Fellow members of this House,
We have been engaged in Afghanistan for 15 years now. When we first discussed the Afghanistan mission here in the German Bundestag in December 2001, we were talking about a mandate to deploy German servicemen and -women for only six months. That said, there were many in this House who predicted even then that this would prove very much a long-term project. And so it has done.
Fifteen years down the line, major progress in various areas notwithstanding, Afghanistan remains dependent on the support of the international community. And we continue to recognise our shared responsibility for stability and security in Afghanistan. At the NATO Summit in Warsaw on 8 July and at the Afghanistan donors conference in Brussels on 5 October, the international community reiterated its assurances to our Afghan partners: we will not abandon you, especially in these difficult times!
We stand ready to continue supporting Afghanistan together on its difficult journey in the coming years. There is a clear objective at the end of that journey: Afghanistan has to become safer and more stable so that people can finally have hope again in their homeland – hope that they can live in safety, have jobs and enjoy freedom.
So what is the German Government actually doing in Afghanistan?
Extending the NATO training and advisory mission Resolute Support is an important building block. The presence of up to 980 German servicemen and -women in NATO’s Resolute Support mission lends credence at the military level to what we are trying to achieve in the political and civilian spheres. By remaining engaged there, we hope to give the Afghan Government the requisite backing to initiate the urgently needed peace process and continue its reform agenda.
Alongside the Bundeswehr deployment, however, the German Government is also bringing the whole range of its foreign-policy instruments to bear in Afghanistan. Our financial support comes to a total of 510 million euros a year – 80 million for the Afghan army, 70 million for the Afghan police, 250 million for development cooperation and 110 million for further stabilisation projects. We are more involved here than in any other country.
As part of that involvement, the German Government supports police rebuilding in Afghanistan, advises the Afghan Government on refugee law, provides aid to internally displaced persons in northern Afghanistan, and is helping to build state structures and infrastructure. Anyone who wants to see us helping to build schools, hospitals and roads cannot bury their heads in the sand about extending Resolute Support.
Germany is Afghanistan’s second-largest bilateral donor, with only the United States providing more. Yet we must also be clear that we are not writing blank cheques for Afghanistan. The German Government has explicitly tied its financial support to strict conditions. We expect the Afghan Government to keep its end of the bargain – in terms of, for instance, respecting human rights and combating corruption. We expect better cooperation on matters of migration too. There is not yet enough cooperation in this field; we will continue to push for improvements in Kabul.
Members of the House,
Afghanistan needs our support to continue if the progress achieved over recent years is not to be undone. The people of Afghanistan have to finally regain a credible prospect of living in peace, freedom and economic security in their country.
That prospect does not yet exist everywhere in Afghanistan, as evidenced by the current statistics here in Germany. More than 120,000 Afghans have applied for asylum since the start of 2016 in Germany alone. Germany has responded with a great readiness to help, and half of the asylum seekers from Afghanistan have been found eligible for international protection. It is also a fact, however, that many Afghans are leaving their homeland for economic reasons.
I want to talk very openly about that dilemma. While we try to generate stability in Afghanistan and foster people’s confidence in state structures, that confidence cannot grow if more and more young people leave the country. We need to break that vicious circle. We cannot invest in Afghanistan’s future unless the people of Afghanistan believe in that future too.
This is another area in which the German Government has a large number of specific projects running on the ground.
Sometimes it’s the little everyday things that can give you hope. It’s moving to see how opening just one school can rekindle the prospects of hundreds of kids and young people, or how micro-loans can launch hundreds of new start-ups which brings jobs for local people.
Every one of these small success stories brings Afghanistan and its people closer to our common goal of a country that stands on its own two feet and can get back to normality at long last.
Members of the House,
Bringing lasting peace and stability to Afghanistan is long-term job. But our support for Afghanistan is anything but a one-way street; we also have a clear expectation that the Afghan Government will incrementally resume responsibility for stability and security in its own country.
The Afghan security forces have had sole responsibility for the country’s security since the end of the ISAF mission in 2014. They have had a hard time and sustained heavy losses, primarily due to the loss of close air support. In many places, militant groups, the Taliban in particular, keep engaging the state security forces and carrying out attacks.
But we should also acknowledge that the Afghan army has been holding up better than expected overall. In spite of several fierce attempts, the Taliban have to date not managed to take and hold even a single provincial capital. Nor has the terrorist organisation Daesh been able to spread its influence in Afghanistan. It has in fact been almost completely driven out.
However, as the attack a few days ago on the German Consulate-General in Mazar‑e‑Sharif shows, the security situation in Afghanistan remains tense. Our thoughts are with the families of the Afghans who lost their lives. We are also grateful that the strong joint response of the security forces was able to prevent the attack claiming any more victims. It demonstrated that we will not bow down to such terrorist attacks. We will continue our engagement in Afghanistan together with our partners.
Members of the House,
The violence that is still being perpetrated by the Taliban and the suffering of the Afghan people cannot be stopped by military means alone.
In the end, the road to a peaceful Afghanistan must go through an Afghan-owned peace process in which there is a role for all sections of society prepared for political settlement.
The conclusion of a peace agreement with Gulbuddin Hekmatyar’s Hezb‑e Islami party shows that peace settlements are possible. The Government will now have to prove that it is capable of integrating the former Hizb‑e Islami fighters, thus setting a positive example for future agreements. The international community supports that process, and an increasing number of voices in the Taliban are in favour of this path as well.
To conclude such a process, the Afghans need to agree on ending the violence, cutting all ties to international terrorism and committing themselves to the Afghan constitution. In a best-case scenario, we can expect a peace process that achieves this to take many more years.
A crucial factor will be whether all the countries in the region pull together. We are working to bring this about too, for instance, as chair of the International Contact Group on Afghanistan.
Members of the House,
This motion for a mandate concerns the continued participation in Resolute Support by German armed forces – alongside our partners. The basic principles of the mandate are unchanged. Resolute Support will remain a non-combat mission, and there are still no plans for direct involvement in fighting terrorism or the drug trade. The job of the up to 980 German servicemen and -women remains limited to training, advising and supporting the Afghan National Defence and Security Forces.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank our servicemen and -women, the staff of our missions abroad and the police officers stationed in Afghanistan. The work they do in the most difficult of circumstances merits our utmost respect.
Afghanistan has made progress in the last two years, but the country still needs our support. We cannot abandon it halfway along the road and jeopardise everything that has been achieved. Military withdrawal at this point in time could bring everything gained or established in the last 15 years tumbling rapidly down.
On behalf of the Government, I therefore urge you to approve this mandate.