TRANSCRIPT: INTERVIEW WITH CRAIG MCMURTRIE, ABC 24
TRANSCRIPTION: PROOF COPY E & OE
DATE: 21 MAY 2012
CRAIG MCMURTRIE: Minister, what does this partnership agreement that's been signed mean in terms of Australia's commitment?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well it sends a signal, not just to the people of Afghanistan but to the region as well, that Australia, like large slabs of the international community is interested in Afghanistan for the long haul. But when transition occurs on 31 December, 2014, that is not the end of the international community's interest, involvement or assistance.
And like the strategic partnership agreement that the United States, that NATO has, that Italy has, that the United Kingdom has, that Germany has and other countries will develop as well, as India has, it sends a signal that those people who aren't interested in a stable Afghanistan, who aren't interested in seeing Afghanistan prosper and develop need to understand that the rest of the international community is. And it's not just a military or a combat commitment; it's a broader one about prosperity, about trade, about investment, people to people contact and the like.
CRAIG MCMURTRIE: There's an enormous emphasis on training on the military side. What does it mean for Special Forces and whether or not Australian Special Forces will remain operating in Afghanistan for the indefinite future?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well the partnership agreement that we've struck doesn't go into that detail. Yes of course it talks in terms of wanting to ensure a secure and a stable Afghanistan. We've made it clear that after transition, that in the period after 2014, Afghanistan will continue to need some form of military assistance from the international community; advisors, niche or high-level specialised training. And we've said in that respect that artillery training, officer training, that's the sort of training we would be prepared to continue.
But we also think there'll be a need for Special Forces, either for training the Afghan Special Forces themselves, or for counter terrorism activity.
Now properly mandated, in other words with a United Nations mandate or a NATO auspice a Status of Forces Agreement with the Afghan Government, that would provide an appropriate basis to make a contribution on that front.
But we're at very early days in that respect. The importance of this summit is to essentially get the international community's commitment on two fronts. One, to sustain the Afghan National Security Forces beyond 2014, and secondly, to look at what specialised assistance needs to be given after 2014.
CRAIG MCMURTRIE: What guarantees have we sought in terms of the training, the $100 million per year for supporting Afghanistan's Security Forces, the announcement of increased aid spending to Afghanistan ahead, 2015 and beyond. What sort of guarantees have we got that this money, this aid will be spent in the way we deem appropriate?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well a few points there I think. Firstly in terms of the $100 million a year for three years to sustain the Afghan National Security Forces, we know that there will be governance arrangements associated with not just our contribution, but the international community's contribution. So that will have governance arrangements which will clearly ensure that that money goes to resource the Afghan National Army and the Afghan national and local Police.
That's essential because you Russian experience was that with the withdrawal of the Russians, the Russians sustained the Afghan National Security Forces for a couple of years. When the Soviet Union collapsed the cheques stopped coming, and we then saw the collapse of those security forces and the rise of the Taliban. So there'll be appropriate governance arrangements around that.
Secondly, Australia and the rest of the international community have the usual governance arrangements development assistance. But more importantly, and this was volunteered by President Karzai in our meeting with him today, Afghanistan does see in a sense, a moral or political obligation - a mutual obligation to make advances on those areas that Afghanistan knows the international community is interested in, in terms of improving or increasing the levels of opportunity or service to its people; health, education, particularly opportunity for women and girls in the education area.
So there's a very clear understanding that there's a mutual obligation here, whether it's funds that go to sustain security, development assistance or the institutions of the Afghan state, raising the level of services to its people and the opportunity to its people, in particular women.
CRAIG MCMURTRIE: It's a very dynamic situation in Afghanistan. Is this the end of Australia's financial contribution? Or is it possible there could be more?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well we've said in terms of resourcing the Afghan National Security Forces, there's $100 million a year for three years, and it'll be reviewed towards the end of that period. We've also made it clear that we want to make an ongoing long-term development assistance contribution. We are one of the world's largest donors in our own region and beyond.
But all of these things need to be taken step by step. The duration of any commitment will essentially be judged as security circumstances and economic circumstances stabilise and improve.
CRAIG MCMURTRIE: So this is a complex issue that you've been dealing with for some time now. You've had a day of talks today. There's a big meeting of world leaders and Ministers to talk with - talk about this - map the way forward. What is your level of confidence that the security situation in Afghanistan will settle down and that it is possible to leave Afghanistan without giving up these hard-won games?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well my last visit to Afghanistan, which was last month - April, I'd never come away more optimistic about the potential. I'd never come away with everyone singing the same tune about improvements in security and also improvements in training the Afghan National Security Forces, whether it was the Afghans themselves, our troops on the ground our offices in Uruzgan or in Kandahar or in Kabul itself.
I think that view is shared by my Defence Ministerial colleagues; that we've made considerable ground up over the last 18 months to two years. The Taliban have not been able to retake that ground. We've made improvements in terms of training and mentoring of the security forces, particularly the Army. And there is a growing confidence that we can effect transition by the end of 2014 and with some much more limited ongoing assistance, enable the Afghan Security Forces to take responsibility and effect stability and security throughout Afghanistan which will then give the institutions of Afghanistan and the Afghan people the chance to build and make a better country and a better life for themselves.
CRAIG MCMURTRIE: Minister, thank you very much for talking to us.
STEPHEN SMITH: Thanks Craig. Thanks very much.