On Saturday, 222 months after the start of the US intervention in Afghanistan in October 2001, the representatives of the United States, the US Administration and the Taliban agreed on a timeline for peace. Even if many issues remain unresolved, I think we can say that the agreement reached in Doha is a milestone. At the same time, it has to be said that this is where the real work starts.
The agreement needs to be followed now by genuine intra-Afghan negotiations. In this context, it is crucial that all sections of the Afghan population are involved, especially women and representatives of all ethnic groups, of which there are several in Afghanistan; because – and this is what is worrying many people in Afghanistan just now – there can be no return to the Taliban’s absolute totalitarian rule at the expense of an entire generation of young women and men.
Even if this is indeed a major advance, one thing has to be clearly said: there is still a long way to go to a peace agreement – and that’s the priority now. The fact that the Taliban have stepped up their attacks on the Afghan security forces again since Monday, even though a reduction of violence is clearly stipulated in the agreement, makes that very clear. So one can only hope that these attacks are halted without delay and that they do not become the first obstacle preventing the launch of intra-Afghan negotiations.
This is precisely why the international community must not leave Afghanistan on its own now, ladies and gentlemen. And here Germany plays a very special role, because our country has long enjoyed particular trust in Afghanistan, across ideological and ethnic boundaries.
That is why we are ready not only to provide continuing political support for the necessary confidence-building initiatives and preparatory work for the intra-Afghan negotiations, but also to help organise them – to the extent, obviously, that the two parties to the conflict believe it necessary and acceptable. I made that very clear to President Ghani again during our talks on the fringes of the Munich Security Conference. We are currently exploring the specific form this support might take with both Afghan and international partners.
In this connection, I had a meeting with my Qatari colleague in Berlin today, and we talked precisely about who can play what role and how the existing Qatari and Norwegian initiatives can be combined with ours to form the foundations for an intra-Afghan dialogue.
Alongside our political engagement, ladies and gentlemen, we will be continuing our support for civilian reconstruction, because there is still a great need there. Our engagement will remain linked above all to the conditions I outlined to my American counterpart last August, when we were first approached about taking on a major role in organising the intra-Afghan peace process if the US Administration and the Taliban were to reach an agreement.
The first fundamental prerequisite both for a successful peace process and for civilian reconstruction is and will remain adherence to Afghanistan’s constitutional order, and in particular observance of the human rights anchored therein.
The second is and always will be a stable security environment. This requires efficient Afghan security forces. That is why we are prepared, particularly at this juncture, to continue our military engagement in the NATO-led training mission. The agreement reached in Doha is more than a mere confidence-building measure, but it is also only a start. Only a reduction in the international troop presence in Afghanistan, which is a further element of the Doha agreement, will help to build confidence on both sides.
Ladies and gentlemen, this reconfiguration by the US forces, which is described in relative detail in the agreement, will also necessitate a careful reconfiguration of our presence. We are coordinating closely with our international partners and with NATO representatives to decide what exact form this will take. In order to maintain the necessary flexibility, we should therefore leave the current ceiling – 1300 German soldiers – unchanged up to 31 March next year. Many of the decisions to be taken along the way will be decided in coordination with the Bundestag; I can assure you of that. Throughout this process, the United States has given us repeated assurances that possible reductions will remain closely tied to conditions. First and foremost, this means that the progress made over the past 222 months – on the rule of law, democracy, human rights, especially women’s rights and the right of girls to go to school – must be preserved.
The third prerequisite – this, too, has been coordinated with Washington – is that the United States involve its international partners closely and seriously in both processes – the reduction of the military presence and the continuing political process. A hasty withdrawal of forces would not only destroy any chance of lasting peace but would also put at risk everything that has already been achieved in Afghanistan. That is something we cannot and will not allow.
Ladies and gentlemen, it would also be difficult if the sacrifices made by the Bundeswehr and by other states’ armed forces were to have been for nothing. It would be hard to have to tell these people’s relatives, parents, partners or children not only that they have made sacrifices, but that those sacrifices have been in vain. We want to avoid that. And so I want to take this opportunity once again to extend sincere thanks to our soldiers, police officers and civilian aid workers, who have made it possible for this process to begin.
Now, with the prospect of peace in Afghanistan closer than it has been for a long time, we need another big political push. I therefore request your approval of this mandate.
Thank you very much.