German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas paid a surprise visit to Afghanistan on Thursday during which he praised international efforts to rebuild the country after a US-led invasion in 2001.
His trip came as the US and NATO, of which Germany is a member, withdraw their troops, a move many fear could lead to a return to a repressive regime. The US and NATO said on Thursday that they have begun the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan.
What did Maas say during his visit?
In a tweet posted during his visit to the Afghan capital, Kabul, Maas reaffirmed Germany's commitment to the welfare of Afghanistan.
"Germany remains a reliable partner at the side of the people in Afghanistan," he said, adding that his country would "continue our commitment in all other areas" despite the military withdrawal.
Maas also expressed the hope that the Taliban, the Islamist former rulers who have been waging a decades-long rebellion, would not use the withdrawal of troops as a pretext for attacks.
The diplomat rejected criticisms that nothing had been achieved in Afghanistan despite the 20-year presence of international troops there.
Among other things, he pointed to the educational opportunities now being offered to girls, who were unable to go to school under the Taliban. Maas also said citizens now had more rights and increased wages.
Maas said he believed that the Taliban would not be interested in having Afghanistan sink back into chaos.
The minister also thanked German soldiers for their efforts in Afghanistan, saying that the presence of the Bundeswehr "had ensured that there is more security here."
When are international troops withdrawing?
The United States, which has the most foreign troops in the country, has said it wants to bring them all home by September 11 at the latest — the 20th anniversary of the September 11 Islamist attacks in the US that indirectly led to the invasion of Afghanistan.
The White House on Thursday said it had begun removing soldiers from Afghanistan, but also added it had sent a group of Special Forces soldiers to the country for a short time. US Central Command said it would assess the situation and move additional capabilities into and out of the country as required.
NATO decided two weeks ago to withdraw the 10,000 troops it still has in the country and has begun those efforts already, a spokesperson said Thursday. Germany has the second-biggest contingent of troops in the NATO Afghanistan mission after the US, with some 1,100 military personnel in the country.
What are the fears for the future of Afghanistan?
Some observers believe that the withdrawal of international troops from Afghanistan could lead to a repressive regime involving the Taliban, who have been holding talks with the US-backed Afghan government.
Although the Taliban have pledged to respect the rights of women if they enter government, many fear that the strict Islamist code of conduct they espouse could lead to repression of women's freedoms, among other things.
During their former rule, the Taliban also put in place rules banning instrumental music and dance, as well as inflicting cruel corporal punishments, including executions.
tj/sms (dpa, Reuters, AFP)