2019 in Review - Highlights of Afghan-Australian Relations
Highlights of Afghan-Australian Relations in 2019
2019 has been a busy and rewarding year at the Embassy of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan in Canberra, as it celebrated two important milestones. The 50th anniversary of the establishment of bilateral relations between the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and the Commonwealth of Australia, alongside the 100th anniversary of Afghanistan’s Reclamation of Independence, were marked by a series of activities, visits and events throughout the year. It is my pleasure to reflect on this calendar and look back on what Australia and Afghanistan have achieved.
The two countries share a friendly and long-standing relationship which can be traced back as far as the 1860s, when Afghan cameleers came to Australia to contribute to exploration and transportation for the wool and mining industry and the development of Australia’s vast interior. Today, Australia has provided generous assistance of over a billion dollars, which has made an enormous difference to the conditions of children and women, and to the opportunities provided to our youth.
Our relationship continues to flourish through continued engagement in security and development cooperation, and economic reform through bilateral, regional and multilateral dialogues. This has also been supported by the developments in people-to-people links, particularly in the fields of sports, arts and culture; reflected in the range of events and celebrations over the course of 2019. These include Afghan cricket star Mohammad Nabi’s launch of his first International Cricket Academy in Melbourne at the beginning of the year, the Afghan community’s initiative and participation in the Fashions of Multicultural Australia exhibition in February, and the graduation of three of the first Afghan cadets from the Australian War College and Royal Military College-Duntroon.
The cultural events of 2019 have also included the Embassy’s participation at the National Multicultural Festival in Australia in February, which attracted thousands of visitors and showcased the best of Afghanistan’s dry fruits, saffron and traditional clothing. Our Australian and international friends’ interest in learning about Afghanistan was also visible in the Embassy’s Open Day hosted in October, as it participated for the first time in the ACT Government ‘Windows to the World’ program. The Open Day was an opportunity to experience Afghan cultural activities like kite flying, live music, calligraphy, and traditional foods. Other opportunities to showcase the diversity and richness of Afghan cuisine and culture included the Embassy’s participation at the annual Canberra-based Organisation of Islamic Countries Iftar, alongside 22 other diplomatic missions representing OIC member states.
November marked the week-long First Afghan Film Festival in Canberra, which showcased the talents of Afghanistan’s cinema industry and the brave women and men who drive it. The range of 10 screenings was truly a first for Canberra, and for many Australians it shed new light on Afghanistan and allowed them to see the country from an inside perspective not usually afforded to conventional media.
The Embassy was proud to present larger-scale historic events, most notably the two Anniversary Concerts in October, marking the Zohra all-female Orchestra’s debut tour of Australia. Afghanistan’s first and only all-female orchestra, students of Afghanistan’s only music school - the Afghanistan National Institute of Music - performed to a sold-out audience at two iconic Australian locations, including the first performance by an Afghan group at the Sydney Opera House. Both concerts at Monash University and the Sydney Opera House were attended by over 3500 guests, who all gathered to celebrate the beauty and resilience of Afghan music, women and youth.
The Zohra Orchestra concert was a grand conclusion to a series of events held across Australia, Fiji and New Zealand to mark the 100th Anniversary of Afghanistan’s Reclamation of Independence; 9 events throughout 8 cities in 3 countries.
In Australia, the Embassy of Afghanistan supported gatherings in Sydney, Perth, Canberra, Brisbane, Auckland, Suva and Melbourne to commemorate 100 years of Afghanistan’s independence and the ongoing sacrifices that Afghan people make for peace and stability in the face of extremism. DFAT also commemorated the milestone in August in a joint celebration of the 100th and 50th anniversaries with the launch of a Photo Exhibition on bilateral relations in Afghanistan. The official addresses at each gathering praised the efforts of Afghan people in rebuilding their country, and the progress that has been made despite the setbacks. It was also an opportunity to thank the Australian government for hosting Afghan communities and for assisting the people of Afghanistan in various spheres.
This includes the Australian and Afghan Government’s commitment to improving the lives of women and youth, and to providing a safer, more equitable country with equal opportunities for Afghan women. This was reflected in the 2nd Annual People-to-People Dialogue held in March, which focused on women’s empowerment. As part of this, a delegation of nine talented Afghan women representing a range of professional backgrounds visited Canberra, Sydney and Melbourne. These visits allowed the delegation to engage with a variety of government bodies, think-tanks, universities and diaspora communities. The visit also allowed the Delegation to celebrate International Women’s Day with the Embassy and its staff and friends.
The messages conveyed in these cultural and people-to-people events were also reaffirmed in the range of official visits and meetings strengthening the political and diplomatic dimension of the Australian-Afghan relationship throughout 2019. This included a February meeting with then-Governor of New South Wales, His Excellency General The Honourable David Hurley AC DSC (Ret'd), and a later meeting in May in his position as Governor-General. In both instances, opportunities for enhancing bilateral cooperation were discussed. Further, the peace and security dimension of this cooperation was reaffirmed by Afghan National Security Advisor, Dr. Hamdullah Mohib during his meeting with visiting DFAT Assistant Secretary South and West Asia Division, Dr. Lachlan Strahan, in Kabul in May. Both sides discussed Afghan peace process, possible cease fire, upcoming election and regional cooperation and enhancing bilateral relations in security.
After a successful visit of the Afghan higher education delegation from the Australian universities in November 2018, the Grifitt University and the Kabul Polytechnic University in Kabul have signed a memorundum of understanding to start a Master of Integrated Water Resource Management (MIWRM) program for Afghan government water professionals and potentially beyond in the future. This is a great opportunity to contribute to strengthening both the water sector and the higher education sector through the MIWRM project in Afghanistan. The project will start within the next few months and begins working with the first cohort in March 2020 following the necessary development and preparation work.
In December, three Afghan cadets were graduated from the Australian military schools. Colonel Hassib Sediqi and Major Farid Noor graduated from Defence and Strategic Studies Course and Australian Command and Staff Course under Australian War College respectively. The third graduate was Lieutenant Mirwais Aryan who graduated from Army Officer Commissioning Course, Royal Military College (RMC). Two other Afghan cadets will graduate from RMC in June 2020.
These points, and more, were articulated beautifully and succinctly in the Australian National University Professor William Maley’s booklet published in collaboration with the Australian Strategic Policy Institute; ‘Australia-Afghanistan relations: reflections on a half century’, and the publication launch was an opportunity to reaffirm its key points and an invitation for other think thanks and Australian Government institutions to join in laying out an outlook for the Afghan-Australian relationship in the coming decade.
His Excellency President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani received His Excellency General the Honourable David Hurley AC DSC (Retd) at Presidential Palace in Kabul on 18th of December 2019. This was Mr. Hurley's first trip to Afghanistan after assuming the office as the Australian Governor-General. Both sides discussed about peace, security, combating international terrorism and the strong and ever-growing Afghan – Australia relations.
In December the Afghan Embassy, representatives from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and members of the diplomatic corps gathered alongside students, children, friends and family to ring the Canberra Rotary Peace Bell. This symbolised a fitting conclusion to this year’s many events, and sent the message of Australia’s love, dedication, and commitment to Afghanistan being a true inspiration for everyone.
The strong relationship built in these 50 years has paved the foundation for continued future developments, as we transition from a security and military-focused relationship to one highlighting economic and people-to-people cooperation. The Embassy of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan extends its sincere gratitude to all those who have joined us and helped us to celebrate and commemorate what 2019 represents. As we conclude this momentous anniversary year, let us reflect upon our flourishing relationship and safeguard its strength for generations to come and look forward to enhancing it into the future.