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Afghan Foreign Minister visits Australia
Jim Middleton speaks with Afghanistan's Foreign Minister Dr Zalmai Rassoul, who is on his first visit to Australia.

Afghanistan's moment of truth is rapidly approaching.

Most foreign forces are due to depart in 2014 after many years of struggle against the Taliban.

Significant concerns remain about the ability of local troops and police to guarantee the safety of the people.

Australia has had a significant military contingent in Afghanistan for the best part of a decade, and now discussions are under way about what role Australia will have after 2014.

Afghanistan's foreign minister, Zalmai Rassoul, has just completed talks in Canberra with Defence Minister Stephen Smith.
JIM MIDDLETON: Foreign Minister, thanks very much for your time.


JIM MIDDLETON: Australian forces have been in Afghanistan for a very long time; 2014 is approaching rapidly. What would you hope Australia's contribution might be in Afghanistan after 2014?

DR ZALMAI RASSOUL: You know that we have signed a long-term partnership during the Chicago summit with Australia in which it predicted future relations, post 2014 relations between Afghanistan and Australia in the security co-operation but also an investment, economic corporation, cultural co-operation, education, people to people, parliamentarian to parliamentarian - all area of the co-operation between the two countries.

On security matters, we are looking to Australia for continued training and advising our security forces, not a combat role but a training and advising. And also the possibility that the Australian teacher, military teacher will teach to our military academy.

JIM MIDDLETON: It is around the time of the 10th anniversary of another conflict in your region, the Iraq War, and in recent days there's been much commentary about the impact of foreign intervention there. Ten years from now, how do you think people will look back on the impact of foreign intervention in your country?

DR ZALMAI RASSOUL: I think Afghanistan and Iraq are two different stories. Afghanistan was under the control of the Taliban. It had a proxy army by one of our neighbours, and it was a terrorist group.

And for the first time in our history the foreign forces in Afghanistan were welcomed by Afghan people, which have radically liberated Afghanistan. So we don't call Afghanistan occupation force we call it a liberation force.

Actually, post 2001 when the force came to Afghanistan, the major part of Afghanistan was taken by Afghan himself. So it's two different store.

JIM MIDDLETON: Do you think that in 10 year s time, without the presence of foreign forces, that Afghanistan will be a stable democracy?

DR ZALMAI RASSOUL: Yes. I am confident on that.

JIM MIDDLETON: Why can you be that confident when your government struggles to maintain the safety of its citizens even now with the presence of thousands of foreign troops?

DR ZALMAI RASSOUL: At the moment that we are talking together, 80 per cent of Afghan operation is under control of the Afghan National Security Forces. So the transition that happened and since the tranche of transition and not only the area that foreign forces not anymore, not only the security has not deteriorated, but in some area improved. So we have now capable National Security Forces which are not present 10 years ago, better equipped, well trained. And Afghans are very good at defending themselves they have proven through their history.

So I am fully confident that we can take charge of our security. But of course we need a long-term partnership with our allies today and to continue support to Afghan National Security Forces.

JIM MIDDLETON: Can you see a time when at least some of the current insurgent leadership will have a role in the government of Afghanistan and, if so, under what circumstances? What would they have to do to be invited in?

DR ZALMAI RASSOUL: You know, we have started the process of peace process, which is based on talking with those Taliban who wants to talk. There are people in the leadership of Taliban that want to talk peace with us.

The red line has been defined by the Afghan Jerga, which is the respect of our constitution. So we are going to talk with those people who accept our constitution and stop fighting and drop their guns.

From that moment, as the Afghan citizen, in the framework of our constitution they can participate in political life of Afghanistan. They can be candidate and at the presidential level there will be candidate in our parliament, they form their own political party.

JIM MIDDLETON: You have an election coming up next year. I am just wondering this: why do you think it was that Ban Ki-moon felt it necessary to remind the government in Afghanistan that the election needed to be credible and inclusive if international support for your country was to continue?

DR ZALMAI RASSOUL: First of all, Afghan people wants a credible election.

JIM MIDDLETON: But there were problem, you would have to acknowledge, with the last questions of fraud and freedom...

DR ZALMAI RASSOUL: There are problems in other country, but the problem was not only on the Afghan side. Afghan people want and deserve a credible election. So it's up to Afghan to decide and it's duty of the government of Afghanistan to deliver credible election.

Otherwise there would be no peace in Afghanistan. It's crucial, fundamental for the future of democracy in Afghanistan that we should have a credible election which the result would be accepted by the majority of the Afghan people.

JIM MIDDLETON: Improving the status of women in Afghanistan was one of the reasons given for the foreign intervention all those years ago, it's one of the constitutional underpinnings of your government. But just this week UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon noted that deaths of women and girls had risen by 20 per cent in Afghanistan last year. And he says there's still a pervasive climate of impunity, of impunity in the treatment of women and girls in Afghanistan. That's not a good record, is it?

DR ZALMAI RASSOUL: I think we need to compare Afghanistan of today with Afghanistan of year 2000, with the Taliban - 10 years, 11 years. Ten years ago, the woman were not considered as a human being in Afghanistan, now, constitution of Afghanistan give the same right to the man and woman. Millions of our kids, girls, are going to school; 20 per cent of 26 per cent of our parliament by law are women, we have two or three ministers; we have 50 per cent of the health care system is run by the woman and (inaudible). And they are voting, they have the same vote like me men.

So there's tremendous change. It does not mean that everything is OK and everything is perfect. It will take time before the woman right will be fully respected in Afghanistan.

JIM MIDDLETON: Foreign minister, thank you very much indeed.

DR ZALMAI RASSOUL: Thank you very much.
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