Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle in a guest comment piece on the future of Afghanistan Published in the Fuldaer Zeitung,20 December 2011
Nothing is straightforward in Afghanistan. Nevertheless, Afghanistan today is in considerably better shape than it was ten years ago, when we began our military operation there following the 9/11 attacks in 2001. The reason for the international community’s engagement in Afghanistan is just as valid now as it was then: Afghanistan must never again be allowed to inflict terror on the world. The Afghanistan Conference in Bonn on 5 December reaffirmed this goal. A total of 100 countries and organizations acknowledged their responsibility to help shape Afghanistan’s future.
Germany, too, is ready to shoulder that responsibility. For years our soldiers have been making a major contribution to building stability in Afghanistan. Since 2009 the German Government has been spending 430 million euro a year on our civil engagement in Afghanistan, nearly double the previous level. The work we are doing in Afghanistan is greatly appreciated by the international community.
2011 has been a turning-point. The Afghan authorities have started progressively to take over responsibility for their country’s security. They will soon be responsible for the security of nearly half the population. This is possible because the Afghan security forces are becoming increasingly professional – also thanks to the training we have provided.
The quest for a political solution in Afghanistan is also acquiring clearer contours. There can only be a political solution in Afghanistan, not a military one. The Afghan Government has now started serious work on a peace and reconciliation process. At the Bonn Afghanistan Conference the international community gave its backing to these efforts. It is ready to support peace negotiations between the Afghan Government and the insurgents. The renunciation of violence, breaking-off of all ties with international terrorism and respect for the Afghan constitution, including women’s rights, must be part of any peace settlement. The countries of the region must respect and support this process.
With the Bonn Conference we now have a sound foundation for long-term cooperation between Afghanistan and the international community. This new partnership with Afghanistan is not a one-way street. It is based on firm mutual commitments. The Afghan Government has undertaken to improve governance, combat corruption and develop the justice sector. Throughout the so-called Transformation Decade from 2014 to 2024, the international community has committed for its part to long-term engagement with Afghanistan. The message is clear: we will not abandon Afghanistan!
Of course there is still a great deal of room for improvement. The German Government is not trying to paint a rosy picture here. That is clear from the findings of the progress report on Afghanistan which the Cabinet approved last week. Corruption, human rights abuses and the security situation continue to give cause for concern. And there have been – and still are – severe setbacks. But we ought not to make light of the progress that has been made. Working together, a good deal has been achieved in recent years: in education and health care, infrastructure improvement or building Afghanistan’s state institutions and security forces.
This progress means that for the first time a responsible reduction in the strength of the international forces deployed in Afghanistan is now possible. Germany’s military engagement, too, has this year passed its zenith. As last week’s debate in the Bundestag on the renewal of the Afghanistan mandate showed, there is broad parliamentary support for the German Government’s proposal for the first time to reduce the size of our Bundeswehr contingent serving in Afghanistan. If it receives Bundestag approval in January, then after ten years of service in Afghanistan our soldiers will start returning home. Not all of them and not all at once. But it will be a start, the beginning of a process that will see all Bundeswehr combat forces leave Afghanistan by the end of 2014.
We know it is still going to be a long road to peace in Afghanistan, we realize immense efforts will be needed and setbacks are to be expected. But as this year draws to a close, it is clear we are on the right track. What we are offering Afghanistan in our own interest is the chance to build a free and peaceful future.