An interview given by Foreign Minister Frank‑Walter Steinmeier on his visit to Afghanistan and published in the Afghan daily Hasht e Subh on 30 August 2015
Germany has invested a lot in Afghanistan over the past fourteen years, from smaller projects in the north of the country to major initiatives like equipping and training the Afghan police. Would you say these funds have been well spent, and do you frequently get feedback from official circles in Afghanistan? Are you satisfied with your support for Afghanistan?
Afghanistan and the international community have achieved a lot. Since the end of the Taliban regime, income per capita has more than doubled, average life expectancy has increased by nearly six years, more people than ever before have electricity and water, and many girls and boys can go to school. This is thanks not only to the Afghan people’s will to rebuild their country, but also to unprecedented international support. Germany is proud to be one of Afghanistan’s most important partners on this journey. The journey now needs to be continued, and the achievements so far need to be consolidated. This will involve the Afghan Government undertaking further determined reform and resolutely combating corruption.
Germany has lost a large number of soldiers in Afghanistan in the war on terror. Other NATO members also supplied troops, and they too have sustained losses. As we now know, Osama bin Laden, Mullah Omar and other Taliban leaders are or were in Pakistan and supported by that country. Do you think the war on terror should be redefined and adapted to fit actual circumstances? Why does Germany not use its foreign policy clout to encourage the Government of Pakistan to stop supporting terrorism?
My impression is that all the countries of this region are realising that terrorism in all its forms has to be condemned and combated resolutely and without reservation. Terrorism and violence cannot be useful to any state in the long term; they erode human dignity and are always destructive. Pakistan itself has suffered recurring terrorist attacks, so it is in the Pakistan Government’s own interests to take resolute action against terrorist groups. The same applies to cooperating with Afghanistan. You need only look at a map to see that these two countries will only overcome this challenge by working together. We therefore support President Ghani’s courageous decision to reach out to his neighbours and offer extensive collaboration. Especially following the cowardly attacks of the last few weeks, we very much hope that Afghanistan and Pakistan keep the channels of communication open and continue seeking to build closer relations.
The current Government in Kabul was very keen to resolve the country’s problems with Pakistan in order to bring peace to Afghanistan. Germany also observed the Afghan peace process with keen interest and made efforts to help advance it. Now, however, it seems like the Afghan Government is no longer looking for Pakistan’s support in the peace process, because that support was not sufficiently forthcoming during last year. Do you think the Afghan peace process can have a positive outcome, given the current developments in the region?
As I see it, one thing is clear – namely that the conflict in Afghanistan cannot be resolved by purely military means. There is therefore no rational alternative to engaging in a peace process. The Taliban need to decide whether they want to keep on spilling the blood of innocent men, women and children or open a new chapter and channel their interests into a political process that will benefit their country. All sides need to pull their weight to ensure this unique opportunity is not wasted. Partners can help here – as Pakistan, China and the US recently demonstrated. But the peace process has to be an Afghan affair, engaged in and pushed forward by Afghans.
The airport at Mazar-e-Sharif, a large hospital in Balkh Province and many other projects are visible signs of German support. Your commitment to this country could be expressed in a different form if the German Government were willing to invest in major infrastructure projects, such as large-scale irrigation systems in the north and north-east of Afghanistan. Large projects of this kind could promote agriculture and the establishment of small sectors which support agriculture in the region. In your opinion, could Germany realign its support and commitment after fourteen years in favour of major infrastructure projects?
Germany has provided more development aid funding to Afghanistan than to any other country in the world. We will keep up that support. However, our goal has always been to enable Afghanistan to build a stable society for itself. President Ghani has also identified greater autonomy as the solution for the next phase of development measures. To ensure that infrastructure investment is sustainable, it should increasingly come from the local and international private sector in future.
The US and UK are still at war in Afghanistan, and they also send military experts there as part of the mission Resolute Support. Would you consider redeploying German troops to Afghanistan to engage in combat rather than just training, if circumstances change and ISIS and the Taliban pose a greater threat than they do now?
The handover of responsibility for security to the Afghan security forces at the end of 2014 was a historic step. It was an expression of growing confidence in Afghanistan’s ability to take its stabilisation into its own hands. The Afghan armed forces have to date met the challenges thrown at them, demonstrating great and admirable commitment and sustaining heavy losses. At the same time, it is going to take a lot more dedication and stamina to get the violence in Afghanistan under control. Germany remains shoulder to shoulder with Afghanistan through our leading involvement in Resolute Support within NATO – providing advice and training.
Germany and Afghanistan are bound together by longstanding relations. Our first strategic partnership with Germany was agreed decades ago. How do you see future cooperation between Afghanistan and Germany as partners? Do you think Germany will continue working to help Afghanistan?
We are celebrating 100 years of German-Afghan friendship this year with a series of festivities and reciprocal visits. A friend in need, as the saying goes, is a friend indeed. Our relationship has lasted through good and bad times because it goes deeper than mere self-serving policies. It is built on mutual interest, myriad personal contacts and intercultural ties. This feeds my optimism about the future. I can assure you that Germany’s friendship with Afghanistan has no sell-by date.