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Aid Organizations Criticize Germany’s Afghanistan Plans

August 19, 2003

Military and humanitarian aid should be separate, say German non-governmental organizations who oppose sending soldiers into the Afghan provinces to protect civil reconstruction teams.

Rebuilding Afghanistan is a humanitarian goal, not a military one.Image: AP

"We do not work hand-in-hand with the army," say Germany’s non-governmental organizations in Afghanistan, CARE Deutschland and World Hunger Help. The two groups insist on drawing a distinction between the humanitarian assistance they provide and the Bundeswehr’s military interests in maintaining security and tracking down Taliban and al Qaeda fighters. For this reason they are against Germany’s current plans to send troops to the north Afghan town of Kunduz as protection for the civilian helpers.

Although the aid organizations endorse the planned expansion of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) into the Afghan provinces and are generally in favor of Germany sending troops to maintain security outside Kabul, they do not want to work together with the soldiers. They do not want to fall under the protection of the army, says Bernd Baucks, project coordinator for CARE.

"We categorically reject working with armed protection," he explains to Deutsche Welle. "We want to make sure it is clear that humanitarian help is provided without weapons and that it does not adhere to any sort of military or strategic interests. We are a purely civil organization."

Baucks says this is the basis of his organization’s principles and that the 700-some helpers currently working in Afghanistan will refuse to enter regions where they would require military protection. "We simply say, we cannot work there, the prerequisites are not fulfilled."

Maintaining neutrality is difficult task

Manfred Hochwald, project director for World Hunger Help, sees the issue similarly. Humanitarian aid must remain neutral and should never be used for political gains, he says.

But this is hard to maintain when one considers how active the international military community is in Afghanistan, Hochwald notes. Not only is the ISAF involved in maintaining security in Kabul, but there are several thousand U.S. soldiers combing the countryside in search of terrorists. They are heavily armed and not infrequently engaged in fighting. As a result the three American reconstruction teams comprised of soldiers and civilians have an especially hard time convincing the Afghan people that they are in the country to help, Hochwald says.

"It’s been our experience that the American reconstruction teams working in Afghanistan have all too often aroused the mistrust of the population and have found themselves caught in the midst of internal conflicts because they do not separate military and humanitarian tasks," Hochwald explains and adds, "We are not looking for the Taliban; we are not looking for al Qaeda fighters. We are just trying to help the people."

Securing peace must come first

Combining civil assistance with military goals leads to an automatic conflict of interest, the World Hunger Help director says and for this reason opposes the German government plans to send troops into the provinces to protect aid workers.

The civilians would not be able to work effectively and would be at a much higher risk for attacks, says Baucks, who suggests sending international troops into regions that have not yet been pacified. Doing so would help pave the way for the aid workers to enter on their own later.

The German government, of course, sees the situation differently. It wants to send the soldiers into the northern city of Kunduz, which is considered relatively safe. Bernd Baucks views such a position as an obvious contradiction of the military’s priorities. That the government selects a place of deployment based on the extent to which it has already been secured goes against what the soldiers are in the country to do, namely stop the fighting in the first place.

"We believe there is a great need to first secure peace in the country, because that is the prerequisite for beginning to help with reconstruction," Baucks says. The two cannot go hand-in-hand. First the military enters, then the aid organizations follow up with their humanitarian assistance; the two tasks cannot be combined.