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New play questions Germany's operation in Afghanistan

Some 5,300 German soldiers are currently in Afghanistan. Their mission is led from Potsdam, the HQ of the Bundeswehr Operations Command. A play that deals with the controversial mission just opened in the city.

Clemens Bechtel's play examines Germany's operation in Afghanistan from all angles

Clemens Bechtel's play examines Germany's operation in Afghanistan from all angles

The stage at Potsdam's Hans Otto Theater is framed by massive pin boards covered in paper, lots of paper. There are high bookcases, piled up with files. Men and women peruse the shelves, stopping here and there to pick out a file, getting caught up in the texts. They are seeking the answers to big essential questions.

"Can peace be brought about? Can the international community bring peace to a country? How? What attempts have already been made? And what do soldiers, aid workers or diplomats in the field think about the strategies being put in place to bring peace?" explains the director of "Potsdam – Kunduz: The Difficult Path to Peace in Afghanistan" Clemens Bechtel.

Only recently has it become acceptable to talk about the Bundeswehr's mission as a war

Only recently has it become acceptable to talk about the Bundeswehr's mission as a "war"

Bechtel says it was because he had the sense he did not know what was going on in Afghanistan despite being bombarded with information about the war-torn country every day that he decided to start digging more deeply.

Ten years packed into a fast-motion play

He accumulated all kinds of information and devoured it – from the Internet, from the traditional media, from primary and secondary literature, from Bundestag documents, NGO publications, studies, diaries, blogs, eyewitness accounts, and discussions with all the different people directly and indirectly affected by Germany's mission in Afghanistan.

The result is a theatrical text that condenses and relates in fast-motion the events of the past 10 years.

"The actors slip into lots of different roles so-to-speak," Bechtel explains. They might be politicians taking part in a parliamentary debate, development workers, soldiers or even Taliban members.

"The base is a sort of archive where different people, like me, try to find the truth in all the material. This is like theatrical forensics," he says.

The play mentions the fatal bombing in September 2009 of two oil tankers which had allegedly been hijacked by the Taliban

The play mentions the fatal bombing in September 2009 of two oil tankers which had allegedly been hijacked by the Taliban

Overwhelming, intense and oppressive

And there are times when the intensity is overwhelming and oppressive. For instance, when a young peace activist shouts out because former warlords are to be given back important positions in the Loya Jirga that has been partly organized by the German development agency, the GTZ – despite the fact that they are responsible for the murder of thousands of civilians. Or when coffins have to be borrowed from the Dutch because the German remainders are too short for the dead soldiers. Or when a whole minute goes by without any action or sound until the order to bomb two oil tankers that have been hijacked by the Taliban is given. A bombardment that killed some hundred people.

Bechtel is interested in finding out why so much of the hope that was given to the people in Afghanistan has been dashed, why democratization did not really take place as promised.

This evening is all about the fact that things sometimes do not go to plan, about the fact that helpers become occupiers, about how political mistakes were made, about the fact that too many people interfered, about the fact that development aid fell into the wrong hands, and about development workers and doctors who became shooting targets. It is also about the boredom in the barracks, about forbidden love, about trauma, attacks, and about one young German man who becomes a Talib, publishing his autobiography on the internet shortly before being killed.

Over and over, the viewer is reminded that the international community, including Germany, has taken on a huge responsibility in Afghanistan, and told that this must not be forgotten nor done an injustice.

Author: Silke Bartlick / act
Editor: Thomas Baerthlein

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