Tuesday, August 31, 2021

The US soldiers are gone and Foreign Minister Heiko Maas is circling Afghanistan as a supplicant.

The US soldiers are gone and Foreign Minister Heiko Maas is circling Afghanistan as a supplicant. Fear of refugees seems greater than concern for those left behind. Foreign Minister Heiko Maas was reported last week as saying he was "not wasting a second or a thought" on his political future. A resignation, as so many have long been calling for in light of the debacle surrounding the evacuation mission for German citizens in Afghanistan and Afghan forces on the ground, is apparently out of the question - nor would it really change anything about the situation that the Western powers have gotten themselves into with their hasty withdrawal and that has become even more difficult as a result of miscalculations and delays on the part of the German government as well. So Maas has other things to do, and the pressure on him has not diminished. For now they are all gone. The Bundeswehr had to end its mission already on Thursday, the U.S. pulled through to the end under the greatest danger, but the military airlift breaks off with the withdrawal of the last servicemen and women. The plan for the next phase: painstaking diplomacy - "and until everyone we are responsible for in Afghanistan is safe," Maas has assured. More than 10,000 people are still on the Foreign Office lists, and more than 400 Germans are also said to still be in the country. The number of those who continue to hope to find protection outside Afghanistan, for example because they worked for the departing Germans or campaigned for women's rights and now have to fear the Taliban's revenge, is probably much higher: Not all of them will have come forward, and with relatives, several tens of thousands quickly add up, the German Interior Ministry also assumes. People to whom the German government promised a path to safety that has now been cut off for the time being. Who themselves cannot do much more at the moment than somehow survive. "Still weeks and probably months to go" Even Maas, who has been touring Afghanistan's neighborhood since Sunday to improve exit conditions for those in need of protection, knows there will be no quick fix. "This is an issue that will occupy us for weeks and probably months to come," he said Monday after talks in Uzbekistan. That's because while there is a promise from the Taliban that people can continue to leave the country, with "valid documents" - whatever that means. But no one can rely on that, and even a UN resolution demanding unimpeded exit will not change that. Nor is there any guarantee that Kabul airport will be able to continue operating in the short term after the withdrawal of the soldiers. Western governments want to see it remain open or reopen in what U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken calls a "reasonable period of time." Turkey and Qatar, among others, could help make it possible to operate, at least for charter planes. The Taliban would like to accept such assistance so that the badly damaged civilian part of the airport can be restored. How this can be done and when is completely open in view of the security situation. The new rulers no longer want to allow any foreign military presence and have suggested to Turkey, for example, that it should take over the operational part alone and provide security itself. The Taliban are also negotiating with Qatar, but an immediate agreement is unlikely. Or as U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price conceded, "It's probably nonsensical to expect that there will be normal airport operations on Sept. 1." The second way out is not a safe alternative, which is why the State Department also advises those who want to try: "The individual risk assessment of proceeding to the border by land must be made by the individuals themselves, depending on their personal circumstances." For those seeking protection, many of whom are hiding out of fear or constantly changing where they stay, this should really mean: don't do it. Making your way to one of the borders, past checkpoints and marauding Taliban fighters, is dangerous enough; it doesn't mean salvation. With his visits to three of Afghanistan's six neighboring countries, the foreign minister wanted to ensure that all those who had been promised admission to Germany would be let through. And only those, no false hopes: "We are only concerned with this group of people."