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Transcript of interview with Bill Bainbridge, Radio Australia : 5 September 2012: Pakistan and Afghanistan

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Interview with Bill Bainbridge, Radio Australia -Pakistan and Afghanistan September 5, 2012

The Australian Opposition's defence spokesman David Johnston says an early retreat from Afghanistan could create

a national security threat for Australia.

Senator Johnston has just returned from a parliamentary visit to Pakistan, but he wasn't able to travel into

Afghanistan because of a rocket attack at Kabul Airport.

He says politicians and lobby groups who want to curtail Australia's commitment in Afghanistan aren't recognising the

impacts of an early withdrawal.

He says an early exit would lead to an increase in the number of Afghan refugees fleeing their homeland.

Presenter: Bill Bainbridge

Speaker: Senator David Johnston, Australia's opposition defence spokesman

JOHNSTON: I think the main problem is that Pakistan is best placed to deal with refugees and of course their

economy is unstable and they're trying to return refugees back into Afghanistan. Now if the Taliban were to come

back and further destabilise Afghanistan, I think that we're going to see a lot of people wanting to leave that region,

and I think we're going to see greater pressure on people wanting to come down to Australia by boat particularly. And

that's something that I'm really keen we try and avoid.

BAINBRIDGE: But is this the right way to characterise it if we're talking about an influx of refugees, why is that a

national security threat to Australia?

JOHNSTON: Well I don't know whether it's a national security threat and I don't think I used the words national

security threat. But it's an economic threat because look Australia has always been very considerate of people

moving from region to region in circumstances such that we see in the Middle East. What I was concerned about is

that Pakistan is struggling to deal on its western side, western border with a very unstable terrorist insurgency that is

really causing them some great economic and democratic distress. Now their elections are coming up in Pakistan

and they've got 83-million voters, and they're going to be voting at 80-thousand polling places. Now when we met the

parliamentarians, the senators and the national congressional members, they are all very, very keen for a peaceful

transition in the next election, which will be the first peaceful transition if they can achieve it that I think the country

has ever had in its history, because there's been a series of military coups. Now what I was saying is that Pakistan

actually is the sort of model that I think we should attempt to aspire to in Afghanistan. Now there are a number of

incidents on a day-by-day, month-by-month basis, probably about five to ten significant incidents in Pakistan every

month, as opposed to five to ten in Afghanistan every day. And what I was saying is that we need to consider

Pakistan every time we talk about Afghanistan, because I think that is really crucial. The region needs to be

considered as a whole, not just as one country.

BAINBRIDGE: You mentioned that Pakistan really is at the forefront of dealing with people who are fleeing

Afghanistan. What did you see there about their capacity to deal with those people who are coming now and who

may exit in very large numbers after 2014 if things don't go to plan?

JOHNSTON: Well they're doing their best with very limited resources. Their economy is under great stress. Certainly

tourism is virtually zero into Pakistan because of the negative press and media that they've had with various

bombings and other things, particularly on the western border. The federal administered tribal areas and North and

South Waziristan, very unstable, and of course that's a direct mirror of what's happening in Afghanistan. So people

are moving through these areas trying to escape the violence, and Pakistan unfortunately has had to try and

accommodate them and deal with them. Now there's a lot of assistance coming from the United Nations, from NGOs

and other places, but it's a very big task for Pakistan. And there's a lot of negative issues on that front and on the

eastern side of the country the relationship with India has improved dramatically, which is a big positive, and you've

got this struggle going on right now. And all I can say is I was greatly encouraged by the members of parliament

wanting to fund, it's costing them five-billion rupees, a huge democratic process that will be the next election.

BAINBRIDGE: But we know, I mean a lot of analysts suggest anyway, that Pakistan is playing a kind of a double-game here with on the one hand suggesting that they'll crack down on the Haqqani network, but then on the other

allowing terrorism to flourish in their borderlands and trying to have influence over what the outcome is in Kabul. Are

you confident that those parliamentarians are really in a position to make these kind of commitments when there are

so many elements in Pakistan that are working towards other ends?

JOHNSTON: Well remember that Pakistan is an Islamic state. Now the government of Pakistan has to be very, very

careful that it strikes the right balance in retaining stability, and yet retaining the confidence of the majority of its

population. Now these are sort of problems that Australians can hardly imagine. You've got a 170-million people and

they're all Muslims and a reasonably significant percentage, something five to ten per cent are fundamentalists or

moving in that direction. And the government in Islamabad has a big issue in trying to deal with that. And yet what we

saw was a potentially very friendly country, on the eastern side very stable, and cause for some considerable

celebration in many respects. But on the western side there are huge problems.

BAINBRIDGE: Ok and if I could just get your quick response to another matter, Australia's Defence Minister Stephen

Smith is in Indonesia today, he's signing a defence cooperation agreement. Is the opposition backing this agreement

and the one signed yesterday to enhance search and rescue links with Indonesia?

JOHNSTON: Anything that assists Australia to manage this problem has got to welcome and a positive thing. The

main concern I have is that for no good reason we put our navy personnel in harm's way on the high seas off

Indonesia. This has been a policy fiasco, if the government can do anything to try and arrest the problem, because

they created it, I will celebrate that and it has bipartisan support.

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