The Difficult Path to Peace in Afghanistan

Many Germans are inured to the images of war they see daily on news bulletins. A theatre in Potsdam decided to stage a play about the war in Afghanistan. In so doing, it has succeeded in breaking through the habituation and getting to the heart of the matter. Silke Bartlick went to see it

​​Some 5,300 German soldiers are currently stationed in Afghanistan. Their mission is led from Potsdam, the HQ of the Bundeswehr Operations Command.

The stage at Potsdam's Hans Otto Theater is framed by massive pin boards covered in paper, lots of paper. There are high bookcases filled with files. Men and women peruse the shelves, stopping here and there to pick out a file, getting caught up in the texts.

They are seeking answers to fundamental questions. Can peace be brought about? Can the international community bring peace to a country? How? What attempts have already been made? And what do soldiers, aid workers or diplomats in the field think about the strategies being put in place to bring peace?

Clemens Bechtel, the director of the play Potsdam – Kunduz: The Difficult Path to Peace in Afghanistan, says it was because he had a sense of not knowing what was going on in Afghanistan despite being bombarded with information about the war-torn country every day that he decided to start digging more deeply.

He began to conduct research: on the Internet, in the traditional media, in studies and publications from aid organisations, Bundestag documents, diaries, blogs, eyewitness accounts, and discussions with all the different people directly and indirectly affected by Germany's mission in Afghanistan.

​​The result is a theatrical text that condenses the events of the past 10 years into the duration of the play and relates them in fast motion.

"The actors slip into lots of different roles," explains Bechtel. "They might be politicians taking part in a parliamentary debate, development workers, soldiers or even Taliban. The base is a sort of archive where different people, like me, try to find the truth in all the material. It is like theatrical forensics."

Overwhelming, intense and oppressive

And there are times when the intensity is overwhelming and oppressive. For instance, when a young peace activist shouts out because former warlords are to be given back important positions in the Loya Jirga despite the fact that they are responsible for the murder of thousands of civilians.

Or when the Germans have to borrow coffins from the Dutch because the coffins they have in stock are too short for the dead German soldiers.

Or when a whole minute goes by – without any action or sound – before the order to bomb two oil tankers that have been hijacked by the Taliban is carried out.

Bechtel is interested in finding out why so much of the hope that was given to the people in Afghanistan has been dashed, why democratisation did not really take place as promised.

Clemens Bechtel (photo: Hans Otto Theater Potsdam)
Director Clemens Bechtel felt he didn't know what was really going on in Afghanistan despite being bombarded with information every day

​​The play is all about the fact that things don't always go according to plan, about the fact that helpers become occupiers, about how political mistakes were made, about the fact that too many people interfered, about the fact that development aid fell into the wrong hands, and about development workers and doctors who became live targets.

It is also about the boredom in the barracks, about forbidden love, about trauma, attacks, and about one young German man who becomes a Talib, publishing his autobiography on the internet shortly before being killed.

Over and over, the audience is reminded that the international community, including Germany, has taken on a huge responsibility in Afghanistan, a responsibility that must be fulfilled.

Silke Bartlick

© Deutsche Welle 2011

Editor: Aingeal Flanagan/

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