What Pakistan and Afghanistan mean to Australia

Published: July 24, 2015
The writer is the project coordinator for the South Asia Study Group, University of Sydney. He tweets @zushanhashmi

The writer is the project coordinator for the South Asia Study Group, University of Sydney. He tweets @zushanhashmi

What do Australia, Pakistan and Afghanistan have in common, beyond radicalisation problems, the war on terror and global security? Surprisingly, there is a much stronger link between the three, which is of little knowledge to people.

Towards the end of the 19th century, several thousand cameleers from South Asia were recruited to Australia, during the development of the outback, predominantly from the aforementioned nations. And today, there are thousands of Australians who identify themselves as Pakistani or Afghan-Australian, in various fields, disciplines and jobs. Several international students from Pakistan studying in Australia and hundreds of Afghan refugees have made Australia their permanent home.

The ‘Afghan’ cameleers significantly contributed in discovering the Australian outback for the European settlers as early as the 1860s, up until the 1900s. The camels themselves were of substantial importance, as they were necessary for exploration and transport, and their handlers were central to these discoveries too, as they managed the wellbeing and survival of these camels. Contrary to popular belief though, if one reads into history, the cameleers were hired within regions ranging from Peshawar all the way to Karachi, which included people predominantly from modern-day Pakistan (British India, at the time), and hailing from a diverse set of ethnic communities, including Pakhtuns, Punjabis, Sindhis and Balochis.

As is the case with migration, the cameleers brought along their culture and common belief to the shores of Australia — Islam. They built the first Australian mosque in Marree, South Australia, and some also married into the communities of Aboriginals and Europeans. Today, if one knows where to look, they can find information and details on some cameleers buried within town libraries and cemeteries, such as Dost Mahomet and Zeriph Khan.

Due to the classification of these people at the time as ‘alien non-citizens’, many of them made their way back home. And due to these return journeys, knowledge of this fascinating relationship between the three nations is almost forgotten and unheard of in Australia today. The history of the cameleers is shrouded in the past and remembered in a rather meaningless manner through the Ghan Express and other minor monuments, which is of course, very unfortunate. However, after the dismantling of the White Australia policy and in recent years, thousands of Afghans and Pakistanis have settled in Australia and continue to reside here temporarily.

A large number of Afghans fled Afghanistan after the Soviet invasion and the Taliban era, making their way to Australia, often through Pakistan and Iran. Today, this community makes up a substantial part of Australia’s South Asian population. They own several small businesses such as restaurants and grocery stores, and have been awarded accolades by the Australian government as well. Akram Azimi, a youth mentor and philanthropist was awarded the Young Australian of the Year award 2013. Other notables include BBC broadcast journalist Yalda Hakim and entrepreneur Saad Mohseni, who runs the one of the largest Afghan television networks — TOLO.

Similarly, many Pakistanis have made their way to Australia, more recently through the permanent-residency points system, as a means to pursue careers in their respective disciplines (mainly medicine, finance and information technology), while escaping the volatile security situation in Pakistan. Several Pakistani-Australians are making a name for themselves in sports, including Australian cricketers Usman Khawaja and Fawad Ahmed. Additionally, there are several Pakistani-Australian academics and political commentators like Hanifa Deen and Irfan Yusuf. The Greens MP Mehreen Faruqi is also Pakistan-born. Members of this community are growing significantly in arts and entertainment as well, with Zohab Khan being crowned the Australian Poetry Slam champion, 2015.

Along with this large community, over 11,000 Pakistani students are now enrolled in Australian universities, mainly pursuing postgraduate degrees. And this number is increasing substantially every year. Thanks to these growing numbers, Australian universities now boast a large set of Pakistani student associations, such as the University of Queensland Pakistani Students’ Association and University of Sydney PakSoc. With young Afghan-Australians now reaching university age, a rise in student associations within the Afghan community is also likely, as is the case with the recent formation and success of the Afghan Students’ Association at the University of Queensland.

It seems that through globalisation, political turmoil and The Australian Dream, the historical links between these South Asian nations and Australia have seeped their way back into the contemporary era. The people of these two countries are increasingly contributing to modern-day Australia just as their forefathers had done over a hundred years ago. Therefore, with the growing fear of radicalisation within Australia, particularly amongst communities such as these, I believe it imperative that the Australian government provides these communities with exposure to the government, progressive support and development as members of Australian society, and most importantly, platforms that enable the continued embodiment of the Australian way of life.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 24th,  2015.

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Reader Comments (7)

  • Bharatiya from Australia
    Jul 24, 2015 - 3:03AM

    Australia is confluence of multi cultural, ethnicities, religious beliefs and non believers (atheist) who live here almost harmoniously…Because religion is considered a private space and human values are respected and practiced by majority of people on a day to day basis…

    In nutshell, for any country to prosper and progress in the new world order, the people, leaderships, media, schools and every responsible entities should practice, preach and embrace DIVERSITY of cultures, languages, religions, colours etc and every kid, youth and parents should teach to respect others beliefs while also feel PROUD and confident about their OWN background.
    Coming from Bharat where I still have my ‘langotia’ school friends who will die for me and I can give my lives for them are from various religious backgrounds ( Sikhs, Jains, Muslims, Christians and Hindus)…Well thank god you didn’t give us intelligence when we were making lifelong friends…Recommend

  • ajeet
    Jul 24, 2015 - 4:34AM

    Why take them in and spend millions on deradicalization? It’s easier to rake in safer minorities.Recommend

  • Jul 24, 2015 - 1:02PM

    why Muslims get radicalized . There is very high focus in the Islamic ideology and they wear this ideology or religion on their sleeves. When they start following this ideological practices which remains stuck in the past -hidebound and unchanging throughout the centuries . they are termed as radicalized .
    The ideology that teaches racial and religious discrimination, the
    subjugation of non-believers, taxation without representation, and murder
    and enslavement of unbelievers.
    -THE RESPONSIBILITY OF de radicalization therefore lies with the adherent of same religion / ideology and not with Australian government.. the problem is that none including the author can dare to pin point the root cause of radicalization as this will hurt their core belief based on which their upbringing has been constructed.Recommend

  • Rex Minor
    Jul 24, 2015 - 2:31PM

    The author has forgotten the newlings from Asian countries especially those from India and Indonesia who because of their population explosion are seeking new homes around the globe. Australia like several other western countries have challenging problems ahead becuse of this new migration wave especially those who are reluctant to integrate and are ending up in ghettos.

    Rex MinorRecommend

  • Rex Minor
    Jul 24, 2015 - 4:40PM

    @Bharatiya from Australia:

    Australia is not a multicultural by any standard and let this be clear to Indians who have left their Bharat of the avatar times.Australia and Newzealand has predomnently a European culte clear to every immigrant who apply to become the National of the country. For those who hail from former British colonies and have anglo saxon educational background it is also attractive for higher studies. Make sure that you learn this during your stay in Australia before you return to your Bharat and improve the lot of your kith and kin.

    Rex MinorRecommend

  • Hasan Sheikh
    Jul 25, 2015 - 3:04AM

    Very well written Zushan! Very insightful indeed. Recommend

  • Someone
    Jul 25, 2015 - 9:22AM

    @p r sharma: Your argument is logicless. It’s because the majority of Pakistani Australians are law-abiding citizens, who contribute to the society and excel in all fields, whether medicine, engineering, business, sport, education etc. So no, there is no “radicalisation” to the scale which you exaggerate. What I think the writer wants to point out is that it is unfortunate that a 1% segment which is radical gets more limelight sometimes than it deserves. You can find criminals who are White Australians, and they do more harm and damage to this country than a group of homegrown Asian radicals. So your point is invalid, as the stereotypes are not just a minority problem, they are an Australian problem.

    As for your biased view on a particular community, you should practice what you preach and not throw stones while living in a glass house. You name any crime in Australia, and you will endless Indians who have been caught. Maybe you are out of touch with current affairs, as such individuals have damaged the reputation and credibility of your Indian community here severely.Recommend

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