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Ambassador Steiner: “Today’s Afghanistan is very different from what it was ten years ago”

07.10.2011 - Interview

Interview with Michael Steiner, the German Government’s Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, broadcast on Deutschlandradio Kultur on 7 October 2011

Interview with Michael Steiner, the German Government’s Special Representative for Afghanistanand Pakistan, broadcast on Deutschlandradio Kultur on 7 October 2011

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The war in Afghanistanbegan ten years ago. When you look back and take stock, do you think it was right to fight this war?

There’s no doubt it was right. It was what the situation required as well as solidarity with our ally, the United States. And we’ve achieved our main goal. Afghanistan is, for one thing, no longer a haven for international terrorism. That was our main goal, after all. And then we’ve changed quite a number of things, too, in Afghanistan. There are plenty of reasons for criticism, of course, but that’s something we shouldn’t overlook. The situation as regards infrastructure, training, health care is now entirely different. The country today – as every Afghan will tell you – bears no resemblance to the Afghanistan of ten years ago.

That’s one side of the picture, the other is that there’s a huge amount still to be done. Yet much of this can only be done if the Afghans can assume responsibility for their own security. What’s crucial here is to find some way to talk to the Taliban, some way to reach a political settlement – and that was indeed the plan. But after the murder of veteran politician Rabbani, who chaired the body negotiating with the Taliban, this now seems a long way off. What’s the look-out for Afghanistanonce the international forces withdraw?

You’re absolutely right, Professor Rabbani’s murder was indeed a setback. On the very same day, however, President Karsai himself told me in New York that there’s no alternative to reconciliation. Obviously we must carry on supporting national reconciliation, that’s the view also of the country’s leaders. And this process still stands a chance, for don’t forget there’s not going to be any military solution in Afghanistan. That goes for the insurgents, too, of course. They, too, know their goals won’t be achieved by military means. So clearly we need a national reconciliation process.

You’re quite right, let me add, to emphasize how important it is that the Afghan security forces should be in a position, post-2014, to assume full responsibility for the country’s security. That’s a crucial point. This means that over the next three and a half years we have to press ahead with training, so the security forces can really deliver here. And this training will need to continue after 2014, too.

The LondonAfghanistanConference in early 2010 agreed on a programme to reintegrate former Taliban fighters. Every year Germanypays out 50 million euro for this purpose. How many Taliban fighters have actually been persuaded to switch sides?

The programme is working better on the ground than we’d expected. To date we’ve managed to reintegrate some 2500 former fighters, and there are plenty more awaiting their turn. Let me point out, though, that the 50 million euro are for a five-year period. But it’s true that, funding-wise, Germany is the third largest contributor to the programme. Everyone concerned is very pleased really with the way it’s been working.

Mr Steiner, it’s not without reason that you’re “Special Representative for Afghanistanand Pakistan”. That’s the nub of the problem in fact. Pakistan is where Taliban go to hide out and Al Qaida, too, still has bases in the country. Afghanistanhas just signed a strategic accord with India. Isn’t this going to place a further strain on Afghanistan’s relations with Pakistan, which are difficult enough already?

I think it’s very important that you’ve brought this up, because of course we need to focus on the region as a whole. India is part of the region, too, obviously, so it must also be part of the efforts to support national reconciliation in Afghanistan. From that point of view it’s right for India to be involved here. And if you look at what the two countries have agreed and what the Afghan President has said about it, then it’s quite clear this accord isn’t directed against anyone. It’s intended to advance Afghanistan’s national agenda, so to speak, to secure its long-term future. That’s something to which we need India, too, to contribute. Of course you’re right that transparency is very important here, we don’t want such cooperation fuelling ancient fears in the region.

From what we know of this new accord, the Indians will also be helping to train the Afghan army. But that will surely trigger new fears in Pakistan, however paranoid these may seem.

We need to look at exactly what’s been agreed here. All we have at the moment is a reference to security forces and training – that’s one thing. And of course the security forces are first and foremost the police. Training on the ground is another thing. I’m quite sure the Afghan Government is fully aware that it’s vital of course to respect the legitimate interests of its big neighbour.

Mr Steiner, thank you for your time.

Thank you!

The questions were put by Marcus Pindur. Reproduced by kind permission of Deutschlandradio Kultur.


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