The German Path to Afghan Peace

Germany believes that it has a plan to develop lasting peace in Afghanistan. But short-term barriers to stability must be addressed before long-term prosperity is possible.

On April 3rd German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, speaking on the floor of the Bundestag, echoed the conclusion made by NATO’s partners: “One thing is clear after all we have seen over the past 20 years, namely that there will not be a military solution to the conflict in Afghanistan.” The conflict in Afghanistan has gone through a multitude of strategies, leaders, and missions. The one constant has been continued terrorist violence perpetrated by the Taliban and its subsidiaries. Amidst ongoing negotiations between the Afghan government and the Taliban, NATO’s forces have begun the end of its mission and the final withdrawal of troops.

Outside of NATO, Germany has been quick to ensure its continued support for the Afghan government. The German Bundeswehr has been an instrumental partner in the conflict in Afghanistan. Following the 2001 September 11th attack, it was one of the first partners to assist the United States as part of the International Security Assistance Force, ISAF. When NATO later took over the mission, Germany was in command of operations from February 2003- February 2004 as part of a rotational command system. Since the NATO mission transitioned to Resolute Support mission, focusing on training and assistance, Germany has been the second-largest partner in the country. Over the length of the mission, Berlin deployed over 100,000 soldiers to Afghanistan and sustained 59 casualties.

Transition From Military Operations to Economic Support

Regardless of the outcome of negotiations, considerable assistance for Afghan security forces will still be needed. NATO has shown its support through the securing of multiple funding streams for Afghan security forces. The Afghan National Army (ANA) Trust, set up by NATO members, has secured funding for security forces and police and judicial salaries at least through 2024. Germany also has made a considerable financial investment in the country. €375 million has been assigned to Afghanistan by the German Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ). 

The funds are set to continue supporting infrastructure projects and paying for public employee salaries. These investments aim to further its goals post-withdrawal by improving education quality and building stronger protections for women’s rights. But aid will be strictly tied to meeting the goals and expectations of the German government. Jürgen Hardt, a spokesperson for the CDU/CSU, stated, “Future aid contributions will depend a great deal on the extent to which these concerns are implemented.” Hardt notes that this new phase in the West’s relationship with Afghanistan provides an opportunity to shift support from military to economic.

“With this foundation of protected human rights, there is then the possibility of developing institutions that are deemed legitimate and, as a result, give the Afghan people ownership in their government.”

The transition away from combat operations in Afghanistan provides an essential opportunity for the Bundestag to push forward its development-oriented foreign policy strategy. Germany’s foreign policy focuses on crisis prevention and peace-building efforts rooted in protecting human rights. With this foundation of protected human rights, there is then the possibility of developing institutions that are deemed legitimate and, as a result, give the Afghan people ownership in their government. 

Believing that only political solutions can foster lasting peace, German policy looks to development and education as its strategy for extinguishing conflict. An example of this strategy in practice is a literacy program for local police officers. German led literacy programs have helped educate over 80,000 police officers. In a country where 70% of law enforcement personnel are unable to read and write, a program as simple as literacy empowers police to understand and apply the law. 

The next phase of the German- Afghan partnership then would seem to fit perfectly into these goals. By handing authority wholly back to the Afghan government and expanding development aid, German assistance can support the growth of domestic institutions that will result in successful peace building.

Immediate Hurdles to Long Term Success

The first and possibly most crucial hurdle for Berlin’s efforts will be the ongoing peace negotiations between the Afghan government and the Taliban. Any future peace-building process will first require just that, peace. Germany believes that peace is achievable and is optimistic that with NATO’s withdrawal new pressure is now on the Afghan government and the Taliban to reach their own agreement. 

But does this optimism reflect the reality of the situation in Kabul? The talks that began in September 2020 have made very little headway; meanwhile, violence has increased with the announcement of NATO’s departure. The first three months of 2021 saw a surge in violence that killed over 1800 Afghan security forces. While there have been no attacks on NATO soldiers since talks began, this violence does not bode well for future peace.

Taliban leaders have repeatedly stated that there can be no ceasefire agreement before the complete withdrawal of NATO forces. A demand that NATO has been willing to accept in the face of ever increasing violence. There is currently no stop-gap to ensure that Taliban representatives will come to the table in September. Furthermore the rapid speed of the NATO withdrawal and a lack of a meaningful framework for peace among the Afghan-Taliban negotiations leaves open the genuine possibility of heightened violence later this year. This violence has the potential to undo German development efforts before they are able to begin.

“The rapid speed of the NATO withdrawal and a lack of a meaningful framework for peace among the Afghan-Taliban negotiations leaves open the genuine possibility of heightened violence later this year.”

The lack of a solid strategy in securing short-term stability extends beyond Germany. With an expected withdrawal date of July 4th, the United States has less than a month left in-country. The speed is deeply concerning when you consider that the U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has no developed plan for how they will support Afghan security forces. Defense Secretary Austin has yet to receive recommendations on the situation from General Frank McKenzie, overseeing U.S. forces for the Middle East. The U.S. then most likely will have pulled entirely out of a 20-year commitment with no concrete strategy on its partnership and maintaining peace in the region.

Two decades of conflict in Afghanistan have produced mixed results. While Afghanistan is not a beacon of democracy in the region they have been able to hold seven nationwide elections since 2004. Coupled with the fact that since 2015 Afghan security forces have been in charge of peacekeeping efforts with smaller NATO support it would seem that the Afghan government is in a position to succeed. Though trouble arises when looking at the government's sphere of influence. Outside of major city centers the government is reported to only be in control of 54% of Afghan territory. With 12% being under insurgent control there is still an opportunity for the Taliban to mount a strong offensive against Afghan security forces.

The German government has a genuine opportunity to prove the capabilities of a development-based approach to peace built around human rights and solid democratic institutions. But it cannot reach these high goals without a strong foundation for short-term stability. A sudden push to transfer responsibility to the Afghan security forces and the Taliban can unravel previous gains and stop future projects before they start.

About author: Calum Farley

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