There's speculation that Australia will cut its aid to Afghanistan, but former Chief of Army Peter Leahy argues that would be a mistake.PT11M2S http://www.canberratimes.com.au/action/externalEmbeddedPlayer?id=d-2wey6 620 349 October 30, 2013
The Afghan ambassador to Australia has warned that the Taliban would be strengthened by mooted cuts to future foreign aid to his country as coalition forces begin to pull out after 12 years of war.
With the Abbott government understood to be considering cutting aid to Afghanistan as part of broader international development reductions, retired military leaders also spoke out against any cuts.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Opposition Leader Bill Shorten laid wreaths during the Recognition Ceremony in Tarin Kowt. Photo: Andrew Meares
Former chief of army Peter Leahy branded any cuts ''regrettable''. Former commander in the Middle East John Cantwell said it could exacerbate what will be an inevitable backward step for Afghanistan in coming years.
Ambassador Nasir Ahmad Andisha said Australian officials had assured him there would be no substantial cuts this financial year, although no undertakings had been given for next year and beyond.
''We all understand that abandoning Afghanistan … is not an option at all,'' he said. ''When you cannot deliver services … service schools and clinics and all those things, it will increase people's disenchantment with the government and who will benefit from this? Of course, the Taliban.''
Nasir Ahmad Andisha, Afghanistan's Ambassador to Australia. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen
Development aid to Afghanistan rose steeply in recent years, reaching about $180million this financial year. Of the $8 billion Australia has spent in Afghanistan, just over $1 billion has been on aid. The Labor government signed up at a 2012 conference in Tokyo to continue that funding.
However, in its search for about $4 billion in foreign aid cuts over the next four years, the Abbott government is understood to be eyeing closely the pot of money for Afghanistan, from which the majority of Australian troops are set to withdraw by Christmas.
Visiting the main base at Tarin Kowt, Oruzgan province, on Monday, Mr Abbott said Australia would continue to fund Afghan development. But a spokeswoman for Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said the aid program was being reviewed ''consistent with the government's policies and priorities by focusing Australian assistance on our region, and consolidating aid efforts to reduce fragmentation and improve efficiency''.
Ms Bishop is set to speak at a conference of the Australian Council for International Development on Wednesday evening, but it is understood she has asked that the media be barred from the event.
Professor Leahy, who is now director of national security at Canberra University, said any reduction in aid would undermine the Afghan security forces and government.
''What should be happening now is that the developmental aid should be increased to reinforce the legitimacy of the government and their ability to deliver economic support, health and education to the population,'' he said.
Mr Cantwell said: ''It is going to go backwards at some point or another - let's not kid ourselves - but it would be a shame to increase the likelihood of that and undermine some of the things we've done.''