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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