Interview with Michael Steiner, the German Government’s Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan. Published in the 22 November 2011 edition of the Stuttgarter Nachrichten
Mr Steiner, given the very difficult situation in the Hindu Kush, what kind of agreement can be reached in a single day?
We’ve been preparing intensely for this conference for months, working in coordination with the Afghan Government in the International Contact Group, which I’m chairing. We’ve created important building blocks for Bonn: we had a discussion a few weeks ago at the invitation of Euromines ...
... the European mining industry association ...
... with representatives of about 50 private companies about what conditions need to be met in Afghanistan so that the mineral wealth there can be used to the benefit of the Afghan people.
The Afghan Government wants to make a commitment in Bonn to meeting these conditions. At a conference in Istanbul, the countries in the region set in motion a process of regional cooperation through recognition of principles such as non-violence, confidence-building measures and non-interference in the affairs of neighbouring countries.
Foreign Minister Westerwelle was also there to show his support for this process. Cooperation and trust among neighbours in the region helps encourage internal reconciliation within Afghanistan. Afghanistan needs cooperation with its neighbours – particularly Pakistan and Iran. This outcome from Istanbul is also something we’ll be bringing with us to Bonn.
So why hold such a large symbolic conference if it’s the smaller ones that make headway?
All these individual building blocks need to be put together in Bonn. The conference’s main message should be that we as an international community will not abandon Afghanistan after the withdrawal of international combat troops at the end of 2014, that we will remain engaged in the long term.
This stated long-term commitment has to be credibly reinforced through our deeds. The major interest in Bonn shows that what we are doing in Afghanistan is not just a German endeavour, but rather is being undertaken by the entire international community.
What areas will we be involved in?
First, even beyond 2014, the international community will continue to train security forces from the Afghan army and police so that they can assume responsibility for the country’s security.
Second, there will be continued support for infrastructure, education, health, agriculture and administration. Third, we have to promote the region’s economy and, for example, advance regional transport and trade as well as the energy supply.
Is Germanyattracted to the prospect of earning money from Afghanistan’s mineral wealth and rare earths?
Afghanistan needs to stand on its own two feet economically. Potential investors have told the Afghan Government what conditions they need in order to invest – these include adequate infrastructure, investment security and an intact legal system for the settlement of disputes. The Afghan Government needs to work on these things.
The security situation also is not yet conducive to investment everywhere. Businesses think in terms of longer periods of time. A mining company needs about ten years to make a new mine productive. That’s why it’s so important to create the conditions for long-term involvement.
Have the Afghan people grasped that their mineral wealth could provide the foundation for future prosperity?
Psychology is also a vital factor in Afghanistan – after 30 years of war and internal strife, an entire generation is so traumatized that it no longer even knows what peace is. We need to give these people confidence that they will not be abandoned, even after the withdrawal of international combat troops. That there is an alternative to war and internal strife. If we manage to do this, economic reconstruction can also succeed. Afghanistan’s potential mineral wealth has been estimated at 2.2 trillion euro; lithium, which is used in car batteries, is a key part of this. Mineral resources need to be exploited in a transparent manner. The country and its people have to benefit from the extraction of mineral wealth.
What are Germany’s interests?
What is ultimately vital is the role of economic development as a contribution to stabilizing the country. Industry can take on a role in helping create a stable future for Afghanistan. In this regard, President Karzai always stresses how interested in European and German investment the Afghan people are.
But business alone is not enough, it’s only one part of a larger whole. Politically, an internal Afghan process of reconciliation and democratization is an integral part of our overall strategy.
Will troops actually be withdrawn by 2014?How much military clout does the Taliban have?
The date has been agreed internationally; international combat troops will be withdrawn by 2014. We are reducing our forces incrementally, parallel to which we’re training Afghan forces to take over our role. The Taliban has less military clout now than it had in 2009. They’ve been driven back – not everywhere, but in many areas. That’s why the Taliban is no longer so focused on military action, but rather on attacks, political assassinations. These kinds of acts ultimately can’t be prevented militarily or by our soldiers. Peace has to be the result of an internal Afghan reconciliation process. As long as we haven’t come far enough on this front, the sad truth is that we’re going to have to continue to reckon with attacks.
Is President Karzai the right man for the reconciliation process?
He supports the reconciliation process, because he – like the international community – knows that there can be no military solution in Afghanistan. We need military pressure, but what is ultimately necessary is a political solution.
It’s going to require patience, and the international community needs to give the Afghan people confidence on the road towards it. That is our task in Bonn.
Interview by Claudia Lepping.Reproduced with the kind permission of the Stuttgarter Nachrichten.