Afghan President Ashraf Ghani is making his second visit to Berlin since taking office in 2014. His talks with Angela Merkel will focus on the current refugee crisis.
This year, Germany and Afghanistan are celebrating a century of friendship. It is safe to say that Oscar Niedermayer, the German army officer who led an expedition to Afghanistan in 1915, would never have guessed that the centenary would occur during a massive wave of Afghan migration to Germany. The Niedermayer-Hentig Expedition was a push to get Afghanistan on the side of the German Empire in World War I.
A century on, many Afghans still refer to the relationship forged then between the two nations when they leave to try their luck in Germany. More than 140,000 Afghans have already fled to Europe this year; the majority of them have ended up in Germany. According to the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees, Germany registered more than 31,000 asylum applications from Afghans. That makes them the second-largest group of refugees after Syrians.
But Germany rejects more than half of the asylum applications from Afghans. The government has already stated that it cannot possibly accept all applicants and that refugees who fail to gain asylum will be deported. The German embassy in Kabul has launched an information campaign to counteract rumors circulating among Afghans that it is easy to get asylum in Germany. The refugee crisis will be a key topic at the meeting between President Ashraf Ghani and Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Last week, news magazine Der Spiegel cited an internal report from the German embassy in Kabul that said the "expansion of the Taliban" is greater today than it was at the start of NATO's military intervention in the country in 2001. The report states that the situation will soon lead to an increase in justifiable asylum applications. At the same time, the Afghan government is blocking the repatriation of rejected asylum applicants.
"We're doing all we can to ensure that Afghans do not feel it necessary to leave the country," Sayed Zafar Hashemi, a spokesman for Ghani, told DW. "We are trying to help those who have made the decision to leave Afghanistan and who have had their asylum applications rejected, but there are limits." Germany's Foreign Ministry is now threatening to cut development aid to Afghanistan should these "limits" not be resolved.
No faith in the future
Another topic on the agenda for Merkel and Ghani is the worsening security situation in Afghanistan. In addition to the threat posed by the Taliban, which managed to take control of the city of Kunduz for several days only a few weeks ago, there is now a new threat. Groups loyal to the "Islamic State" (IS) are extending their reach, particularly in the eastern part of the country. In November, thousands of people took to the streets of Kabul in the wake of beheadings and killings of members of the Shiite minority. They accused Ghani of failing to safeguard the population.
"Afghanistan is in a war on terror," political expert Asef Baktash said in Kabul. "But it is lacking the necessary military equipment, especially when it comes to the air force. We also need tanks, artillery and rockets to fight the extremists." The Afghan army has proved unable to guarantee national security, despite claims to the contrary at the time of the NATO withdrawal.
Many have simply lost faith in the future. "It will take a miracle to stop IS in Afghanistan," a Kabul resident named Ibrahim said. "Every bit of democratic progress we've made will be lost. The Afghan government and all of our allies need to work together if we're going to stop this threat."
Maybe 100 years of friendship is just the occasion Angela Merkel and Ashraf Ghani need to take up the challenge.