-- verbatim report of proceedings --
Ladies and gentlemen!
The German Government is requesting the extension of the ISAF mandate. The last time we did so was just under a year ago. In the time since then, we’ve been able to reduce our personnel ceiling in keeping with the mandate, just as we had announced in the last mandate and pledged to the Parliament. At that time we rightfully spoke of a turning point. This development is proving stable. But it’s certainly too soon for us to give an all-clear signal. We still need to brace ourselves for difficult news from Afghanistan. This means that we need to keep shaping the process of handing over responsibility as responsibly as we have done in the past three years.
We are proposing to you that the personnel ceiling be reduced from the current 4900 soldiers to 4400 when the new mandate starts. In the next mandate period – that is, in the thirteen months we’re now requesting – the Federal Government aims to further reduce the size of the German contingent to 3300 soldiers. By the end of February 2014, then, we will have withdrawn well over a thousand soldiers.
As has been the case to date, these numbers are contingent on what the situation on the ground allows for. And as has been the case to date, these numbers are to be adhered to assuming that doing so does not endanger our troops or the sustainability of the process of handing over responsibility. In our mandate we must constantly adapt ourselves to unforeseen developments in Afghanistan. For these reasons, it is the right decision for us to choose the same mandate mechanism as in the past two years.
The numbers show that the high point of German military engagement in Afghanistan is over. We are working on ending the deployment of German and international ISAF combat troops by the end of 2014. This is good news for all of us: the withdrawal will be carried out as planned and responsibly.
But 2014 will not mark the end of our commitment to Afghanistan; rather, our involvement will gain an increasingly civilian face. Of course we will not leave Afghanistan abandoned after 2014. And it is only if Afghanistan has this prospect for the period after 2014 that the transition process will succeed by this time. It’s only with this prospect that the Afghan authorities can increasingly assume the responsibility for security in Afghanistan.
Afghan security forces even today, are responsible for the security of 75 per cent of the Afghan population. By the middle of 2013, all of Afghanistan will have entered into the transition process, the handover of responsibility. Afghanistan is increasingly able to take care of its own security. The responsible handover of responsibility is underway.
We recognize the progress that has been made, but we are also well aware that the path before us is a difficult one. We will continue to see setbacks. Only a political process of inter-Afghan reconciliation and rapprochement can bring about lasting peace. This is the shift in strategy that was agreed at the Afghanistan Conference in London at the beginning of 2010. In reality this is also the strategy that now needs to be reviewed each year when we discuss the mandates. We believe that the strategy we agreed in London, the strategy of recognizing that there will be no military solution, only a political solution, which has to be safeguarded militarily is working out more and more despite some terrible setbacks and new challenges.
On balance, we can truly say that this shift in strategy at the start of 2010 was necessary and overdue. The current implementation of this strategy is the right course. We should learn from this experience, as one thing is completely clear: this operation, which is now in its eleventh year, cannot go on for another ten or eleven years. Everyone here knows this. That’s why it’s the right course that we in the German Bundestag will hopefully be deciding by a large majority to implement this new strategy which the German Government has initiated.
In my eyes this is an expression of the German Bundestag taking responsibility for our parliamentary army.
Of course, there are conditions and criteria that need to be fulfilled by the end of the reconciliation process: the rejection of international terrorism, the renunciation of violence and the recognition of the Afghan constitution – including its comprehensive protection of human rights. These conditions are not negotiable. This may sound quite abstract. But those among you who have been to Afghanistan – and I think most of the participants in this debate have done so – and have talked to people there will agree with me that above all many representatives of civil society and many women are deeply concerned about what will happen to them after the handover of responsibility. That’s why it’s incredibly important for us to emphatically insist to our Afghan partners that fundamental human rights continue to be safeguarded, above all respect for women and the rights of women.
On the other hand, we cannot leave behind a power vacuum. We must not repeat the historical error which has already led us into trouble once before. That’s why it was also the right course for us to create a double-sided prospect at the international Afghanistan Conference in Bonn as well as at the follow-up conference in Tokyo. On the one hand the international community is offering that it will not leave Afghanistan abandoned after 2014. On the other hand, though, Afghanistan itself must show that it doesn’t want to return to a time of disregarding human rights and habitually disrespecting women and minorities. We need to expect that Afghanistan will fulfil the responsibilities that it has assumed.
These responsibilities emphatically include combating corruption, and certainly also include fighting organized crime. Here I’m thinking of drug-related crime in particular, and many other things. As I assume that these are non-partisan matters of consensus here in this house, I don’t need to go into them any further here.
Ladies and gentlemen, unequivocal resolutions by the United Nations Security Council, most recently Resolution 2069 of 9 October of this year, continue to provide the basis for the ISAF mandate in international law.
We have lengthened the mandate this time to a period of thirteen months, following relevant preliminary talkswith parliamentary groups, including the opposition parties. There’s a very practical reason for this. If you look at the political calendar, you have to say that it’s reasonable for a new German Bundestag and the next Federal Government – whoever that may be – to have the chance next autumn to consult substantively enough about these things, both internally and with our allies, that truly knowledgeable, informed, sober consideration of the Afghanistan mandate can take place in the decisive final phase. I think that makes sense.
Ladies and gentlemen, I won’t conceal the fact that there have been deliberations about whether to extend the mandate even further. But it was very important to all of the political groups to stay at thirteen months, because this is a number that makes sense. Extending it further would also raise concern about a possible reduction in parliamentary oversight. We don’t want that. That wasn’t our intention. That’s why we’re right to reach a consensus on this matter.
The mandate is anything but a matter of routine. The fact that we are agreeing on it at such a late hour, in a certain sense just amongst ourselves, with only a few interested audience members following this debate, does not mean that the mandate we are now issuing has become a routine or less important matter. Bringing this operation to a responsible conclusion is and remains one of the Federal Republic of Germany’s most important foreign policy tasks. And that is exactly what we’re doing. The prospect for withdrawal that we’ve worked out is now being implemented. I regard this as a real success for the international community, as well as a real success for the German Government and the foreign policy of the CDU-FDP coalition government.
This operation was started in a different era, by different government leaders. This should be a reason to now also responsibly take part in ending this operation. I would like to expressly address those among the opposition who, as members of the opposition, do not shirk the responsibility which they earlier assumed as members of the government. If I may say so, I consider that the correct political approach.
We have sought out a conversation with you. You in turn have been open to this conversation. For that reason, ladies and gentlemen, let us thank our soldiers. Let us also thank those men and women not in uniform who are also serving in Afghanistan. They have a truly difficult job. These men and women deserve for us to fulfil our responsibility as a parliament in a non-partisan manner. This is also my appeal to the opposition: to follow the lead of the largest opposition group in this case.
Thank you very much.