Merkel calls for talks with Taliban to preserve Afghans’ progress

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By Melissa Eddy

BERLIN – Germany will maintain support for Afghans who remain in their country after the deadline for the US troop withdrawal and evacuation mission passes in six days, Chancellor Angela Merkel said Wednesday (25). She also called for talks with the Taliban to preserve the progress made in Afghanistan in the past two decades.

Speaking to a session of Parliament convened to discuss the Taliban’s rapid takeover of Afghanistan, the chancellor defended Germany’s decision to join the international intervention there in 2001.

“Our goal must be to preserve as much as possible what we have achieved in terms of changes in Afghanistan in the last 20 years,” Merkel told lawmakers. “This is something the international community must talk about with the Taliban.”

She cited changes such as improved access to basic necessities, with 70% of Afghans now having access to clean drinking water and 90% having access to electricity, in addition to better health care for women.

“But what is clear is that the Taliban are reality in Afghanistan and many people are afraid,” Merkel said. “This new reality is bitter, but we must come to terms with it.”

Germany pulled its last contingent of soldiers, about 570 troops, out of Afghanistan in June, but several hundred Germans were still engaged in development work funded by Berlin, and the German government believed they would be able to remain in Afghanistan after the withdrawal of US and international forces.

Merkel defended her government’s decision to leave development workers on the ground, saying that they had hoped to continue to provide essential support for Afghans after the troop withdrawal, and that an earlier retreat could have appeared as if they were abandoning people.

“At that time there were very good reasons to stand beside the people in Afghanistan after the troops were gone,” Merkel said.

But the opposition leaders criticized her government for not developing a plan to bring people to safety in the spring, when other European countries were evacuating citizens and Afghan support staff.

“The situation in Afghanistan is a catastrophe, but it did not come out of nowhere,” said Christian Lindner, head of the Free Democratic Party, which together with the Green Party petitioned Parliament in June to begin evacuations of German staff and Afghans who could be in danger.

Merkel did not apologize, instead calling for a deeper examination of where the West went wrong in Afghanistan and what lessons could be learned. That will be the work of the next government, as she is stepping down after German elections Sept. 26.

“Many things in history take a long time. That is why we must not and will not forget Afghanistan,” said Merkel, who was raised in communist East Germany.

“Even if it doesn’t look like it in this bitter hour,” she said, “I remain convinced that no force or ideology can resist the drive for justice and peace.”

-New York Times

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