Foreign minister Marise Payne has expressed Australia’s ‘deep concern’ for Afghanistan during what she has described as a critical time of unresolved politics for the now Taliban-controlled country.
Payne made her remarks during an address to the virtual UN High-level Ministerial meeting on Monday. In her speech, she said Australia lacked confidence in the Taliban in light of the regime’s initial efforts and unrepresentative model of governance.
“A broad-based inclusive administration is a necessity for long-term peace, stability and prosperity,” the minister said, acknowledging ongoing concerns from the international community about the threat of terrorism networks in Afghanistan, and the present humanitarian crisis.
At the end of August, US troops deployed to Afghanistan were evacuated after more than 20 years of military presence left for good. Efforts to get out however many international citizens, foreign-visa holders and Afghans who assisted allied forces during the Forever War, as well as some humanitarian evacuees numbered over 100,000 civilians since mid-August.
Humanitarian needs in Afghanistan were already acute, even before America’s tense emergency evacuation from Kabul, the minister said. Any international response to the current needs should pay particular attention to the most vulnerable civilians, including those displaced people facing the challenges of drought, conflict and social exclusion.
“The humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan is the direct result of a failure to achieve a political resolution to the conflict through an Afghan-owned and Afghan-led negotiated peace process,” Payne said.
“Australia stands in solidarity with the Afghan people. We will play our part and respond to those most in need. We cannot do this without significant funding support,” she said.
Ongoing humanitarian efforts to support the people of Afghanistan amid the evolving situation would continue in partnership with UN partners, Payne said. She added that the plight of women and girls would also remain a priority for Australia.
“Reports of widespread rollback of the rights of women and girls, the reintroduction of restrictions on their access to services and public spaces gives us cause for even greater concern,” Payne said.
“The social equity gains made in the last 20 years in Afghanistan, particularly for women and girls and for minorities, are essential advances that must be preserved, protected and supported, including through funded international and other programs.”
Speaking at a Mandarin Talks panel discussion on Wednesday, women’s advocate and journalist Virginia Haussegger said she did not know how any international leader could look any Afghan woman in the eye if they chose to legitimise the Taliban government. Access for Afghan women to get an education, seek employment and participate in politics did not appear to be guaranteed under a Taliban regime, she said.
Haussegger also noted that a recent vote in Geneva to raise USD$1billion in aid for Afghanistan saw some member nations like Qatar come forward to request that this money not be subject to any conditions.
“This is difficult, because we know that Afghanistan right now is on the brink of a humanitarian crisis. It was already teetering anyway,” Haussegger said.
“To tie aid to certain conditions, many of which actually should be around women and the rights of women being upheld [is important because] at the moment, we are getting no indication from the Taliban that they will concede to these things.
“All the Taliban has said to date has been very opaque, very vague, with a few media messages that women will be happy under the Taliban rule, as long as they conform to Islamic principles.”
Haussegger said that how the Taliban interpreted compliance with Islamic principles also remained to be seen — but the example of history did not inspire much hope.
“We are obliged to do more [for Afghanistan] as human beings,” Haussegger said.
“It is easy to be incredibly despondent, but on a slightly positive note, it is true that there has been some tremendous acceleration in at least understanding by women in rights and exercising power — but how that has been utilised and implemented is a whole other story.”
Australia has promised $100 million to go towards Afghan humanitarian assistance. Of that, $65 million is for immediate life-saving assistance of displaced people and refugees, and another $35 million has been pledged for ongoing humanitarian assistance to 2024.
“This builds on our one and a half billion-dollar expenditure for Afghanistan’s development over the last 20 years,” Payne told the UN meeting on Monday.
“We stand ready with our international partners to provide further support to Afghanistan people as the crisis evolves.”
The foreign minister said Australia would judge the Taliban by its actions and joined the call for the ruling regime to allow humanitarian work to go on uninterrupted.
“Our message to the Taliban regime is this: Safe passage must be permitted to our citizens and our visa holders, there must be a cessation of violence and terrorism cannot be allowed to find a home in Afghanistan.
“Human rights must be upheld, especially for women and girls and the political system of Afghanistan must be inclusive,” Payne said.