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Friday, 5 May 1989
Page: 1921

Senator ALSTON —I refer the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade to recent events in Afghanistan. Is the Minister aware of the recent statement by Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan that `circumstances in Afghanistan to date did not allow for any large scale assistance activity in the country'? Will the Government therefore take steps to ensure that its earmarked contribution to the Afghanistan emergency trust fund of the United Nations (UN) is redirected towards humanitarian assistance for those Afghans in most desperate need, namely, the war victims who are continuing to enter Pakistan in large numbers? In particular, will the Minister reconsider the possibility of Australian support for the Afghan medical program of the Intergovernmental Committee for Migration and other respected voluntary agencies? In view of the Government's conspicuous silence to date on Afghanistan in domestic and international forums, will the Minister reaffirm Australia's support for the immediate replacement of the current Najibullah regime by the broad-based interim government recently established by the mujahedeen alliance? If not, does the Minister have any reason to believe that a peaceful settlement is possible while the current Kabul regime remains in power?

Senator GARETH EVANS —The Australian Government shares the anxiety of just about every other observer of the continuing Afghanistan fighting. We wish that the fighting would come to an end. We hope that it will. We are not sure how that can be achieved. The increasing number of civilian casualties is a source of alarm. The failure of the conflict to be brought to a rapid conclusion is causing innumerable problems, as Senator Alston well knows, and ensuring a continuing very tragic loss of life. From the outset the Australian Government's position on this matter has been to resist the Soviet invasion, to be opposed accordingly to Soviet imposed regimes, and to have support for the resistance movement. That remains our position, but at the same time we urge all parties to the conflict to explore fully all avenues which may lead to an end to the war.

The difficulty is that-as the situation in Jalalabad and Kabul has shown-if both sides insist on seeking a military solution, then the path to a settlement of the Afghan problem will be a very long and a very bloody one. We are ready to lend our support to genuine efforts to establish a viable post-withdrawal government able to govern which is acceptable to all Afghans in line with their right to self-determination. We hope that such a government could be put together from the resistance forces and in a way which does not involve further bloodshed and further suffering. If it cannot be achieved in that way and some compromises are acceptable, are possible, that fall short of the kind of scenario that Senator Alston has painted, then, in the interests of common humanity, that is a course to which I think we would be sympathetic. I communicated all these things to Gulbuddin Hekmatyar when I met him the other day in his capacity as leader of one of the key mujahedeen factions in Australia. As Senator Alston knows, I have also conveyed this view to the Afghan Council here in Australia representing a whole variety of resistance groups and civilians anxious to ensure a peaceful settlement there.

Australia's position is, of course, one of recognising states rather than governments. As such, the question of recognising anyone in particular does not arise. In practice, we deal with the particular government that appears to be or is in control of the situation on the ground. In Afghanistan at the moment it is simply not possible to say that any government, whether it be the Najibullah remnant or the resistance forces, constitutes such a government in control. The situation is very fluid, very confused. I simply hope that moderate positions will be adopted, that compromise will be possible and that an acceptable route to self-determination and free elections can be assured.

In this environment the question of aid delivery becomes one of continuing difficulty. As is well known, Australia has pledged to provide $20m over three financial years to the UN humanitarian economic assistance program for Afghanistan for the returnees-rather than the refugees, who we are supporting in other ways through food aid and so on, and on which we have spent some $45m to date in Pakistan and elsewhere. The first component of $2m was allocated in March this year to be used by various UN and international agencies to provide short term relief and recovery assistance to Afghan returnees. It is currently envisaged that approximately $10m, mainly in the form of food aid, will be provided to returnees in the 1989-90 financial year. We would like to be able to go further than that but it is a question of practical effective delivery on the ground. We will keep the situation constantly under review. I was given some encouragement by Hekmatyar that coordination arrangements were being put in place that would make possible the effective delivery of a higher quantum of aid than that which we have pledged. So far it does not seem that that has eventuated in a way that will be practically effective, but we are doing our best to keep the aid and assistance flowing.