetheless, it was always deceptive. The situation on the ground is quite different. Our soldiers are in fact fighting in Afghanistan. This mission is costing lives. What we are doing in Afghanistan is defending our own security. That is what makes it right to carry out this mission. It is also right that it cannot be allowed to continue indefinitely.

We mourn the 44 German soldiers who have lost their lives on this mission. Our sympathy goes out to their families and friends. We mourn the many victims of the conflict, of all nationalities. We mourn those who died in uniform as well as the many civilians who have fallen in this conflict and in the struggle for peace.

I wish also to give mention to a man who made a crucial contribution to shaping the work done in Afghanistan. We mourn the loss of Richard Holbrooke. His sudden passing has taken from us a close and true friend of Germany.

In London in January, we paved the way for Afghans to shoulder greater responsibility. The Afghan Government for the first time provided a very specific outline of how it intended to achieve its goals in the areas of governance, institution-building and development, security as well as reintegration and reconciliation. For our part, we pledged to increase our efforts.

In Kabul in July, at the first Afghanistan Conference held in the country itself, the Afghan Government translated its political commitments into concrete reform projects. With the support of the international community, it has created the structures and institutions needed to achieve these ambitious goals.

In Lisbon four weeks ago, we took the next step and formally agreed with the Afghan Government and all our NATO partners to start the handover process. We will begin handing over responsibility for security in the provinces in the first half of 2011. Handing over responsibility in the first few provinces is not the same as immediately withdrawing our troops, but it will mark the beginning of the gradual reduction in the international military presence in Afghanistan, including the gradual withdrawal of the Bundeswehr. Thanks to the progress which has been made, withdrawal is now becoming a realistic prospect.

In my policy statement on 10 February, I said that we hoped to be far enough along by the end of 2011 that it would be possible to reduce our Bundeswehr contingent.

Today, I am confident enough to say that, at the end of 2011, we will be able to reduce our Bundeswehr contingent in Afghanistan for the first time. We will use all the room for manoeuvre available to ensure that we begin this reduction as early as possible given the situation on the ground and, above all, the need not to endanger the remaining troops. We want to hand over full responsibility to the Afghans in 2014. It is our intention that there will no longer be any German combat troops deployed in the Hindu Kush by then.

The timetable is set. The road to self-sustaining security in Afghanistan has been marked out. We are determined to take one step at a time and continually review what has been achieved. That is why this Government has for the first time presented a comprehensive progress report on Afghanistan to the German Bundestag. The report, which has been publicly available since Monday, describes the German and international engagement. It offers an honest and realistic depiction of the situation. It gives equal weight to the fields of security, governance and development. I am grateful to the Federal Ministers of Defence, of the Interior and for Economic Cooperation and Development for their outstanding cooperation in Afghanistan and on the drafting of this frank report. The report casts light on the work done in Afghanistan by our men and women in the Bundeswehr and police, by the many civilian aid workers and by our diplomats. It also outlines what still needs to be done to enable us to hand over to the Afghan Government the responsibility we currently have there.

We make no attempt to gloss anything over. There are still far too many reports of setbacks. Corruption exists, and there were irregularities in the elections. However, it is an encouraging sign that the people of Afghanistan themselves unrelentingly followed up cases of electoral fraud.

In many ways, Afghanistan has done better this year than last. Thanks in part to our development work in the health sector, 80 percent of the population now have access to basic healthcare. Maternal and infant mortality has gone down significantly. More than one in three girls in Afghanistan now regularly attend school. In 2010 alone, we built more than 20 schools.

We set up several stabilization funds this year for the development of infrastructure in the north. These have had a particular impact among the population in the regions bordering Tajikistan and Pakistan, in which infrastructure is weak. Newly constructed roads and bridges are underpinning the economic development which is slowly getting under way.

Progress in training soldiers and police officers has been more rapid than expected. The target agreed in London of around 300,000 security personnel in the army and police will be reached significantly sooner than planned. Germany is playing its part here: around 200 German police officers are serving in Afghanistan, where they are training the Afghan police force. In 2010, Germany made a total of 77 million euro available for police training.

It is true that the number of security incidents has once again risen significantly. One of the reasons for this is the increase in the International Security Assistance Force. However, after a year which has seen heavy fighting and many casualties, progress is also being made on security. This is thanks not only to ISAF troops but also to the increased capabilities of the Afghan security forces. It is clear that the increased training by the international community, including the Bundeswehr, is bearing fruit, with the Afghan army and the Afghan police force becoming recognizably more professional.

In 2010 we drew up the timetable for full sovereignty for Afghanistan; we have increased our funding and support and thus created the prerequisites for a turnabout. Next year, the aim will be to implement the strategy of networked security with its military, civilian and political elements so consistently that substantial progress can be made in all areas. The basis and prerequisite of such progress is the commitment of the Afghan Government. It is up to the Afghan Government to create the necessary structures and, in the end, take responsibility for living conditions for people in Afghanistan. It has proved not only in words but also by its actions how seriously it takes this duty.

The conflict in Afghanistan cannot be resolved by military means; only a political solution can bring it to an end. This means that talks need to be held with representatives of the insurgents. Together with the Afghans, we have defined three non-negotiable principles for these talks. A lot of things are open to negotiation, but these are not:

everyone must, firstly, respect the Afghan constitution and the human rights it guarantees;

secondly, renounce violence;

and, thirdly, sever their links to international terrorism.

In June this year, the Afghan Government’s peace and reintegration programme was adopted at the National Consultative Peace Jirga. This High Peace Council is to provide the linchpin for the talks with insurgents which need to be held. We know that talks are taking place about possible mechanisms for cooperation. Because of the nature of the situation, this reconciliation process will take time and is more likely to be hindered than helped by too much publicity.

Reintegration is also essential, clearing a path back into Afghan society for anti-government fighters who are willing to take it. Those willing to lay down their arms must be given an opportunity to lead a normal life. In 2010, Germany contributed 10 million euro to the reintegration programme. Another 40 million euro have been pledged up until 2014. This is particularly important, as reintegration and reconciliation are interdependent and essential elements of the handover process.

At the beginning of next year, NATO and its Afghan partners will together examine each province in turn, applying agreed security criteria, to ensure that it is ready for handover; responsibility will then be placed in the hands of the Afghan security forces. It is certain that regions within Germany’s sphere of responsibility in northern Afghanistan will be among the first in which responsibility for security is handed over to the Afghan people. The intention is to complete this process for the whole country by 2014. That is what we want. It is also what the Karzai Government wants. It is what the international community has agreed on.

What is also clear, however, is that transition does not mean ending our mission overnight and simply removing ourselves from Afghanistan.

As the handover of responsibility progresses, we will be constantly reappraising our priorities. The handover process must be careful, sustainable and above all irreversible. It would have no benefit if the Taliban were able to move back in the day after international troops withdraw – not for the people of Afghanistan and not for our own security.

What is clear is that we want to and will indeed continue to support Afghanistan’s development in the long term. In Lisbon, the NATO partners declared their commitment to an enduring partnership with Afghanistan. Without the international community’s credible commitment even after 2014, the strategy of a responsible handover of responsibility will not work.

Over the next two years, we will have a particular responsibility in the field of peace and security as a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council. The mandate for international engagement in Afghanistan will be an important part of our work in New York. Our goal is to strengthen the role of the United Nations and its mission in Afghanistan long term. In seeking this end, we will rely not only on our traditional partners but also on other players, especially the key powers in the region. This formed part of my talks in India, and I will continue to pursue the issue when I visit Pakistan in January.

At the NATO Summit in Lisbon, President Karzai called on Germany to hold another international conference on Afghanistan in Bonn at the end of 2011, ten years after the first Bonn Conference. We understand this request as proof that Germany is seen in Afghanistan as a reliable and honest partner. This Government will fulfil that request in view of our fundamental interest in good development in Afghanistan and in the region as a whole.

Although it is too soon to plan the agenda in detail, what we can say is that this conference will be an opportunity one year on from Lisbon to evaluate the state of play in the handover process and map out the road that will take us to the end of 2014. We will also discuss how the international community should remain committed to the country in the long term, after 2014. We intend the Bonn Conference to provide an impetus which will support the political process in Afghanistan.

After years in which the international community’s efforts in Afghanistan often lacked coordination, we now see everybody pulling in the same direction. We intend to do all that is necessary to ensure that Afghanistan, scarred and fragmented by decades of conflict in an explosive region of the world, will never again be a safe haven for terrorists.

We are working to bring peace, security and a degree of prosperity to a country which has in recent history known only war, instability and extreme poverty. Germany, as a responsible member of the global community and the transatlantic alliance, has been dedicated to this task from the outset. We therefore intend to ask this House again in January 2011 to extend the mandate for the Bundeswehr’s deployment as part of ISAF.

I would like to turn to the brave men and women of the Bundeswehr, many of whose eyes are upon us at this time. Our thanks go out to you for your work. We are proud of what you are doing. For many of you, the pressures of your mission will not even be relieved by your return home, since you will still need to process so much of what you have seen. I think this House can let the men and women serving in Afghanistan know what pride we have in them.

More than 60 Members of this House as well as its President have visited Afghanistan this year.

Both Bundestag and Government support this mission. This year, five Federal Ministers went to the country, the Federal Minister of Defence alone visiting seven times.


This high level of presence and frequency of visits are evidence of interest and sympathy. It provides support for our men and women in Afghanistan. That much is clear: on my visits, I see for myself again and again that our men and women in the Bundeswehr need and want that support.

An honest assessment of the situation today shows us a mixed picture of some light and still far too much shade. There are nonetheless grounds for confidence that we will be able to attain our objectives.

When we have done so, we will not only have increased our own, European and global security, but also given millions of Afghans the chance of a somewhat better life. Our responsibility for our own country and also for Afghanistan compels us to fulfil this task.

Thank you very much for your attention.

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