Foreign Minister Marise Payne issued a joint statement with Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Tuesday announcing that the Australian Embassy in Kabul would close as an interim measure from 28 May and that DFAT officials plan to regularly visit the country while based at another post in the region.
The move to withdraw Australia’s ‘residential representation’ in Afghanistan follows the looming deadline for international military forces to leave the country after 20 years fighting the influence of terrorist groups in the region.
“Since 2001, Australia has provided $1.51 billion in development and humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan,” the statement said.
“Australia remains committed to supporting an Afghan-led peaceful resolution to the conflict in Afghanistan, and to helping preserve the gains of the past 20 years.”
Payne and Morrison said the decision to close the embassy should not be read as a change in Australia’s commitment to Afghanistan or its people. They added that Australia expected the closure of its embassy to be temporary and that Australia would have a more permanent diplomatic presence in the country once circumstances permitted.
“The departure of the international forces and hence Australian forces from Afghanistan over the next few months brings with it an increasingly uncertain security environment where the government has been advised that security arrangements could not be provided to support our ongoing diplomatic presence,” Payne and Morrison said.
“We remain committed to supporting a just, durable and resilient peace arrangement that is led and owned by Afghanistan, and will bring stability and prosperity to the Afghan people.”
Australia’s top leaders said that the country was interested in the ongoing social and structural improvements to life in Afghanistan that had been achieved over the last two decades, citing efforts to address gender inequality and efforts to advance the rights and livelihoods of women and girls.
Just this month a girls’ school in Kabul was the target of a bombing attack, reportedly killing 85 and injuring 147 victims. It is the latest in a string of violent incidents against the backdrop of growing fighting between Afghan security forces and Taliban insurgents since foreign troops began withdrawing from the region.
During Australia’s time in the country, the PM and Foreign Minister suggested ‘significant improvements’ in school enrolments, access to basic healthcare and women’s political representation had been made. They said maternal mortality rates had improved, as well as child malnutrition.
“We know there is more to do, and our development and humanitarian commitments will be delivered in the coming years, including a bilateral development assistance commitment of $200 million over 2021-2024.”
“We will continue our 52-year bilateral diplomatic relationship with Afghanistan, building on our close friendship with the Afghan people which stretches back to the historic arrival of Afghans in South Australia in the 1830s,” they said.