“We will not abandon Afghanistan”

Michael Steiner, special representative of the German government, on the next steps of international engagement

19/01/2012 | 18:00 - 19:30 | DGAP Rauchstr. 17 10787 Berlin | Invitation only


Category: Afghanistan, Security

International politicians do not have much time to make progress on Afghanistan before the US presidential elections. Michael Steiner came to the DGAP to discuss the prospects for upcoming negotiations that will deal with the withdraw of troops and lasting stability in the country. Building up the Afghan security forces and talks with the Taliban are among the central challenges faced by the country.

Michael Steiner is relying on broad parliamentary support for the German government’s Afghanistan policy. The Bundestag voted on an extension of Germany’s contribution to the ISAF on January 26. The current progress report gives an unvarnished picture of the situation and contains realistic goals: Force levels will be reduced, international combat troops will be withdrawn by 2014, and Germany will take part in training Afghan security forces after the troops come home.

An Orderly Retreat

Over the next three years, responsibility for security in Afghanistan will gradually be given over to local authorities. A decisive step here is the withdrawal of allied combat troops by the end of 2014 – an important date for Kabul as well as Berlin. Authorities are committed to sticking to this – regardless of the situation: “2014 will stand,” said Steiner.

However, this does not mean the end of Germany’s engagement in the country. On the contrary: “The international community will not abandon Afghanistan.” This was emphasized at the Bonn Conference in December 2011, where additional aid was promised. The country needs no less than a “transformational decade” before it can become a “normal developing country.” Above all, the country needs to press ahead with professionalizing Afghan security forces. A sustainable concept should be developed by the NATO Summit in Chicago this May.

In the future, civilian aid will come to the fore, although the international community can only initiate the reconstruction process. In order to ensure that international engagement has a sustainable effect, Steiner says that Afghanistan must make a considerable effort. “In the end, good governance can only be guaranteed by the Afghans themselves.” The Afghan government committed itself to this in Bonn.

Interim Goals from Bonn

Steiner saw the Afghanistan conference in Bonn as a success. Despite the difficult situation in conflict areas, all actors agreed upon a binding strategy with realistic goals. “Adequate stability” should be established in the country and “fundamental human rights” should be guaranteed.

The peace process must remain under Afghan leadership and lead to a unified country in which there is no space for terrorism. A constructive attitude by neighboring countries would be decisive in ensuring success. In June, a regional meeting of foreign ministers will take place in Kabul.

Test the Taliban

Parallel to the military presence, efforts should be made to advance the political process, develop trust, and bring together all parties in conflict. Everything depends on whether the main parties involved can get up the nerve to “abandon the security of a confrontational situation,” according to Steiner. On the Taliban side, there has been a shift in the last few weeks. “The Taliban’s readiness to negotiate is a groundbreaking step.” The international community needs to explore this offer in order to come closer to peace, although the negotiations are supposed to be led by the Afghans. The Taliban has illustrated that, although it is weakened and unpopular, it still constitutes an important power in Afghanistan.

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