SPECIAL INTERVIEW: German Envoy Discusses Afghan Peace
In this program, TOLOnews’ Lotfullah Najafizada discusses the Afghan peace with Markus Potzel, Germany’s Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Najafizada: How much Europe, Germany in particular, is informed about what is happening in Doha between the Taliban and the United States?
Potzel: I can’t tell because I don’t know what we don’t know. But, I think I am having serious consultations with our American friends. I met Ambassador Khalilzad several times over the last couple of weeks. We also have contacts with the Taliban.
Najafizada: And has the United States informed you about the talks in Doha?
Potzel: Yeah, they do, they do actually.
Najafizada: Are you satisfied that the Americans are doing the right thing?
Potzel: Afghans have to judge whether it is the right thing, but, I am satisfied that the Americans are talking to the Taliban.
Najafizada: And you are talking to the Taliban as well, you said.
Potzel: Yes, we do.
Najafizada: With the same Taliban in Doha?
Potzel: Taliban in Doha, but also the Taliban outside Doha.
Najafizada: And, are you optimistic that peace is on the horizon?
Potzel: Yes, I am. I know about the uncertainties, I also know about the worries of the Afghan people but, I think it is a very very crucial time now, it is a very very important phase now and we can see that peace is possible and we have seen the ceasefire last year.
Najafizada: Right, but in the same time, this has been something ongoing for many many years you engaged with the Taliban probably like 5-6 years ago.
Potzel: That’s true, yeah, that’s true. And we helped them opening that office in Doha which was open for one day. But there is a difference now. I think the Americans have come a long way. They are, for the first time, sitting with the Taliban. I have to give credit to my American colleague Alice Wells. They are willing to talk about troop withdrawal.
Potzel: That’s new.
Najafizada: That means the Americans are leaving.
Potzel: One day we will all be leaving. But, the question is that when it is not a time-based approach, we think that it has to be condition-based approach.
Najafizada: Is that what you think the Americans are after, a condition-based withdrawal?
Potzel: That’s a question that has been discussed publicly recently. I mean, of course, triggered by reports about the imminent withdrawal of troops by the Americans. I was in Doha shortly before there was a meeting in December when the news broke and I was worried. But, American friends have told us that no decision has been taken. And you know, if you look at the logistics and technical details, it takes a lot of time to withdraw.
Najafizada: How many years?
Potzel: I don’t know exactly. I am not a military expert. And I am also of the opinion that it would not be wise to give away bargaining chips. And we should avoid a situation where Taliban say we can sit you out.
Najafizada: The countries in the region, not just the United States, are also engaging with the Taliban. You said Germany is also talking to the Taliban. What are you talking about with the them?
Potzel: We tell them our expectations and we actually urge them to reduce violence and to sit at the table with Afghans, including the Afghan government and to talk about peace, not only talk about, but aim at peace.
Najafizada: And talking to the Afghan government as the only address in Afghanistan.
Potzel: Not the only address. I mean they were talking in Moscow at the beginning of February. There was one deficit, the government was missing. But, of course you have include politicians of all groups, but you also have to involve civil society, youth, women groups, ethnic minorities, religious minorities. You know, without involving them, peace cannot be comprehensive, even not sustainable.
Najafizada: Right, I think peace has become a very very undefined term in Afghanistan now.
Potzel: That’s true.
Najafizada: What would be your definition?
Potzel: I think it is not up to me to judge, to talk about that but peace is more than just the lack of violence, you know. A comprehensive, sustainable peace has to be adopted and agreed upon by the vast majority of the people of Afghanistan. It is not only politicians as I said, it is NGOs, it is social groups, they all have to be involved.
Najafizada: There is going to be another round of Afghan talks with the Taliban in March. And we don’t know if the government of Afghanistan will be part of it or not. Not at least officially announced. Would you be ok with, as Afghanistan’s second largest donor, if groups outside the government reach out to the Taliban and make a deal with the Taliban?
Potzel: Again, everybody can do, and we talk to the Taliban as well. But, at the end of the day, the government has to be involved, you know. And I know that talks are going between government of the Afghanistan and also other groups, groups went to Moscow to talk to the Taliban there. It think it is time now for Afghans to agree on a comprehensive, all inclusive, negotiating team.
Najafizada: And that was what you discussed with President Ghani, Chief Executive Abdullah, President Karzai, Minister Atmar [during this visit]?
Potzel: Yes, that is what I have discussed with all my interlocutors here. I haven’t seen any controversies about that, you know. I haven’t seen any objections against it. I think the question is now how will that team be composed? Who will be the leader of the team? But there is no doubt about the necessity of such a team.
Najafizada: And President Ghani is willing to basically share the table with other Afghan leaders?
Potzel: That was my impression.
Najafizada: Well, you talked about Germany willing to hold another Bonn Conference…
Potzel: A year ago, I remember.
Najafizada: A year ago, yes. Is that even more likely now?
Potzel: It is still a standing offer and I think it is the question of timing. When should the next conference, Bonn 3 Conference, take place? Is it peace talks? Is it in the middle of peace talks? Is it at the end? You know, before the final signing of the peace agreement? We stand ready with our partners and of course with the Afghans, with the Afghan government and other players, we should find the right timing.
Najafizada: Right, and are we stepping closer to that?
Potzel: Well, I think it is still a long way to go. I mean these talks that are taking place in Doha are not peace talks. They could eventually lead to peace talks but we have a look at other conflicts that had been negotiated over the past. This will take time if you take Colombia and Northern Ireland for instance. It is not being done overnight.
Najafizada: Right, we have been going through war for four decades.
Potzel: I know.
Najafizada: And that has to come to an end, so…
Potzel: That’s true, but everybody will be well-advised to do expectation management on that, you know. I know that high hopes are attached to these talks but, it should be merged with realism. And everybody tries. All parties try to intense and to strengthen their position on it at the moment, before talks begin and that unfortunately might come with a spike in violence as well. All parties involved have to have a strengthened political will to go through it, when they want to actually come to a peace agreement.
Najafizada: Ambassador Potzel, would Germany remain one of Afghanistan’s main donors if Afghanistan under fully or partial Taliban control resembles a regime like in the one in late nineties?
Potzel: First of all I don’t think there will be a situation where a regime like nineties will come about again.
Najafizada: What makes you say that?
Potzel: Talks with the Taliban on the one hand, the achievements, the changes in Afghanistan over the last 17, 18 years. I think there is a lot of groups in Afghanistan who will not tolerate such a regime anymore. And I can only encourage them, I mean, it is, at the end, it is up to the Afghans decide upon their constitution, about the future of their society, of the state. But where we can help, we remain, and to preserve some of those achievement that you have done. We will be willing to do so. And I think we have a leverage now, because you just mentioned Germany as a donor, even beyond post-peace agreement, Afghanistan will need international assistance and we are willing to do so. I cannot anticipate our parliament’s decisions but, I think I can imagine that we will stand and continue to stand by Afghanistan, people of Afghanistan and conditions are attached to it. And to preserve achievements like human rights, women rights, minority rights, freedom of press that is very important.
Najafizada: Are these negotiables, or are non-negotiable topics?
Potzel: I think it is up to Afghan parties to the negotiations to decide. But, you know I cannot sell to the German public, to the German parliament this in violation of these rights and trying at the same time to generate development assistance for Afghanistan. No, it’s no go. Now you have to see that from a German domestic perspective as well.