Germany Rethinks Its Afghan Presence

Article excerpt

For decades, Germany was Afghanistan's best friend. It built many of the nation's factories, schools, and electric plants and trained its police force and university professors, creating ample goodwill among the Afghan people.

"The Afghans have large - one might even say blind - confidence that they will be supported by the Germans," said Afghan President Hamid Karzai during a visit to Berlin this week.

Indeed, as NATO has endeavored to rid Afghanistan of the Taliban's influence and bring security to the struggling nation, Germany has played a prominent role. Though its wariness of combat has made Germany resistant to entering Afghanistan's restive south, its peacekeeping troops form the third-largest contingent among coalition forces after the US and the Britain.

But German doubts about the nation's expanding role in Afghanistan have arisen in recent months, fueled by a spate of attacks against German citizens and a plan to send six Tornado reconnaissance jets and 500 more soldiers to Afghanistan in April. The controversy has created a conflict within Germany's grand coalition government that echoes the crises faced by other European nations such as Italy, where Prime Minister Romano Prodi was temporarily forced to step down last month, largely because of discontent over his nation's role in the Afghan conflict.

At the time, 62 percent of Italians were in favor of total withdrawal, according to the Guardian newspaper. In comparison, a poll published Monday by news magazine Der Spiegel showed 57 percent of Germans want their government to pull out its 3,000 troops.

The rift in German Parliament was brought into sharp focus when lawmakers voted on the Tornado deployment. In a rare show of protest, 69 members of the Social Democrat party, one of the two main factions in the the grand coalition government, broke ranks with party leadership and voted against the measure.

Since then, many of the party's lawmakers have publicly railed against the plan. Former cabinet minister Renate Schmidt warned at a recent meeting that Germany risked a "slide into a second Vietnam," according to Der Spiegel.

Two members of Angela Merkel's party, the Christian Democrats, filed suit to block the deployment, saying it violated Germany's Constitution to support the "human-rights-violating war conduct of the United States"; the case was dismissed last week.

The party's leadership has insisted that Germany must stay the course. "If we leave Afghanistan now, the situation would only deteriorate," the Christian Democrats' foreign policy spokesman Eckart von Klaeden told the Monitor. "Afghanistan would be reestablished as a haven for terrorists and Islamic extremists, and we would lose all credibility in the Muslim world."

Adding to German concerns is the recent murder of a German aid worker in Afghanistan. …