Defence Minister Stephen Smith recently took a trip to Afghanistan, with a range of reasons cited in the Defence Department media release. What wasn’t mentioned there – or anywhere else by the Gillard government – was the finalising of a draft Australian/Afghan Strategic Agreement for post 2014, due to be signed in just five weeks. That I discovered in a tweet from TOLOnews, an Afghan news organisation. It appears the Gillard government is keeping this agreement under wraps, hoping no one will notice.
The good news is that thanks to an email to some journos the story ran in the Age today. There are also a couple of us trying to get the attention of other media outlets. Hopefully the Greens can ask some sticky questions in both Houses of Parliament.
Please post the Age article to your social media accounts, and tell everyone you know that this is happening, we have about a month to cause a ruckus that might bring some transparency, and then accountability.
I’m also thinking of putting together an email/social media appeal for people to contact their MPs, etc. so that there’s at least some wider knowledge and a modicum of accountability.
Just so people are aware of the significance of this:
1. In these kinds of agreements there’s always a “status of forces agreement”, which details how that particular military will be permitted to relate to the country post withdrawal. There is a good possibility that Australian SAS will continue to operate in Afghanistan post 2014. In particular it has already been said that while the mentoring task force (those training Afghan troops) are likely to drawdown and leave before the 2014 deadline, SAS will still be conducting capture and kill raids up to that deadline. Remember that just last November Gillard insisted that Australia will have a presence in Afghanistan “until the end of the decade at least”. It would be quite a turnaround in six months to bring that date forward so dramatically. So one question is: will SAS stay doing capture and kill raids for whatever criminal syndicate is in central government by 2014? (Karzai is already considering breaking his own election rules by seeking a third term, and to give himself the best chance is looking at bringing the election forward from the scheduled 2014 date to 2013)
2. The other big factor is aid, and in particular military aid. We already know that the force that we’re supposed to be training will likely cost around $6 billion a year, in a country which has a GDP of $1.6 billion, meaning the force we’re training will rely on massive ongoing military aid for the foreseeable future. Either that, or if the amount drops (and you can bet it will post withdrawal, particularly given financial crises and such) Afghanistan ends up with thousands of armed and trained men with no job. This is the disaster-in-waiting we’ve created.
3. The Australian agreement sits alongside (and no doubt works in with) the US/NATO Strategic Partnership Declaration, which some Afghans are describing as “slavery” and consigning them to “permanent terrorism”. It essentially allows for permanent US bases.
So, I think we have an opportunity, over the next five weeks, to let the government know that we know about this agreement, and call for accountability.
Please contact your MP and ask them what the Australian Afghan Strategic Agreement contains.
Update: April 16th: Former Defence Minister Joel Fitzgibbon is saying Australian SAS will be staying in Afghanistan beyond 2014, which gives us a good indication of some of what’s in this Strategic Partnership Agreement.