For the first time since the fall of the Taliban regime, Afghanistan will elect its parliament on Sept. 18. The NATO-lead international forces continue to play a key role ensuring safety and stability.
Afghans and Germans will elect their parliaments on the same day
The importance of the Afghan parliamentary and regional elections, less than one year after the presidential poll, has not gone unnoticed in the international community. Berlin has donated $3 million (2.4 million euros) to the United Nations fund to help defray the costs of organizing the vote. Seventy election observers, including six representatives from Germany, have already been dispatched to Afghanistan. By election day, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) will have 140 observers in place, supported by some 7,000 Afghan helpers.
The elections in Afghanistan remain, nonetheless, a hazardous matter. The European Union has already declared four of 34 provinces too dangerous to send election monitors. So far, four Afghan candidates have been assassinated, while Islamic militants, mostly ousted Taliban militia, have vowed to disrupt voting.
ISAF playing key role
German Defense Minister Peter Struck (left) together with Colonel Reinhard Burz in Kunduz last October
The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) has stocked up its forces in Kabul and other areas in the country by 2,000, thus increasing the number of troops that will be present before, during and after the election to 11,000.
The German army did not send additional troops, since it already has 2,230 soldiers in Afghanistan -- twenty soldiers fewer than the maximum number authorized by the German parliament. Most of the German soldiers are stationed in Kabul, but a smaller contingent of 450 troops is in the north of Afghanistan.
German police trainer in front of Afghan recruits
If The German forces should be bumped up to 3,000 in the near future. German Defense Minister Struck also wants to eliminate the current geographical restrictions on Bundeswehr soldiers.
"In concordance with the ongoing role of NATO, we should assume complete responsibility in northern Afghanistan, including Mazar-e Sharif," Struck said.
"With parliament's permission, we would also be allowed to extend our mission to the west of the country, if requested," he said.
Time constraints in Germany
Changes in the German contingent will not occur before elections on Sept. 18. The UN must first approve the continuation of the international community's role in Afghanistan. This will happen in mid-September, at the earliest. In addition, the new German parliamentarians may not yet be in Berlin before the Afghanistan mandate expires on Oct. 13, which means that the outgoing German parliament may have to address this issue even after the German elections.
A convoy of German armoured vehicles from ISAF
Defense affairs spokesman Christian Schmidt of the opposition CSU criticized the timetable as "adventurous," but all other parties agreed that they wanted to wait for the presentation of the UN draft mandate before taking up the matter.
There is a consensus among German politicians that the situation in Afghanistan is too unstable to have ISAF removed in the near future.