Opinion: Afghanistan Needs Politics, Not More Troops | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 03.09.2008
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Opinion: Afghanistan Needs Politics, Not More Troops

Despite the increasing number of attacks on German soldiers in Afghanistan, prematurely withdrawing troops would leave behind a dangerous power vacuum, said DW's Martin Gerner.


Now it's a matter of damage control. The compensation paid to the families of the dead Afghan civilians and the removal of a German commander have sent a clear message: Germany's reputation in Hindu Kush is at stake.

However, Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung's crisis diplomacy is also an opportunity. Germany has the chance to finally get a handle on the Afghan reality.

Though war hasn't affected every part of the North, the military conflicts bear traces of guerrilla tactics where the underdog is inflicting increasingly painful pinpricks on an alliance that is bristling with arrogance.

And the soldiers? They are overwhelmed and are responding with panic. It's no wonder, since most of them have been trained to see a potential culprit in every Afghan who approaches them. But they can't win any "hearts and minds" that way.

Ambiguous responsibilities

The mood in Afghanistan has, in fact, changed in the past few months. For the Afghan population, it's no longer apparent where the fight against terror, which NATO let itself be pulled into by the US military, actually ends. The German defense minister has called it a problem of "ambiguous responsibilities."

An alliance that stands up for general human rights but turns out civilian victims every week spreads fear and mistrust instead of security.

The Afghan human rights commission is already speaking of war crimes and for the population it's more and more difficult to differentiate between "good" and "bad" foreigners. The Bundeswehr is facing a conflict on two fronts.

Now is the time to keep a clear head. A hasty withdrawal of the Bundeswehr would send the wrong signal. The Afghan army and policy force have a right to be trained, just as the West promised.

After all, an effective Afghan defense force is the ticket home for German troops. It must be clear to everyone by now that it's a long road. And there are lots of reasons the police training needs to be rigorous, although the German trainers have always denied this.

A premature withdrawal would leave behind a power vacuum that would be filled by the Taliban, criminals and former warlords. It would be the opposite of the "sustainability" that donor countries like to use as a catch phrase.

Sending thousands of reinforcements, as is currently being discussed, would be just as wrong. The Soviet Army didn't manage to get the country under control with 200,000 soldiers. So the 1,000 additional German troops envisaged in Berlin's new Afghanistan mandate don't make much sense.

Strategy of politics

What's needed is a strategy from the West that emphasizes politics over military. It's a fallacy to believe that, under the current circumstances, the military can pave the way for civilian reconstruction in all areas.

The other factor that affects the security of German troops in Afghanistan isn't even part of the Bundeswehr. It's in Pakistan. Here, everyone -- especially the US -- is called on to increase diplomatic pressure on the Pakistani army and secret service.

The brew that is spreading harm is not coming from Afghanistan, but from its eastern neighbor.

Finally, many jobs need to be created in Afghanistan and corruption needs to be reduced, both on the Afghan and the international side.

If President Karzai is indeed voted out in the coming elections, then it would be a vote against the West.

Martin Gerner is a Deutsche Welle expert on Afghanistan (kjb)

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