The debate about whether to extend the German troops‘ mandate in Afghanistan or not is polarizing Germany. The deployment at the Hindukush has become less and less popular in Germany over the years. Meanwhile, in Afghanistan still big hopes are lying on particularly the German engagement. Even though the pull-out has not yet started, however, the Afghan population starts feeling left alone since one issue even here is not a secret: What is of least importance for the German parliament’s decision is what is really happening in Afghanistan.
From afar, it is easy to discard the Engagement in Afghanistan and its output as useless and to depict military and civilian reconstruction as nothing but a waste of money. This is the revenge for the euphemistic descriptions of progress the German government used to give in the first years, because they made the disappointment even bigger when it could not be longer be disguised that things were actually not going so well. But even though the prospects are not rosy, the Afghan population keeps on hoping for a future in security. Security not only in the military sense but understood as reliability – functioning institutions, political processes that are at the service of the country and that give individuals the chance to earn their living. So far, Afghan institutions cannot guarantee this kind of environment. Despite intense efforts to build and advance the Afghan National Army as well as the Afghan Police, neither of them has yet reached the proficiency to fully comply with its tasks.
Yet, it would not grasp the impact of the troop deployment adequately to only count the number of patrols carried out or soldiers trained. In Mazar-e Sharif, for example, the sheer presence of foreign military is sufficient to stop local fighting for power. The relative tranquility there has turned Mazar into an economically prosperous city as many Afghans would also like to see in other places.
Those in Afghanistan who advocate for an extension of the mandate do this not as an aim in itself. They do so rather because in a volatile environment, the foreign military seems to be the only reliable factor to count on in order to prevent worse things from happening. The fear of civil war as a consequence of the foreign military withdrawal is tangible. Of course, military forces neither can nor should fill this political vacuum for a prolonged period of time. Their presence can, however, be a time buffer to allow for a further strengthening of civil Afghan structures.
The same as in Mazar in the lee of military presence – and without being directly linked to it – civil life is blossoming, it would be important for the rest of the country to aim for a similar development at the political level. But this is less and less a topic in the German debate: Too complicated, too many actors, and little that could easily be promoted in the West. Afghanistan finds itself in a deep political crisis. For more than a year now, the government has been incomplete since in spite of several attempts, for seven ministries the parliament has not accepted any of the candidates suggested by president Karzai.
Last year, the parliamentary elections and the ensuing negative effects on the security situation have paralyzed the security situation for months. Because of the Afghan government’s weakness and its continuous swaying, public institutions are not being taken seriously any longer and people don’t accept their decisions. It is not only terrorists and insurgents that are putting a strain on the government and impede political progress. Also those who run for elections within the framework of the political system, turn against it when decisions do not meet their desires. Many of the disappointed candidates do not rely on appealing to the elections complaints commission but reject to accept the official results and threaten to resort to riots and violence.
The political shortcomings of the first years in which too little attention was paid to the civilian development of Afghanistan cannot be made up for by efforts now to invest large sums of money within a short period of time. Yet the international community can indicate to the shattered country that it will not easily give up on the achievements of the last years.
But the attention span of Western governments is short when it comes to Afghanistan. Time and again demands such as fighting corruption, performing political reforms or strictly pursuing counternarcotics flare up – demands that are mostly followed by quick assurances of the Afghan government to keep track of this. Then, dust settles over the issue – until the next time. Committed Afghans watch this regretfully. As the Afghan journalist Samay recently wrote: „The people in Afghanistan would prefer if foreign powers would not only use Afghanistan in the framework of their own policy.” That the international community is lacking a clear line that is compatible with the situation in Afghanistan is weakening the constructive powers inside the country because they cannot rely on coherent support. At the same time it is strengthening those who only want to abuse the system for the benefit of their particular interests.