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Former Australian Leader Urges More Help for Afghanistan


Former Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser says much more needs to be done to curb people smuggling operations in Afghanistan and urges the United States to negotiate with the more moderate elements of the Taliban to help deliver some peace to the troubled country.

Malcolm Fraser still stands as a formidable figure in Australian life. As prime minister between 1975 and 1983, he was highly influential in obtaining the release of many internationally known political dissidents of the day, including Nelson Mandela.

His conservative governments were also applauded widely for accepting refugees arriving as boat people from Indochina after the Vietnam War.

Thirty years later, however, he says Australia is far less welcoming to refugees.

"The refugee convention in 1954 recognized that people fleeing tyranny often traveled by unorthodox means and often traveled without papers," he said. "You couldn't go along to Saddam Hussein, for example, and say 'I want to get away from your tyranny. Please, can I have a passport?' It's just not possible."

In the aftermath of the Vietnam War, he says, Western countries were prepared to do whatever was necessary to help those fleeing the communist takeovers of South Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos.

Mr. Fraser says these people were helped not just because of Australia's and America's involvement in the Vietnam War but because it was the right thing to do.

In more recent years, he says, Prime Minister John Howard and to a lesser extent current leader Kevin Rudd have fallen short of those ideals and even demonized asylum seekers who flee their troubled homelands.

"The government spokesman said no, these are terrible, awful people. They are different, they are not like us, they won't share our values," said Mr. Fraser. "And so, many Australians became fearful and the government won an election on it."

He says people in the West need to be mindful of the difficult circumstances that refugees from conflicts in South Asia and the Middle East are fleeing. About 900 asylum seekers have arrived on Australia's shores this year, four times more than for the entire 2008.

In Afghanistan, he says, life is hard, as fighting continues between the Taliban militants and coalition forces.

However, he also says there are moderates within Taliban ranks who must be dealt with, if a lasting peace is to be found. He says simply adding troops, as the United States under President Obama, may not work.

"I would desperately like to think that President Obama's approach can work but I suspect it won't work unless people can talk with those elements of the Taliban who are not al-Qaida and they are not all, as I am advised," he added.

Negotiations with moderates in the Taliban, he says, will mean the chance that Afghanistan finds peace will be greatly enhanced and the flow of boat people to Australia will be greatly reduced.


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