‘Responsible budget’ key in Afghanistan

Australia has called on the new Afghan government to deliver a “responsible budget” to avoid future fiscal difficulties.


High Commissioner to the UK Alexander Downer on Thursday attended a one-day conference in London where Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani and chief executive Abdullah Abdullah outlined their reform plans.

Ghani and Abdullah were joined by prominent figures including US Secretary of State John Kerry, Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and British Prime Minister David Cameron.

“We have a government in Kabul that merits our confidence,” Mr Kerry told the conference.

“They can be confident of the support of the international community.”

Mr Downer said at the end of a “watershed year” it was fitting world leaders recognised Afghanistan’s achievements and reconfirmed their support.

“We welcome the reform agenda and the government’s commitment to accountability and self-reliance,” Australia’s high commissioner said.

“Prioritising this agenda will help to ensure its outcomes are achievable.

“We welcome the government’s commitment to stronger fiscal and economic management.

“Recognising the exceptional fiscal circumstances, Australia will bring forward $20 million in response to Afghanistan’s request for assistance.

“We call on the government to deliver a responsible budget to avoid similar measures in future.”

Mr Downer, Australia’s longest serving foreign minister as part of the Howard government, told the conference women and girls would play a central role in Afghanistan’s transformation decade.

Canberra welcomed the government of national unity’s commitment to women’s participation in all aspects of society, the high commissioner said.

“Australia will continue to help the government make possible better lives for Afghan women and girls.”

Australia has provided $1 billion in development assistance since 2001.

Mr Downer said a substantial program would continue through to 2017 and he announced a further $13 million to address humanitarian needs in 2015.

The conference was held as the US-led NATO force ends its combat mission in Afghanistan amid a spike in Taliban attacks against international targets in Kabul.

Most Australian forces withdrew from Afghanistan at the end of last year but about 400 personnel remain in a variety of advisory roles.