Ambassador Waissi's Speech at the ASPI Launch of William Maley's Book

Ambassador Waissi's Speech at the ASPI||

Distinguished members of the diplomatic corps, 

Ministers, Members of Parliament and Senators,

Friends of Australia, Friends of Afghanistan, 

Ladies and gentlemen. 

I would like to begin this evening by expressing my sincere gratitude to the many familiar faces and friends who play an integral role in the continued growth of Afghan-Australian relations. 

I would particularly like to acknowledge the Australian Strategic Policy Instituteand the Executive Director, Mr. Peter Jennings,for their continued support, and Professor William Maleyof the Australian National Universityfor his unique insights and knowledge of Afghanistan, and without whom tonight’s event and this brilliant publication would not be possible. 

I wish to also extend my thanks to all behind the scene staff and members of ASPIfor their efforts in putting together this launch.

The launch of the ‘Australia-Afghanistan relations: reflections on a half century’ publication in cooperation with ASPI and Professor Maley is part of a series of events that have taken place throughout 2019, and I thank you all for your attendance. 

Each guest here tonight reflects the shared history, endurance, and future potential of a productive and long-standing friendship. I look forward to welcoming you at upcoming events, in particular the grand Anniversary Concert being held at the Sydney Opera House on 14th October, where Afghanistan’s All Female Zohra Orchestra will be performing. 

Introducing the publication

Tonight’s launch is a celebration of a great milestone; on this occasion of 50 years of diplomatic relations between Australia and Afghanistan, we can take a moment to reflect on our ongoing efforts to promote peace and security through military cooperation, socio-economic development, and people-to-people exchange. 

This valuable publication is a celebration of each of these things; and it also lays out the history, challenges, achievements and future directions of this relationship. 

‘Reflections on a half-century’ is an apt title to begin exploring each of these achievements, and the wealth of information contained within is a testament to the productivity of the Afghan-Australian relationship. 

Aus-Afg relations: historical background

(1) The foundation of our relationship begins when the first Afghan cameleerswho arrived on the Australian continent over 150 years ago. From there, they went on to contribute to the development of inland trade routes and became integral in shaping the Australian outback.  Gone but not forgotten, their lives and experiences live on through the kinships they formed with Indigenous Australians; and through the passenger train which travels between Adelaide and Darwin known as The Ghan.

(2) Our next breakthrough occurs on the 20thMarch 1969when Mr L. H. Border was appointed Australia’s first Ambassador to Afghanistan, and shortly afterwards in 1975 Mr Ali Ahmad Popal presented his credentials as Afghanistan’s Ambassador to Australia. These first diplomatic links were soon followed by visit of then Governor-General Sir John Kerr’s to Kabul in the same year, further cementing the first formal link between the countries.

(3) It wasn’t until the tragic terrorist attacks against the United States on 11thof September 2001that saw our strongest challenge in the face of adversity. Our relationship entered a new dimension after Australia committed over 25,000 Australian men and women over two decades, to support Afghan military forces eradicate the threat of International terrorism and extremism. Sadly, 42 of these service personnel made the ultimate sacrifice in the ongoing pursuit of peace. They will always remain in our collective consciousness. It is therefore only fitting we take a moment to express our sincere gratitude to all the brave Australian service personnel and their families for their sacrifice. On behalf of the Afghan people and the Government of Afghanistan, I offer my deepest respect and admiration to your valiant hearts. 

Aus-Afg relations: current objectives

It has truly been a remarkable journey for all of us – over 50 years in the making. Today, Australia remains a staunch friend in difficult times, and this has only been reinforced in recent years. Australia’s involvement in the ongoing transition to a lasting peace and security in Afghanistan is commendable. 

Australia has an interest in facilitating Afghanistan’s transition towards prosperity, security and self-reliance. According to DFAT, Australia is committed to enhance human security in Afghanistan through aid. As a result, Australia is a long-standing donor to Afghanistan.  Since 2001, it has provided more than AUD1 billion in official development assistance. 

I am further humbled by recent developments that Australia will contribute additional hundreds of Australian Defence Force personnel to support the NATO-led Resolute Support Mission in Kabul. Furthermore, I am pleased to see Australia continues to reaffirm its Brussels 2016 commitment by providing a further $82.1 million in Overseas Development Assistance. 

This assistance will remain instrumental to preserving and ensuring the steady gains we’ve seen in the areas of 

  • economic growth
  • effective and accountable government
  • empowering women and girls, and; 
  • building resilienceand supporting at-risk populations

These four dimensions provide a framework for future developments and areas of strategic cooperation. They are also the four strategic objectives adopted by Australia’s Aid Investment Plan for Afghanistan. 

Aus-Afg relations: future directions and outlook

These strategic objectives form the basis for future cooperation, each of them crucial in Afghanistan’s transitory phase as it goes towards becoming a secure and self-reliant state whose people can enjoy a lasting peace. It is this, the people of Afghanistan, on whom the focus for the next 10 years of the Afghan-Australian should be; in particular, on developing people-to-people linkswith our friends in Australia. 

Though Afghanistan’s landlocked nature and isolation from the world has exemplified several unique challenges, such enhancements in global connectivity and cross-cultural exchangehave created a new generation of Afghans and Australians conducting business and strengthening a shared future. As we undergo a critical transition towards a new era of peace and prosperity, we must recognise the people-to-people exchanges that take place, often with little to no recognition, which further strengthens the bond between our two countries. These people are professors; journalists; artists; athletes; students; leaders; and activists. For want of a better phrase, they are the great silent majority of heroes who reflect the very essence of the Afghan-Australian relationship; its history; and its future. 

I look forward to further cooperation with ASPIto bring to light the long-term cooperation in these key areas, including those emerging challengessuch as climate change and its impacts for Afghan agriculture and internal displacement. I also inviteother think thanks and Australian Government institutesto join in laying out an outlook for the Afghan-Australian relationship in the coming ten years, with a focus on a transition from the military/security paradigm to one of people-to-people cooperation and business/trade. It is important to emphasise that a long-term strategic partnershipconcentrating on key goals will be the only way to enforce the rule-based international order that is so crucial for stability and security in Afghanistan. 

I have confidence that moving forward with these strategic goals in mind with the cooperation of ASPI and the Australian Government and people, a new phase of the fruitful Afghan-Australian relationship will open up and lead us from strength to strength. It is this spirit of cooperation which we are recognising tonight – once again, thank you all for your attendance and ongoing support. I look forward to the next 50 years! 

Wahidullah Waissi

Last modified on Friday, 13/09/2019

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