4 March 2009
Interview - Tony Eastley, AM, ABC Radio
Subject: attack on Sri Lankan cricket team in Pakistan
TONY EASTLEY: Mr Smith, good morning. What does this tell you about security in Pakistan?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, our travel advice for Pakistan has been for Australians to reconsider their need to travel. We know that Pakistan has got very severe security issues.
I was in Pakistan a fortnight ago, spoke with President Zardari, with their Foreign Minister Qureshi, with the chief of the armed services, General Kayani, and made the point that we regard Pakistan as being a very important strategic country to us. It does have very serious security challenges and the international community has to assist and that is why Australia is one of the original members of the Friends of a Democratic Pakistan which seeks to bolster Pakistan in these very difficult times.
EASTLEY: You spoke to the Foreign Minister, Mr Qureshi last night. What did he have to tell you?
SMITH: Well, I spoke to him late last night Canberra time. I expressed my condolences for the death of the Pakistanis, some six police officers and one driver. I indicated to him that if required or if it would be of assistance, the Australian Federal Police would be able to assist so far as investigatory and forensic matters were concerned. He was very grateful for that offer of assistance.
Whether, of course, it's taken up will be entirely a matter for the Pakistanis, but we reflected upon the issues that we had discussed when I was in Pakistan. I indicated to him that Australia stood shoulder to shoulder with Pakistan in facing their very serious security and also economic challenges.
But the point of the call, in very many respects, was to satisfy myself that the Australians in the travelling party had been taken care of. Because of my recent visit, he was conscious of the presence of the Australians, and the two reserve umpires, Steve Davis and Simon Tauffel. They had already been put on a commercial plane heading off to home.
The three Australian members of the Sri Lankan touring party were about to board the Sri Lankan Government jet to take them back to Colombo, and literally as we speak we’re expecting that plane to land in Colombo. Contrary to earlier reports, none of the Australians were injured, thankfully.
EASTLEY: Stephen Smith, this is a dreadful blow to international cricket and cricket in Pakistan but does it reflect also on Pakistan's internal security in a broader sense?
SMITH: Well, we know that Pakistan has got security challenges. One of the key impressions I came away from Pakistan with was the clear impression in the minds of President Zardari and his colleagues that what is occurring in Pakistan is not just a threat or a nuisance on the Afghanistan border. It is also an existentialist threat to Pakistan itself.
Foreign Minister Qureshi also indicated that ...
EASTLEY: So is that serious? You are saying that that was the impression that you came away with?
SMITH: Absolutely, and I made that point at the time. But Foreign Minister Qureshi also indicated that they will be doing an exhaustive analysis of what has occurred. Obviously they want to track down the perpetrators and the security adviser who I also met when I was there, Mr Malik is in charge of that.
So they will be doing their exhaustive reviews to see whether there were any lapses. But irrespective of any security issues on the actual day, it is quite clear that Pakistan continues to have very serious challenges and they need the assistance of the international community in that respect.
EASTLEY: So is it fair to say you are now less confident about the stability of the country as a result of these attacks on the cricketers?
SMITH: Well my analysis or my view is the same. I do make this point: when the Australian Cricket Board and Cricket Australia decided last year, after having consulted DFAT, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, on our traveladvisory, when they decided not to travel to Pakistan for a tour, they were criticised by some on the basis that cricket was somehow immune from terrorist activity.
But what this does show is that nothing is safe from terrorist activity, if terrorists want to pursue them. And that is why we have to confront what we know both in Pakistan and Afghanistan, in that border area, is the current modern-day hotbed of international terrorism and that needs to be confronted in a military sense but also in a civilian nation building capacity sense, and also in a political dialogue sense.
EASTLEY: Does it also indicate to you that security was lax, or not strong enough in regard to the visiting Sri Lankan side?
SMITH: Well I think it's much too early to make that judgment or that call, which is one of the reasons why Foreign Minister Qureshi made it clear to me that they'll be doing an exhaustive investigation. To date, no-one has claimed responsibility, so there's no indication at this stage as to whom may be responsible, or seek to claim responsibility.
So that obviously needs to be the subject of exhausted assessment by the Pakistani authorities, and if they need Australia's or the international community's assistance in that, then I indicated to the Foreign Minister last night that the Australian Federal Police was ready to assist in that respect.
EASTLEY: And it does give you cause for concern, for global strategic concern - but also as far as personal security goes for Australians visiting Pakistan.
SMITH: Well our travel advice for Pakistan has been to reconsider your need to travel. And for some areas of Pakistan, for the border areas, for the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, the advice is do not travel.
So Australians need to think very carefully before they consider travelling to Pakistan. But when an incident like this occurs, Tony, when something like cricket, which has in some respects been regarded as previously immune, when a Sri Lankan cricket team is attacked in Pakistan, that does send reverberations. Not just through the cricketing world but through south Asia. And it reminds Australians and the international community, that the extremist terrorist threats have to be confronted.That's why we continue to be in Afghanistan. That's why we continue to be very concerned about the Afghanistan Pakistan border. That's why we continue to say that Pakistan is strategically a very important country.
These issues have to be confronted, not just by Australia, but by the international community generally.
EASTLEY: Stephen Smith, thanks for joining us this morning on AM.
SMITH: Thanks Tony.
Foreign Minister's office (02) 6277 7500