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“Our goal is crisis prevention”

by Dirk Niebel
“Development cooperation makes important contributions to stabilising the country – for example, by creating economic opportunities.” Minister Niebel ­visiting an automotive training workshop in Kunduz

“Development cooperation makes important contributions to stabilising the country – for example, by creating economic opportunities.” Minister Niebel ­visiting an automotive training workshop in Kunduz

Germany’s Federal Government understands security in a comprehensive ­“networked” sense. It considers development policy to be of crucial relevance. Development Minister Dirk Niebel elaborated on the matter in an interview with Hans Dembowski. [ Interview with Dirk Niebel ]

Does the German public understand what counter-insurgency means in Afghanistan?
The term “counter-insurgency” is not part of the vocabulary of development cooperation – not even in Afghanistan. It denotes only one part of what the international community is doing to support the Afghan people and government. Our objective is much broader. It includes reducing poverty and improving governance as well as the observance of human rights. However, we constantly need to explain clearly and precisely what the international community is doing in Afghanistan and how it is ­going about it – not only in Germany, by the way, but in Afghanistan too.

What role does civil reconstruction play in this context?
Development cooperation makes important contributions to stabilising the country and making it peaceful in the long run – for example, by creating economic opportunities, strengthening government institutions and helping to tackle underlying causes of conflict. In the short term, however, stabilisation hinges crucially on capable and legitimate Afghan security forces as well as improvements in governance – and particularly so at the local level. To coordinate the respective missions of civilian and military actors and to integrate their respective contributions in an encompassing strategy for Afghanistan, the Federal Government is committed to the concept of networked security. Essentially, this means close and effective coordination of all relevant actors, no more and no less.

How do you respond to the criticism voiced by civil-society agencies that feel misused for military purposes?
Many German non-governmental organisations have years of experience of working in Afghanistan and in similarly difficult contexts. So I take their concerns seriously. But I do not understand the criticism of networked security that some NGOs have expressed. No one can seriously object to the German government coordinating its various activities in the civilian and military domains. The coherence of the contributions made by different government departments is a core principle in the effectiveness debate with regard to fragile states. It is called the “whole of government approach”. When NGOs want funds from the Federal Government for reconstruction and development in Afghanistan, they have to accept that those funds are granted as part of the Federal Government’s comprehensive strategy. Unlike humanitarian aid, reconstruction and development are not subject to the neutrality principle. Rather, there is a political objective. Germany’s Federal Government wants to contribute to making Afghanistan a stable and peaceful country with a legitimate and fully operational government. Obviously, this is also the goal of our military engagement. It is not an end in itself. Nobody is questioning the primacy of the civilian leadership, and nobody is questioning the time-tested practice of NGOs applying for government funds.

Since the Paris Declaration at the latest, donors have been promising harmonisation. But in Afghanistan, their efforts have been fragmentary from the outset. How do you ­assess the situation?
Both at the grassroots level and in Kabul, the German Government is working vigorously for effective donor coordination. But the issue is somewhat overlaid with populism, which does not always have much to do with the ground reality in Afghanistan. Those who represent Germany’s Development Ministry in Afghanistan and the staff at the German Embassy in Kabul spend a lot of time ­liaising with other donors and, above all, with Afghan partners. And there are numerous examples of effective coordination. One is the Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund (ARTF) and its committees, which pave the way for an intensive reform ­dialogue between ARTF donors and the Afghan government. Another good example is in the energy sector. Successful coordination is evident, for example, in the power transmission line from Uzbekistan, which has been delivering electricity to Kabul at low cost 24 hours a day since early 2009. Five donors teamed up for this major project, and the German Government was one of them.

But isn’t that an isolated case?
With more than 50 donors active in Afghanistan, coordination obviously is a constant challenge. In practical operations, however, we have repeatedly seen that the quality of coordination massively depends on the capacities of our Afghan partners. Coordination works best when the respective Afghan ministries assume a leading role on the basis of clear objectives and realistic plans. That is why we support efforts by our Afghan partners to coordinate donors.

Security risks are often not confined to ­nation-states; they have a regional context – for example, in the border areas between Afghanistan and Pakistan. What can development policy achieve in this respect?
In the case of Afghanistan and Pakistan, political conflicts are the main problem, and they need political solutions. Our development workers can create cross border forums where governmental and non-governmental actors interact, thus building confidence and nurturing the will to cooperate. Germany’s party-political foundations, which are close to the parties represented in the Bundestag, are heavily engaged in this field. Moreover, we promote cross border trade. In the conflict zones of the Afghan-Pakistani borderlands, however, our options are limited. In many cases, our civilian workers cannot move freely enough to implement meaningful projects. So before development cooperation can be effective on a sizeable scale, we first need to make progress on the political front and on security.

What opportunities does regional integration offer for peace?
Regional organisations and security forums can make huge contributions to the quest for peace, ­security and stability. They often provide platforms for finding solutions to regional conflicts. That said, there are considerable differences between the regional security forums that exist at present – both in regard to their scope of action and their ­effectiveness. When the African Union was established, for example, the African countries explicitly agreed to intervene in the event of serious human-rights violations and assaults on civil society, even against the will of the government of the respective member state.

There is no such consensus in the regional context of Afghanistan.
No, there isn’t, and that makes cooperation more difficult. Some fundamental issues still need to be clarified before constructive cooperation can be achieved, especially in relations with Pakistan. Nonetheless, I am convinced that regional integration – including economic integration – will have a stabilising effect. It can be achieved through political and institutional cooperation. That is what the ex­perience of many peaceful decades shows in Europe; we believe it could serve as a model for Central Asia in the future. In any case, the way Afghanistan‘s government is engaged in cross-border cooperation confirms that it shares our view.

To what extent do development policymakers take account of future security risks that may arise from climate change, for instance?
Our policy is fundamentally designed to provide pre-emptive responses to such risks and help to defuse them. However, we need to distinguish clearly ­between global security risks that may yet arise from climate change and acute conflicts that are raging in places like Afghanistan. Our policy approaches differ accordingly. We want to contribute to tackling the underlying causes of conflict and stabilising societies in the long run. Apart from that, we want to provide information and advice to help our bilateral and international partners draft sensible policies, thus facilitating forward-looking solutions.

What does that mean in practice?
In all partner countries that are affected by conflict, we consider what effect our development cooperation projects will have on the context of that conflict. Similar methods are used in Afghanistan, for example, to analyse how shortages of natural resources are fuelling the conflict and will continue to influence its course in the future. When such causal relations are made transparent, our partners become able to effectively minimise risks and to avoid conflicts and the escalation of violence. Our goal is crisis prevention – and this is precisely what the notion of networked security is all about. The general idea is to link up all the expertise which is at the command of the Federal Government in order to ease tensions by peaceful means, preventing such tensions from escalating into armed conflicts.