Australia — Stephen Smith on Pakistan and the death of Osama bin Laden

Min­is­ter for Defence Stephen Smith tran­script 7.30 Report ABC
CHRIS UHLMANN: Stephen Smith wel­come.
CHRIS UHLMANN: Now Pak­istan must have known and known for years where Osama bin Laden was.
STEPHEN SMITH: Well that’s an asser­tion. I don’t know what evi­dence you have to base that on.

CHRIS UHLMANN: He was in a high secu­ri­ty com­pound 100 kilo­me­tres from the cap­i­tal eight times larg­er than any­thing around it, six metre high walls. 

STEPHEN SMITH: It does­n’t fol­low from that, that Pak­istan, or the Pak­istan state, or the Pak­istan gov­ern­ment was know­ing­ly har­bour­ing. I think the most impor­tant ele­ment of today’s events so far as Pak­istan is con­cerned is that Pres­i­dent Oba­ma has made it clear that Pak­istan assist­ed, and that when he rang Pres­i­dent Zardari to effec­tive­ly thank him, they both wel­comed the out­come. So that’s a good sign. 

CHRIS UHLMANN: But the US did­n’t tell Pak­istan ahead of this. 

STEPHEN SMITH: Well you don’t know that. 

CHRIS UHLMANN: It’s been said, it’s been stat­ed. I thought they told no-one until after the oper­a­tion had been car­ried out. 

STEPHEN SMITH: Well there’s no doubt that the mat­ter was very close­ly held. That’s the first point. It’s also clear to me from Pres­i­dent Obama’s com­ments that he was pleased with Pakistan’s assis­tance. Now what the nature, extent of that was, I’m not pre­tend­ing that we have access to that at this stage, but I regard today in terms of Pak­istan mak­ing a sig­nif­i­cant con­tri­bu­tion as a good development. 

CHRIS UHLMANN: So you trust Pakistan? 

STEPHEN SMITH: Well I trust Pak­istan to under­stand that the ter­ror­ist exis­tence on the Pak­istan Afghanistan bor­der is not just a prob­lem for Afghanistan, it’s also a prob­lem for Pak­istan. Indeed at times oth­ers have thought that per­haps it’s an exis­ten­tial threat to Pakistan. 

CHRIS UHLMANN: I guess that’s the point though — because as a Defence Min­is­ter who has troops in Afghanistan, it is absolute­ly impor­tant that you can trust Pak­istan that oper­a­tions aren’t launched from inside its ter­ri­to­ry with its intel­li­gence agen­cies know­ing that that’s going on. 

STEPHEN SMITH: Well what is absolute­ly essen­tial is that Pak­istan con­tin­ues to make progress against extrem­ism and, in recent years, we have seen Pak­istan do a sig­nif­i­cant amount, par­tic­u­lar­ly in the old fed­er­al­ly admin­is­tered ter­ri­to­ries, in the Fatah area, to seek to stare down extrem­ism and ter­ror­ism. Is there more to do? Yes. Is there a long way to go? Yes. But what we do know is essen­tial is the coop­er­a­tion of a Pak­istan state, the coop­er­a­tion of a Pak­istan gov­ern­ment is absolute­ly essen­tial to an endur­ing set­tle­ment in Afghanistan. 

CHRIS UHLMANN: What does the death of Osama bin Laden mean do you think? 

STEPHEN SMITH: Well I think two things. First­ly, it is a con­sid­er­able set­back for Al Qae­da, a con­sid­er­able set­back for inter­na­tion­al ter­ror­ism and that’s the first point. Sec­ond­ly, hav­ing made that point we can’t claim vic­to­ry. Inter­na­tion­al ter­ror­ism is a mul­ti-head­ed mon­ster and oth­er peo­ple will move to take his place. Per­haps they will not replace him in full — but nonethe­less Al Qae­da and its var­i­ous asso­ciates will con­tin­ue. We know that Al Qae­da in the Afghanistan Pak­istan bor­der is not the only ter­ror­ist threat that the inter­na­tion­al com­mu­ni­ty faces.

CHRIS UHLMANN: Osama bin Laden must have con­tem­plat­ed his death for a long time. Do you fear that there will be reprisals, and per­haps well planned reprisals?

STEPHEN SMITH: Well this is one of the dan­gers. And the Unit­ed States has made this clear with its trav­el alert, and we’ve also issued a trav­el bul­letin just indi­cat­ing to peo­ple that there is a risk of reprisals, and peo­ple need to both inter­na­tion­al­ly and domes­ti­cal­ly con­duct them­selves with the usu­al vig­i­lance. We haven’t increased our threat alert either onshore or off­shore, but, peo­ple do need to be wary. And our own trav­el bul­letin indi­cates to peo­ple they should avoid large gath­er­ings of peo­ple asso­ci­at­ed with the after­math of this event. 

CHRIS UHLMANN: Of course, what Osama bin Laden did, spawned the war in Afghanistan. We are still there a decade on. And there is no real end in sight is there.

STEPHEN SMITH: Well I was in Afghanistan last week — and I returned for the first time after a vis­it to Afghanistan with some sense of cau­tious opti­mism that we’re mak­ing progress. There’s a long way to go, but we are advanc­ing on the tran­si­tion front. It’s quite clear we’ve made up ground so far as secu­ri­ty is con­cerned. We are steel­ing our­selves for the forth­com­ing sum­mer fight­ing sea­son. But we have made progress and the tran­si­tion is being effect­ed, slow­ly but sure­ly, in Uruzgan. 

CHRIS UHLMANN: Has it been worth it? Tril­lions of dol­lars have been spent on two wars, not just one. Thou­sands of peo­ple have died on both sides. Has this been worth it? 

STEPHEN SMITH: Well star­ing down inter­na­tion­al ter­ror­ism, stop­ping Afghanistan again becom­ing a breed­ing ground for inter­na­tion­al ter­ror­ism with adverse con­se­quences for Aus­tralian fam­i­lies, whether that’s in the Unit­ed States at Sep­tem­ber 11, whether it’s in Lon­don, whether it’s in Bali, whether it’s in Jakar­ta — we see the adverse con­se­quences for Aus­tralia and the rest of the com­mu­ni­ty when we don’t take a stand against terrorism. 

CHRIS UHLMANN: Speak­ing of Jakar­ta, Abu Bakar Bashir has released a state­ment from his jail cell say­ing the jihad will con­tin­ue, then it con­tin­ues that Osama’s death does not make Al Qae­da dead. 

STEPHEN SMITH: Which is why I say, whilst we can under­stand that today is a sig­nif­i­cant set­back for Al Qae­da, it is not the end of the bat­tle. Oth­er asso­ciates will take his place in due course. 

CHRIS UHLMANN: Just very briefly Min­is­ter. Is there a dan­ger in tri­umphal­ism? Some of the images that we’ve seen out of the Unit­ed States would­n’t look out of place, some of the images that we see from oth­er cap­i­tals around the world? 

STEPHEN SMITH: I think we do have to under­stand very clear­ly that for very many peo­ple in the Unit­ed States and for some Aus­tralian fam­i­lies this will be clo­sure to a ter­ri­ble trag­ic per­son­al event where loved ones were tak­en away in the blink of an eye. They now have some clo­sure and so whilst some might describe that as tri­umphal­ism we need to under­stand the raw emo­tions that are there for a coun­try, a peo­ple, and indi­vid­ual families. 

CHRIS UHLMANN: Stephen Smith, thank you. 

STEPHEN SMITH: Thanks Chris. Thanks very much. 

Press release
Min­is­te­r­i­al Sup­port and Pub­lic Affairs,
Depart­ment of Defence,
Can­ber­ra, Australia 

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