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Australia and Afghanistan's mutual kindness


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 RossCarmel 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. 

Topic tags: Carmel Ross, Afghanistan, Julia Gillard, Hamid Karzai



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Existing comments

Australia being "nice and generous" has a great feel to it. Good for Julia! BUT...like so much of what this government does, it is populist and "nice" without any chance of success in their apparent aims . This Afghan money will go into the pockets of corrupt officials and politicians at best. The carbon tax will will have no measurable effect on carbon dioxide levels but will damage the economy and the lives of workers, and the mining tax will not raise any money and will have no effect on the two-speed economy which was the original intention however badly sold....but the greeny-left on each count can feel a little bit better about themselves for a while. As a tax-payer I am rather less delighted.

Eugene | 30 May 2012  

We are still spending $500 million a year to jail a few thousand refugees here and the over turn rate of DIAC decisions is now 89%. Kind and generous? Humbug.

Marilyn | 30 May 2012  

I generally prefer to be optimistic in my outlook to the future, but with respect to Afghanistan, my optimism deserts me! I have no problem with Australia contributing financially to the future of Afghanistan in itself - but I shudder to think of the acid-scarred faces of the school-girls whose only 'crime' was to seek an education, for many, an education as much for their nation as for themselves personally. While the Karzai government is making overtures to the Taliban to end their war into which we invited ourselves, the Taliban show no signs whatsoever of stepping back from the brutal suppression of women - 50% of the population of Afghanistan. As Karzai and the others to whom we entrust our financial support commence peace negotiations with the Taliban to extricate themselves from this perhaps unwinnable war, I cannot help but feel we as a nation are accepting as collateral casualties the loss of a future to the women of Afghanistan, an especially bitter loss because we enabled them to taste the possibility of a future in the heady months following the Taliban's tactical withdrawal. We didn't learn in Vietnam. We didn't learn in Iraq. When will we ever learn?

Ian Fraser | 31 May 2012  

Caritas Australia applauds the long term partnership between Australia and Afghanistan which will see Australia's development assistance steadily increase over the next four years. Whilst it is not yet clear how these funds will be apportioned and what percentage will be channelled to NGOs the focus on health and education is positive. Caritas-Australia and the wider Caritas family has been active in Afghanistan for more than a decade and play an important role in building the stability of the country through, amongst other activities, the provision of health and education services to the poorest and most marginalised. It is recognised that the capacity of the Afghan Government is low and that these weaknesses affect the Government's ability to deliver services. There is widespread concern that after military withdrawal humanitarian aid will decrease. Given the dependency of the Afghan economy and Afghan social sectors on foreign aid, there is a risk that after 2014 development gains - notably in health and education will be compromised. It is crucial that the Australian government and Australian NGOs continue to support the Afghan people and work with the Afghan government (where possible) to deliver health and education services. It is NGOs like Caritas who will ensure that this 'kind and generous' support will get to those that really need it - the Afghan people. Caritas Australia is currently supporting a Community Based Education Program in Western Afghanistan to ensure that girls and boys in remote and marginalized areas continue to receive a quality education. The Caritas network is also currently involved in advocacy for the upcoming Tokyo conference in July 2012 to address the long term sustainable development needs of Afghanistan.

Jack de Groot, CEO, Caritas Australia | 06 June 2012