ABC News – Afghanistan


TUESDAY 17 August 2021

Subject: Afghanistan

MATT WORDSWORTH, HOST: Let’s bring in Peter Khalil, a Labor MP based in Victoria. Peter, thanks for coming on the line. Great that we’ve got you finally.

PETER KHALIL, MEMBER FOR WILLS: Thanks for having me.                                                                                                                 

WORDSWORTH: I just wanted to go backwards a step, because we’ve been talking with Dave Sharma about the situation in Kabul. The chaos and obviously the grave disappointment that the Prime Minister, due to the security situation he says, believes we can’t give a guarantee to all those people we helped, who helped us, in Afghanistan the last 20 years, that we will get them out. That’s a pretty grim picture for Australia is it not, Peter?

KHALIL: It is and I think, I mean, people have said this morning but it’s not just the moral obligation to get the people out who have worked with our defence personnel and our diplomats over several decades. It’s also a national security necessity in the sense that sending the message to the world that when you work with us as Australians we’ll have your back and we’ll support you. Especially the Afghanis whose have made such sacrifices, who have actually put themselves and their families in harm’s way. That is of critical importance from a national security perspective that we can send that message around the world, and frankly Scott Morrison and this government has failed abysmally and it’s not good enough to say this happened so quickly, you know, it wasn’t expected. We have been saying this for months. You know, it’s not a secret there was going to be a withdrawal of US troops. On this program back in May I said – get the interpreters out, get the families out, and the government has dragged their heels. I’m wondering what has Peter Dutton been doing in the National Security Cabinet for the last three, four months? Where are the plans? I mean again, this is an example of incompetence and an inability to actually take action and take leadership on a very important national security issue that is, critically important for people’s lives frankly.

WORDSWORTH: And Peter, just on that broader issue that you were touching on earlier, our reputation as an international partner is at stake here?

KHALIL: That’s the point, exactly. When people see that Australia has dragged its heels on getting people that have supported us, the personnel, the interpreters and the translators, the staff that have supported our military personnel and our diplomatic personnel for two decades, when they see we’re not able to do that effectively, that has the reputational damage on us and it has a knock-on effects on our ability to operate at the international level. It’s more than just reputation, as I said, it’s a moral obligation as well as a national security necessity to have done this correctly, and again, making sure that you get those people out in a timely fashion. Even on the program back in May I said – do what the US is doing which is to take some of the people, if you’re not sure, or certain about the vetting, for example the security checks, you can move them to a third country like in Dubai or the UAE or whatever, and do the processing of them and their families there. But he didn’t even do that. So, this is where I think there’s a big fail by the Morrison Government.

WORDSWORTH: And my colleague Andrew Probyn asked the Prime Minister at that media conference today will you be offering to resettle Afghan nationals because Tony Abbott did it in 2015, 12,000 places were offered. Labor has its own ideas on that. What number do you think we should be extending?

KHALIL: Look, I don’t know about the exact number. I think that it should be dependent upon need. There should be a program that is specific and tailored to Afghans who are vulnerable and who have worked with us. I also would say that any Afghans here in Australia currently who are on TPVs, Temporary Protection Visas, need to be given permanent refugee protection for them and their families and this fiction that it would be temporary needs to be removed by the Government because it’s just not realistic that they’ll be going back to Afghanistan. You talk to anyone in the Afghan community here in Australia, they’re not going back to Afghanistan, any time. So they should be given permanent status, and the Government should set up a program to ensure that they look after people who are vulnerable who are able to get out of Afghanistan and make that case for protection, and I hope they are doing that and operationalising that as we speak.

WORDSWORTH: And Dave Sharma, just finally to you about what Australia’s role in international affairs is from here forward, because we saw Joe Biden and Scott Morrison saying the big achievement here was we killed Osama Bin Laden, we held al-Qaeda at bay and Joe Biden said we prevented any further large scale terrorist attacks on US soil. But the other measures, which kept as there for so long, counterinsurgency and nation building seemed to be a big failure. So, does that mean that’s the end of Australia’s role in counterinsurgency and our appetite for nation building is over?

DAVE SHARMA, MEMBER FOR WENTWORTH: No I don’t think so, but look, I think it’s illustrative of the fact that nation building is exceptionally hard and I don’t accept that was sort of the main part of the mission in Afghanistan, that’s not the reason we went in there. It became part of the reason for us staying there but it’s certainly no reason to go in there. Look, you know, trying to build up the government institutions, and transplant the government institutions, on a country with quite different traditions, cultures, histories, is always exceptionally difficult and I’m a realist when it comes to these things about the limits of military force and a foreign presence to do these sorts of things, even in our own neighbourhood. In countries like the Solomon Islands where we had a regional assistance mission which was effectively a nation-building mission, in the early 2000s. The Solomon Islands, a country with a few hundred thousand people, that was an exceptionally hard thing to do and look we still haven’t created a Jeffersonian democracy in the South-west Pacific. These things are difficult. But I think you need to be mindful here in Afghanistan, we were never going to create, you know, Singapore and Central Asia but we also didn’t want to leave it a failed state or a state in a deep civil war and I hope that’s not what results from this withdrawal.

WORDWORTH: Yes indeed, as do we all. Dave Sharma, thank you very much for your time this afternoon. Peter Kahlil, thanks for joining us as well.

KHALIL: Thank you.