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3-4 November: Afghanistan experts meeting in Bavaria

AAN admin 4 min

Thomas Ruttig represented AAN at a two-day experts meeting organized by German Hanns Seidl Foundation in the Bavarian spa of Wildbad Kreuth on 3-4 November, titled “The Interlocking Security Dilemma of Pakistan and Afghanistan”. Thomas gave a presentation on the question: ‘Are there moderate Taleban and what does this mean for the future political development’ in Afghanistan?’ Below a report on the meeting written by Burkhard Bischof for the Vienna daily ‘Die Presse’ (the link to the German original can be found under ‘AAN in the media’).

During an experts’ meeting in Bavaria, plain language is spoken about the precarious situation in Afghanistan: trying to solve the Taleban problem by air-raids is ‘nutty’.

WILDBAD KREUTH. “In parts of Afghanistans, there is a war-like situation, without any question.” What any politically interested newspaper reader or TV news consumer knows since a long time was publicly said by the new German Defence Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg [a 37 year old rising political star in Germany from the rightwing Bavarian CSU] in a newspaper interview this week. With this, he has – according to some German papers – broken a taboo. Guttenberg‘s predecessor Franz-Josef Jung [from Chancellor Merkel’s CDU] has been wrenching his tongue for four years to avoid using the word “war” in connection to the Afghanistan mission of the Bundeswehr.

‘Nutty strategy’

Also Guttenberg‘s CSU colleague, MP Hans-Peter Uhl, thinks it is high time to talk plain text: “Our soldiers sit in Kunduz like in a fortress. When they move outside, their live is in danger. This is a real war, hand to hand.” During an experts‘ meeting of the Hanns Seidel Foundation’s Academy in Wildbad Kreuth on the interconnected issues of Afghanistan and Pakistan, the German presenters did not sugarcoat anything anymore and almost brutally called a spade a spade.

“Its is a fact that in Afghanistan there is unbelievable corruption, that the country is the biggest drug producer in the world and that no one there wants to spell out the word democracy. For such a country, German soldiers are supposed to risk their lives?” MP Uhl said. On Afghan President Hamed Karzai who just this week had secured another term in office for himself by massive election manipulations, he remarked: “He can go on faking elections but he can’t be our ally anymore.”

Also General Klaus Reinhardt, a former commander of the 50,000 NATO troops in Kosovo, saw “a massive deterioration of the overall situation in Afghanistan”. That there had been attempts in the Bush era to solve the Taleban problem by air-raids, Reinhardt called a “nutty strategy”. In this time “from the air was destroyed what was supposed to be rebuilt on the ground”.

Such action has gradually alienated the Afghan population from the NATO troops which still in fall of 2001 had enthusiastically welcomed the foreign soldiers. Only “when you got the population behind yourself, counter-insurgency can work” the general said. Reinhardt added that “to believe that you can destroy the Taleban militarily is an absolute illusion.”

The Indian military analyst Brigadier Vinond Anand summarised the Afghanistan dilemma as follows: “The Taleban can win if they do not lose. NATO loses when it does not win.” South Asia specialist and former foreign chief editor of Spiegel magazine Olaf Ihlau believes that “the West will definitely lose in Afghanistan when it continues to believe in a military solution.”

But what to do? A number of presenters called talks with the Taleban “unavoidable”. Thomas Ruttig, Co-Director of the much-praised Think Tank Afghanistan Analysts Network and one of the best German specialists on the country argues that “if there is no military solution, you have to look for a political one. One has to take up contacts with more moderate Taleban.”

No alternative to Karzai?

But do they really exist? “There are pragmatic Taleban who think politically. Amongst the Taleban, there are ‘hawks’ and ‘doves’.” Ruttig pleaded for a comprehensive strategy in which a dialogue with the Taleban is one element. He pointed to a tradition of struggle for democratic values in Afghanistan. Those ‘alternative forces’ need to be supported and strengthened. Furthermore, good governance needs to be demanded from Kabul.

Good governance by Karzai who has been exposed to the whole world as an election manipulator? Ruttig sharply criticised the West for watching those brazen manipulations by Karzai without being moved. “Now again, Karzai is legitimised by us and we make the whole situation even worse by this.” Only, says Olaf Ihlau: “The West does not have anyone else then Karzai. Who is supposed to replace him?”

Ihlau is also convinced that an immediate withdrawal as demanded by the German Left party would most likely directly lead into desaster. He thinks that an all-Afghan government of national unity should be formed. Such a government should decide than “who can stay in the country and who has to leave”.

Exit with the head held high

For MP Uhl it is clear: President Obama’s new Afghanistan strategy “is insufficient; a Bundestag majority for sending additional Bundeswehr soldiers will not emerge”. And: “To hope for more democracy and less corruption in Afghanistan does not help. We should limit ourselves to counter-terrorism. The terrorist camps at the Afghan-Pakistani border are the real danger for us.”

Uhl believes, as US Vice President Joe Biden does, that fighting terrorists by special forces and increased intelligence operations is sufficient. We do not have to deploy “NATO troops all over Afghanistan any more.” General Reinhardt hopes “a way can be found to get out of there with heads held high and without everything crumbling when we have left”.

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