‘There is no real typical day’ says Australia’s Ambassador to Afghanistan, Richard Feakes, of his time in Kabul (2016–2017). Whether responding to a major security incident, or travelling to one of Afghanistan’s provinces to meet with local officials, or undertaking a visit to one of Australia’s development assistance projects, the job of Ambassador can be a varied one. Despite the obvious security challenges involved in working in a city like Kabul, Richard says it is important to get out of the office every day. ‘The best way to understand the complexity of Afghanistan is to speak to as many people as possible’, he says.
The son of a diplomat, Richard was ‘introduced to diplomacy at a young age’. He lived with his family in France, Cambodia, Malaysia and India, so foreign affairs and diplomacy were always on his radar. ‘I was always interested in doing that sort of work, in visiting other countries, in learning about other cultures’, he says.
I think Australia and Australians take seriously our responsibility to support a country like Afghanistan—and many other countries as well—for security, and to build stability and to provide livelihoods.
Richard is passionate about keeping Australians safe. ‘I think Australia and Australians, we take seriously our responsibility to support a country like Afghanistan––and many other countries as well––for security, and to build stability and provide livelihoods’, he says. ‘What happens in a place like Afghanistan can have direct implications for Australians at home and elsewhere.’ On a smaller scale, embassy staff are also concerned with keeping Australians safe in Afghanistan. ‘From time to time, Australians need our assistance overseas for consular support’, he says.
Richard recalls the best day he had in Afghanistan, travelling for the first time to Tarin Kot in Uruzgan Province. ‘It was a day that was…filled for me with some emotion, thinking about the sacrifice and commitment and bravery of Australian Defence Force personnel. So that was at once a very good day, but at the same time, a rather emotional and poignant day’, he says.
He also remembers clearly his worst day on the job in May 2017, when there was a large explosion close to the Australian Embassy in Kabul. ‘That was a bad day’, he remarks, reflecting on the many Afghans killed and the impact on the Australian Embassy and staff.
Having been away from his wife, Kate, and nine year old son, Alexander, for eight weeks at a time, Richard recognises the impact on his family and the families of all Australians working in Afghanistan. But he’s proud of Australia’s work in one of the poorest countries in the world––whether it be providing educational opportunities for Afghan children, bringing better livelihoods to Afghan farmers, helping Australians in need, or supporting security and stability in the fight against terrorism in Afghanistan.