Michael Steiner on terrorism and the situation in South Asia

04.05.2011 - Interview

In an interview with the radio station SWR2, Ambassador Michael Steiner, the Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, analyses the situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan following the death of Osama bin Laden.

Broadcast on Südwestrundfunk on 4 May 2011


How credible do you find the Pakistan Government’s claim that they did not know about where bin Laden was staying, where he had clearly been living for a number of years?

Well, there are obviously questions to be asked there – that much is undeniable. But it is good that the Pakistan Government has itself publicly said that it wishes to play its part in the investigation. The Ambassador made an announcement to that effect. And it is of course important that we get answers to those questions.

There is evidence to suggest that Pakistan’s secret service or army, or both, are not really to be trusted. Under these circumstances, how is it even possible for Western forces to establish reliable cooperation with them at all?

Yes well, as I said, there are questions. On the other hand, we must not forget that Pakistan is itself a victim of terrorism. 2900 people were killed in attacks there last year. Pakistan is affected. But you are right that we need answers to these obvious questions.

So are you saying it is not credible?

I would not like to judge too soon. But the investigation must lead to concrete answers.

Pakistan is practically seen as the key to bringing peace to Afghanistan. Even just your job title suggests as much. Do we need to be afraid that this country – which, let us not forget, does have nuclear weapons – might become a failing state?

Well, we are saying – and by “we” I mean the whole of the international community – that urgent and fundamental reform is important and needs to be conducted in Pakistan, certainly in the political system but also in the economic system. On the other hand, we need Pakistan as the crucial neighbouring state for Afghanistan. And I believe that Pakistan needs, not least in its own interests, to work with its partners towards a constructive solution here.

So what are we doing to make a more stable Pakistan in the sense you just described?

We are doing an awful lot. We chair a group called the Friends of Democratic Pakistan. We are also constantly engaged in including Pakistan in our work. I have issued an invitation to Pakistan myself, which met with a positive response: the Minister of State came to the international contact group’s last meeting. We are trying to include Pakistan in our efforts; we need Pakistan as a constructive force in Afghanistan. But not only in Afghanistan. We must not forget that Pakistan is the world’s second-largest Muslim country, a very big country, which of course must itself be a factor in stabilizing the region.

How likely do you think it is that the pressure on Afghanistan being exercised by terrorists in Pakistan, particularly in the notorious border region, will now grow?

Well, I believe first off that we have every reason to feel gratified at the international terrorist organization al-Qaida losing its figurehead. We must not underestimate how symbolically significant that is.

Nonetheless, a Pakistan insider said in the FAZ yesterday that he, in contrast, expected the main theatre of the war on terror to shift from Afghanistan to Pakistan. Do you also think that is possible?

I think we need to draw a distinction here, between what is happening in Afghanistan and what we are facing in Pakistan. What we have in Afghanistan is insurgency, rebels being combated under the aegis of an international operation. The main enemy, too, are the Taliban, who cannot be equated with international terrorism, with al-Qaida.

There is a differentiation made there between moderates and the particularly aggressive.

No, it is not a question of moderates. It is rather that we have a combat situation in Afghanistan, to which we need to respond differently than we do in the fight against international terrorism.

Could it be that the plans for withdrawal, including the Bundeswehr’s plans, will again come to nothing in view of this combat situation you are talking about?

I do not think so, because, after all, we have a timetable. We are starting the handover of responsibility for security this summer, and the process is to be completed for the whole of Afghanistan by the end of 2014. And we also intend to reduce the Bundeswehr contingent in Afghanistan during the handover period so that we no longer have any combat troops there by 31 December 2014, which is why we have dramatically increased our efforts in training the country’s own security forces. But it is also very important that we not repeat the mistake of 1989, that we remain engaged in Afghanistan’s long-term future after the international combat troops have moved out.

Reproduced by kind permission of SWR. Rudolf Geissler asked the questions.

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