German defence chief proposes Taliban talks


GERMAN DEFENCE minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg has proposed talks with “moderate” Taliban groups.

The beleaguered defence minister has also suggested greater differentiation between insurgents in Afghanistan as part of a new Nato strategy in the region.

Mr zu Guttenberg, under fire over a controversial German-ordered air-strike in Afghanistan in September, said next month’s Afghanistan conference in London will need to do more than agree to boost troop numbers.

“One will have to think about what sharpening up politically, what Henry Kissinger called ‘communications channels’. Not every insurgent is of equal danger to western society,” Mr zu Guttenberg told Welt am Sonntagnewspaper. “There are differences between the groups in Afghanistan which radically oppose anything western and whose goal it is to fight our culture, and those which are simply immersed in their own, local culture.”

Talks with moderate Taliban could be constructive, “so long as one doesn’t set oneself a trap”.

The defence minister said he was cautious about Berlin blindly following President Obama’s request for a reported 2,500 German troops in Afghanistan.

Germany is the third-largest contributor of troops to Afghanistan, with about 4,400 on the ground. Any further deployments would be highly controversial.

The legitimacy of the already unpopular mission has suffered in recent weeks following leaks about a September-ordered airstrike in the region of Kunduz which killed dozens of civilians.

Next year’s call for extra troops is likely to come during a parliamentary inquiry into whether Germany has moved beyond civilian reconstruction to a strategy of targeted killing of insurgents.

Adding to the complications is a crucial state election next May in North-Rhine Westphalia, home to one in five Germans, before which chancellor Angela Merkel’s government will be anxious to avoid unpopular decisions.

Before January’s Afghanistan conference in London, Mr zu Guttenberg said Germany had an urgent need to address the “deficits in our dealing with the Afghanistan issue in the last years”.

“Whether we need more troops is still open,” said Mr zu Guttenberg yesterday. “The first logical step of a new strategy is not to say, ‘We’ll get more soldiers and then follow the strategy’. Now we formulate the strategy, from which will follow how many troops and civil forces one needs.”

Opposition politicians dismissed Mr zu Guttenberg’s suggestion yesterday as an attempt to distract from the Kunduz bombing.

Two years ago, Mr zu Guttenberg had dismissed opening channels to the Taliban as “misguided”.