Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Afghan War and the German Peace Movement

Reider Braun, Foreign Policy In Focus, Sep 18, 2009

On September 4, NATO’s International Security Assistance Force conducted an airstrike on a fuel tank hijacked by the Taliban in northern Afghanistan. The attack killed dozens of people including civilians, according to NATO sources. However the German Minister of Defense, Franz Josef Jung, has stubbornly denied that the attack harmed civilians, insisting instead that “only Taliban were killed.” Jung even verbally attacked NATO and EU statements on the topic, saying that “other countries should not interfere.”

Because of this unjustifiable military strike German citizens, who have never forgotten the two world wars, have finally begun to realize that Germany is at war. A majority continues to demand the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, a demand that has only become amplified by the obvious fraud in the recent Afghan elections. According to a September 12 poll, 59% of the Germans were in favor of a withdrawal. Although Germans have rejected their government’s rhetoric and policies toward Afghanistan the resistance is largely passive, with no massive uproar on the streets.

This latest attack has revealed the reality of Germany’s involvement in Afghanistan. It is not a “stabilization effort” (as the speaker of the Minister of Defense called it on September 4). Nor is the German Bundeswehr providing “development aid.” Germany is engaged in an authentic military action that has led to many civilian deaths.

World War II lasted less than six years. The war of the West in Afghanistan, however, has been going on for eight years as of this October. In this war, 40 nations have provided soldiers and modern military gear. But despite this large-scale effort, NATO has been unable to defeat the Taliban, eradicate drug cultivation or rebuild the economy in apparently calm areas. The toll on the Afghan population, especially in light of the previous two decades of war, has been immense.

Minister of Defense Jung and the German government should stop pretending that Germany is involved in a humanitarian operation. There can be no development assistance as long as foreign soldiers occupy the country. For years humanitarian aid organizations such as Caritas, Welthungerhilfe, Medico, and Kinderhilfe Afghanistan have complained that “civil-military co-operation” undermines civil aid to the point that it becomes useless. Echoing these criticisms, the organization Developing Politics of German Non-Government Organizations has demanded a strict separation of military actions and humanitarian aid.

For Germany to play a true humanitarian role in Afghanistan, it must withdraw German troops from the country. Supporters of Germany’s military involvement argue that chaos will reign after the military troops withdraw and the Taliban will take over power. But the Taliban enjoy greater support now because it is fighting against foreign occupation. Remove the foreign occupiers and Taliban support will dwindle.

The Germany peace movement is currently conducting many actions to end the war in Afghanistan, most recently several regional public meetings on September 9. It will continue these actions even after the presidential elections on September 27. Die Linke, the only party in Germany that supports immediate withdrawal from Afghanistan, has seen its support rise from 10% to 14% in the wake of the bombing. It is time for Germany to withdraw its troops and for the minister of defense to step down.

Reiner Braun is the executive director of the German International Association of Lawyers Against Nuclear Arms, program director for International Network of Engineers and Scientists for Global Responsibility, and a contributor to Foreign Policy In Focus.

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