NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer: "You can't blame everything that's going wrong in Afghanistan on NATO."
De Hoop Scheffer: No, certainly not. The situation is relatively stable in the north, where the Germans are, and in the west. I admit, however, that in the south in particular things are getting very rough. But overall Im not as pessimistic as President Karzai.
SPIEGEL: Attacks, abductions, corruption and record-breaking drug crops -- what is NATO doing wrong?
De Hoop Scheffer: You cant blame everything thats going wrong in Afghanistan on NATO. We are a political and military alliance, not a development and aid organization. In the end, the problems can not be solved militarily -- there has to be a political solution. The alliance and the international community can only offer support. For example, the Afghan government has to take more responsibility in the fight against corruption. And, of course, drug cultivation is a huge problem.
SPIEGEL: Because the insurgents finance their operations through the drug business.
SPIEGEL: Up until now, aid has often failed because there is insufficient coordination. Who should be responsible for this task -- the United Nations or NATO itself?
De Hoop Scheffer: Certainly not NATO. Thats not our job. What we need is a well-known and respected international figure -- a political heavyweight, you could say.
SPIEGEL: What about UN Special Representative for Afghanistan Tom Koenigs? Could he do the job?
De Hoop Scheffer: Tom Koenigs is doing a good job. But in Kabul there are also envoys from the European Union, a civilian representative for NATO, the commander of the ISAF force, and many other institutions. We need a coordinator who is a political heavyweight, who can put pressure on the international community and who has the same status as President Karzai and other world leaders. He or she doesnt necessarily have to reside in Kabul.
SPIEGEL: Do you have a candidate in mind?
De Hoop Scheffer: No. But Ive discussed the idea with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and will talk to German Chancellor Angela Merkel about it in Berlin this week. I think it would be good if a German or another European got the job. And I am in favor of the UN taking the lead in the search for candidates.
SPIEGEL: Can you define when the mission in Afghanistan would be considered a success?
De Hoop Scheffer: NATO will have successfully completed its mission when the Afghan government and its security forces can take responsibility throughout the entire country. Thats the military part of the answer. But when it comes to building up a new civil society, we need patience more than anything. Afghanistan was still in the Middle Ages when the Taliban were chased out of the country in 2001. Therefore one cant expect that reconstruction efforts can be completed within the space of a few years.
SPIEGEL: So the parliamentary floor leader of Germanys Social Democrats, Peter Struck, is right when he says NATO will have to stay there for another 10 years?
De Hoop Scheffer: I wont commit myself to a prediction or a number of years. I simply say that NATO will have to stay for the foreseeable future.
SPIEGEL: What do NATO members need to do in order to keep its deployment there as short as possible?
De Hoop Scheffer: The key word is training. Training of the security forces, training of the army and the police, so that the government is able to control the country on its own. Unfortunately we haven't given training a high enough priority up until now.
SPIEGEL: Germany had been responsible for the police until recently, now its the EU. Is it enough just to have 195 trainers who will only be ready to start in March of next year?
De Hoop Scheffer: Of course not. Its a start and its good that the EU has made a start. The Americans are also doing a lot. I hope it will be well coordinated.
SPIEGEL: It doesnt look much better for the military. Some 70,000 soldiers are supposed to be trained by 2010. But currently only 16,000 are ready for deployment. German Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung wants to send more instructors soon, but the German trainers aren't allowed to accompany the Afghan units into combat zones.
De Hoop Scheffer: Its not my place to get involved in the internal German debate. But I would argue that the largest possible flexibility is achieved if training teams -- including German ones -- are allowed to be deployed in the whole of Afghanistan.
A German soldier in Kabul.
De Hoop Scheffer: You wont be surprised when I say that the fewer restrictions and exceptions the better. But Im a realist. Im familiar with the debate in the German parliament and I don't think that things are going to change any time soon.
SPIEGEL: Gen. Dan McNeill, commander of the ISAF troops, wants more soldiers but isnt even getting the units that have already been promised to him by alliance members. Are NATO members tired of war?
De Hoop Scheffer: Theyre certainly not reluctant, but their armed forces are enormously taxed. NATO has around 39,000 soldiers in Afghanistan, 17,000 in Kosovo. And there are other missions that NATO countries are participating in: in Lebanon, in Africa
SPIEGEL: not to mention Iraq
De Hoop Scheffer: ... and I can only continue to appeal to the governments to stick to their pledges.
SPIEGEL: Is Afghanistan NATOs most important mission?
De Hoop Scheffer: Yes, which is why I tell governments: If you agree with me that Afghanistan is NATO's most important mission, then please deliver what you promise.
SPIEGEL: The situation in Afghanistan appears to rapidly be becoming more and more like Iraq, with suicide attacks and kidnappings. Sometimes ransoms are paid, sometimes not. Should there be consistent rules for such things?
De Hoop Scheffer: Naturally, it would be good if there were consistent rules and no ransoms were paid. Then the Taliban would know that they needn't bother trying to get ransoms again in the future. But its easier for me to say that, sitting here in my armchair in Brussels, than when concrete decisions have to be made after Germans or Koreans fall into the hands of the Taliban. In practice, governments will continue to decide on their own how to deal with hostage crises.
SPIEGEL: Negotiations have been held with the Taliban over such kidnappings. Could such talks act as a model for a political solution with the Taliban?
De Hoop Scheffer: No, NATO doesnt negotiate. If one day theres a reconciliation process in Afghanistan, the Afghan government will have to talk with their current adversaries. We dont have a mandate for that. And in my opinion, you cant negotiate with people who decapitate or stone others. You dont negotiate with murderers.
Interview conducted by Konstantin von Hammerstein and Alexander Szandar.