Last week Australia's Prime Minister Julia Gillard met with Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai. The purpose was the signing of a long-term aid agreement between the two countries signalling an ongoing commitment by Australia to this struggling nation which, in Gillard's words, 'is one of the poorest nations on Earth'.
Mostly what we hear about Afghanistan is reports of seemingly intractable military conflict involving some of the ugliest aggressors known to humankind. Yet to dwell on the dominance of conflict in the daily lives of Afghan people is to realise that as in all war-torn nations, destruction takes place at a multiplicity of levels.
Most apparent and shocking is the large-scale loss of life, military and civilian, Afghan and non-Afghan. Then there is the highly visible destruction of buildings and other infrastructure.
But there are other foci of destruction that undermine the heart of the country — the loss of human services such as education and health care, the loss of communities, the loss of family stability, both economic and social, and the loss of confidence that this country will ever see peace within the lifetime of those currently living.
Australia is by no means the only nation contributing aid funding to Afghanistan. But media reports suggest Australia's aid is higher than that of other allies providing funds. That is commendable given the already high cost of Australia's military involvement in Afghanistan over the years.
In light of the signing of the new aid agreement, Gillard spoke of Australia's intention not to 'abandon' Afghanistan once military forces are removed in 2014. Karzai spoke with sincerity about Australia's aid as 'kind and generous', and said that to have this support meant this was a 'happy day' for his country.
Humanitarian aid to other nations is rarely free of political motives. This is not necessarily wrong or exploitative. It is more likely a practical acknowledgement that where troubled or poor nations sink deeper into poverty and despair, political strife flourishes. Well-spent aid funding allows nations to rebuild and recover not just their buildings and infrastructure, but also the services and support that build their sense of wellbeing and hope.
The extraordinary levels of military threat that continue to undermine political stability and peace in Afghanistan must place a significant burden on Karzai and his government. It would require exceptional courage and strength for them to face the task of guiding their people to a better life and future.
Yet Karzai spoke to the International Security Assistance Force members of his wish that his country will no longer be a 'burden' to those now giving military support, who will have withdrawn the 130,000 troops now stationed in Afghanistan by the end of 2014.
The language of international aid following years of military aid is more likely to be political than personal. Yet the phrase used by Karzai to describe Australia's support, 'kind and generous', is not the usual language of international relations, nor of politics.
Karzai's choice of words is, itself, kind and generous. Our words are shaped by our thoughts and attitudes, and go on to shape the thoughts, attitudes and behaviour of those who hear them. In a world whose political culture is often based on self-interest and exploitation, Karzai's words suggest another perspective. They are words of the heart rather than the strategic mind; words that stress the global human relationship we are all involved in.
Relationships between nations might be more enriching for all involved if those who conduct them allow themselves to experience and express their humanness in their dealings with their international colleagues.
Carmel Ross is a management consultant in Western Australia, specialising in human service organisations. A psychologist by profession, she has held a number of senior management positions in education and church organisations. She is currently completing a Master of Arts in Theology at Broken Bay Institute.