First German 'Progress Report Afghanistan': A Successful Initiative of the World Security Network Foundation

Posted in Afghanistan | 14-Dec-10 | Author: Hubertus Hoffmann

Through personal discussions in the German Bundestag, Dr. Hubertus Hoffmann, Founder of the independent World Security Network Foundation, was able to convince those concerned in the SPD, CDU/CSU, and FDP of the significance of a new type of a progress report on Afghanistan. In this way, as was the intention of the WSN from the very beginning, a broad political rolling consensus was achieved in Berlin regarding this question of national importance.

For the first time, the German government has published a comprehensive "Progress Report Afghanistan". (see Fortschrittsbericht Afghanistan der Bundesregierung Dezember 2010 - here in German only) This report derives from an initiative of the independent World Security Network Foundation (WSN) in 2010 and illustrates how foreign policy processes can be creatively supported and realized by an NGO.

In the large Conference on Afghanistan of the German Social Democratic Party (SPD) chaired by its newly elected leader Sigmar Gabriel on January 10, 2010 in Berlin, Dr. Hubertus Hoffmann, founder of the independent global World Security Network Foundation (who comes as Mr. Gabriel from the same little town Goslar in the Harz mountains where both served in the city council for different parties) proposed to the Social Democrats:

"The SPD parliamentary group in the German Bundestag should bring forward a parliamentary motion across party lines to produce an Annual Report of the German Government on Afghanistan and Pakistan. This written report containing numerous details should be presented to the Parliament and discussed thoroughly. (This worked marvelously with the Annual Report of the German Government on Arms Control, initiated by me in 1980.) The members of Parliament and the general public have a right to be informed regularly from a single source and in detail from all involved departments as well as the Chancellery as to what extent the military and civilian efforts in Afghanistan and Pakistan have progressed." (see Afghanistan & Pakistan: A new and comprehensive NATO Double-Track Decision is needed from January 22, 2010)

The SPD parliamentary group took up this WSN proposal, but due to lobbying by the Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik in Berlin it was expanded to include an independent group of experts. This, however, watered down the binding nature of an official government report and found no agreement in the governing coalition of CDU/CSU and FDP in the Bundestag.

Through personal discussions with the foreign policy spokesmen of the FDP and the CDU/CSU, Dr. Hoffmann was able to defuse the government side's initial skepticism of the opposition SPD's suggestion. He was able to convince those concerned of the significance of this new type of a progress report on Afghanistan. In this way, as was the intention of the WSN from the very beginning, a broad political rolling consensus was achieved in Berlin regarding this question of national importance. This mirrors the case with the German government's Annual Report on Arms Control, initiated by Dr. Hoffmann in 1980, which at that time came from the opposition parties CDU/CSU and found agreement in the governing coalition consisting of the SPD and FDP.

In the opinion of Dr. Hubertus Hoffmann, according to the experience with the arms control report over the last 30 years, an annual report on the situation in Afghanistan will have the following six advantages:

First, it forces the diverse, involved four ministries and the chancellery to a unified presentation rather than varying observations from the Ministries of Foreign Affairs, Defense, Economic Cooperation and Development and the Interior.

Second, it represents a unified governmental document for policy and the public instead of an atomized collection of various speeches and declarations of different ministers from two parties and the chancellor.

Third, the parliament will be strengthened as once a year all facts concerning Afghanistan will be presented and discussed openly and honestly in the Bundestag.

Fourth, the soldiers are entitled to an account of why they have been deployed on such a dangerous and potentially life-threatening mission.

Fifth, the federal government will document its position with respect to other nations including Afghanistan and Pakistan, NATO and the allies.

Sixth, in this way a unified line will be drawn for the government and ministries and an invitation is given for reflection upon the goals that have been achieved and those that have not and necessary action for the future.

The federal government, according to its own description, fulfilled this duty of the federal assembly "gladly" and presented its report as a public document to the Bundestag in December 12, 2010.

Ambassador Michael Steiner, the Special Envoy of the German Government for Afghanistan and Pakistan, wrote in his preface letter to the "Progress Report Afghanistan" to all members of the German parliament:

"It draws a well-founded, deliberately realistic picture of the situation in Afghanistan and presents what has until now been achieved through the German mission - and what has not yet been able to be realized. The Progress Report comes at the end of a year during which the international community, at the urging of the federal government, has committed to a new joint strategy and has made this operational. This is a strategy that defines realistic goals for the international engagement in Afghanistan, which considers that ultimately only a political process of reconciliation can bring Afghanistan lasting stability, and determines for the first time a binding schedule for the international military engagement. In the period between 2011 and 2014, the international community will return security responsibility to the Afghans."

All total, the report provides information on 27 subject areas. It was produced under the leadership of the Foreign Office with the assistance of the Chancellery. The departments involved in Afghanistan - the Foreign Office, the Ministry of the Interior, the Ministry of Defense and the Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development - produced the current report together under the leadership of Ambassador Steiner.

The report is based, among other things, upon expert consultation and evaluations of, all total, around one hundred ministerial employees in Berlin and Bonn, the Embassy in Kabul and its external offices, German representatives in international organizations as well as the reconstruction teams in areas managed by Germany in northern Afghanistan.

At the same time, even during the determination of the subjects and criteria to be examined, the federal government relied on the advice of external experts. Economic consultations were heard - also during the public hearings of the Foreign Affairs Committee on November 23, 2010 - and were read and evaluated and are partially quoted in the text. The structure of the report corresponds to existing schemes which have been agree to in an international context, for example, that of NATO or the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), which reflect the international agreements between the international community and the Afghan government.

In very close cooperation among all involved, in the view of the federal government an attempt was made to portray the German engagement in Afghanistan as a long-term, concrete contribution to the foundations of the reconstruction of an independent, stabile nation. Naturally, the German engagement in northern Afghanistan stands in the forefront, observed however within the context of the development as a whole and other international contributions.

The report also provides a reminder of the starting point and continuing justification for the enormous military efforts and sacrifice of the German Armed Forces, as well as civilian representatives and development aid workers: namely, the threat to the Federal Republic of Germany from international terrorism and Islamic extremism.

This report also makes mention of the ongoing corruption in Afghanistan and makes a plea to the Afghan government to fulfill its responsibilities. With regard to the parliamentary elections that took place under the suspicion of significant election fraud, the report comments that criticism of locals on national problems was indeed possible.

The progress report states that the conflict in Afghanistan cannot be won by military means. Negotiations with the insurgents are therefore necessary. The government has already started negotiations with the insurgents. In the event of Taliban participation in power, it is the opinion of western nations that certain achievements such as in the area of women's rights must not be surrendered. The progress report also mentions this "red line".

The report also refers to modest economic success: Afghanistan remains one of the poorest countries in the world; however, taken from the lowest point in 2002, a dynamic economic development can be seen. Improvement can be observed in coal production, exports and also in per capita income.

The World Security Network now promotes annual reports on Afghanistan in other countries as well.

This newsletter is dedicated to the memory of Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, who as a high-octane U.S. diplomat made the Balkans a safer and more human place and created a new AfPak strategy as the special U.S. representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan including vision, realism, and humanity.