INTRODUCTION

What moves Afghanistan?

June 21, 2011
Barbara Unmüßig
By Barbara Unmüßig

Petersberg, located near Bonn, has long been a historical place for Germany. It was there in November 1949 that the Petersberg Agreement, which included the Marshall plan to rebuild Germany, was sealed between the German government and the Allied forces. Under the agreement, the German government also committed to the principles of freedom, tolerance and humanity, and to prevent the resurgence of any totalitarian powers.

Clearly with this historical event in mind, another agreement was concluded in this exact same place in 2001. This time it concerned the pacification, democratisation and reconstruction of Afghanistan. The subsequent UN resolution legitimised the democratic transition process and the civil and military engagement of the international community.  

Now ten years later – in December 2011 – in this same historical location, another discussion about Afghanistan will be taking place. The focus will be less on the current state of affairs and much more on the future perspectives (Beyond 2014) of the country, when the planned withdrawal of international troops is to begin. How can Afghanistan become more militarily, politically and economically independent? The conference will be organised around three central themes – the transfer of responsibility that should accompany the withdrawal of international troops in 2014, the political process that should lead to a negotiated settlement of the Afghanistan conflict, and a longterm development strategy that will still provide support after 2014. Since these questions shall be in centre focus, it is only logical that the Afghan government will chair the conference in Petersberg and Bonn. The German government will be the host for the event, while the direction and management will be clearly led by the Afghan government. Increased political attention towards Afghanistan is to be expected ahead of the Bonn Conference on Afghanistan: In June 2011, U.S. President Obama will present an interim report on his new strategy for Afghanistan and announce a concrete plan for withdrawal of U.S. troops. And in October, a large conference that should contribute to a regional solution to the Afghanistan conflict will be held in Turkey.

A look back: In 2001, co-operation with the Taliban was taboo. Now in 2011, it is an open question whether representatives of radical Islamic fighters should be invited. Back then, the Taliban was completely excluded from the Petersberg Conference; today – in times of national reconciliation with anti-government forces and their reintegration into Afghan society – Taliban participation is an issue, and a controversial one at that. For quite some time now, the political concessions made by the Karzai government cannot be ignored. In the political process, offers of talks have long since been made, and carried out. Even the U.S. government negotiates directly with the Taliban.

Also in 2001: Even civil society was not directly involved in the Petersberg talks. Instead, they held parallel meetings. The former Foreign Minister of Afghanistan and current advisor to Prime Minister Karzai, Rangin Dadfar Spanta, played an important role in the process. In June 2001, he presented himself to the headquarters of the Heinrich Böll Stiftung in Berlin. He had received his PhD in political science with the aid of a scholarship from the Heinrich Böll Stiftung. Now he wanted to become politically active, to get involved in the reconstruction of his country. Rangin Spanta lived as an Afghan in exile in Aachen, where he led an alliance of Afghan opposition groups. He came to our offices in 2001 seeking our immediate political support.

Thus began our own democratic engagement in Afghanistan. After the fall of the Taliban in late October 2001, Rangin Spanta took part in the first expert meeting on Afghanistan held by the Heinrich Böll Foundation on 14 November 2001. Also present were Citha Maaß from the German Institute for International and Security Affairs and Susanne Schmeidl, who had been in Afghanistan several times with the Swiss Peace Foundation as a researcher on conflict. A few days later, both women were commissioned by the Foreign Ministry and the UN Special Representative for Afghanistan, Lakhdar Brahimi, to organise a civil society conference concurrent to the official one being held in Petersberg. The civil society conference took place in Königswinter, at the foothills of Petersberg, from 29 November – 02 December 2001. The Heinrich Böll Foundation actively participated in the civil society conference with special funds from the BMZ. Our then office manager in Pakistan, Roshan Dhunjibhoy, accompanied several women from the Afghan diaspora in Peshawar, Pakistan to Königswinter. And in 2002, Rangin Dadfar Spanta, under contract from the Heinrich Böll Foundation to explore possible areas of work, travelled for the first time after 20 years back to his homeland.

Since 2002, the Heinrich Böll Foundation has consistently supported civil society actors in Afghanistan. In Kabul, we assisted, among others, in the founding of the Afghan Civil Society Forum organization (ACSFo). The Foundation is still active with the ACSFo today as a member of its board of directors. In addition to the Afghanistan-wide networked and politically visible ACSFo, the Afghan Women Network (AWN), one of the umbrella organisations originally supported by the Heinrich Böll Foundation is, ten years on, still politically active. The Heinrich Böll Foundation opened its Kabul office in 2003, first located within the ACSFo building before moving to our own office building in May 2006. We have become an important place for exchange, knowledge and networking for female parliamentarians. The long-term engagement in the area of women’s rights, the close co-operation with citizens, and the support for future-oriented topics such as ecology are appreciated by our local partners. The Heinrich Böll Foundation-Kabul office has become an important go to point for civil society organisations, and it takes its role as a mediator between the German and Afghan public seriously.

How does the involvement of the Afghan parliament and civil society in the upcoming Bonn Conference on Afghanistan stand today? Will they be included? Or will they – as is so often the case in international conferences – be excluded? What expectations does civil society have about such conferences in general, and regarding the international community?

We will look into these and other questions in this dossier and in a conference to be held in Berlin on 23 November 2011. We want to provide the democratic forces of Afghanistan room for analysis and debate. How do they see the future of the country – ten years after the first eviction of the Taliban, after the elections, after ten years of civilian reconstruction aid, and with a never-ending war? Under the current circumstances, what expectations do they have of the Afghan government and of the international community?

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Barbara Unmüßig, Chair
From 1996 to 2001, Barbara Unmüßig chaired the supervisory board of the Heinrich Böll Foundation, and was elected president of the foundation in May 2002. Her numerous contributions to periodicals and books have covered international trade and finance, international environmental issues, and gender policy.