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Thursday, 21 March 1985
Page: 560

Senator MISSEN(1.06) —I rise to speak in this debate because this day happens to be the Afghanistan International Day-21 March. That is the day which, in fact, is the first day of the year 1364 according to the Afghanistan calendar, the first day of spring. It is the day which throughout the world is now recognised as one to be-one could not say 'celebrated' but, perhaps it is one on which to commiserate with the people of Afghanistan in their misfortunes. As one of the two patrons of the Australian Relief Committee for Afghanistan-the other in this Parliament being Mr Lewis Kent, MP-I want to bring further to the attention of the Australian people this day the complete travail and unhappiness that is occurring in Afghanistan, because we fear that insufficient attention is being given to this five-year struggle which they have had against Soviet invaders. On this day the Committee to which I referred has released a statement, which is of one page and which, Mr Deputy President, I have shown to the Minister who was previously at the table. I seek leave to incorporate that statement in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The statement read as follows-


March 21st-Afghan International Day

The 21st of March is the Afghan's International Day. This day is the first day of the Afghan year and it is the first day of the spring season in Afghanistan.

Since the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan the 21st March has been organised as the Afghan's International Day all around the world except the Eastern Block countries.

The idea of this day is to give sympathy and support to the Afghan freedom fighters (Mujiahadeen) and to the more than four million Afghan refugees in Pakistan, Iran and other parts of the world. In 1979 the Soviet Union sent thousands of its troops across the border into its neighbour Afghanistan. Since then it has continued to put men and the most advanced arms into that country. Today there are something in the order of 140,000 to 150,000-00 Russian troops there. The unstable and unpopular Soviet puppet regime of Babrak Karmal which is internally divided and which is bitterly opposed by 99% of Afghan people, is facing increasing and widespread opposition. It is clear that the Soviets are doing the same in Afghanistan as what the Nazis did in Germany in the Second World War. Since the Russian invasion there have been more than one million men, women and children killed, burned and executed. Entire villages have been destroyed.

The world has witnessed in the last five years that the army of the most powerful country in the world is having problems and difficulties in controlling and achieving their goal in Afghanistan. This is because the people of Afghanistan do not and will not recognize the influence of any foreign country. They are free people and would like to be free and independent.

Afghanistan is historically recognized in the long contest for influence between Britain and Russia, because it controls the gateway to the Indian subcontinent. In recent years its importance has been increased because of its proximity to the world's main supply of oil. Since the Islamic revolution in Iran it has become more sensitive than ever. Russian military power is now 400 kilometres closer to the Gulf than it was five years ago. It is now 450 km from the Straits of Hormuz, the chokepoint through which the bulk of the world's oil supply must move. The Soviet Union has acquired a border of over 2000 km with Pakistan and for the last five years have crossed the border with Pakistan more than 150 times; in some cases bombarding Pakistan villages close to the border. Now there are more than 40,000 troops stationed close to the Pakistan border. Given these considerations the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan could not but have the most profound implications for the stability of global order.

To reduce future danger in this region, the Afghanistan crisis needs the attention of every freedom loving person, and their support for the Afghan refugees in Pakistan, Iran and other parts of the world is most important. At the same time it is most important to give your full political and economical support to the Afghan freedom fighters. The Afghan people can and will be fighting against the Russian invasion of their country until they are able to live freely in their own country. Freedom is natural and it is the right of every person, and country, to choose it.

Senator MISSEN —I thank the Senate. In that release is set out a number of salient factors about the position of Afghanistan and the fight which its citizens have been making now for five years, since the invasion in 1979. That invasion, it will be recalled, was by the Soviets to protect their puppet Government of Babrak Karmal, which continues to hold sway in the major cities due to the force of Soviet might and which has, of course, very little support and sympathy among the people of that country. Indeed, so much is that so that in the constant war that occurs, despite the overwhelming modern weapons which are supplied by the Soviet, there are only 30,000 Karmal Government troops now left out of 100,000 troops or so that there were previously. My figures even indicate the extent to which there have been defections in the last year. In the last year 40,120 soldiers defected and 50 per cent of them brought their weapons with them.

Those who resist the communist Government of Afghanistan therefore must rely on their own fairly inadequate supplies against the mighty powers of the Soviet and the 140,000 or more Soviet troops that are engaged in this long and very bloody warfare in that country. It is not only that but, indeed, there are Cuban and also Czechoslovakian troops in the country. Some 5,000 Cuban soldiers and a further 5,000 Czechoslovakian troops are now in Afghanistan, and these are the forces which the people have to fight.

We well know, from our experience and the attitude which we took in previous times, that Australia boycotted the Olympic Games in 1980 because of the Soviet invasion, and we recognise that in the past, under the previous Government particularly, steps were taken which were designed to raise international anger and to try to bring the Soviet to its senses. But that has not happened. We also know that in these five years, there has been enormous economic destruction in the country and that people have been driven out. Indeed, about three and a half million of the citizens of Afghanistan are now refugees in Pakistan, and about 800,000 are refugees in Iran. Nearly one in five of the citizens of that country have had to leave, and also, of course, something close to one million of the citizens, most of them civilians, have been killed in the course of this war. So it is, indeed, a disastrous war that has taken place.

It has even come to the desperate situation that the communist Government and Soviet troops have forced children as young as 10 years old to be taken from schools and their homes for military training. From 14 years of age they must go to the fighting. Those who refuse are shot. It is just one of the desperate situations which there occur.

We know at the same time that the mujihadeen forces, the resistance forces, who have the support of the overwhelming section of the population, have managed to resist the efforts of the Soviet and they have fought magnificently. I want to refer to some comment on this made in an article by Dr Amin Saikal, which appears in The World Today of November 1984. He is a noted expert in this area, a lecturer in political science at the Australian National University and Rockefeller Foundation fellow in international relations. He has this to say:

The Afghan resistance stemmed largely from thg distinctive nature of the Afghan people. They are individualistic, with a complex ethnic, tribal structure and socially pluralistic. At the same time, they are fiercely Islamic, patriotic and proud, with limited political sophistication, and therefore capable of mounting collective ideological and physical opposition to any foreign, particularly communist, imposition. In this they are helped by their traditional skill in tribal warfare and their mastery of Afghanistan's rough and mountainous territory, whose permeable borders with the non-communist world make it extremely difficult for any central government, let alone a weak one, to impose its rule throughout the land.

Thus the resistance goes on, but thus at the same time a great number of their families have to take refuge in Pakistan. One must say that Pakistan has given great support and, though a poor country itself, has provided a great deal for the people who have had to flee.

The situation in that country has been described by many of the reporters, and I want to refer to the report that came from Philip Brooks to the Australian on 6 December 1984. He says that of the refugees who have left Afghanistan, probably three quarters of a million have moved to Pakistan's large cities but that there are still 2.3 million in camps. He said this after his own visit:

After visiting the camp and listening to the testimony of dozens of refugees, it was clear that Afghanistan is engulfed in a war of national liberation, with virtually the entire population against the Soviet invaders and what is left of the Afghan army which has seen its numbers drop from 80,000 in 1980 to a mere 30,000 today, due to massive defections.

That appears to be the situation. It is a continuing resistance and, of course, extraordinarily strong attacks have been made on their forces, including the attack in the Panjsher Valley last year, but they have continued to survive and to resist.

What are the consequences of these actions, the consequences of the behaviour of the Soviets and this puppet Government? There have undoubtedly been gross human rights violations. Speaking now as Chairman of the Parliamentary Amnesty Group, I have to say that we find offensive the extent to which there have been murders, torture, rape, destruction of people's homes, and most of the elementary rights of the people are denied to them. Even, of course, in the city of Kabul, which is controlled by the puppet Government, the new Russian system of living has been introduced. Inhabitants must have new identity cards if they want to leave the city. The security office of the party must be informed as to where they are going and how long they intend to stay. Only after receiving written permission will they be allowed to travel. If they receive guests, the party office must be informed about their identities, and the guest must not stay more than three days. It is a typical communist state that exists in those parts of that country that are under the Soviet jurisdiction.

The United Nations has taken considerable interest in this matter. One realises that the United Nations has carried resolutions in regard to the behaviour of the Soviet in its invasion. In January 1980 the General Assembly resolved to condemn the Soviet and also to demand withdrawal. In 1984 a further resolution-and resolutions were passed in the meanwhile-was passed by 119 to 20, with 14 abstentions. So at least world opinion has been rallied in this cause. Recently there has been a report, which I have not yet seen, mentioned in the Christian Science Monitor of 9 March 1985 about the United Nations investigation and prepared by Felix Ermacora, an Austrian law professor, who has participated in previous United Nations inquiries. That report, which now goes to the United Nations Human Rights Commission, accuses the Afghan Government of holding some 50,000 political prisoners and says that torture in its gaols is commonplace. Mr Ermacora makes very many direct criticisms of the activities of that Government, and he refers to abuses such as the reported massacre on 13 September, 1982, when 105 villagers took refuge in an irrigation tunnel in the village of Padkhwab-e-Shana, in Logar Province. Troops poured liquid into the tunnel, set it alight, and the charred bodies later found included those of 12 children. They are just some of the many breaches of the Geneva Convention and abuses by Afghan and Soviet forces which have been the subject of this United Nations complaint.

It is important for us to realise the mass suffering which has gone on. It is important to recognise that there has, of course, been international aid. The United States, among other nations, has contributed very substantially to that aid. A recent report from the Information Service of the United States State Department says this:

Working through UNHCR, the World Food Program, and a variety of voluntary agencies, the US Government continues to share in the international assistance program. Since 1980 the United States has contributed more than $350m to Afghan refugee relief. During fiscal year 1984, the United States contributed about $70m to support Afghan refugees in Pakistan, including $49m through the World Food Program. The US contribution represents some 35 per cent of the total UNHCR budget and about 50 per cent of the international food contribution.

One must acknowledge that we, in Australia, have also made contributions, and useful ones. During the last two financial years, Australia has provided $11m in food aid to Pakistan through UNHCR program. It has also provided $1.3m for a water drilling rig this financial year. These are useful things, but it is not adequate. There is an enormous problem for the people who are there in camps and who are living what they hope is a temporary existence. They hope they will be able to leave there soon and go back to their homeland. But in the meanwhile, they are working to preserve their culture and standards and it is a great strain, not only on Pakistan but also on the people who have to suffer in these conditions.

I believe that we in this country must do more. We must, of course, remember this situation and not let it slip from our consciousness. We realise that Soviet tyranny operates in many parts of the world, but it is especially vicious in this particular area. The Soviets are facing a cost in this war, altogether, of $US8,760m, according to recent calculations. One must hope that these types of experiences may lead the Soviet to the negotiating table and that ultimately it will come to the conclusion that it is not worthwhile to try to subjugate these valiant people in this way.

In a debate last year which the Bureau International Afghanistan held, one of the leading authorities in this area, Olivier Roy, spoke about the long term weaknesses of the Soviet position. He mentioned, first, Soviet young people and their military term of duty in Afghanistan. About 1,000,000 of them, altogether, have served there, and therefore they return with bad memories. Secondly, the impact on the Muslims is also very bad, because they see what has happened to their fellow religionists. Thirdly, the international political climate is deteriorating badly. I trust that we will help and encourage assistance in Australia, and that we will do more, so that we can try to force the Soviet into removing itself from that country, and that people in this country will assist organisations such as the Committee of which I am a patron to obtain supplies and help for these people who are long-suffering and deserve every support of the Australian people.