KARACHI: Australia welcomes Pakistan’s commitment to tackling extremism and terrorism, including through Operation Zarb-e-Azb, implementation of the National Action Plan, and in the continued strengthening of national institutions and the rule of law.
This was said by Australian High Commissioner Margaret Adamson as she discussed a wide range of issues with The Express Tribune.
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“We extend our sympathy and solidarity to the government and people of Pakistan, and especially to the victims of terrorism, and encourage continued efforts to combat terrorism and extremism,” she added.
On regional issues, she said that as a friend of both Pakistan and India, “We encourage the two countries to engage in dialogue to resolve all bilateral issues in order to advance peace and stability in the region.”
She also noted that Australia is among the top five donors contributing to sustaining Afghanistan’s security forces out to 2020. Australia has provided more than AU$1.26 billion (US$910 million) in Official Development Assistance (ODA) to Afghanistan since 2001 and has committed an additional AU$320 million (US$230 million) over the 2017-2020 period.
Sports and culture
Although she didn’t give a timeline for when Australia may be willing to allow its cricketers to tour Pakistan, she did note that cultural exchanges in recent years have occurred principally through sports and education. “The Australian Army Cricket Team visited Pakistan in 2015 and again in 2016 for tournaments against Pakistan Army teams in Lahore, Gujranwala, Abbottabad and Rawalpindi. The Pakistan Navy Cricket Team visited Australia in late 2015 and won the International Defence Cricket Competition (The world cup of defence cricket),” she added.
She said Australia works closely with Pakistan in maintaining maritime security and stability in the Indian Ocean, noting that the two navies are part of the Combined Maritime Forces.
In 2016, she said, Australia offered Pakistan around 90 Australia-based training positions focusing on counter-terrorism capability skills. “We are also members of the Indian Ocean Naval Symposium, which aims to strengthen member states’ collaborative capacity, notably through the Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief, Counter-Piracy and Information Sharing Working Groups.”
She added that Australia offers eight masters-level scholarships in defence related studies for Pakistani officers. A highlight is the biannual Command and Staff College reciprocal counter-terrorism exchange.
“An Australian Army student has attended the Command and Staff College in Quetta almost every year since 1910. We also have a student placed each year at National Defence University,” she said, adding that Australia looks forward to working with Pakistan in some niche areas including counter-improvised explosive device cooperation, establishing an alumni network between defence scholarship students, exchanges in air base security, airframe certification and testing, and maintaining cooperation in soldier rehabilitation.
Aid and human rights
Australia’s aid programme with Pakistan is enabling the private sector to drive economic growth, increase incomes for the poor, and create more jobs across all provinces, she said. “We are investing in Pakistan’s people with a pro-poor and pro-women focus through education, nutrition and agriculture.”
Australia is supporting regional economic integration, sustainable water resource management and rural development.
In her time in Pakistan, High Commissioner Adamson has also been a strong advocate for the rights of women and girls.
“The elimination of violence against women and girls and women’s empowerment are central to my mission as Australia’s high commissioner to Pakistan as a core Australian foreign policy priority.”
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She said Australia is providing AU$8.65 million (US$6.24 million) to support efforts to combat violence against women and girls in Pakistan. This support includes improving access to services, efforts to change behavioural norms and attitudes, strengthening implementation of policy and legislation and promoting safe cities in Pakistan.
When asked about issues relating to refugees, Adamson spoke of how Australia is a multicultural country built on migration from all over the world. “One in four Australians was born overseas, while 190,000 people move to Australia every year. Australia also maintains a generous refugee resettlement program, in parallel to the wide range of pathways for people to migrate legally to Australia. Refugees are welcome in Australia – more than 825,000 people have been welcomed by Australia as refugees since 1947.”
She said Australia commends Pakistan for hosting the world’s largest enduring population of refugees and displaced peoples, while adding that a key lesson Australia learned is that there is no simple solution to manage refugees.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 5th, 2017.
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