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Germany

Westerwelle hopeful for Kabul conference, amidst German press critique

Ahead of a groundbreaking conference in Kabul, Germany's Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle is talking of pulling troops from Afghanistan. German press say Germany must lead the creation of democracy and dialog.

German tank in Afghanistan

Westerwelle wants German troops out by 2014

Germany's Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle is hopeful that Germany can make headway at a groundbreaking Kabul conference set to begin Tuesday.

Despite criticism that the German government has not united its plans for its Afghan mission, Westerwelle remained confident on Monday that Germany could continue improving security in Afghanistan - and remove its troops by 2014. The process would take place in steps, beginning in the country's most stable regions.

"It would be a major achievement if we could record that timetable in the conclusion document to the Kabul conference," Westerwelle said, speaking to reporters in Berlin.

"Of course we know that we won't have European standards in Afghanistan. Our goal is to have a country that can ensure adequate security, and from which no terror threat can emerge - either against it or us," he added.

Yet he warned that the occupying nations "cannot be successful without a political solution that accounts for all groups in the country."

No unified plan

German troops among Afghans in a village

German media say Germany must concentrate on building social order

The development policy spokesman for the Christian Democratic (CDU) parliamentary faction, Holger Haibach, stressed that the Afghan government needed to commit to the fulfillment of "clear goals for reconstruction, that it intends to reach with international support," adding that this aid would "need to continue for a long time, even after the withdrawal of international troops."

Meanwhile, former foreign minister and current Social Democrat leader in parliament, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, accused Chancellor Angela Merkel's government of having no unified plan in its Afghanistan mission.

In an interview with the daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung on Sunday, he said Westerwelle and Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg had no agreement on a policy for Afghanistan. For weeks, he said, the Foreign Office had allowed the Ministry of Defense to take the lead - a "fatal" error, as progress in Afghanistan, he said, must not be made only on a military basis.

German press calls for stronger dialog and democracy

German press agreed that Germany's role in creating democracy and dialog in Afghanistan was crucial.

The daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung, which also stressed that "more foreign soldiers died in Afghanistan in June than ever before," wrote that politicians should understand that "the people in Kabul, Kunduz and Kandahar are not interested in so-called benchmarks or political goals that fill flowery documents, or in nice words from Clintons, Karzais or Westerwelles."

"They want to feel the progress in their daily lives," the paper concluded. Afghanistan needs a government "that won't vanish into oblivion."

a German troop in an Afghan village

Germany has a uniquely long-standing relationship with Afghanistan

Leading talks with Taliban?

Die Welt newspaper, popular among conservative intellectuals, published a commentary by Pakistani journalist and Taliban expert Ahmed Rashid, who wrote that "Germany should take the lead in opening dialog with the Taliban, as it is one of the few European powers that enjoys the trust of all Afghans."

In order to improve the situation in Afghanistan, Rashid wrote that Germany must cease bowing down to American directives, explaining that the "American principle, that the Taliban must be crushed by military action before negotiations, must be done away with."

Germany, he said, was in a particularly strong position to lead talks with the Taliban, being the "only large European power that has cultivated a close relationship with Afghanistan since the 1920s."

No plans to conduct negotiations with the Taliban have been seriously discussed in diplomatic circles.

Author: David Levitz (AFP/apn/epd/Reuters/)

Editor: Martin Kuebler

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