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Kunduz locals fear exit of German military

As the Bundeswehr exits Kunduz, it leaves troubled memories behind. It also places locals at the mercy of a vindictive Taliban. Some will carry on. Others are shutting down shop - or trying to flee to Germany.

For a decade now, German soldiers have been a familiar sight for inhabitants of Kunduz, a city in northern Afghanistan. But that is set to change. Troops officially handed over command of the German military base in Kunduz to local security forces today (06.10.2013).

Many Afghans are worried about the troops' withdrawal from Kunduz, which was a Taliban stronghold until the US intervened in 2001. Abdullah Rasoli, leader of a local NGO, sums up fears in the area.

A military vehicle painted in camouflage stands idly within the maze-like walls of the paved entry to a desert military base. Photo: Maurizio Gambarini

Twenty German soldiers based in Kunduz died in Afghanistan

"We know that we won't be able to make any progress without the military support of the Bundeswehr," he told DW.

The Taliban are said to have already gained the upper hand in several districts outside the city of Kunduz, Rasoli says, and armed criminal groups are operating there as well.

"That scares the inhabitants of Kunduz. When German troops arrived in Kunduz, the main thing I remember is, life became safe in Kunduz [province], as well as in many other northeastern provinces."

Even if the feeling didn't last long, Rasoli says, people felt they were safe. And they hoped for a better future.

"Germans have always had a special relationship to Kunduz in particular."

Economic void

Numerous development projects have reflected that special relationship. Over the past decade, streets have been built, schools renovated. Teachers and craftsmen have been trained.

Even the presence of the German soldiers themselves has had a positive economic impact. Mahboba Heider is the owner of a small textile company that employs 20 women. For years, they have been busy filling Bundeswehr orders. Soldiers liked to buy local clothing as a souvenir to take home with them.

"But for a year now the security situation has been deteriorating, and the Bundeswehr staff have been coming out of their base less often," Heider told DW.

She isn't even sure if she will be able to continue her work when the soldiers are gone. Her employees are also worried about their jobs - and about the situation in Kunduz in general.

Civilian projects

The muddy brown waters of a river fringed by green foliage is artificially dammed and still.

Development projects in Kunduz have included a new well and a new dam in the province

When it comes to development projects, there certainly won't be a shortage of work to do in Kunduz after the Bundeswehr withdraws. Germany's state-funded development organization, the Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ), plans to continue its activities in northern Afghanistan.

"The most important part of the concept is for the population to accept the projects, so that they can be carried out successfully," says Peter Palesh, a representative of the GIZ in Afghanistan.

The GIZ has developed a wide-ranging security concept on behalf of the German government, Palesh told DW. Thus the Bundeswehr's exit from Kunduz creates new challenges for the organization, which plans to stay on until at least 2016.

But the GIZ has already developed a strategy for continuing their work without Bundeswehr protection. Last year, troops withdrew from bases in Taloqan near Kunduz as well as from Faizabad in the north-easternmost part of Afghanistan.

Germany's Afghan staff

A man of Middle Eastern descent wearing a black suit, white dress shirt and light blue tie is one ofa number of similarly-dressed protestors speaking off-camera during an outdoor desert demonstration.

Protestors in Kunduz included Bundeswehr translators who worry they will be harmed after German forces withdraw

Still, the Bundeswehr's Afghan employees have cause for distress. They will lose their jobs as troops withdraw, and many fear for their lives and the lives of their families after the German exit. The Taliban see the work of their fellow Afghans with the International Security Assistance Force as a betrayal.

"It isn't just the Taliban making your life hard, it's also armed groups," said a translator who asked DW to not publish his name. "If these groups see that I've worked with foreigners, they simply won't let me live there anymore."

Several demonstrations this summer at German military camps have led to German promising its help. Those who believe their life to be in danger can apply for a German residence permit, said Marco Schmidl, the Bundeswehr's spokesman in Mazar-i-Sharif in northern Afghanistan.

Whether such a permit is granted will be decided on an individual basis, Schmidl told DW. The regulation doesn't just apply to those who worked directly for the Bundeswehr, but to all Afghan citizens who have worked or currently work in other German ministries, such as the Ministry of the Interior, the Ministry of Defense and the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development, he said.

Optimism in Kunduz

But some also hope the situation could improve for Kunduz after German troops withdraw.

Heidar Heider, who heads the Afghan cultural and literary foundation Paserlei in Kunduz, is one of them.

"It is certainly possible that after the Bundeswehr withdraws, there will be no reason for the presence of hostile groups, and that they'll stop fighting," he says.

According to Heider, ordinary people already believe that "foreign troops didn't do particularly good work in the past," with many hoping things will calm down as a result of the German withdrawal.

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