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“Should the Taliban establish a caliphate, that would put an end to international aid programmes.”

12.08.2021 - Interview

Foreign Minister Heiko Maas talks to the Stuttgarter Zeitung.

Mr Maas, you have been in office for three and a half years. Is it an illusion, or has the world become more troubled in this time?

It has. It is definitely not an illusion. My predecessor, Frank‑Walter Steinmeier, was already fond of saying that the world had come loose from its moorings.

Things are happening very quickly in Afghanistan. The US intelligence agencies say the capital Kabul could fall to the Taliban soon, only a matter of weeks after the withdrawal of Western forces. Was the mission in vain?

No, I don’t think so. Much has changed in Afghanistan over the past 20 years. Average incomes are up, life expectancy has in general increased, and infant mortality is down. Girls can go to school. Progress has been made. It has to be consolidated politically. That is why we are doing everything to strengthen the peace process. If that fails, all this progress could soon be undone.

How can Western countries exercise their influence to stabilise the situation?

Afghanistan will not have a future without financial support from the West. We contribute to this with a sum of 430 million euro each year. But our aid is conditional on enduring peace and safeguarding the achievements of the past 20 years. Should the Taliban establish a caliphate, they would isolate themselves on the international stage and would not receive diplomatic recognition as a state. That would put an end to international aid programmes. We have to make that very clear to them.

Federal Interior Minister Seehofer has just called a halt to the deportation of criminals to Afghanistan. Will that be a permanent freeze given the Taliban’s growing power?

That will depend on developments on the ground. The Afghan Government asked us to agree to a moratorium on repatriations until the end of October. That’s the period we are talking about now. After that, we’ll think again. The new German Government will have to decide in due course whether repatriations can be resumed, at least for serious offenders, taking into account the situation as it then stands.

Was the Interior Minister’s change of heart based in part on a new assessment of the situation by your ministry?

Our latest situation report is from the end of May, and is currently being updated. It will confirm that the situation in the country is very serious. We have, of course, been talking about it within the Government in the past few days.

Your party encompasses various camps when it comes to German foreign policy. That’s noticeable with respect to Russia, but also in the dispute about buying armed drones for the Bundeswehr. Which camp do you think will prevail?

Speaking from my experience over the past few years, I can say that the expectations placed on Germany from outside are extremely high. When it comes to ensuring that values and international law are respected, Germany must assume responsibility in Europe and in the United Nations. Our efforts are highly appreciated because we don’t rely on military means alone, but take a networked approach. Anybody who wants Germany to be involved will thus get the whole package – including diplomatic and political engagement. I know of no military conflict that has been lastingly resolved without a political settlement.

Your first term of office is drawing to a close. What would you like people and the history books to remember about Heiko Maas’s three and a half years as Foreign Minister?

These years have not been easy at international level. First we had Donald Trump in the White House, then came the coronavirus. My policies have been guided by this realisation: our major challenges, such as globalisation, the digital transformation, climate change, migration, and the pandemic, too, all have one thing in common – borders are irrelevant, more international cooperation is needed. We established the Alliance for Multilateralism, which more than 70 countries have now joined. We fought hard for that, in difficult circumstances.

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