Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Transcript of joint press conference with Canadian Foreign Minister Mr Peter MacKay, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada: 18 September 2006: [Range of topics of international interests; mutual interests to both countries].



Download PDFDownload PDF

Inquiries: (02) 6277 7500 1

MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS HON ALEXANDER DOWNER, MP

TRANSCRIPTION

DATE: 18 September 2006

TITLE: Transcript of Mr Downer at Joint Press Conference with Canadian Foreign Minister Mr Peter MacKay, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada.

PROOF COPY E & OE

PETER MACKAY: Thank you. I’m very honoured to be here with His Excellency Mr. Alexander Downer of Australia. I’ve had a very open and frank discussion - wholesome discussion - on a range of topics of international interests, mutual interests to both countries. As well as a few issues of more domestic nature that touch on both our countries, including energy sector, economic cooperation, issues around mutual cooperation right now in various intentional forums.

It comes at a time which is obviously a very sad day for Canadians where we receive further word of tragic consequences for our participation in the mission in Afghanistan -- (FRENCH).

On this particular day where we are not fully aware of all of the affects of this incident. We strengthen our resolve. We strengthen our commitment to work with other countries, like Australia, to achieve the type of results and progress that we have seen in recent days amongst consequences that, in my view, pay huge dividends for the people of Afghanistan and for our own country as well bringing about the stability, a sense of accomplishment and truly an elevation of the people of Afghanistan, which has been our commitment throughout this mission with the participating NATO allies in this UN backed mission.

So, Mr. Downer, if you would like to say a few words.

ALEXANDER DOWNER: Well, thanks very much, Peter. I just would want to thank Minister MacKay for his hospitality. I’m here to say that I’m delighted to be in Canada. Australia and Canada are a long way away in distance, but we have an enormous amount of common history and very similar constitutional structures and we, as two countries, confront

in very similar ways, a lot of the same issues.

And one of those issues that we confront is terrorism. We, ourselves, have a number of troops in Afghanistan. We’ve sent Special Forces there we’re just setting up a provincial reconstruction team in the southern part of Afghanistan and I just want to say how much we,

Inquiries: (02) 6277 7500 2

as Australians, and I know I speak on behalf of all of the other foreign forces, who are in Afghanistan, how much today we feel for the Canadians, for the families of those who have been lost and for those who have been injured and our hearts go out to them.

But Canada has always been a country through history of great courage, and a country that stood for decent things and always has done, and in this case here are Canadians putting their lives on the line in Afghanistan to help the people of Afghanistan to help the democratically elected institutions of Afghanistan. Without foreign forces and particularly without foreign

forces prepared to make a real effort, such as the Canadians, then Afghanistan would revert to the Taliban, and none of us has easy choices here, there are no easy choices.

Australia and Canada, we can’t just walk away from Afghanistan and think that giving the terrorists say a gigantic victory, letting the Taliban seize Afghanistan again and use it as a base for terrorist operations around the world. That that wouldn’t be a terrible thing for the world. For that region, but also for the world.

So, we admire and join with the courage that Canada is showing in Afghanistan and for us, as an ancient friend of Canada, really, as one of those countries that has fought side by side with Canada in two World Wars and in Korea. We feel very strongly about Canada’s staying the course in Afghanistan with us and we admire the courage of the Canadian people in particularly the courage of the professionalism of the Canadian soldiers which is something of course that we’ve seen throughout history.

SPEAKER: May I ask you please to raise your hand and mention your (inaudible), please.

JOURNALIST: (Inaudible) talk about the unusual high rate of Canadian casualties in Afghanistan. I’m wondering whether you could tell us what you think is the reason why you were taking such a heavy hit in that area?

MR MACKAY: Well, I think it’s much a result of the area and the country in Afghanistan where Canadians have placed the majority of their effort, and that is (inaudible) in the region where the Taliban arguable had the strongest pull and were most embedded if you will in the countryside, in the landscape and they’ve shown the fiercest resistance when this encountered occurred.

I would suggest that the military operations have now encroached upon the area in which the Taliban felt that they were going to maintain that stronghold with the help of the Australians, the Dutch, the British, the Americans progress is being made, and yet one would suggest that the fight is the last vestiges of the hold that the Taliban continue to exert over parts of Afghanistan. And so that comes at a tremendous cost, as Alexander has said. This is a huge commitment and sacrifice. It requires some very, very difficult terrain, not to mention the type of resistance that causes casualties, causes the encounter with the insurgents.

But some of this encounter is not the traditional type of engagement that you would find. These are suicide bombers. This is happening on occasion where Canadians are doing their level best to engage the local population, and the means that are meant to bring about a since of (inaudible) and a sense of trust, and working with local citizens and local governments, in

Inquiries: (02) 6277 7500 3

some cases, and they’re reaching out to the population. They’re trying to demonstrate that Canadians are there to help them, to win the hearts of the (inaudible), and that has to be demonstrated on a larger scale in terms of infrastructure investment, in terms of winning over the local population because of what we bring to their country, and building homes, schools, hospitals, investing in water systems, education, more kids in school, more Afghans themselves coming back to their country and being able to take control of their own destiny. That’s the end game. And do we want to leave Afghanistan? Or do we want to leave Afghanistan when those things are achieved and (inaudible)? And when Afghans are able to control their borders, when they’re able to exert their own democratic principles, the values that we’re fighting with other countries to preserve and promote and I believe in spite of some casualties and some very high costs, as far as our investment there with the men and women in uniform, these are values and principles worth fighting for and progress has been made and they continue to be made.

JOURNALIST: (Inaudible) there is the question of Pakistan and in light of today’s casualties and past casualties will you be communicating at all with the Government of Pakistan to express further concerns, perhaps increasing the tone of that, just to touch on

(inaudible) the Australian foreign minister.

MR MACKAY: Well, I’ll answer quickly, yes, we (inaudible) we have and we will continue to encourage Pakistan and President Musharraf to see to it that there isn’t this free movement and flow of Taliban across the Afghan-Pakistani border where training, where weaponry and the type of safe haven that has existed in regions of Pakistan has allowed to continue.

It’s a tall order. It’s one that we understand Pakistan, itself, is struggling with, but we think that that is essential to the final stabilization of Afghanistan, is seeing that that traffic of individuals - and there’s also the issue of drug traffic in that region as well - doesn’t continue.

MR DOWNER: Well, I (inaudible) and that is that we met - very recently made around the representations in Pakistan to the Pakistani government about this whole issue of the porousness of the border.

There’s no doubt that Taliban are moving across that border. They’re moving in and out of Pakistan, finding refuge in Pakistan. There’s no doubt there are people in Pakistan who support the Taliban and, you know, we have some concerns that in - in the Pakistani security

forces there are some what you might politely describe as some sympathy for the Taliban.

So, whilst it’s fair that President Musharraf and his government have done a good job in the struggle against terrorism, nevertheless there’s a long way to go and our representations recently have been to encourage the Pakistanis to take even more decisive action than they’ve

done so far to stop the Taliban being able to exploit Pakistani territory in order to mount the sort of attacks that we’ve (inaudible) seen all too often in the southern part of Afghanistan.

Inquiries: (02) 6277 7500 4

MR MACKAY: I think this is the message that President Karzai will all bring (inaudible) having spoken to him as has our Prime Minister. This has been a principal concern of his for sometime.

So, Pakistan is very aware and very conscious of the fact that the international community hopes for and expects more in controlling that border area, which - particularly in the Hindu Kush is - has become the most challenging of the terrain outside of Pakistan - outside of Afghanistan, itself, in the south.

JOURNALIST: (FRENCH)

MR MACKAY: (FRENCH)

JOURNALIST: (FRENCH)

MR MACKAY: (FRENCH)

MR DOWNER: My point is this, Canada has two and half thousand or so troops in Afghanistan. We don’t have that many, but we have a lot of troops in Iraq as well as Afghanistan, and we have a lot of troops in East Timor and in the Solomon Islands and so on.

So, this is an area where all -- Afghanistan is an area where we are all contributing, and we’re doing other things in other parts of the world as well. Now, there’s good reason why Canada isn’t in Iraq, and Canada has no intention of going to Iraq, and nobody is asking them to. But Canada is making, along with a number of NATO countries a very strong contribution in Afghanistan. And the thing is that a great country like Canada should not contemplate defeat at the hands of the Taliban. It should not contemplate withdrawal in ignominy, in the face of terrorists and killers, and Canada won’t and Canada doesn’t.

And I admire the strength of the Canadian government and I admire the courage of the Canadian defence forces in staying the course in a very difficult environment.

It’s easy for people to say it would be better for us to leave, but to leave is to surrender, to leave is to vacate the field to the terrorists, to people who want to plunge Afghanistan back to what it was before 9/11, and none of us can contemplate that (inaudible), and it’s very important people in Canada and in Australia and in Europe, as well as in the US, that they all understand that.

SPEAKER: (Inaudible) question, please.

JOURNALIST: (Inaudible).

MR DOWNER: You’re five years from 9/11. You know what happened when we all turned our backs on Afghanistan. You know what the - 9/11 was the consequence of doing nothing about Al-Qaeda, nothing about terrorism, leaving Afghanistan as a wasteland, being fought over and increasingly controlled by the Taliban which wanted to plunge that country back into the 13th or 14th centuries and use it as a base for events like 9/11.

Inquiries: (02) 6277 7500 5

I mean, if - let’s say we all vacated Afghanistan, we allow the Taliban again to take it over, we allow it to be terrorist central worldwide and there was a repeat of the (inaudible) 9/11 operation in Canada or in Australia or in the US or in Europe, what would we say to the

people of our countries that we had surrendered, that we had walked away, that we hadn’t had the courage to stay the course. We hadn’t stood by our soldiers, by our military. That we had run away and then civilians subsequently died for acts of terror. That’s what we would say. We shouldn’t allow that to ever to happen again. We should learn the lessons of 9/11.

JOURNALIST: (Inaudible).

MR MACKAY: Well, I think they’re fooling themselves in thinking that somehow Canada doesn’t have a moral obligation now to the people of Afghanistan, to our allies and to the protection of our own country, because clearly North America, Canada is not immune.

Canadians died in the attacks on 9/11, and we along with 37 other countries, our NATO partners and a UN backed mission are there making important progress. Five years. Five years has seen a sea of change inside Afghanistan. Both Minister Downer and I have been there. We’ve seen the progress that has been made. Obviously more to come. But the fact that they have had two democratic elections inside that country, with 12 million participants, many of whom were women, who were never able to vote before, young girls able to go to school, people able to enjoy basic human rights, the semblance of law and order now coming, a judicial system, police forces, border agents, their own army being set up. That’s on top of the important capacity building in terms of social services, having roads, water, basic elements of agricultural implements, all of the work that’s being done on the military side allows for these important contributions to be made in terms of humanitarian aid. One cannot happen without the other. They’re inextricable. And as Minister Downer has said, to simply suggest that we can hit restart and pull out of the country, and then contemplate what we might do in some other form is pure folly. It’s naïve in the extreme. Not only would we be breaking faith with the people of Afghanistan and our own country’s commitment, which was taken with a democratic vote, but what signal does that send, as to what Canada stands for as a country.

Many would argue that Canada became a nation on the battlefields of Europe and the enormous sacrifices, enormous sacrifices of blood and lives lost for very, very important causes and beliefs that we continue to this day (inaudible), if we were to leave now, I would suggest that that would shatter the imagine that most countries have, and the esteem in which this country is held. It would be a disaster on everybody.

JOURNALIST: (Inaudible).

MR DOWNER: Peter talks about the battlefields of the First and the Second World War. Australians and Canadians who fought side by side in battles like the Somme, and we paid, both our countries, an enormous price, but we won with our allies, and we would be shocked if Canada suddenly decided to withdraw from Afghanistan. If Canada said, “No, we’re not going to do anything here. We’re going to let the rest of you do it,” or if Canada took the position everybody should withdraw, we should just hand the country over to the Taliban and

Inquiries: (02) 6277 7500 6

sacrifice President Karzai in his democratically elected parliament and allow terrorists to take control of the country, then we would shocked if that were to happen.

MR MACKAY: Since our inception as a country -- and I’m very, very proud to have Mr. Downer here, and we had Minister Bot with us from Holland yesterday, Secretary of State Rice, they’ve come to Nova Scotia, they’ve seen the names that are chiseled in stones in the cenotaphs in small towns and villages and cities like Halifax, that’s proof positive that our country does stand for something. That we’re not willing to bend or to retreat or to somehow turn tail when things get tough, and this is no exception. This is a modern version of a global struggle in which Canada plays a pivotal role, an important role. Other countries are counting on us, not the least of which are the people of Afghanistan.

JOURNALIST: (Inaudible) have you asked other countries to increase their troops in Afghanistan, and if so what (inaudible).

MR MACKAY: Well, as it turns out the countries that I’ve met with recently, the United States, Australia and the Netherlands, these are countries that have already committed and are already making a significant contribution in demonstration with their soldiers to the south, to the same said mission, the (inaudible) mission in which Canada currently has command, and so there was no ask, there was no request for further troops or participation, because they’re there.

I think the broader issue and the one that has received a great deal of attention lately is our other NATO countries are prepared to step up, and we all appreciate the fact that they’re there, that they have made commitments of varying degrees, but in the struggle in the south, where much of this battle has taken place of late, it’s our hope that some of those other countries that are currently there will make the same type of commitment and the same type of actual level of commitment that the four countries I’ve just named have done.

MR DOWNER: The Dutch Prime Minister was here yesterday. I know Prime Minister Balkenende. I know him fairly well. I particularly know him because the Netherlands and Australia are in the process right now of establishing a provincial reconstruction tank together as a joint operation in southern Afghanistan.

So, let me just make this clear so Canadians understand it. The Netherlands and Australia are increasing their troops they’re putting into Afghanistan, and we’re doing it in southern Afghanistan, which is, as Minister MacKay makes perfectly clear, is where the focus of activity needs to be and the more countries we can get to focus on the south, which is where the security problem predominates that (inaudible) to Britain and Canada and Australia and America and the Netherlands (inaudible) countries. We’ve done a lot of tough things together over the last century, hand in hand with each other, but we like to see other countries coming and helping as well.

JOURNALIST: Like who?

MR DOWNER: Well, that’s up to them.

Inquiries: (02) 6277 7500 7

MR MACKAY: Look, it’s a struggle. There’s absolutely nobody here that would suggest that Canada hasn’t done its fair share of the heavy lifting, and that, I think, again, demonstrates just how strongly Canadians do feel about the important of bringing about stability. Look, if we can bring about a cessation of the violence there and see the Taliban resistance dissipate, we can do more. We can do more on the development side. We can do a lot more to help the people of Afghanistan in a substantive way. In the humanitarian effort that’s going on, simultaneous. But it’s difficult to furnish baby bottles and build hospitals and do the important aid work, when people are shooting at you and killing you and sending suicide bombers into your ranks, and killing their own people, and beheading women for not wearing burkas or burning down schools, or raping and pillaging in these villages where people are depending on the protection of the NATO forces that are there, and that’s the reality. That’s the violent life that many in the south are living right now, in the hopes that Canada can bring about stabilization with other NATO allies.

JOURNALIST: (Inaudible) thousands of people in the area where we met the (inaudible) you know, refugees, some of them living on the streets of different cities will gather (inaudible) Australia, as well, (inaudible) these refugees help bring them back to (inaudible).

MR MACKAY: Well, that is again an important focal point that we will try to address as stabilization arrives. We do want to be able to see people return to their villages and towns. We want to be able to assist people to locate to areas where they may have other family, they

may have the support mechanisms already in place, but the overall stability has to arrive before much of that can happen.

There have been four million Afghans who have returned to their country in the last five years. That to me is a concrete example of the fact that progress is being made, that the confidence does exist, that citizens can return to their country. Whether they’re in the same town or village is again a question of the degree of stability that exists there.

MR DOWNER: We (inaudible) helping refugees return, so you rightly asked the question, because it’s a very big issue. To the extent we’ve even been assisting with the building of houses for them, where accommodations have been destroyed or didn’t exist properly in any substantial way in the first place. But the problem is the security environment. I mean, for as long as people are harassed and threatened and their families killed they’re not going to be too keen to stay (inaudible). And the challenge is to - not just for us to provide security for them, but importantly for the Afghan security forces to provide that security, and that’s - you solve the refugee problem by solving the security problem. The refugee problem is a function of the security problem.

In the meantime, we have to provide them with assistance and certainly Australia provides them with quite a lot of assistance.

MR MACKAY: (Inaudible) situation yesterday in some of his comments that when they were able to achieve a degree of stability, soldiers themselves along with assistance in the provincial reconstruction teams can start to bring about some of the necessary reconstruction. And it’s not just houses, it’s obviously having basic sewer and water and roads and ability to travel freely and live a good life.

Inquiries: (02) 6277 7500 8

JOURNALIST: (Inaudible) do you think that other countries are building their (inaudible) of Afghanistan?

MR MACKAY: Oh, I think that there’s clearly NATO countries that can do more, and I think that they are - they’re there showing a - there’s different degrees of commitment, depending on the region of the country that they’re currently stationed. But I think in order to finish the job and to bring about long term stability and sustainability of the peace going forward, there’s other countries that need to step forward.

SPEAKER: Thank you very much.

ENDS