Power Struggle over Afghanistan

Germany continues deportations to Afghanistan despite war and Corona crises. Record number of civilian casualties from western air strikes at the Hindu Kush.

BERLIN/KABUL | | afghanistan

BERLIN/KABUL (Own report) - In the midst of the Corona crisis, Germany is continuing collective deportations to Afghanistan. Last week, 39 Afghans were forcefully deported from Germany to Kabul, even though the country remains war stricken and is now suffering from the COVID-19 pandemic. Other countries have already been closing their borders to those arriving from Germany, because it is one of the countries with the most infections worldwide. At the same time, the Bundestag has prolonged the Bundeswehr's mission at the Hindu Kush for another year until March 2021 - the 19th year without any prospect of a military victory. Last year, the number of civilian casualties due to air strikes by the Afghan military and their western allied forces reached a record high of 700. The United States is now preparing to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan, to better focus, also militarily, on its power struggle with China.

Troop Transfers

The US troop withdrawal from Afghanistan was laid down in the agreements signed by the United States and the Taliban in Qatar's capital Doha on February 29. The Kabul government had been only indirectly involved in the negotiations - and not even on all issues. The agreements provide for the United States to reduce its troop levels from the 12,000 to 13,000 currently in Afghanistan to 8,600 by July and reduce by five its approximately 20 military bases currently in the country. In return, the Taliban pledged to prevent Afghanistan from being used as a base for planning terrorist attacks against the United States and its allies. If they fulfill their commitment, the western countries will completely withdraw their troops from Afghanistan by the middle of next year.[1] Washington has been seeking this for years to be able to focus - also militarily - more on its power struggle with China in the future. (german-foreign-policy.com reported.[2])

Government, Counter Government, Taliban

Despite the Doha Agreements, it is, of course, still uncertain whether and, if so, under what circumstances the troop withdrawal can actually be implemented on schedule. The Agreement also stipulates that, still during this month, the Taliban enter negotiations with the Kabul government on a lasting peaceful solution for Afghanistan. The beginning of the negotiations has already been delayed, because it is questionable, whether one of the prerequisites can be fulfilled, Washington's promise to the Taliban of a prisoner exchange - without having first consulted the Kabul government. Initially, President Ashraf Ghani rejected the move, to retain an important means of leverage and to prevent liberated Taliban from resuming combat. He was forced to relent under US pressure. However, Kabul is delaying the release the first 100 - of a total 5,000 - Taliban, which was scheduled for Saturday.[3] The power struggles also continue unabated in Kabul. President Ghani barely won the presidential elections on September 28 with hundreds of thousands of contested ballots. Last week, his rival Abdullah Abdullah declared himself counter-president. The outcome of the power struggle is just as unclear as its impact on the negotiations with the Taliban, if they ever take place at all.

Win Influence as Mediator

Berlin is attempting to become a mediator in the anticipated Kabul-Taliban negotiations to win a certain amount of influence over the further development. According to reports, German diplomats and intelligence operatives had made themselves already useful during the initiation of the talks between the Taliban and Washington.[4] Early last year, the German government was seeking to bring the negotiations to Germany - in the form of "another Petersberg Conference with the inclusion of the Taliban."[5] The name of the conference is in reference to the conference held in Petersberg in late 2001. During the following months, Germany's special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, Markus Potzel, met repeatedly with representatives of the Taliban, to facilitate negotiations with the USA and the government in Kabul, as well as - as has been reported - to prevent Washington from conducting these talks alone.[6] Potzel had also participated in organizing a meeting in Doha between Afghan government representatives and the Taliban in July 2019, seen as an important milestone along the path to the difficult negotiations.[7] Recently, Foreign Minister Heiko Maas declared in the German Bundestag that Berlin is "ready to participate in organizing confidence-building initiatives and preparations for the inner-Afghan negotiations."[8]

19-Year War

Parallel, Berlin is prolonging the Bundeswehr's mission in Afghanistan. The Bundestag passed a resolution to this effect on Friday - earlier than was scheduled, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Bundeswehr is only allowed to remain - with up to 1,300 soldiers - at the Hindu Kush until March, 31, 2021. Approximately 1,200 German military personnel are currently stationed in Afghanistan. Their mission is now entering its 19th year without the slightest prospect of victory. In fact, the Kabul government is in control of barely more than half of the country's districts.[9] The number of civilian casualties is still very high. According to UN figures, 3,403 civilians were killed last year in hostilities and attacks, thus increasing the official death toll to more than 35,000 since 2009, when the UN began to systematically collect statistics. Last year the number of civilian casualties due to air strikes by the Afghan military and their western allied forces rose to 700 and with 1,045 victims - dead and wounded - the total, a record high. According to the UN, 72 percent of these had been caused by western forces.[10]

Collective Deportation No. 33

Last week, German officials carried out another collective deportation to Afghanistan, despite the catastrophic situation in that country - and, even in spite of the fact that the government in Kabul had just declared all of the country's educational facilities closed, due to the COVID-19 pandemic - with Germany having one of the world's highest infection rates. This is why numerous countries have closed their borders to people arriving from Germany. Of course, that does not apply to deportations to Afghanistan. Thirty-nine Afghans arrived Thursday at Kabul Airport, accompanied, according to official information, by 94 officials of Germany's repressive authorities. This raises the number of Germany's collective deportations to that war-torn country since 2016 to 33, and the number of the deported to 907.[11]

 

[1] Lindsay Maizland: U.S.-Taliban Peace Deal: What to Know. cfr.org 02.03.2020.

[2] See also The Transpacific Cold War.

[3] Verzögerung bei Gefangenenaustausch mit Taliban. derstandard.de 14.03.2020.

[4] Hans Monath: Wie die Bundesregierung die Verhandlungen in Afghanistan begleiten will. tagesspiegel.de 08.03.2020.

[5] Hans Monath: Deutschland will Taliban zu Friedenskonferenz einladen. tagesspiegel.de 12.02.2019.

[6] Rupam Jain, Sabine Siebold: Germany in push to resurrect Afghan talks with Taliban. reuters.com 26.05.2019.

[7] Die USA verhandeln mit der Taliban - steht Afghanistan kurz vor dem Frieden? stern.de 01.08.2019.

[8] Rede von Außenminister Heiko Maas vor dem Deutschen Bundestag zum Antrag der Bundesregierung: "Fortsetzung der Beteiligung bewaffneter deutscher Streitkräfte an der NATO-Mission RESOLUTE SUPPORT in Afghanistan". 04.03.2020.

[9] See also Deutschlands Interventionsbilanz (III).

[10] United Nations Mission in Afghanistan, United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner: Afghanistan. Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict. 2019. Kabul, February 2020.

[11] Erneut Abschiebeflug aus Deutschland in Afghanistan eingetroffen. idowa.de 12.03.2020.