The coming expanded deployment of the Bundeswehr in Afghanistan dominates the editorial pages of Germany’s newspapers on Wednesday.
Following a vote in the United Nations allowing peacekeepers in Afghanistan to extend their mission beyond Kabul and its immediate surroundings, a first contingent of German troops could deployed to the northern city of Kunduz by November.
The German cabinet in Berlin is expected to endorse the move on Wednesday, and the lower house of parliament could give its approval as early as next week.
The Munich-based Süddeutsche Zeitung wrote that it "is difficult to make predictions in the peacekeeping business." Perhaps, the editors added, "the very presence of soldiers will suffice to help Afghanistan along the stony path to more security. But in the case of Germany's involvement, "one cannot avoid the impression that the decision to dispatch troops to Afghanistan was taken in order to circumvent the tricky issue of whether to send troops to Iraq." It is as if Berlin were purchasing a pardon, or indulgence, by sending soldiers to Kunduz, the paper wrote. "They, at least, are entitled to find out more about the strategic thinking that lies behind their Northern Afghanistan posting. "The Bundestag is going to debate the matter, but the decision has already been taken," the paper concluded.
The editors of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung wrote that the plan to cover Afghanistan with military bases from which are being used for military pacification, to stabilize regional politics and reconstruct the war-torn economy should then spread out across the country, "shows a willingness to tackle the practical side of creating a new order in Afghanistan." But the paper’s editors expressed doubts over whether "such a scheme could ever be realized in a country like Afghanistan, with its jagged terrain and sharp ethnic divisions." And those doubts are constantly being fed by the fighting between warlords and their armies, "underlining how far removed Afghanistan is from being a state in the modern sense of the word."
Closer to home, German editorial writers have been pondering over a domestic political victory notched up by Chancellor Gerhard Schröder on Tuesday. In a crunch test vote on a sweeping reform package due to come before parliament later this week, Schröder won unanimous backing from his Social Democrat deputies. A spokesman said he now had the unqualified support of all members of the Social Democrat parliamentary group, after having made concessions to left-wingers on Monday.
Bonn’s General-Anzeiger opined that Schröder can now breathe a sigh of relief. "When it comes to the vote on Friday, all his troops will be behind him. The row over whether the government leant too far out of the window to accommodate the critics of the Agenda 2010 package is now largely of academic interest," the paper wrote. "The words of compromise have served their purpose, and the critics have fallen silent."
However, even if the chancellor does cobble together a majority, as forecast by the test vote, his troubles are not over. The draft legislation must still pass through the upper legislative chamber, the Bundesrat.
As the Schwarzwälder Bote observed, it is far from certain that Schröder's reforms will be implemented in the form in which they are presented to the lower house, the Bundestag, on Friday. The conservatives have already promised corrections to the corrections.
But as the editors of the Neue Rhein Zeitung pointed out: "The conservatives had better not push their rejection of the package too far, otherwise they run the risk of being branded socially unjust."