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Opinion: The West Cannot Abandon Afghanistan Now

NATO handed over the responsibility for maintaining security in the Afghan capital Kabul to Afghan forces on Thursday, Aug. 28. DW's Peter Philipp considers what this might mean for the country.

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In Iraq it is always presented as a sign of normalization when the country's forces take control of an area, replacing US troops. This is definitely not the case in Afghanistan.

Even if you don't count the most recent attack in which a German soldier was killed, violence in Afghanistan has increased dramatically in the last year. The number of dead has also rocketed. The victims include members of the international forces and the Afghan military and – increasingly – civilians.

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Peter Philipp

And there is no end in sight. The handing over of responsibility to Afghan troops will certainly not help to improve this situation. The police and military in Afghanistan just don't have the capacity or the training to master this task. But first and foremost, they simply don't have the motivation.

And why should they be motivated? Many ordinary Afghans have failed to profit from their country's new beginning. The people who have benefited are the usual suspects: the war lords and the drug barons who have been able to make the best of every situation; the ones who know how to come to an arrangement with whoever happens to hold power at the time.

Even President Hamid Karzai is regarded by many as being one of that sort because he came to power with the help of the Americans and managed to retain that power. In order to defend himself from accusations of being a puppet, he now openly criticizes the negligence of the US and NATO forces vis-a-vis the civilian population. After all, there are elections coming up. But that has done nothing to boost Karzai's standing.

And it is hard to believe that the NATO handover of power will change that for the better. Especially, as NATO and certainly the Americans are not really pulling out of the capital Kabul -- which is always the last -- and sometimes the only -- bastion of central state power in Afghanistan. Recently, there were even attacks in Kabul, including assassination attempts on Karzai's life. If international troops really were to withdraw from Kabul, then they might as well leave the entire country. If Kabul is "lost," then so is Afghanistan.

It has always been this way in Afghanistan and people should have known that it is not enough to send in troops and launch reconstruction projects. What is really needed is a radical change in thinking among the Afghans. But this can hardly be imposed from outside with the old players.

There is no patent remedy. A pull-out or "more of the same" are both equally admissions of defeat on the part of the West and would amount to an abandonment of decent Afghans. Neither can be allowed to happen. It's high time that Afghanistan is helped to take the step into modernity. Even if it comes at a high price that is, in all likelihood, set to increase.

Peter Philipp is Deutsche Welle's chief correspondent (jg)

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