After the Taliban attack on Kunduz

Lacking political vision

The blood-letting goes on in Afghanistan, and as usual, it is the civilians who are suffering most. Forced to shoulder the political burden, coalition troops in the country were unable to create the right conditions for peace. Commentary by Sandra Petersmann in Kabul

Is it really necessary to ask who is to blame for the situation? Yes, I believe it is – and I’d like to try to explain why. In Kunduz, of all places, the Taliban have recorded their greatest military success since the toppling of their regime back in late 2001. Surely it is impossible now, even for those die-hard politicians in Berlin most enthusiastically committed to spin, to do anything other than concede that German efforts in Kunduz have failed to bring about peace – and that despite a 13-year, multi-billion euro operation that also cost the lives of so many German soldiers.

The truth is, however, that this is about much more than just Kunduz and the role played by the German army. NATO as a whole has singularly failed to bring peace to Afghanistan. Combat operations ended last December and in spite of the fact that, at the height of those operations, up to 130,000 international troops were deployed in the country, the blood-letting in most of the country's provinces is still going on – civilian blood most of it. The fall of Kunduz therefore needs to be looked at in the wider context of the conflict in Afghanistan.

Complicated and complex

And the wider context in Afghanistan has always been a very international one – the Afghanistan question has never been black or white, never a simple good versus evil equation. Just how bewilderingly, complicated and complex the situation in Afghanistan is can be seen by looking at what happened in Kunduz. This northern Afghan province and its eponymous capital are criss-crossed by a network of trade and smuggling routes, most of them made prominent use of by drug and arms traffickers.

It is from this traffic that the money comes to pay fighters, be they adherents of the Taliban, Al-Qaida, "Islamic State", local warlord militias, or the government. Almost all of them have allies in other countries: Pakistan, Iran, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Russia, in the Arab countries or in the West.

Taliban rebels in Afghanistan (photo: dpa/picture-alliance)
"Now the chickens have well and truly come home to roost and NATO's policy of forming alliances with local warlords has also returned to haunt them. Many of these intimidating tribal leaders now occupy positions of great power. They are often extremely wealthy, bank-rolling private militias who terrorise the civilian population in places like Kunduz. And it is precisely this situation that makes it so easy for the Taliban to win back lost territory", comments Sandra Petersmann

No clear vision

The civilians of Kunduz are surrounded by enemies on all sides, ensnared in a war where the fronts are fluid and uncertain, a situation in fact that is replicated throughout the country. Let's rewind the current drama in Afghanistan back to when the US-led coalition intervened in the country in October of 2001. Back then, it was revenge and the hunt for Osama Bin Laden that provided the motivation – not the construction of a democratic state. Problems that the politicians had no answer to were simply passed over to the military. A clear vision with clearly formulated, common political objectives simply did not exist.

Now the chickens have well and truly come home to roost and NATO's policy of forming alliances with local warlords has also returned to haunt them. Many of these intimidating tribal leaders now occupy positions of great power. They are often extremely wealthy, bank-rolling private militias who terrorise the civilian population in places like Kunduz. And it is precisely this situation that makes it so easy for the Taliban to win back lost territory.

Diplomatic efforts

To just bolt the door now and leave the Afghans to get on with it would, of course, be the simplest solution. To do so, however, would in my opinion be a moral crime. Germany has to take its share of responsibility. After all, we too participated in the creation of the new power structures in Afghanistan that so raised expectations among the people. Is it just a coincidence that so many Afghan refugees are now setting their sights on Germany?

What Afghanistan needs now, more than anything, are honest political and diplomatic efforts, those things that were so disastrously lacking at the time of the invasion in 2001. And only once the political objectives have been agreed upon will it become clear for how much longer German soldiers will be needed in Afghanistan. If, however,  we again allow military action to precede political reaction, we will simply be repeating our political failure.

Sandra Petersmann

© Deutsche Welle 2015

Translated from the German by Ron Walker

More on this topic
In submitting this comment, the reader accepts the following terms and conditions: Qantara.de reserves the right to edit or delete comments or not to publish them. This applies in particular to defamatory, racist, personal, or irrelevant comments or comments written in dialects or languages other than English. Comments submitted by readers using fantasy names or intentionally false names will not be published. Qantara.de will not provide information on the telephone. Readers' comments can be found by Google and other search engines.
To prevent automated spam submissions leave this field empty.