Foreign Minister Westerwelle speaks about the International Afghanistan Conference in Bonn and the challenges that lie ahead in Afghanistan on Deutschlandfunk’s “Interview der Woche” radio programme, 4 December 2011
Deutschlandfunk:Minister Westerwelle, the Afghanistan Conference in Bonn tomorrow is intended to move civilian reconstruction efforts forward in Afghanistan.What areas will the conference be focusing on, and what results would you like it to achieve?
Foreign Minister Westerwelle: We’re focusing on three areas. First, the transfer of regional authority, meaning that with President Karzai’s recent announcements we’ll soon reach the point where the Afghan Government has responsibility for security in about half of the territory of Afghanistan, including half of the country’s total population, which is to say that international combat troops will no longer be responsible for security there. Second is the internal process of reconciliation. This means figuring out how to make peace with those who have thus far refused peace. And third, what will definitely be highly significant for the first two points, but also beyond them: Will the international community manage to make a clear commitment to staying focused on Afghanistan, including in the years after 2014, that is, after international combat troops have been withdrawn? Afghanistan has to keep being able to count on international assistance and solidarity. This new perspective, which will of course be much more civilian than what we know today, is important in order to stabilize the country for the long term.
What will that have to look like? What can this kind of civilian component look like?
Westerwelle: For example, training measures to keep building up the police force as well as domestic and external security structures in Afghanistan. Or, for instance, economic development. Together with my Afghan colleague Rassoul and my American colleague Clinton, I presented a strategy in New York for what is known as the New Silk Road. In other words, how can we also connect and interlink the regions with each other economically in a way that not only makes sound economic development possible in Afghanistan but also creates a shared interest for all the neighbouring countries, as this will certainly have a stabilizing effect?
From your point of view, is the economic situation in Afghanistan starting to pick up?Do you see any clear progress?
Westerwelle: That varies a great deal from region to region, and is also connected with the security situation. I was personally present this summer for the handover of Mazar, a major city in our area of responsibility in northern Afghanistan. Local representatives who attended the handover in Mazar also specifically described some positive developments. But there’s a great deal that still needs to be done: regarding trade, including the issue of raw materials partnerships, there’ve been numerous reports about Afghanistan’s sizeable potential. Prudently interlinking these developments will also help stabilize Afghan society. After all, it’s very clear that a country which doesn’t develop economically will always bear a certain explosive potential, which will often enough ignite into terror. And of course, this is something that definitely has to be prevented.
When one speaks to representatives of industries that would be potentially interested in investing in Afghanistan – the mining industry, for example, is an interesting area because of Afghanistan’s great mineral wealth – what one hears from them is, we actually don’t have anything. We don’t have tax law, we don’t have investment security, nor do we have security for our own employees at the mines. These are three points that are also included in a paper that you adopted at European level at the end of October.How do we want to make progress in these areas?
Westerwelle: We are currently working specifically in all these three areas. That is to say, we’re working on infrastructure to make it possible for natural resources and mineral wealth to be extracted at all. We’re also working on improving the security situation, but this is increasingly being done by Afghan security forces. And of course we’re also working on good governance in Afghanistan, that is to say, of course it’s very important to us to establish sufficiently good governance in Afghanistan. Eliminating corruption, for example, as well as quick and reliable administrative decision-making. I think this is an area – perhaps along with the judicial sector – where we Germans have a lot to contribute. And that’s exactly what we’re doing through our programmes.
Do we have enough people who are going to Afghanistan?
Westerwelle: I don’t want to say that enough is being done already. But this is exactly what we’ve now agreed, to shift our focus. After all, this mission in Afghanistan began because we had to protect ourselves from terrorism and terror attacks. The terror attacks of 11 September did not only affect the USA – which would have been bad enough in itself, as they’re our closest transatlantic ally – they also affected us in Europe. In London, in Madrid, and also in Germany, attacks were attempted and prepared by terrorists who’d been trained in Afghanistan. And what we need to recognize now is: we’ve been in Afghanistan for ten years now, and there’s not going to be any military solution. So Afghanistan needs a political solution. We’ve reached the high point of our engagement, which means that after ten years our troop presence is shrinking for the first time. For the first time we’re reducing the presence of the Bundeswehr in Afghanistan; all of this has already started. At the same time, however, we’re expanding our civilian presence. We have, for example, roughly doubled funding for economic cooperation in the past two years because we’ve recognized that a stable society with some degree of sound economic development comes first and foremost in a political solution. This is why it’s in our own interest to stabilize Afghanistan – but of course with a civilian focus in the future.
May I return for a moment to the economy?We hear that Canadian companies, Chinese companies, other companies already have mining contracts in Afghanistan, but that German companies are holding back a bit.Is that disappointing to you?
Westerwelle: Well, that always needs to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis, and I see positive developments too. We’ve just held a business conference in Brussels specifically dealing with the topic of natural resources. And this also helped spur trade and investment. The Afghanistan Conference is not a one-off event. Rather, it’s an important milestone in ongoing and continuous efforts, which have included the New Silk Road economic development strategy in New York, the discussions on investment and natural resources in Brussels, and the very recent regional conference in Istanbul, since neighbouring countries are of course absolutely essential for peace. And now the Afghanistan Conference here in Bonn. So a great deal is being done. What is being done can never be enough in this kind of situation, but we’re doing as much as we can. And that should be recognized – it’s being recognized, by the way, by the Afghan side. And a lot of countries are not even on our radar when we talk about Afghanistan. I personally have been to Turkmenistan, and when I was there I discussed not only supplying energy and gas to Germany, but also first and foremost regional partnership and regional cooperation. And the Turkmen president once again told us a lot about, for example, how he and his government were working to improve infrastructure – concretely in terms of electricity, that is, power lines, as well as infrastructure in the area of transport, specifically a railway line. It’s completely unimaginable to those of us who live in central Europe what they have there – or rather, what they don’t have: for example, there’s no adequate rail transport network. But they need one in order to transport raw materials.
This is “Interview der Woche” on Deutschlandfunk, speaking with Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle the day before the Afghanistan Conference.You were just saying that 2014 is a crucial point in Afghanistan; combat troops will be withdrawn.This is also, however, the year when President Karzai’s term in office will end.If he adheres to the constitution, he can’t be re elected again.Is that really the right time – exactly the moment when a transition from Karzai to a new man is taking place, a moment of potential instability – is that really the right time to withdraw combat troops?Is this really so well coordinated?
Westerwelle: Yes, it certainly wouldn’t be wise for all of this to take place within the same month. But what we’re talking about is a process that will be concluded at the end of 2014. And this process began with President Karzai’s inauguration and his second term in office. At his inauguration in autumn 2009, which I personally attended, he explained that this was his timetable. And the international community coordinated this with him, and now we’re implementing it. President Karzai has made clear that he’s not seeking a third term in office, rather that he’s going to adhere to what’s stated in the constitution. And it’s also possible to look at this the other way round, that a country undergoing change can create something new through new initiatives and a fresh start. The timetables we have agreed to are, in my opinion, both right and necessary, as one thing is clear: as correct a decision as the mission in Afghanistan was in order to ensure our own safety from terrorism, it is also just as true that the mission cannot drag on forever.
Given your knowledge of the circumstances and based on the conversations you’ve had, what is your impression of the internal situation of the Afghan population?There are various groups that have previously always been suspected of not wanting to participate in a democratic process.Do you expect this to have changed by 2014?
Westerwelle: To a certain extent it’s already changing. In the parliament there are representatives who call themselves “former Taliban”, and we are just now helping shape the reconciliation process. And making peace is something you do not with your friends, but with your enemies. Reconciliation needs to have principles that must be respected: renunciation of terror and violence, respect for the constitution and for fundamental human and civil rights. Apart from that, there is no alternative to a political solution. And that means reconciliation, including reintegration of and reconciliation with those who have fought.
Do you not get the feeling that there’s a group there sitting it out, simply waiting for the international community to withdraw, given that the withdrawal date is known so far in advance?
Westerwelle: This is precisely the reason why we’re sitting down together at the Afghanistan Conference in Bonn – to send a clear message to Afghanistan as well as to the world that we will not forget Afghanistan after 2014. And that’s why we started building up the old Afghan security structures a year and a half ago in such a manner that the Afghans could take care of their own security. Police training, soldiers – that is, also training the Afghan army as it develops. I’m also very grateful to our men and women in the Bundeswehr as well as to the many civilian development aid workers and actors. But I would also like to mention those who are also doing great work, even though it isn’t very apparent in Germany. I’m talking about the police officers who are making sure that there will be police structures in place that can provide for internal security. I’ve met all of them. I’ve now visited Afghanistan very often, I think, more often than a lot of other people. And to me personally Afghanistan and the Afghan people look very different from up close. I see more than just the images of politicians and representatives at conferences, or the news of terrible attacks and setbacks that we always have to brace ourselves for. I also see the children. I’ve spoken to the little girls in Kabul who stared at the floor so shyly when I visited them, not knowing why some white man in a black suit was approaching them, but then warmed up to me slowly. And I’ve looked into the eyes of the little boys, eight or nine years old, who wanted to show off all the great acrobatic feats they could already perform on their old skateboards. And I think when you’ve seen Afghanistan the way I have, then the first thing you think of is the children, the boys and the girls. Each one of them has only one life to live. And we’re engaged in Afghanistan also for their happiness, for their peaceful future, to the extent that it can be influenced.
Nonetheless, is there a Plan B in the event that this internal reconciliation doesn’t work out?
Westerwelle: There is no alternative, certainly no better alternative, to continuing the process of reintegration and reconciliation. And we will continue to experience setbacks. There will also be bitter moments, moments when we’ve been deceived by people we’ve negotiated with. But ultimately a process of reconciliation can only take place in Afghanistan, of course, and that means among Afghans. The international community can only be of limited assistance in this.
Speaking of reconciliation, another aspect of it is that it also needs to take place regionally.There is also talk of perhaps putting into practice there the idea of an OSCE – not an organization, but rather that kind of reconciliation. Is that conceivable at the moment with the two neighbouring countries Pakistan and Iran?
Westerwelle: Regarding Pakistan, Pakistan was closely involved at least in the conference preparations. Talks that included Pakistan were held in Istanbul and also in Astana. And my impression is not only that Pakistan would like to play a role in the process of stabilizing Afghanistan but also that Pakistan has an interest in doing so. Pakistan’s fight against terrorism deserves recognition and should not be underestimated. And I would like to emphasize that the news of more than 20 Pakistani soldiers being killed is of course truly terrible, and I can understand the anger and sadness in Pakistan in the wake of this dreadful event. But I’m also counting on Pakistan staying involved, and on Pakistan’s own interest in stabilizing Afghanistan. The Pakistani foreign minister and president have repeatedly and emphatically told me that they don’t have a hidden agenda, rather that they want a process of reconciliation. And we will take the Pakistanis at their word on this.
So their withdrawal from the process is temporary and motivated by domestic politics?
Westerwelle: Pakistan’s decisions in the lead-up to the Afghanistan Conference certainly don’t mean an end to their participation in stabilizing Afghanistan. I think Pakistan knows how important it is to have Afghanistan as a peaceful neighbour. We must not forget that tens of thousands of Pakistani soldiers and citizens have died in the fight against terrorism in the past decade. We don’t tend to notice that here in central Europe, because we don’t hear much about it, of course. Here in central Europe we usually only hear about attacks if we’re affected by them ourselves. But when you’re in Pakistan – and this year alone I’ve been to Islamabad twice for talks regarding the Afghanistan Conference – you also notice that Pakistani politicians want tribute to be paid to the Pakistanis who have lost their lives in the fight against terrorism. There are certainly other aspects of this issue that are to be regarded critically and are also to be addressed. We’re doing that, but I’m convinced that Pakistan will continue to take part in pursuing the shared goal of a stable Afghanistan.
And how do you view things with Iran?
Westerwelle: Iran also has an interest in seeing Afghanistan develop in a stable way. Perhaps they have their own wishes about what kinds of political decisions should be made, but Iran also has an interest in Afghanistan’s fundamental development towards becoming a peaceful and stable neighbour. Take the issue of drug trafficking, for example. This is also an important issue for Iran, and it also has a negative impact on Iranian society. My impression is that despite all our differences of opinion, Iran also wants to take part in stabilizing Afghanistan. When rules for good-neighbourly relations were discussed at the conference in Istanbul, by the way, both countries, Iran and Pakistan, were represented at foreign minister level. It hasn’t always been that way.
Can we do this? On the one hand, protest when a country storms the embassy of our ally and threatens attacks in our country, yet on the other hand proceed with business as usual when it comes to Afghanistan? Is this kind of separation possible?
Westerwelle: I’m not going to get into the claims that attacks in our country have been planned. That’s a matter for the Federal Public Prosecutor General, and he has already made some informative remarks. It’s now a task for the authorities. As far as the storming of the embassy, of course we condemned it unequivocally, also in solidarity in Europe, and we have found diplomatic responses to it as well. The issue of Iran’s nuclear programme is, of course, tremendously significant to us. Here too, we naturally cannot understand at all why Iran continues not to cooperate or act transparently. But from our perspective it is absolutely necessary for Iran to continue to participate in the work of stabilizing Afghanistan. That’s how things are sometimes in international politics, if you’ve recognized what the right thing to do is, naturally sometimes you need to work with countries and governments with which you otherwise have fundamental differences of opinion.
In conclusion, Minister, I’d like to perhaps touch on one more thing, which doesn’t directly relate to the conference, but rather ties in with the current debate and that of the past week.Once again there is discussion about the euro and what is to be done.Apart from the discussions currently under way, doesn’t Europe need a new political impetus, where we say, these are the reasons why Europe is necessary for us politically?
Westerwelle: The focus of the current European discussions is too petty. There’s too little of a political overview, and people need to grasp that by calling Europe into question they’re sawing off the branch they’re sitting on, as the German saying goes. There is no country that would suffer more than Germany from the collapse of the euro or of Europe or the European Union. And the breakdown of our common currency would be devastating to Germany and to our prosperity. And that’s why what we’re protecting is not Greece, we’re not protecting the Greek economy. Rather, we’re protecting Europe and ourselves and our own currency. And we should always bear that in mind, also as we carry out the difficult current negotiations. I’d like to see these critics’ reaction if we let Europe and the euro go down the tubes, what that would mean in terms of savings, what it would mean for savings banks and people’s banks all the way down to the smallest village in Germany. You can’t seriously want that. And that’s why we’re working to have Europe keep developing into a stability union in order to correct the design flaws of the past. That means we’re currently combating the crisis, but at the same time we’re working to keep developing Europe in such a way that the causes of the crisis can be removed. And that must be the main aim of sensible European policy. We’ve spent this interview speaking about a distant country, Afghanistan. We’ve talked about Iran, about Pakistan, the neighbouring countries. We haven’t yet spoken about China or Russia or many other new centres of power – India, for example, or Brazil. But one thing is certain: we Germans are big fish in Europe, but in the world we’re very small fry. The population of Germany will soon make up less than one per cent of the world’s population. And because we’re small we’re very well advised – also in view of opportunities for our younger generation and our children – to protect Europe and to remember at all times what we have in Europe. And that’s why, without any ifs or buts, I’m working to make sure we do the right thing in terms of our market economy, but also that we commit absolutely no sins of omission in our European policy.
Could you imagine that the public’s awareness of this could be rekindled someday – for example, through an event, a major speech, some sort of recognizable story?
Westerwelle: The time for that will come. But in the midst of concrete crisis management – that is, in the midst of the issue of how we can extinguish the fire and build firewalls – it doesn’t make much sense to look to the perspective of the next 50 or 30 or 20 years. This time will come, the day will come. And besides this, there are also our recommendations for long-term further development. Europe will not be protected through the engagement of governments or foreign ministers or parliaments. Rather, Europe will be protected in the long run and ensure our long-term prosperity in the era of globalization only if it is supported by its citizens, especially the younger generation. And I sometimes get the impression that especially in Germany we’ve gotten so used to all the benefits Europe has brought us – peace, freedom, great prosperity – that we take them for granted, as if they were self-evident. But they’re not.