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Mr President, fellow Members!
Ten days ago in Bonn Afghanistan and the international community sealed a new partnership, a partnership pointing the way forward for a sovereign Afghanistan in the years beyond 2014. Despite a series of appalling attacks designed to derail the process, the transfer of responsibility for security to Afghan hands has now started. Efforts aimed at paving the way for a reconciliation process in Afghanistan are making headway, even if the assassination of Professor Rabbani was a grievous setback.
From corruption to human rights and the security situation, nothing is straightforward in Afghanistan. And yet the country is in a better position today than it was a year ago, let alone a decade ago. Members of our armed forces as well as German police officers, reconstruction teams and diplomats have all contributed to this improvement. We appreciate their commitment and hard work.
Together we express thanks to our fellow Germans in and out of uniform. We pay tribute to our soldiers who laid down their lives in the call of duty. Innocent Afghan children, women and men have also perished. When we think of Afghanistan’s future, a secure and peaceful future, we mourn for all the lives that have been lost.
2011 has been a turning point for the international community’s policy on Afghanistan. The strategic consensus achieved in Bonn will now be implemented by the international community step by step.
First, there can be no military solution in Afghanistan, only a political one. That’s why we support the reconciliation and reintegration process, however long and difficult it may be. The Afghan Government has now started serious work on such a peace and reconciliation process. The traditional loya jirga held in Kabul in mid-November 2011 gave this goal its backing, as I saw for myself on my last visit there.
Second, the transition process began in July. Two weeks ago President Karzai announced in what parts of the country the second phase of this process will take place. In due course the Afghan authorities will take over responsibility for security throughout the country. By February 2012 they will be responsible for the security of almost half the population. Even though there are still shortcomings, they are now able to live up to this responsibility. That’s due in part to our training activities, which we stepped up considerably following the London Afghanistan Conference in early 2010.
So despite horrific attacks, the start of the transition – and I use the word “start” advisedly – has been a success.
Third, building stability in Afghanistan requires the cooperation of all its neighbours. On 2 November the Afghan Government reached agreement in Istanbul with all its neighbours and other relevant actors on a long-term process aimed at forging closer economic and political ties across the entire region. The “New Silk Road” project we presented in September at the United Nations General Assembly in New York points in the same direction. The whole process builds on shared principles of regional security and stability as well as an ambitious catalogue of confidence-building measures designed to enhance regional cooperation. That’s something entirely new in this region. Even though Pakistan felt unable, following the killing of more than 24 of its soldiers, to attend the Bonn Conference, the Pakistan Government did play a constructive role in reaching the accords I’ve just outlined. Pakistan was also involved in the preparations for the conference – that was the purpose of my trip to Islamabad a few days before it opened. After the conference, I may say, Pakistan’s Foreign Minister assured me that the country would continue to support the political process in Afghanistan. We for our part impress on all Afghanistan’s neighbours that a stable, peaceful and democratic Afghanistan is in the interest not only of Afghanistan and the international community but most definitely also in the interest of Afghanistan’s neighbours throughout the region. We appeal to all its neighbours to back this process.
Fourth, we’ll succeed in building stability in Afghanistan only if we continue our support beyond 2014. At the International Afghanistan Conference in Bonn we renewed the partnership between Afghanistan and the international community. We’ve now laid a firm foundation for the so-called Transformation Decade from 2015 to 2024. That will be the new way forward once the international combat forces have left. Let me repeat here in the German Bundestag what the Federal Chancellor and I said at the opening of the Afghanistan Conference in Bonn: we will not abandon the people of Afghanistan – either now or after 2014. We will not leave a vacuum behind in which terror can once again flourish. We’re doing what we’re doing for Afghanistan, for the country itself. But the fact remains that we’re also doing it for ourselves, in the interest of our own security. And we won’t repeat the mistakes of the past.
This outcome is the result of two years of hard work by a great many people. We cherish no illusions here. The Afghanistan Conference was about the art of the possible. The German Government’s policy in Afghanistan is geared to what is possible. We now have realistic objectives, realistic resources and a realistic timeframe. We’ve agreed on this with Afghanistan and the international community. And with our partners we’re systematically implementing what we’ve agreed. The international consensus here has never been greater, as was impressively demonstrated in Bonn.
Even before it started, by the way, the Bonn Conference spurred efforts in Afghanistan to resolve a number of thorny domestic issues – the parliamentary crisis, for example, or the controversy over the Kabul Bank.
Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, the new partnership with Afghanistan is not a one-way street. It rests on firm mutual commitments made by the international community and Afghanistan. The Afghan Government has undertaken to make improvements with respect to governance, the fight against corruption and capacity-building in the justice sector. The role of the constitution and human rights as the foundation of Afghan society is to be strengthened.
The international community for its part has committed to long-term engagement in Afghanistan beyond 2014 – and given a remarkably firm pledge in this connection. Next July in Tokyo these civil and development commitments will be fleshed out. You are in charge of the public purse, so I’ll be quite candid here: this will entail financial burdens for a good many years to come. Development and security are inextricably linked. It’s vital to get Afghanistan’s economy up and running. Helping the country develop a competitive private sector will be a long haul.
The commodities sector has huge potential and in the long term could make Afghanistan less dependent on international handouts. Due to concerns among investors about security and the lack of legal certainty, the country’s mineral wealth has hardly been exploited at all to date. The conference held in Brussels in the run-up to the Bonn Conference and focusing on the economic future of Afghanistan has helped us make headway in this area, too. Against this background a comprehensive and integrated approach to Afghanistan is clearly of crucial importance. With your permission, I’d like to take this opportunity to thank my ministerial colleagues for the good and well-coordinated work we have done together: the Federal Interior Minister – I’m thinking here of police capacity-building –, the Federal Minister for Economic Cooperation and above all the Federal Defence Minister.
Beyond 2014, too, Afghanistan won’t be a development cooperation partner like any other. That’s a point Development Minister Dirk Niebel has stressed on repeated occasions. Given the special responsibility we’ve exercised there over the past decade, our development cooperation with Afghanistan has a special status. It amounts to a new kind of partnership, as manifested in the Transformation Decade agreed in Bonn that I mentioned earlier. The European Union has already opened negotiations with Afghanistan on a partnership and cooperation agreement. Next year the German Government, too, will open negotiations with Afghanistan on a bilateral partnership agreement intended to put our cooperation onto a new and sound footing. That’s what was agreed right after the Afghanistan Conference between President Karzai and Federal Chancellor Merkel.
The need for a political process and peace talks also with the Taliban is now endorsed by the whole international community. This is part of the strategic consensus reached in Bonn. Today all actors agree there can be only a political solution, not a military one. Such a political solution requires clear criteria of course. That’s why the international community agreed in Bonn on a set of seven principles. One is that the quest for a political solution should be Afghan-led; no one else can impose a solution. This process must also reflect the legitimate interests of all sections of Afghan society. It’s important that they feel they’re represented in their country’s political institutions.
There can be lasting peace in Afghanistan only if all sections of Afghan society participate in the peace process and can identify with its outcome. That was why it was so impressive to see more representatives of Afghan civil society than ever before voice their concerns in the run‑up to the Bonn Conference and also participate in the Conference itself. They included a great many women, incidentally, quite a significant proportion, in fact. I make a point of that, since it’s first and foremost women who are justifiably concerned that post-2014 their rights and opportunities might once again be forgotten. Our solidarity and the clear message that in future we’ll continue to uphold and promote respect for fundamental human rights, including also women’s rights, is crucial, I believe, if the transition process in Afghanistan is to succeed.
These principles also lay down clearcut criteria for the intended outcome, i.e. the peace settlement itself. It must safeguard the sovereignty, stability and unity of Afghanistan. Renunciation of violence, breaking-off of all ties with international terrorism and respect for the Afghan constitution and its human rights provisions, including – let me repeat – women’s rights in particular, are essential components of any peace settlement. A political solution in Afghanistan must be respected and supported by the region, too, moreover.
A political solution along these lines will enjoy the full support of the international community. Our sights are firmly fixed on one goal here: Afghanistan must never again become a danger to the whole world. Instead of a trouble spot, Afghanistan will become a sovereign and responsible country, we hope, enjoying the same rights as other members of the international community and contributing to peace and stability in the region. Kabul must never again become the capital of terrorists across the world.
The second German Government progress report on Afghanistan, ladies and gentlemen, gives an unembellished account of the progress achieved and the difficulties that persist in Afghanistan. We need to take stock honestly, without glossing over the problems but also without ignoring what headway has been made.
One third of the around 8 million children in school are girls. Over 80% of Afghans have access to health care. Roads have been built, infrastructure has been improved and, very importantly, people also have better access to water.
With Afghanistan’s security forces numbering 305,000 at present, they have almost reached full strength. The priority now is to upgrade training both in the police force and the army. This is a task that will continue also beyond 2014 when the last of the international combat troops leave. The year-by-year deterioration in the security situation has been stopped for the moment – and I emphasize: for the moment. Despite a number of horrific attacks, the overall situation in 2011 is one of consolidation. That, too, is part of the picture.
The human rights situation in Afghanistan is improving, but it’s clearly a slow process. Universal human rights are enshrined in the Afghan constitution, yet they are still far from being a reality on the ground. In the area of governance and democracy, there remains a great deal of work to do. One issue that needs to be addressed is electoral reform and here we stand ready to help along with our European partners.
Corruption remains a major impediment to good governance in Afghanistan. The scandal over the Kabul Bank is just the tip of the iceberg. Corruption is fuelled also by the narco-economy. In Bonn the Afghan Government presented a strategy for economic transition designed to bring about notable improvements in this area. The Afghanistan National Development Strategy is making modest progress. Development cooperation timelines are framed in decades rather than years, of course. A realistic view of the situation needs to make that clear.
The focus of Germany’s engagement in Afghanistan is shifting to programmes and projects designed to promote sustainable development and which have been meticulously coordinated with the Afghan Government. German Government funding for reconstruction and development in Afghanistan now stands at 430 million euro a year - nearly double the previous level. This makes Germany the third largest donor in Afghanistan.
With the outcome of the Bonn Conference, a new phase of our engagement in Afghanistan is now under way. Together with the Afghan Government, we’ve agreed on a responsible draw-down of all international combat troops in Afghanistan. Germany’s military engagement there has this year reached its zenith.
With the new mandate we are requesting today, Germany, too, will start responsibly implementing the withdrawal of our combat troops from Afghanistan as internationally agreed. The withdrawal of our troops, the result of two years of work, will now become a realistic prospect. The strategy of transferring responsibility for the country’s security to Afghan hands is now entering the operational phase. Clearly, however, building long-term stability in Afghanistan will be tough going. And we must still expect setbacks.
If the German Bundestag approves the Government’s motion, as from 1 February 2012 the number of Bundeswehr soldiers deployed in Afghanistan will be reduced to a maximum of 4900. Up till now Germany has participated in NATO’s AWACS operations under a separate mandate. This participation will continue. The relevant posts, however, will come under the new ceiling. There will be no more flexible reserve.
As the handover of responsibility for security goes forward, moreover, the German Government will seek by the end of this mandate to bring our troop strength down to a maximum of 4400 soldiers, provided the circumstances are right and such a reduction would not compromise either the security of our personnel on the ground or the sustainability of the handover process. This year, too, that’s a proviso which has to be made. Anything else would be unrealistic. No one can predict what the future will bring. That’s why we’ve written into this new mandate the same qualifications that we specified in last year’s mandate.
We cherish no illusions. The security situation in Afghanistan is still difficult. The danger remains all too real, as the horrific attacks seen in recent months have made clear. However, we see that the Afghan security forces are increasingly capable of dealing on their own even with challenges of this kind. That is indeed our core task: to upgrade the training of the Afghan security forces. Of course it’s important to increase force strength. But the crucial thing is to enhance capabilities, in other words, the quality of Afghan soldiers and police officers. That is an enormous task. It will require strenuous efforts also beyond 2014, when the last of the international combat troops leave.
Ladies and gentlemen, the reason for our engagement in Afghanistan is just as valid now as it was in the past. Its purpose was and still is to protect our societies from mortal danger. Afghanistan must never again become a haven for terrorists. That is what the whole international community is committed to preventing. Some 50 countries are participating in ISAF. Germany is also living up to its responsibility in this connection.
Although a fair amount has been accomplished, setbacks cannot be ruled out. Let me therefore request your support here, ladies and gentlemen. Give our soldiers serving in Afghanistan your backing and approve the motion the German Government has tabled by a broad majority!
Here in this House I’d like to offer not only the members of the Bundeswehr but also our police instructors, reconstruction teams and diplomats as well as - most importantly - their families my thanks and my profound respect for their commitment. All of them are risking their aspirations, their health and indeed their lives in the service of our country.
Permit me to finish with a few personal remarks. I’ve visited Afghanistan a great many times, also long before becoming a member of this Government. When we talk of Afghanistan here in Germany, when the media report on Afghanistan, we see harrowing images. We see attacks. We grieve for those who’ve been killed. We see scenes that are truly horrific. We know about the problems. All of us share these concerns – and yet we hope our engagement will pave the way for a good, peaceful and stable future for Afghanistan. However, we shouldn’t focus here only on images of violence and terror.
In July I visited a centre for children and young people in Kabul. The children there play just like children anywhere in the world. For me the eyes of those children – girls and boys – shone with hope. We owe it to these children, I believe, to help make their hopes come true. I see the new face of Afghanistan above all in the faces of these children – the scenes of carnage and terror don’t tell the whole story. It’s not the fault of these children - the next generation – that they are forced to grow up in such conditions. They, too, have only one life and the same hopes as children everywhere. When we entered the room, the girls looked down shyly. The lads aged eight, nine, ten or eleven were of course eager to demonstrate all the skills they’d learned to the visitors from abroad.
Ladies and gentlemen, when we talk about Afghanistan, we tend to concentrate on the nitty-gritty. I believe it would do us good now and then to bear these children in mind. What we’re doing in Afghanistan, we’re doing for the children - and of course we’re doing it in the interest of our own security, too.
Nothing is straightforward in Afghanistan. Much still needs to be done if the situation is to improve. I fear this will remain an uphill struggle. Nevertheless, of one thing I’m certain at the end of this year, after the Bonn Conference: with our engagement in Afghanistan and our new partnership with the country, we’re on the right track. What we’re offering Afghanistan is the chance to build a future in peace and freedom – in the interest of the Afghans themselves and in the interest of our own security. Thank you for your attention.