German Defense Minister Thomas de Maiziere arrived in Afghanistan on Wednesday to visit troops after signing a military cooperation deal with neighboring Pakistan a day earlier.
Arriving just two days after Chancellor Angela Merkel, the German defense minister is there to reassure Kabul and NATO that the scheduled 2014 deadline for withdrawing troops from Afghanistan is still on target.
On Monday, Merkel had caused some confusion when she said on a surprise visit to Mazar-i-Sharif in the north of country that reconciliation with insurgents had not made enough progress to allow foreign troops to leave.
Maiziere also just visited Uzbekistan, through which most of the supplies for German troops in Afghanistan travel. The country will also be a vital link for transferring material back out of Afghanistan during the international withdrawal.
Military cooperation with Pakistan
The international community needs Pakistan if it is ever to resolve the conflict in Afghanistan. But the doubts about nuclear-armed Pakistan loom large. Military mistakes by the West have also added to the tensions; one reason why the German defense minister was seeking to improve relations with Pakistan.
On Tuesday, Maiziere signed a military agreement with his Pakistani counterpart, Ahmed Mukhtar, in Rawalpindi. The deal, which has been in the pipeline for a long time, is aimed primarily at the exchange of information, joint monitoring of military maneuvers and German training for Pakistani officers. It also calls for regular exchanges between the two armies' officer corps and cooperation in fighting international terrorism.
Mukhtar also said that Pakistan planned soon to re-open routes to Afghanistan used by NATO to supply coalition forces. The routes were closed more than three months ago in response to a US attack on a Pakistani border post, which left 24 soldiers dead.
"At the moment, this is the sorest point in relations with the US and it will take a while before good bilateral ties can be rebuilt," Mukhtar said.
He added that the convoys can roll as soon as the Pakistani parliament gives the green light; a development which the German defense minister warmly welcomed.
"This is a contribution to strengthening the role of parliament in the political process and as a member myself of the German Bundestag, I can only welcome this," Maiziere said.
The defense minister also expressed his support for getting Pakistan involved in the political stabilization process in Afghanistan.
"I do not see sustainable and stable development for Afghanistan without the prudent participation of all its neighbors, especially Pakistan," Maiziere said.
A stable situation in Afghanistan, Maiziere added, would also be an important contribution to overcoming the instability in northwestern Pakistan, the region that has served as a sanctuary for Taliban insurgents.
Author: Wolfgang Labuhn/gb
Editor: Anne Thomas