The Dust of Uruzgan: A diplomat’s view of Afghanistan


The Dust of Uruzgan
By Fred Smith

Published by Allen & Unwin
RRP $32.99 in paperback • ISBN 9781760292218

This Afghanistan memoir by Fred Smith is not your normal military centric account of the recent conflict.

Smith was different. He was not a regular soldier but a diplomat employed by the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs & Trade (DFAT).

He was the first diplomat posted to southern Afghanistan and he was tasked with engaging with the local leaders and to make sense of the complex web of tribal and patronage networks that made things tick in Uruzgan province. In other words, he along with soldiers and representatives from the various countries involved in the province, had to convince the stakeholders to work together to achieve a mutually acceptable outcome.

Smith also tells his story in an easy-to-read laconic style but it is obvious that he retains great affection for the locals.

“We see Afghanistan as a ‘war’, but of course it’s a society. People there make decisions for reasons. My job was to understand these feelings”.

Besides being a diplomat, Smith is also an accomplished musician and while in Afghanistan he wrote several songs about the country and the nature of war. The collection was released as an album entitled “Dust of Uruzgan” and has been performed to much acclaim in front of audiences in both Australia and Afghanistan.

While the debate still goes on as to whether Australia’s involvement made a difference to the Afghan people, Smith is able to rattle off impressive statistics.

“By the time we left Uruzgan, we estimated there were 200 schools in the province, including 38 girls schools, 6 times more than there were in 2006”.

He lists many more in this most interesting journey by Smith.

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