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Germany Struggles to Bring Peace and Security to Afghanistan

As Germany pledges more money to Afghan development, questions still remain over the role of its troops in reconstructing the war-torn country. What's missing is a common international strategy, some experts say.

Man atop tank looking through binoculars

Most Germans want their troops in Afghanistan to stick to peacekeeping

In a country where residents have little access to running water and only sporadic electricity, you might think the construction of schools would take a backseat to the development of infrastructure. Education, after all, seems a luxury when your house goes unheated.

But in Afghanistan, where just 28 percent of the 32 million residents are literate, those schools are the key to lasting peace.

"Well-educated people can be responsible for the wider reconstruction of their country," reads the philosophy of the Afghanischen Frauenverein (AFV), a German-based independent initiative supporting for women and children in Afghanistan.

"Our schools in Kunduz have student who are refugees, who come from surrounding rural villages because their parents understand the importance of education," said the organization's founder and chairwoman, Nadia Karim.

Karim, who was herself educated in Afghanistan and recently returned from a visit there, said that she wants to make it possible for children to obtain an education -- the basis for peace, development, and security.

Woman teaching a group of women wearing headscarves

Some believe education is the key to everlasting peace

Rethinking the mission

Creating peace, however, is easier said than done. Nearly seven years after the US-led war began in Afghanistan, conflict still mars the nation. In the volatile southwest, a brazen attack on a prison last weekend freed around 500 suspected members of the Taliban -- insurgents who are now laying land mines and bracing for a battle with coalition forces outside of Kandahar. Other areas south of Kabul see near-daily battles.

It's this fighting that's been causing problems for the German government over the last year. Though the country's mandate for inclusion in the NATO-led military force required that German soldiers act as peacekeepers and aid in reconstruction efforts, the United States has been pressing Europe to help in combating a resurgent Taliban.

So far, Germany has been able to ward off the request and stick to its prescribed peacekeeping mission. Since 2003, approximately 3,000 of the nation's 3,500 troops have remained in the relatively stable northern provinces, helping with aid projects in Kunduz, Mazar-I-Sharif and Faizabad. In fact, only 400 to 500 of those troops go outside an eight-kilometer (five-mile) radius of the base camps, according to Conrad Schetter, a senior research fellow specializing in Afghanistan at the Center for Development Research at the University of Bonn.

Still, the question of entering into combat situations is not off the table. The so-called Afghanistan mandate comes up for debate again in October.

"Everybody does what he likes"

Soldier handing box to man in hat and jacket

Germany has been spending most of its Afghanistan funds on development and reconstruction efforts

Germany is in the midst of deciding exactly how to dole out the additional 420 million euros ($630 million) they committed at last week's donor conference in Paris. On Wednesday, Development Minister Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul announced 70 million euros of that will go to reconstruction. Another 70 million euros is earmarked for the Afghan police.

That 420 million euros, however, will only last two months in Afghanistan if today's spending rates are any indication. Though the sums may seem sufficiently large for a country in which more than half the people live in poverty, some experts are concerned about what exactly those amounts will acheive.

"Everybody does what he likes," Ali Jalili, a former Afghan minister of the interior told conference-goers last week. "There is no common vision for Afghanistan among the donor countries."

Indeed, much of what Germany spends its money on is focused on development projects -- helping to create communications networks and funding schools. The US, on the other hand, tends to concentrate on issues of security. It’s this divergence in end goals that makes the situation most precarious for Germany.

"We have to remember that this is an experiment for Germany," Schetter said. "It's the first large deployment of troops since World War II and they're still feeling their way around. The US, the Netherlands and Britain feel otherwise because their orders are different, their goals in the country are different."

Security, security, security

Lakhdar Brahimi, the United Nations special envoy to Afghanistan from 2001 to 2003, however, once said that Afghanistan is in need of three things: "security, security, and security."

Though many on the ground in the country would agree, these issues of security pose difficulties for Germany.

"One of the main problems with the discussion about Germany's role in Afghanistan is that the border between development work and military engagement is fuzzy," Schetter said.

As much as we might like to see a clear division, it's not easy to separate the two.

"Nearly 85 percent of what Germany funds goes to resources and logistics," Schetter said. "That leaves just somewhere between 10 and 15 percent for civilians."

Even then, seemingly mundane expenses add up in a country lacking infrastructure. Costs for a traveling library supported in part by the German Development Agency that brings books to over 3,500 students in Kabul and Kunduz, are astronomical because no books can be made in the country. Texts may be written in Afghanistan but have to be sent over borders to be published, driving up costs through importation.

Ideally then, Schetter said, Germany's politicians should not be debating whether to send more troops to Afghanistan. Instead, he believes a non-partisan review commission should be formed that would consult experts on what’s worked well in Afghanistan and what hasn't -- bringing greater transparency to the public as they review the situation on the ground right now. "German citizens are not dumb," Schetter said. "They want to know exactly what's going on."

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