Afghan interim leader Hamid Karzai has appealed to German businessmen to invest in his country and promised to create a legal framework to protect their investment. Afghanistan's economic problems were the main issue in Karzai's talks in Berlin this week, but he also made a new appeal to Germany to take over the leadership of the International Security Assistance Force. Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, however, said Germany was not in a position to do so.
Munich, 15 March 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Afghan interim leader Hamid Karzai yesterday met with Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder in Berlin to discuss Germany's support in maintaining security in Afghanistan. But Karzai's most important meeting may have been not with Schroeder but with German business and economic leaders considering investment opportunities in the war-torn country.
"Come to Afghanistan and invest there," Karzai said. "Your money will grow more money." The Afghan leader, who arrived in Berlin on 13 March following a visit to Moscow, said financing is needed to rebuild practically all aspects of his country's infrastructure. Karzai mentioned communications, roads, transport, the building industry, and services as specific areas of interest for potential investors. He also said it was essential to reconstruct Afghanistan's education system and ensure medical services are available across the country.
Karzai promised that investors would not suffer the same disappointment experienced in parts of the former Soviet Union, where Western entrepreneurs have frequently complained of having their business plans waylaid by rampant corruption and red tape.
"Afghanistan will create a legal framework which will guarantee the protection of your investment," Karzai said, adding that Afghanistan has already begun to create a trustworthy banking sector. The most urgent priority of his interim administration, he added, is to build an "efficient and clean" administration free of corruption.
A German industry official later told reporters that Karzai's proposals reflected a sound basis for attracting investors. No firm inquiries were made about specific investment opportunities, but Economics Ministry official Ditmar Staffelt said the process of rebuilding Afghanistan must begin as soon as possible.
In a private meeting with Schroeder, Karzai also appealed for more assistance from the German government in rebuilding his country. Germany has already promised 80 million euros ($71 million) in aid this year and a total of 320 million euros ($282 million) by 2005.
Schroeder promised that this would be supplemented by special assistance in some areas. A spokesman for the chancellor's office said an immediate example is a gift of 40 police vehicles to be shipped to Afghanistan next week.
The German chancellor praised the spirit of cooperation evident in yesterday's talks:
"We have, of course, also talked about economic cooperation and I find it good and correct that a memorandum of understanding has been signed which shows how close the cooperation is between Afghanistan and Germany, especially cooperation by private investors from Germany and Afghanistan in the reconstruction of the infrastructure of the country."
The German government has agreed to help re-establish a police training school in Kabul. Interior Minister Otto Schily told Karzai on 13 March that 12 German officers will be sent to the school to help train local police forces. Germany has had extensive experience in training police forces in Kosovo and Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Schroeder also promised assistance in preparing for elections to choose a permanent government. The present interim administration is to be replaced by a transitional government in June following a Loya Jirga, or grand council. The transitional government is tasked, in turn, with leading the country to regular elections by mid-2004.
Despite such pledges of support, however, Karzai once again failed to persuade Schroeder that Germany should assume the leadership of the UN-mandated International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) when Britain steps down at the end of next month. Schroeder has repeatedly argued that Germany lacks the manpower, equipment, and finances to take on the leadership of the multinational force. There are about 800 German troops serving in the 4,500-strong security force, as well as 150 troops supporting it from Uzbekistan.
Karzai appeared to accept Schroeder's refusal to have Germany assume the ISAF leadership:
"The role that Germany should play in the ISAF forces in providing security to the Afghan people probably better be left for Germany to decide. We shouldn't force things on it."
Karzai said he now expects Turkey to assume the leadership role, and talks were held in Ankara yesterday to discuss the possibility of Turkey taking on the post. But German officials noted Turkey is likely to accept the role only if it receives some 70 million euros ($62 million) in financial assistance from other countries.
Schroeder was only slightly more accommodating regarding Karzai's request that ISAF extend its mandate past the June expiration date. Karzai has also asked the international force to widen its operations beyond the capital Kabul to other key Afghan cities.
The German chancellor told reporters the UN may choose to discuss a possible extension of the mandate, but said he had doubts about deploying the force beyond the capital: "If the United Nations wishes, we can discuss an extension of the mandate. However, I made clear [to Karzai] that we remain skeptical about a geographical broadening of the operation [beyond Kabul]."
Schroeder's remarks echoed a statement made earlier this month during a visit to Germany by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who has also sought to expand the security force's mandate.