The UN's mission in Afghanistan is vital for peace and stability in the region. Ensuring the respective parties find some common ground is a challenge, but essential.
The UN's mission in Afghanistan is vital for peace and stability in the region. Ensuring the respective parties find some common ground is a challenge, but essential. Najim Rahimafp

'Children were being pushed over razor wire by parents'

INGRID Hayden has worked in some of the world's most troubled places while serving with the United Nations over the past 25 years.

And when the QT sat down with her for an hour earlier this year what shone through was her commitment to the long-term well-being of the people she deals with.

Ms Hayden, the daughter of Ipswich legends Bill and Dallas Hayden, is the principal political affairs officer for the Afghanistan team based in New York.

When Bill Hayden was minister for foreign affairs his daughter was exposed to what was going on in international affairs and took an interest.

Ingrid Hayden gets some driving practice during her post in Afghanistan.
Ingrid Hayden gets some driving practice during her post in Afghanistan. Inga Williams

After studying commerce and working in that field in Australia Ms Hayden made a trip to New York and visited a friend who worked at the UN who used to work for her Dad.

She sat UN exams, got accepted and initially worked in finance before finding her niche in peace-keeping and political affairs.

It is clear Afghanistan is a country dear to her heart after first visiting in the early 1990s.

"One of my friends describes it as a place that confiscates your soul and every now and then you have to go back for your fix," Ms Hayden says.

"The people are incredible...just the dignity of people despite the terrible hardships they face.

"The landscape is absolutely captivating and the politics is like a chess game."

The UN's mission in Afghanistan is vital for peace and stability in the region. Ensuring the respective parties find some common ground is a challenge, but essential.

 

Ingrid Hayden is taking a break in from her life working for the UN and living in New York by visiting her parents Bill and Dallas Hayden at their Bryden home.
Ingrid Hayden is taking a break in from her life working for the UN and living in New York by visiting her parents Bill and Dallas Hayden at their Bryden home. Inga Williams

"Our role is to try to encourage the government to engage with the Taliban, and likewise the Taliban, because without a peace agreement Afghanistan can't succeed," Ms Hayden says.

"You are seeing elements of ISIL appear in the northern part of Afghanistan and increasing instability.

"You are also seeing over one million people internally displaced in Afghanistan and some of those are returned refugees from Pakistan as well as displacement because of fighting.

"With almost 50% of the population under 21 without employment opportunities within the country you are going to have all the elements for either movements of population or radicalisation.

"So it is very important to try and help the country develop and move forward. How much room we give to do that very much depends on the role of the international actors."

Ms Hayden has experienced some hair raising moments in Afghanistan. Danger is ever present.

Ms Hayden stays in different compounds in Kabul, one of which is on Jalalabad Rd, one of the most dangerous to negotiate in the world in terms of attacks. The US and others move by helicopter, not road, in Kabul.

While her vehicles are clearly marked as UN there have been incidents where UN vehicles have been attacked and people killed. Bombs have landed in a compound she has stayed in.

"It always crosses my mind when we are in helicopters that we are flying awfully close to the mountains and all you need is someone with an RPG (rocket propelled grenade) and they could take you out," she says.

"But you try not to think about (the dangers) otherwise you would just freeze up and be no good to anyone."

Ms Hayden has worked for the UN in Darfur during the crisis in Sudan and in Chad, where a mercenary flight once crash landed at the airport hours before she was to fly to New York.

"Even on a day-to-day basis in Chad you noted that people had become immune to the violence and I think that is disturbing," she said.

"Some of the stuff I wouldn't want to repeat."

Ms Hayden, who has worked closely with former UN secretary generals Ban Ki Moon and Kofi Annan, also experienced some scary times in East Timor in the late 1990s.

"We had the popular consultation (which led to East Timorese autonomy) and everything went haywire and we were evacuated to Darwin, which was kind of bizarre," she says.

"This was when the Australians came in to evacuate the UN and then went in with the evacuation.

"The militia went crazy and there were children being pushed over the razor wire by their parents trying to get to safety in the compound.

"Mum and dad were a little anxious. When you are in the midst of it you just need to try and stay calm and get on and do things. The worst thing is to see anyone panicking. It just doesn't help."

Bill and Dallas, who sat in on the interview, chime in and relate how brave their daughter was, but they were concerned parents too.

"When East Timor blew up we were talking to her on the phone," Dallas says.

"She said 'I have got to go' and we couldn't contact her after we heard all the gunfire."

Ms Hayden pays tribute to the role of her parents, and her father's role in securing Medicare and his accomplishments in helping solve the Cambodian crisis while in foreign affairs.

"I'm tremendously proud of my parents because it is a team effort; mum and dad," Ingrid says.

"When the head of mission of Afghanistan, a Japanese guy, found out who my father was he said 'Ah. Cambodia. Your father'."

Then, turning to her father Bill she says: "A lot of countries were extremely hostile to engaging with Kampuchea (Cambodia) when you started initiating it...and some of them went after you big time". "But dad has never been shy of a fight," she adds.

The QT asks Ingrid if she got that off her father?

"But we are a little different style aren't we dad," she says, addressing Bill.

Bill replies, addressing us all: "I'm all charm and grace...and agreeable. But I get sulky when she has more interesting things to do than me."

 

Ingrid Hayden pictured with Ban Ki-moon.
Ingrid Hayden pictured with Ban Ki-moon. Inga Williams

It is clear both father and daughter have a political sixth sense.

"You either have a natural inclination to politics or you don't," she says.

"Very early on when we were graduating from school dad and mum were keen for us to go overseas to see a bit more, and they gave us this broader world view. That I am incredibly grateful for."

St Mary's College in Ipswich also played a role.

"When I was at school at Ipswich High I was struggling," Ingrid says.

"Mum and dad made the decision to change schools and it changed my world. It was a small school and they just encouraged you. I give them a lot of credit. I have had to defend in the security council informal sessions on behalf of the organisation and we did debating at St Mary's."

Ms Hayden made the QT chuckle when she shrugged off other dangerous moments she has avoided to some extent.

"I was in Bali for the bombing," she says.

"That was bad timing. I was on a bad streak, And before that I was in New York for 9/11."

There is a story of its own no doubt there. Looking back at what she has experienced over the years Ms Hayden has no regrets. It is a rich life she is leading and one that is vital to humanity.


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