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“Not everything will be good in Afghanistan in 2014” – Interview with Foreign Minister Westerwelle in “DIE WELT”

21.07.2011 - Interview

Mr Westerwelle, the handover of command which is supposed to be completed nationwide in 2014 is beginning this week in seven regions of Afghanistan. Is this withdrawal date still negotiable at all?

So far our new Afghanistan strategy is progressing well overall – despite setbacks, some of them terrible. When I became Foreign Minister, I focused on a political solution.

Because however necessary military safeguarding may be, stability will not be achieved by soldiers alone. And the internationally agreed shift in strategy includes the transfer of responsibility for security. We’re going to stick to this.

NATO wants to gradually withdraw the ISAF forces, which currently number about 130,000 troops. That’s why the international community is working to build up and train the army and the police force. US President Barack Obama has already announced the withdrawal of 30,000 soldiers by September 2012. For the time being, the German Government is refraining from issuing concrete figures. It is, however, clear that the German military presence will also be reduced at the end of the year. Forty-eight countries currently have troops in Afghanistan. Up to 5350 Bundeswehr soldiers are serving there – in Mazar-e-Sharif, Kunduz, Feyzabad and Kabul.

According to NATO figures, the Afghan army is now 164,000 soldiers strong, while the number of police officers is currently around 126,000. By October these numbers should increase to a total of 171,600 soldiers and 134,000 police officers. The alliance is also planning for broad-ranging assistance in further developing the Afghan army and police force after the end of our military engagement. Beyond this, the initial steps have been taken towards building up Afghanistan’s own air force. This branch of the armed forces is to total 8000 soldiers by 2016.

The Afghan economy will be supported through a package of international aid funds. Germany alone intends to invest 430 million euro in the country’s civilian reconstruction each year until 2013. We’re especially focusing on rural development. By 2013, roughly 75 percent of the population should have access to jobs, while 50 percent should have access to a power supply and safe drinking water.

At the recommendation of the Afghan Government, reconciliation with radical Taliban Islamists is also moving forward. This is a matter of reintegrating into society those who have renounced violence and want to lay down their weapons. They are offered jobs as well as basic and further training. This is being financed through a 350-million-euro fund, to which Germany is contributing 50 million euro.

In this connection, the United Nations has also recently lifted sanctions against 14 former Taliban members. The people removed from the blacklist include several members of President Karzai’s Peace Council for negotiations with insurgents. The Afghan Government had asked the responsible UN Committee to remove up to 50 former Taliban leaders from the terror list. In making this request, Afghanistan provided extensive documentation showing that the ex-Taliban members under consideration had been reintegrated.

The Afghan Government has committed to taking measurable steps to combat corruption. Positive development in this area is the precondition for distributing up to 50 percent of development aid to the country through the Afghan Government. In 2010, Afghanistan remained in second-to-last place in Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index.

US General David Petraeus, whom you met in Berlin on Tuesday, says there is no guarantee of an end to the military presence by 2014.

I hold General Petraeus and his work in very high regard. But the fact that we need this prospect of withdrawal is not only the position of the German Government but also that of President Obama. And, by the way, also of President Karzai.

You are handing over responsibility for the city of Mazar-e-Sharif, which is in the German Regional Command. Seven foreign aid workers were killed there in April in an attack on the UN headquarters, and this week another suicide attack claimed four lives. Local security forces are clearly having some difficulties managing on their own. Is this the “responsible handover” you’ve talked about?

I’m afraid we’re going to have to get used to the idea that tragic events will continue to occur in Afghanistan. Overall, however, there is undeniable progress. And we will not allow ourselves to be deterred from our position by those who commit acts of violence to undermine the process of political reconciliation. We’ve been in Afghanistan for ten years.

We can’t stay there for another ten. The path to a positive future for Afghanistan runs through dialogue, reconciliation and reintegration – that is, a political solution.

There has been recognizable progress since the number of international troops was boosted to about 140,000 a few months ago…

… Hold on a minute! It’s not just the number of troops that’s been raised. We’ve also boosted our efforts overall, from diplomacy to civilian reconstruction. This has been precisely our strategy: doing more in every area in order to develop our prospects for withdrawal. That’s what we’ve done. Our prospects for withdrawal are now becoming concrete with the handover of responsibility for security.

High-ranking military leaders like David Petraeus have contested the speed of troop reductions. Why don’t politicians have the endurance to stick it out with a clearly effective strategy? Why do we give in to war fatigue – in Germany and the USA alike – rather than using stability as our guiding criterion?

Stability remains a decisive criterion. But I’ve never harboured any illusions that we could turn Afghanistan into a Central Asian Switzerland. Not everything will be good in Afghanistan after our withdrawal in 2014. We have to delineate our goals realistically enough for us to have a chance to achieve them.

And the fact is, many in the Taliban are also weary of fighting. That’s why we’re making it possible for those who lay down their weapons to earn a living peaceably through the reintegration programme. We’ve provided a lot of funding to give these people work and thus also future prospects, for example building streets or schools. This is off to a good start.

Many former insurgents have indeed come over to the Government’s side since President Karzai announced this programme last summer. The only problem is that money from the fund has flowed only haltingly, and sometimes not at all. We’ve already seen the first disappointed programme participants switching back to the insurgent side.

There’s no denying that there have been shortcomings. I’m a complete realist in this area, especially having personally been to Afghanistan so often. The German Government’s progress report presents these problems, it’s straight forward about the situation, as even the opposition has granted. The only thing we can do is work to redress the shortcomings, and this is something we’re working very hard at.

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