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Germany, Afghanistan have history of good relations

Germany a 'fitting' choice for post-Taliban talks

By Bettina Luscher

BONN, Germany (CNN) -- In 1963, at the height of the Cold War, then-Afghan King Mohammed Zahir Shah paid a visit to West Germany.

Afghanistan was at the doorsteps of the Soviet Union, but a neutral country and West Germany, surrounded by East Germany, was looking for good friends in faraway places.

Today, Bonn is now a part of the reunited Germany but it is a still desired destination for Afghan leaders. This time, though, the 87-year-old Zahir Shah, exiled to Italy after a 1973 coup, will send envoys to participate in a U.N.-sponsored conference beginning Tuesday on the future of Afghanistan.

"What is hardly known is that there are over a hundred years of good relations between both countries," said Citha Maas, an Afghan specialist at the German Institute for International Policy and Security, a Berlin-based think tank. "They date back to the early days of 20th century when there was still the German emperor and the Afghan king established the first relations."

Some 90,000 Afghans who fled the more than 20 years of war took refuge in Germany, creating the largest Afghan community in Europe. Many refugees hope this conference will be a first step toward peace in their homeland.

"We are glad and honored to be the host of this meeting and what we can do, we'll contribute," said German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer.

Germany has already spent $45 million this year in humanitarian aid to Afghanistan and is promising another $70 million.

"Joschka Fischer decided three months ago, even before the September 11 attack that the German government, especially the Foreign Ministry, should really concentrate on Central Asia because of the many conflicts burning there," Maass said.

At the United Nations, the German role is appreciated.

"I do think it's fitting that if the U.N. were going to have a conference in Europe, it should be in Germany, because there is a core of German intellectuals and German academics who are extremely knowledgeable about Afghanistan," said Francesc Verndell, the deputy U.N. envoy to Afghanistan. "There are many Afghans living in Germany and the German government is currently the head, chairing of the Afghan support group."

That support group is to lead the effort to raise billions of dollars to help rebuild Afghanistan, which has been ravaged by years of war.

There's one other reason Bonn was chosen as the conference site. The Petersberg Hotel, which has hosted scores of summits, sits on top of a mountain and can easily be sealed off from curious journalists and possible terrorists.


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