Australian Commonwealth Coat of Arms

Statement on Afghanistan

Ministerial statement

2 February 2010

I wish to update the House on Afghanistan.

Last week I attended the London Conference on Afghanistan.

Australia was one of more than 70 countries and international organisations participating in the Conference.

The Conference reaffirmed the international community's resolve to work with the Afghan Government to stare down international terrorism.

There was a strong commitment on behalf of the Afghan Government and the international community to transfer responsibility for security, development and governance in Afghanistan to the Afghan Government.

Australia is the largest non-NATO military contributor to Afghanistan, in the top ten military contributors overall, and one of the top ten contributors to the Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund. By any measure, we make a substantial contribution both militarily and through civilian and development assistance in Afghanistan, focussed on Oruzgan province.

The Australian Government remains committed to international efforts to bring security and stability to Afghanistan as part of the United Nations mandated International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).

The strategic objective which Australia and our international partners in the international community are pursuing in Afghanistan is clear: it is to ensure that Islamist extremists and terrorist groups are denied safe haven in Afghanistan so that Afghanistan does not remain a breeding ground or hotbed for international terrorists.

International terrorism emanating from Afghanistan poses a grave threat to the region and to the international community.

Australia is not immune from this threat. Attacks on Australian citizens have been perpetrated by terrorists trained in Afghanistan and the Afghanistan-Pakistan border area. More than 100 Australians have been killed in terrorist attacks in recent years.

Australia made it clear to the Afghan Government both before and after the recent Presidential election that we needed to see progress on a range of fronts.

In this regard, Australia welcomed the undertakings made by President Karzai at the Conference to improve governance, pursue electoral reform, take effective anti-corruption and anti-narcotics measures and create social and economic opportunities for all the Afghan people. As I underlined in my address to the Conference, this must include providing social and economic opportunities for Afghan women and girls.

The first priority for Afghanistan has to be developing the capacity and capability of Afghanistan's National Security Forces (ANSF). I welcome the Afghan Government's commitment to progressively take responsibility for security.

Afghan forces will be critical to providing the conditions for stability and security that will enable development to take place and the effective transfer of security to Afghan responsibility throughout the country.

Building the capability of the Afghan army and police aligns with Australia's approach.

When the Prime Minister announced in April last year that Australia would lift its military commitment from 1100 to around 1550 personnel, he made it clear that that commitment would be focussed on training and mentoring the Afghan National Army in Oruzgan Province.

Australia is the largest contributor to a trust fund to build the capacity of the Afghan National Army, having committed $200 million over five years to the Afghan National Army Trust Fund.

We welcome Afghanistan's commitment to a substantial ANSF training target of over 300,000 personnel by the end of 2011, which will be supported by the disbursement of the Afghan National Army Trust Fund.

Australia welcomes the announcement in London by other international partners of additional military and other contributions.

Recent announcements have now seen an additional 39,000 troops committed; some 30,000 by the United States and 9,000 by other international partners.

Madam Deputy Speaker.

There was a broad and welcome recognition among the Conference participants that military efforts alone will not be sufficient to achieve our objectives in Afghanistan.

Alongside an effective military strategy there needs to be a more mature and concerted civilian and political effort, embracing development and capacity-building and political strategies to consolidate and build on security gains.

In this regard, Australia is committed to stepping up our civilian engagement in Afghanistan, including enhancing our diplomatic and civilian presence in Kabul and Oruzgan province and increasing resources for development assistance and capacity-building in Oruzgan.

Australia's development assistance program will continue to focus on strengthening the capacity of the Government of Afghanistan to provide basic services and to better support economic and social development for all Afghans, with the focus on Oruzgan province.

Australia will increase our assistance to build Afghan capacity to manage responsibility for security, governance and development.

At the London Conference I announced further Australian contributions for civilian efforts in Afghanistan: a $50 million contribution to the Afghan Reconstruction Trust Fund run by the World Bank and a $25 million contribution to the newly established Peace and Reintegration Fund, established by the Government of Afghanistan with the support of the Conference and the international community.

I also announced $20 million for mine clearance activity, $4 million in assistance to the Afghanistan Ministry of Agriculture to deliver agricultural services, and $1 million for the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission to strengthen promotion and protection of human rights, including in Oruzgan Province.

The Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund delivers some of the most effective programs in Afghanistan. It is helping Afghan children into schools, provides essential medical services and supports Afghans to find meaningful employment. It has seen school enrolments rise from one million to six million children since 2001.

In Oruzgan, the Reconstruction Trust Fund is building 70 schools and supporting the construction of over 70 rural infrastructure projects and the rehabilitation of over 100 kilometres of road.

The Fund will play a central role in transitioning responsibility for basic service delivery and economic development to the Afghan Government, through the strengthening of its Ministries and its officials.

Australia's $4 million contribution through the Asia Foundation to support the Ministry of Agriculture, reflects the fact that in Afghanistan 80 per cent of the population is reliant on agriculture as a source of income.

Australia will support efforts by the Afghan Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock to boost agricultural productivity by assisting farmers to improve their yields and create new economic opportunities.

More than 40 Afghan people, most of whom are children, continue to fall victim every month to landmines.

To help address this, Australia is also providing $20 million over the next four years to help alleviate the harmful effects of mines and explosive remnants of war in Afghanistan, including in Oruzgan province, through demining, mine risk education and victim assistance programs.

Mine clearance plays an important role in opening up land for agricultural use and generating employment.

Australia is providing $1 million to the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission to support the promotion, protection and monitoring of human rights, including in Oruzgan Province. This builds on the $1.5 million provided by Australia for this purpose since 2007.

Australia has made a substantial contribution to the Peace and Reintegration Trust Fund, as have other nations. The fund includes pledges from Germany (US$70 million), Japan (US$50 million) and Spain (US$14 million).

Australia was one of the first countries to recognise that at some point there needed to be a political reconciliation and rapprochement in Afghanistan, started by the Afghanistan Government.

We believe there has to be an approach that includes political reconciliation and the reintegration into mainstream Afghan society of those people who are prepared to eschew violence and support for terrorism, lay down their arms and comply with the Afghan constitution.

The contribution of $25 million to the Peace and Reintegration Trust Fund is subject to the establishment of appropriate governance arrangements and a role for substantial donors, like Australia, in the administration of the fund.

The fund will help support Afghan-led reintegration initiatives aimed at showing those who fight with and support the Taliban, that there are alternatives. They need to be provided with livelihoods and employment opportunities, a long-term secure future and health and education services that a nation-state can provide.

I have seen the suggestion from some commentators both here and overseas that this fund amounts to paying the Taliban.

I reject that suggestion, as has UK Foreign Secretary David Miliband, who said that the fund would "help the employment, the infrastructure and the organisation of a serious drive for political engagement that will offer long-term security".

Winning the peace cannot be done by the use of military force alone.

It has to be done in a way that includes political rapprochement, reconciliation and reintegration back into mainstream society by many of those who currently support the Taliban.

There is a qualitative difference between a hardcore Al Qaeda associated terrorist and someone who sees no alternative road for themselves and their family due to current circumstances in Afghanistan.

As Australia and others international partners have said, we want the Afghan Government and the Afghan people to take responsibility for security matters, to take responsibility for capacity building, to take responsibility for winning the peace.

Madam Deputy Speaker.

In the context of transferring responsibility for security, development and governance to the Afghan Government, it will be essential to ensure a new focus on accountability.

I welcome commitments that the Afghan Government has made to tackling corruption, including:
. empowering an independent High Office of Oversight to investigate and sanction corrupt officials, and lead the fight against corruption;
. during 2010, establishing a statutory basis for related anti-corruption bodies, including the Major Crimes Task Force and the Anti-Corruption Tribunal;
. enhancing the effectiveness of senior civil service appointments and vetting processes and revising the civil service code; and
. adopting comprehensive legislation agenda to make Afghan laws consistent with the United Nations Convention Against Corruption.

Madam Deputy Speaker.

The London Conference has underlined the resolve of the Afghan Government and the international community to moving forward on the basis of an integrated military, civilian and political strategy, bolstered with additional resources.

The Australian Government remains strongly committed to these efforts and is making a significant contribution.

We look forward to the momentum of the London Conference producing results on the ground in Afganistan.

Finally, Madam Deputy Speaker

I pay tribute to the excellent work of our troops, diplomats, development assistance officials and police officers working in Afghanistan in a very difficult and dangerous circumstance.

We again acknowledge the eleven Australian soldiers who have made the ultimate sacrifice for a stable and secure Afghanistan, free from the threat of international terrorism.

Media inquiries