Nato troop request sparks political row
A conflict has again erupted in the Dutch governing coalition over the Afghanistan mission.
The Dutch governing coalition partners, Christian democrat CDA and Labour, have always disagreed on the best approach for Afghanistan and the role of the Dutch military there. Following an official request by Nato to extend the Dutch deployment in the war-torn country, two ministers are now involved in a public quarrel. Finance minister Wouter Bos and foreign affairs minister Maxime Verhagen have accused each other of disregard for the cabinet’s position on the matter.
Last week, Nato secretary general Anders Fogh Rasmussen wrote a letter to the Dutch government asking the country to continue its mission in the province of Uruzgan for one year beyond its scheduled termination date, until August 1, 2011.
The Dutch Labour party, led by finance minister Wouter Bos, has already denounced the request, calling it “out of the question”. Bos said he was irked by the mere fact that it had been filed. Normally, Nato only makes official requests to countries that have made it clear they will comply Speaking on Thursday, Bos said that such an acknowledgment could not have been sent to Nato on his behalf, since he had already made it clear that his party opposed a continued presence in Uruzgan.
Sources within the Labour party have accused foreign minister Maxime Verhagen, a Christian democrat, of trying to force the government into a point of no return. Verhagen supports an extended mission in Uruzgan.
Pot and kettle
According to Verhagen, Bos was privy to the fact Nato had been asked to file a formal request. “You don’t go off on your own on issues as serious as Afghanistan,” he said. “You take care to coordinate matters and discuss everything with all the involved ministers in advance.” Verhagen accused Bos of only looking to protect Labour’s interests. “But a deputy prime-minister should speak for the nation, not for his own party,” he said. Bos is both the finance minister and the second in line behind prime minister Jan Peter Balkenende.
The orthodox Christian ChristenUnie party, the junior member of the governing coalition, has voiced surprise over the Labour’s frustration. Labour ministers have been party to deliberations regarding the various options in Afghanistan – including an extended stay - since January. ChristenUnie sources told NRC Handelsblad Labour ministers had left the impression that they were not adamantly opposed to any possible option concerning the Uruzgan mission. The same sources said Labour’s development aid minister Bert Koenders had himself proposed that Nato should file a request with the Dutch government.
The troubled relations between CDA and Labour have become a crucial factor in any decision made by the current cabinet.
Following a motion in parliament, the cabinet must come to a decision regarding the Uruzgan mission no later than March 1. But sources from all sides deem it increasingly unlikely this deadline will be met.