10 September 2019
Australia-Afghanistan relations: Reflections on a half-century
By William Maley
It is now fifty years since diplomatic relations were formally established between the Commonwealth of Australia and the Kingdom of Afghanistan. Superficially, the two countries might seem to have little in common.
Nonetheless, there is more to unite Australians and Afghans than one might think at first glance. Even before the Australian colonies federated, Afghans made their way to Australia to provide transport by camel in Australia’s inland. By the time of the 2016 census 46,800 Afghans were living in Australia. And since 2001, more than 25,000 members of the Australian Defence Force have served in Afghanistan. Recent years have brought Australia and Afghanistan far closer to each other than ever before in their history.
Professor William Maley explores some of the key dimensions of the development of this relationship. Since 2001, the state-to-state relationship has developed additional dimensions – diplomatic, military, developmental, and humanitarian – which have been augmented by significant people-to-people ties despite all the difficulties that surround travel between the two countries.
Yet for all this, what ultimately binds the two countries together is that Australia has a strong interest in seeing the transition in Afghanistan that was inaugurated in 2001 – a complex mixture of statebuilding, institutional development, economic change, civil society activism, and enhancement of human rights and freedoms – continue down the broad path that was laid out at that time. A failure in Afghanistan is likely to involve serious adverse strategic consequences for Australia.