Afghanistan and Australia Relations in 2018: A Year in Review
2018 has been an eventful and productive year at the Embassy of Afghanistan in Canberra. This reflection is especially timely as we are into early days of 2019, which marks the 50th anniversary of the establishment of bilateral relations between Afghanistan and Australia, and presents an excellent platform from which to highlight the achievements of this relationship throughout these decades. 2018 saw the strengthening of ties across a range of areas; from sport and culture, to economics and security - and everything in between.
Political engagement between our two countries increased significantly in 2018, with a number of high-level visits taking place between dignitaries from both countries. For instance, Prime Minister Scott Morrison met with President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani in Kabul in December; in addition to visits made by the Governor General, Minister of
Defence and MPs Scott Ryan and Bill Shorten earlier in the year. From the Embassy, I made state visits throughout the year to NSW, Victoria, Western Australia, Queensland and the Northern Territory, and engaged with a range of Australian officials and organisations. These visits also enhanced public outreach and people-to-people connections, such as my work on the establishment and inauguration of the Coordination Council of Afghan Communities in NSW, which brings together the various Afghan communities residing in the state - each of whom contributes to the rich multicultural layout of Australia.
In addition to bilateral visits, Afghanistan and Australia also enhanced their political ties through their work under the Human Rights Council, which both countries gained membership of for the period of 2018 to 2020. Empowering women and girls was one of thekey areas in which Australia further enhanced cooperation with Afghanistan through their
participation in the Council. Australia also reaffirmed its commitment to supporting food security in Afghanistan, reflected in a $5 million contribution to provide emergency assistance to the nearly 1.4 million Afghans who are on the verge of acute famine, concentrated primarily on organisations such as the World Food Programme. This is in addition to the $5 million the then Foreign Minister announced in July to support the most vulnerable in gaining immediate access to specialised nutritional products. These examples showcase some of the many successes of the economic and development dimension of the Australian-Afghan relationship in 2018.
Military and security developments also grew significantly, reflecting Australia’s dedication to promoting peace and security as the second highest financial contributor to the Afghan National Army (ANA) after Germany. As part of this, Australia assisted in upgrading the ANA’s military equipment and counter-IED technology, along with the deployment of 23 new Australian military personnel. Other security agreements were reached during high-level meetings and visits, such as then Australian Defence Minister Marise Payne, who visited Kabul and met with Afghanistan’s President Ghani in February. Afghanistan’s Deputy Minister of Defence, Iqbal Ali Naderi, also visited Australia in May, and as part of this visit Australia agreed to increase the number of Afghan cadets enrolled at Duntroon and other military colleges from 2 to 6. Other important visits for security included the Afghan Chief of the Air Force, Major General Mohammad Shoaib’s visit to Australia in March.
Other educational opportunities for both Afghans and Australians also expanded in 2018, including those discussed by the Afghan higher education delegation which visited Australia in November; a 6-member delegation which visited a number of cities to discuss cooperative partnerships with Australian universities. As for Australians, the government has restored a number of scholarships to Kabul Polytechnic Institute for students interested in pursuing civil engineering.
In the midst of the various political, security and development agreements, it is important not to overlook what was an exciting year for sports, culture and arts. The fourth annual Invictus Games tournament was hosted by Australia, and wounded veterans and military service people representing 18 different countries participated in it – including Afghanistan, which has sent a team to each competition, with the 2018 team being the largest yet.
The opportunities for cultural engagement between Australia and Afghanistan increased significantly throughout 2018, beginning with the Afghan Embassy’s first appearance at the National Multicultural Festival in February. The Embassy participated over the weekend-long festival with a successful and popular stall, which promoted the culture and art of Afghanistan with an interactive display and decorative pieces.
Afghanistan also featured in a number of films and screenings in 2018, which further increased engagement in arts and culture. The Ghan International Film Festival was hosted by Adelaide and was the 3rd time the festival has taken place in conjunction with the Farda (Tomorrow) Association to support homeless or underprivileged children in war-torn countries. The Afghan film industry expanded itself further with the release of the feature film ‘Letter to the President’, which was Afghanistan’s foreign-language entry to the Oscars.
Other cultural engagement events in Australia includes the establishment of the Afghan Women on the Move association, which is based in Western Sydney and provides a space for Afghan women in Australia to meet, discuss and share their experiences. The launch was accompanied by an exhibition in Blacktown, which featured the members of the association and was titled Daneha (Seeds). The Daneha program celebrated contemporary artists in the
Australian Afghan community and allowed the public and visitors to engage with the creative art work, panel discussions, music performances and others. Each of these initiatives speak to the creativity, determination and cooperative skill of Afghan-Australians, as well as the depth of the relationship between the two countries across several areas.
Just as the new year is a time to reflect on what has passed, so too is it a time to look forward to the coming months and the opportunities and developments they bring. The numerous achievements across all of the areas highlighted above set us in good standing for an equally, if not more successful 2019.
I also invite you to join us in celebrating 50 years of bilateral relations between Afghanistan and Australia and all the achievements that these decades have brought with them, as well as look forward to a future of cooperation and goodwill together.
Ambassador Wahidullah Waissi