The German government last week released its annual “Progress Report” on what’s been going on in Afghanistan. It’s a despairing document, which admits that basically everything is still shit in Afghanistan. Or to put it the Bundesregierung way: despite massive investment in arms and development – Germany alone has poured somewhere between €26 and €46 billion into the country in the past 13 years, according to the German Institute for Economic Research – it has not been possible to establish “sustainable impulses for a sustainable economic development in the country”. According to the UN’s Human Development Index, Afghanistan is still the 169th most developed country in the world, out of 187. Meanwhile, 3,481 coalition soldiers, and an estimated 43,000 civilians, have been killed there now.
All this has been done in the name of creating stability in the region – straight face. And yet, despite the obvious futility of throwing money and human lives down an abyss, the German government still insists on waging war there. The basic message the government wants to convey is pretty much the same every year: “We have achieved a great deal but we are still far from reaching our goal,” a line that could come from any PR statement from any country that has tried over the centuries to do something in Afghanistan. This year is a special year, because at the end of it, just after Christmas, the international NATO mission known as ISAF is supposed to slowly disband and go home.
But, in a slightly clingy way, Germany is not really leaving – this month, the government announced that some 850 Bundeswehr troops would be staying on. They wouldn’t be doing any fighting though, they promised, they’d only be training Afghan forces and watch if any of them get shot at. Meanwhile, the 2014 progress report insisted that much had been achieved. For example, it celebrated the fact that: “For the first time, presidential elections laid the groundwork for Afghanistan to take on full responsibility for a peaceful and democratic change of leadership.” This must have been referring to the April election, when 15 million ballot papers were printed when only 12 million people were eligible to vote, and there was a big row over who had won that required an intervention of John Kerry and Frank-Walter Steinmeier.
What they don’t admit is that rebuilding Afghanistan was never really the point of the war there. It was all about killing people, and that the aim – knocking over the Taliban regime – was achieved within a couple of months. All the rest of the killing has been done to keep that purpose maintained. The only problem is that, sooner or later, the number of people and the amount of money being lost would sap the political will, so they have to go home.