Deutsche Welle, December 4, 2011

Protesters at Afghanistan conference demand faster troop withdrawal

On Monday, world leaders will meet in Bonn to discuss the withdrawal of international forces from Afghanistan by 2014. For German peace activists, however, this is not fast enough

By Arnd Riekmann / gb

Once again the future of Afghanistan is on the agenda. Ten years ago in Bonn, the issue was the deployment of NATO troops and the toppling of the Taliban. This time around, the summit on Monday is set to discuss the withdrawal of international forces by the end of 2014.

For German peace activists this is not fast enough. They are calling for the immediate withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan. To underscore their demand protesters took to the streets of the former West German capital on Saturday under the motto, "They talk peace, but wage war."

The gathering attracted peace groups, anti-globalization organizations, like Attac, the German Green Party and Left Party, and the German trade union, Verdi.

Doubts about the will to withdraw

Malalai Joya said she doubts the willingness to withdraw
Malalai Joya said she doubts the willingness to withdraw. (Photo: Deutsche Welle)

Demonstrators expressed their doubts whether the goal of the Afghanistan conference was really the end of the foreign troop deployment.

But even Afghan President Hamid Karzai has asked that some troops remain, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel said as recently as last Friday that German troops may stay beyond the planned exit date to help train local Afghan forces.

At the demonstration rally in downtown Bonn, Afghan politician Malalai Joya, however, described as a "lie" the announcement that NATO troops would leave the country by the end of 2014.

Joya called for the immediate withdrawal of international forces, saying the foreign armies were, among other things, working with warlords. Joya said the presence of foreign troops was actually making the democratization process more difficult.

In Joya's view, the international community should, instead, support the democratic forces in Afghanistan. "Please, strengthen my people by promoting education," she said in her speech. "Education is the key to strengthening emancipation," she added. Joya and other activists are hoping for a kind of "Arab Spring" in Afghanistan.

Green politician targeted by egg throwers

Also among the speakers at the rally was Green politician Christian Ströbele. When he approached the microphone, a group of loud protesters threw eggs at him, shouting, "Blood, blood, blood on your hands" in reference to the Green Party's support for the deployment of German troops in Afghanistan. Ströbele himself has always been opposed to the deployment of German troops.

In his speech, Ströbele called for an immediate ceasefire and negotiations with all Afghans willing to participate in talks. He said, during his last visit to Afghanistan, he had met people threatened by the Taliban who still said the Taliban needed to be at the negotiating table.

Arguments against a NATO mission

Among the most prominent speakers at the rally was Gregor Gysi, the parliamentary leader of the Left Party. He underscored his demand for an immediate troop withdrawal, saying all the reasons for the war have been refuted. The fighting, he said, hasn't helped to get rid of terrorism or given Afghan women their human rights.

"Where girls in Afghanistan could always go to school, they are still going and where they never could go to school, they still aren't," Gysi said, trying to refute one argument for the NATO mission. The war also has not improved reconstruction. Actually, the opposite was true, even according to the most recent UN assessments, he said.

The protest march in Bonn appeared at least to reflect the desire of the German people for an end to the Afghan mission. In a survey two months ago, 70 percent of those questioned said they no longer believed in the success of the Afghan mission. More than two-thirds said, from the way they see things today, German forces should never have gone into Afghanistan.

Peace protest tradition in Bonn

1983: Some 400,000 anti-war protesters gathered in Bonn
1983: Some 400,000 anti-war protesters gathered in Bonn. (Photo: Deutsche Welle)

Peace protests have a long tradition in the former West German capital. The biggest demonstrations took place in the 1980s. In October 1983, some 400,000 people protested in Bonn for peace, disarmament and against NATO's two-track plan with Warsaw Pact countries to limit their mutual medium-range missile deployments. In the case of disagreement NATO threatened to deploy Pershing II medium-range nuclear weapons and cruise missiles in West Germany.

The mass protest found little resonance in the halls of the Bonn government. Roughly three weeks later, on November 22, 1983, the German parliament voted for the deployment of the medium-range missiles. The move essentially ended disarmament activities. The West German peace movement, made up of many small groups with different political interests, began to disintegrate after that.

A few of the people, who were part of the anti-Pershing protests 30 years ago, are now members of parliament - for the Green Party. The party, now a part of the political establishment in unified Germany, has its roots in the peace movement.

This weekend's protests against the Afghan mission were hardly comparable to the mass movement of the early 1980s. Organizers put the number of protesters in Bonn on Saturday at about 5,000, but the official police figures were much lower.

Editor: Andreas Illmer

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