Many French people have concerns about the conflict in Afghanistan, which pits the Afghan people, supported by the international community, against the Taliban. The French also have concerns about the purpose of our military presence in that country, and about what else we are doing over there. I believe it useful to go back over a few facts, which are essential in order to understand that country’s ongoing situation, in which France is playing her full role.
The international coalition intervened in Afghanistan to support the United States, rocked by the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001. The alliance forged between al-Qaeda and the Taliban regime had turned Afghanistan into a rear base for international terrorism. Since then, thousands of lives have been saved throughout the world as a result of that intervention. The real, if residual, presence of al-Qaeda-linked elements in Afghanistan and in Pakistan’s tribal areas is a reminder that the danger – although now nothing like it was 10 years ago – still exists. The battle against international terrorism still has to include Afghanistan today, and this will continue to be the case for many years to come. The Afghan state needs time to take over from the international community in this battle. This year, tasks which had been carried out by the international coalition began to be transferred to the Afghan forces. This transfer is scheduled to end, and the transition period draw to a close, in 2014. In the meantime we are cooperating with Afghanistan, and we will have to go on doing so for many years, to strengthen the state and the economy and allow the country to ensure security in its territory and the region, so that the terrorists who threaten the whole world no longer find the shelter there which they have found at other times.
Our soldiers are going to leave Afghanistan in three years’ time at the latest. But our support for the Afghan institutions and people must continue, if we are to avoid seeing the country fall back into a state of semi-anarchy. Everyone should remember what Afghanistan was like under the iron rule of the Taliban and their mentor, Bin Laden: a country where women were shut away and could not even go to school, where basic rights were daily held in contempt in the name of medieval customs elevated to the status of religious dogmas. The Afghans remember, and their participation in elections – despite the threats – has been a reminder of it in recent years: the Afghan people do not want the Taliban returning to power. It is the memory of that nightmare which has made these proud, nationalist people accept the presence of foreign soldiers on their soil for nearly 10 years.
The international coalition in Afghanistan could doubtless have done better over the last 10 years. It is clear that the Iraq war monopolized the attention of the Bush administration and that, in a way, everyone is paying the consequences of that today. The aim today of the strategy put in place by the whole coalition is to break the Taliban’s dynamic of regaining control of the productive part of the country. It is bringing positive results on the ground, even though the situation is still difficult; how could it be otherwise in a country which has been living in a permanent state of civil war for nearly 40 years, which underwent 10 years of Soviet occupation and the majority of whose population has never known peace?
Beyond the fighting and the Afghans’ effort to rebuild a modern state, everyone agrees that only a negotiated solution will enable a return to peace. That means the Afghans themselves being in a position to develop a reconciliation policy that includes all the key players, provided they break with al-Qaeda and accept the country’s institutional framework. This reconciliation will have to be inclusive and give a fair place to the different ethnic groups making up Afghanistan. It will have to be the work of the Afghans themselves. It is hard to see on what basis the coalition could deal directly with the Taliban while ignoring the country’s people as a whole, whose protection is the very reason for our presence. The rumours of exploratory contacts between the Americans and Taliban representatives must not conceal the key point: a political solution to the Afghan conflict can only be the work of the Afghans themselves.
The fight against terrorism took us into Afghanistan along with our American partners. In the name of that struggle – and fully independently – we have played our role in rebuilding that devastated country. Thanks to our historic links to the Afghan resistance against the Soviet invasion, thanks to our longstanding cultural presence in the country, our presence and help are rightly welcomed by the Afghans. They’re not asking us to negotiate with the Taliban on their behalf; they can do that alone. They simply want us to stand alongside them, through our cooperation, through our NGOs, when the time comes for them to negotiate. And if they ask us to help them in that task, we shall do it, with complete transparency./.