Date: May 06 2012
AFGHAN ambassador Nasir Andisha says Australia needs to be prepared to speak out internationally if it wants its contributions in his homeland to be meaningful.
That call is particularly timely, with the news yesterday that three more Australian soldiers had been injured in a roadside blast while on a patrol where they discovered a drug-making facility.
Afghanistan has long been the world's dominant supplier of heroin, and while efforts have been made to eradicate crops, turn farmers on to alternatives and crack down on trafficking, the country is still estimated to produce more than 90 per cent of the world's supply of the narcotic.
Afghanistan's problems run deep. It is a country with little remaining infrastructure, a fractious political system still dominated by tribal influence and in-fighting, and the ever-present shadow of the Taliban threatening to reassert its influence and reverse the hard-won gains.
Much of the billions in aid money directed into the country has been squandered or failed to achieve meaningful change for Afghans, but there are signs of hope.
A recent report on female literacy in the country showed a significant spike in the number of women learning to read and write - all but unheard of until recent years. Stability is slowly returning to some regions, and businesses are beginning to grow.
While there is still much work to do to reverse the human rights atrocities and bring a greater level of calm to the country, there have been gains, which have also come at substantial cost.
Yesterday's sad news of yet more injured Australians is a stark reminder of the high price paid by Australia and many other nations. Thirty two Australian lives have been lost so far, an investment that is simply too great to walk away from.
There is concern about the future of Afghanistan beyond the 2014 withdrawal date, and Australia's decision to bring forward its own troop withdrawal has played a part in sharpening those concerns.
Afghan officials have called for countries such as Australia to move beyond aid support and begin building business and mining industry links to the country.
While these will be difficult, if we are to honour our commitment to meaningful long-term improvement for Afghans, these need to be explored with vigour.
Successful nations are those with stable political systems, and functional economies not built on human misery through drug trafficking. Australia has already made a major investment in Afghanistan's future. We must continue to invest our knowledge, skills and businesses in the region.
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