Some conditions have changed for the better during the German army's deployment to Afghanistan. But some experts believe expectations for democracy and peace in the country are far too high.
For 11 years now, the German Bundeswehr has been stationed in Afghanistan. Fifty German soldiers have died and many more have been injured. Many have also returned home with post traumatic stress disorder. What was originally thought to be military assistance of the country's reconstruction has over the years turned into a combat mission.
With every Taliban attack, the media's portrayal of the mission in Afghanistan is increasingly negative. Of the 130,000 ISAF personnel currently stationed in Afghanistan, just under 5,000 are German Bundeswehr soldiers. The majority of German citizens are tired of war and many have started questioning Germany's role in Afghanistan. But it would be untrue to claim that the Bundeswehr's participation has been in vain - "one third of the country's eight million school children are girls," said German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle.
He stressed the importance of looking at both the negative and the positive aspects of the mission. "We need an honest assessment of the situation - without euphemizing it, but at the same time, taking in mind the accomplishments we have made."
Some of those accomplishments included improving access to medical treatment; building streets and improving the infrastructure and access to water and sanitation. "And Afghan security forces are now nearly 305,000 people strong," Westerwelle added.
Security and scandals
According to calculations by the German Institute for Economic Research, Germany will have spent a total of 22 billion euros on the mission in Afghanistan by 2014. The US is expected to spend over 80 billion in 2012 alone. The money has been spent on streets and schools, wells, and the training of police officers and soldiers.
"Of course there has been improvement in Afghanistan," said Paul Schäfer, defense expert of the Left Party. "But it is in no relation to the effort made." Many Afghans were frustrated that a large chunk of the international monetary aid sent over every year ends up in the pockets of corrupt officials. To top it off, international forces were keeping these elements in power.
In other words: the steps forward are baby steps compared to the country's fragile security situation.
After a number of scandals involving human rights violations and the desecration of the Koran by US soldiers, the Afghan people are experiencing a growing aversion to the foreign troops stationed in their country.
Has NATO failed Afghanistan? Rainer Arnold, defense policy spokesman of the German Social Democratic Party (SPD) objects to a one-sided criticism: "In one valley there is progress, in another there is fighting. And conflict has, unfortunately, increased since 2001 in many areas."
Arnold pointed out the need to see both sides of the story - the progress as well as the drawbacks.
The "war on terror"
The Social Democrats were the main party in power when the deployment of German soldiers began - right after the September 11, 2001, attacks in the United States and at a time when Germany wanted to demonstrate its solidarity and loyalty to the US. The main goal was to fight Islamist terrorism and destroy its Afghan base.
"Thousands of young men became involved with terrorism during Taliban rule. They were a threat to us. Our initial goal to destroy the Afghan sanctuary for international terrorists has been accomplished," said Arnold.
But Schäfer said such developments were short-sighted. "The terrorists have simply gone to other countries." What upsets him most is that the war also changed German society.
And the Bundeswehr was not only in Afghanistan to fight terrorism, but also to fight for Germany's freedom, as Former Defense Minister Peter Struck said in 2002. Germany's assistance mission turned into a combat mission; Germans had to learn to cope with casualties among their own; the word veteran once again became part of their every-day vocabulary; the implementation of a safe and democratic Afghan state became the justification for the material and human costs of the foreign deployment.
But despite all the effort, expectations were too high, said Jürgen Stetten, head of the Friedrich Ebert Foundation's Asia department.
"Creating stability and building a democracy cannot be done in four or five years." Instead, said Stetten, it was a matter of decades and in some cases, centuries. "We know from our own German history that (democracy) is not something that can be learned within a few years. It needs time to develop."
The approach being taken to build a democracy and improve the quality of life in Afghanistan was good, Stetten said. But compared to Western expectations before the mission started, progress is still very far behind.
Author: Heiner Kiesel/sb
Editor: Shamil Shams