The war in Afghanistan: Australia's strategic narratives

Date

2015

Authors

Maley, William

Journal Title

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Volume Title

Publisher

Routledge & Kegan Paul

Abstract

On October 28, 2013, Australian military personnel serving in Afghanistan were treated to an unusual spectacle. Australia's new Prime Minister Tony Abbott, brought to power in the September 2013 national elections, had made his way to Tarin Kowt in the province of Uruzgan to announce - symbolically at least - the end of Australia's military deployment. What made the occasion unusual was that Prime Minister Abbott was accompanied by Australia's new opposition leader, Bill Shorten, who had been a senior minister in the recently defeated government. Neither made a particularly memorable speech, but what was striking was the extent to which they echoed each other (Coorey 2013). In stark contrast to the experience in a number of European countries, the major parties in Australia seemed to be singing from the same song-sheet, producing a shared strategic narrative, and framing Australia's Afghanistan deployment in very similar ways. How and why that came to be the case is the focus of this chapter. Australia's involvement in Afghanistan has a rather longer history than is often appreciated. Putting aside the historically interesting but essentially nonpolitical patterns of migration from Afghanistan to Australia in the nineteenth century, when camel drivers played an important role in opening the internal transport routes of the country, one can nonetheless date Australia's interest in Afghanistan's internal dislocation back to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in December 1979. With a degree of insight that was not fully appreciated at the time, Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser took a very strong stand against the invasion, traveling to major capitals in order to bolster support for opposition to what the USSR had done (Renouf 1986). While Australia was not subsequently a major player in the Cold War struggle over Afghanistan (Maley 2009), it did become an important contributor to mine clearance activities in Afghanistan after the withdrawal of Soviet forces in February 1989 (Horner 2011). But, that said, like most western countries, it largely ignored Afghanistan after the collapse of the communist regime in April 1992, and it took the September 11 attacks to remind Australia that the situation in Afghanistan had not stabilized, and that an Afghanistan in which the state had substantially collapsed could pose a significant threat to order in the region and beyond.

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Type

Book chapter

Book Title

Strategic Narratives, Public Opinion and War: Winning domestic support for the Afghan War

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DOI

10.4324/9781315770734

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