Interview with Emma Alberici, ABC Radio Current Affairs, at the London Conference on Afghanistan
Topics: Afghanistan, Australian contribution to Afghanistan
27 January 2010
Journalist: Stephen Smith there has been quite a considerable contribution financially here today, what is the money ostensibly for?
Mr Smith: It’s to help the Afghanistan Government and the Afghan people in the capacity to run their own affairs. There’s a mature military contribution in Afghanistan from the international community, including Australia. What this conference has been about has been maturing our political strategy and the civilian development assistance capacity building contribution. So I’ve indicated $50 million for the Afghan Reconstruction Fund, for the building of infrastructure and the like, done through the World Bank and $25 million for the new Peace and Reintegration Fund, because there has to be in Afghanistan a political approach, a political resettlement and a reintegration into mainstream Afghan society of those people who are happy to eschew violence, lay down their arms and comply with the Afghan constitution.
Journalist: What makes you think that the Taliban are willing to do that?
Mr Smith: Well we know from all our advice - and it’s not just Australia, it’s the international community, the UN - that there are very many people in Afghanistan who run with, or fight with, the Taliban, who are not ideologically committed, they’re not on an international jihad, they’re not part of global international terrorism, they just see no other way of life or role for themselves. If they can be shown that there’s a better future for them, their families and their country, employment opportunities, provision of services and they’re willing and happy to lay down their arms, comply with the Afghan constitution, resolve any grievances through peaceful and democratic means, then they can form part of mainstream Afghan society.
Journalist: Are you comfortable with paying people one day who yesterday were trying to kill Australian troops?
Mr Smith: Well it’s not a matter of a different pay master. This is a contribution; this is a fund that will go towards re-building Afghan society, that will say to people there is an employment opportunity, there is a better and a different way of life. It’s not a matter of changing pay masters from one day to the next…
Journalist: How is it different? It’s a negotiation with the Taliban isn’t it? With the bad guys?
Mr Smith: It’s also qualitatively different dealing with someone who is a hard core terrorist, who only wants to deal with the barrel of a gun, who is on an international jihad associated with Al Qaeda, who we know had been associated with deaths of Australians in the United States, in London, and in Southeast Asia. Not everyone in Afghanistan, who currently supports the Taliban, either by use of guns or by other means, is on an international terrorist jihad.
Journalist: But my question to you is: are you completely comfortable with someone who in your own words is laying down their gun, so assumedly, the day before they may have had guns in their hands pointed at Australian troops. How comfortable are you with giving money to those people?
Mr Smith: It is not a matter of giving money to those people directly or changing the pay master. When you try to end any conflict, you can’t end any conflict just by military solution alone. There always has to carry with it a civilian or political rapprochement as well. And that is what needs to be effected here.
We want the Afghan Government, the Afghan nation and the Afghan people, to take responsibility for security matters, to take responsibility for capacity building, to take responsibility for winning a nation and wining the peace. That can’t be done by use of military force alone. It has to be done in a way which also includes political rapprochement, political reconciliation and reintegration back into mainstream society of those people who currently do support the Taleban. But there is a qualitative difference between a hard core Al Qaeda-associated terrorist and someone who sees no alternative road for themselves, or route for themselves and their family, because of current circumstances in Afghanistan.
Journalist: How does Australia establish which one is which?
Mr Smith: Well it is not a matter of Australia establishing that, this is a project established by the Afghanistan Government. We have said that we are prepared to make a contribution to it, that we want to be involved in the governance arrangements, we want to be involved in oversight of the administration of the fund and the same is true of the international community.
Journalist: Does that mean Australians on the ground in Kabul? Watching the money flow? Talking to the people? That kind of robust governance?
Mr Smith: No. It means an oversight by the international community of which Australian will have a part.
Journalist: I am interested in the specifics here. Is this Hamid Karzai saying to you "Trust me, these people are on the up and up, or is this Australians checking for themselves with their own eyes?
Mr Smith: Well it is not just Australia. It is the international community.
Journalist: Australia is contributing $25 million. What I am trying to establish is what are the checks that Australia is going to do to ensure that this money is well spent and doesn’t form part of a corrupt regime?
Mr Smith: The international community has today resolved to contribute on day one $140 to $150 million, as part of this contribution. So it is not just Australia, it is the international community.
One of the themes of this conference is oversight by the international community of those areas where we need to see improvement by the Karzai Government: in governance matters generally; in corruption; in anti-narcotics; on provision of services to all Afghan people, including women and girls. And on this matter there will be international community oversight, but in the end there is a very simple choice here. You can form the view that the only resolution in Afghanistan is a military one or you can form the view that the resolution has to be by military or combat force for hard core terrorists and then by political and civilian reconstruction. And that is the very strong view that Australia has and the very strong view the international community has.
Journalist: And finally, Hamid Karzai wasn’t able to run clean elections. Do you trust him with the administration of this money?
Mr Smith: Well I made the point both before the Afghan election and after the Afghan election that whoever emerged from the Afghan election had to make substantial progress on governance, on corruption, anti-narcotics and the like. We saw the commitment from President Karzai in his inauguration speech and we saw those commitments reaffirmed today by him and his Ministers.
This is not a trust fund that will be administered personally by President Karzai. The details will be worked through by the Government of Afghanistan, by President Karzai, and his Ministers and his Government with oversight and involvement of the United Nations, of the international community.
It is a quite simple and straightforward choice, you either have the view that the only solution in Afghanistan is a military one or it is the use of military and combat forces to ensure peace and security, but then resolve grievances through building a nation and a political rapprochement. And that is reflected by the decisions made at the conference today generally and in respect of the Peace and Reintegration Trust Fund.
Journalist: Thank you very much.
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