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Afghanistan: Australia cuts and runs – what about those left behind?

Afghanistan: Australia cuts and runs – what about those left behind?

By Dr Tony Murney*

Prime Minister Morrison’s announcement of 15 May 2021 that Australia would close its embassy in Kabul with less than a weeks’ notice is an ignominious and very untidy lunge for the exit after years of relationship building by Australian military personnel and officials.

It is just a blatant attempt to deny sanctuary in Australia to those Afghans who extended their hands to us when we needed them but, now that they need us, our hand has unceremoniously been pulled back.

Abandonment of the Kabul Embassy is allegedly due to the risk our diplomats could face by remaining in situ: but these dangers do not compare in either nature or severity to those facing Afghans who worked closely with Australian and international interests and who we seemingly intend to desert without so much as a backward glance. These are the interpreters, support staff and allies who are now in danger of retribution for actions they took in cooperation with Australian soldiers and officials.

Kabul from the mountains. (Tony Murney)

\Worryingly, the Kabul Embassy has not provided general consular services in Afghanistan despite the presence of Australian officials. Afghans are being forced to undertake the hazardous journey by road to our High Commission in Pakistan or expensive flights to other locations where consular service are provided (eg, India, Turkey or the UAE). This obstructive practice always ‘smacked’ of being nothing more than an attempt to limit access by Afghans to Australian consular services and was often remarked on adversely by Afghan counterparts.

As the number of Afghans requiring Australian consular assistance began to grow, the Kabul Embassy should have been expanded to deal with the situation. The decision by the Morrison government to close the only source of possible assistance to friends and allies is nothing short of a betrayal as the security situation deteriorates further.

Should the government harbour serious concerns for the safety of our diplomats it is well known in Kabul that the massive and heavily fortified US Embassy is over half empty. It is implausible that the US would do anything other than favourably consider accommodating Australian personnel. That said, it should be pointed out that the Australian Embassy is located near the centre of the heavily guarded diplomatic precinct which is amongst the most secure locations in the city.

Governments of both political persuasions share responsibility for Australia’s engagement and ongoing involvement in this war, but it is the Morrison government that has chosen to ‘cut and run’ with such indecent haste. One cannot help but wonder if the decision to close the embassy is not just a ham-fisted attempt to avoid the human consequences of Australia’s long-term policies in Afghanistan.

International repute suffers from bad decisions

This reflects badly on Australia’s international reputation, proving once again that our leaders seem incapable of making the right decisions when it comes to international affairs. Remember our government’s heroic stance on not fighting Ebola in West Africa, leaving Australian children to rot in Syrian refugee camps and the deliberate victimization of legitimate refugees only to be followed by mismanaging the relationship with our major trading partner and now a shambolic retreat from Afghanistan.

This record is a terrible shame as Australians were once, deservedly or not, admired for their generosity of spirit, courage and dependability.

Ending our involvement in this long war should not be as simple as Prime Minister Morrison making a few blithe statements about withdrawal. It is imperative that Australia now manages the consequences of our involvement in Afghanistan by quickly and methodically honouring all moral obligations, implied or otherwise, to those put at risk through their associations with us and our forces in Afghanistan.

Is Prime Minister Morrison once again going to just offer his thoughts and prayers to these people as he did during the bushfire emergency or can he become a man of honour and action who takes serious humanitarian problems and solves them by direct and determined intervention?

* Dr Tony Murney has served several tours in Afghanistan as a senior police adviser with the United Nations and the European Union. He has also served with the UN as policing advisor in Somalia. Before working with the UN, he was a senior manager in the International Deployment Group of the Australian Federal Police. Dr Murney is a Director of Civil Liberties Australia.

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