SYDNEY: Visiting the Malaysian city where she was born, Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong said her story showed that Australia was part of Asia, as new data showed more than half of Australians were born overseas or had an immigrant parent.
Wong visited Kota Kinabalu, the capital of Sabah state, where she lived for eight years as a child before migrating to Australia, as part of an official visit to Malaysia.
“One in two Australians are either born overseas or have parents who were born overseas so this is a very Australian experience,” she told media on her first visit to Malaysia since a Labor government won office last month. “It matters that Australia speaks to South East Asia in a way that recognises that we are part of this region and our futures are shared,” she said.
Results of a census conducted every five years and released on Tuesday showed for the first time more than half of the Australian population (51.5pc) were born overseas or had a migrant parent.
“We are a multicultural and diverse nation ... It is one of the strengths of who Australia is and we should tell that story in the region more,” she said. Wong recalled a day earlier in a speech that her grandmother, of Hakka Chinese descent, had raised her children alone in Sabah after most of the family died in World War Two.
Wong’s father won an Australian scholarship to study architecture at the University of Adelaide, which “meant he could climb out of the poverty he experienced as a child”. He married an Australian woman, and the couple returned to raise a family in Kota Kinabalu. Wong’s comments and official visit to Malaysia come two decades after a former Malaysian prime minister, Mahathir Mohamad, famously said Australia could not join an East Asian diplomatic group because “they are Europeans, they cannot be Asians”. Mahathir later predicted in a 2019 newspaper interview that migration meant Australia would in future “be more Asian than European”. In an emailed statement late on Friday, Mahathir said he was proud that a Malaysia-born Australian was the foreign minister and that all nations will be multiracial “because of ease of travel and porous borders.”
WASHINGTON: The United States and Afghanistan’s de facto rulers concluded a two-day meeting in Doha, Qatar, on Thursday, and a Taliban spokesperson said the talks focused on freeing frozen Taliban assets.
This was the first in-person talks between the two sides in more than three months and the two sides agreed to continue their talks, said a Taliban statement issued after the meeting.
The United States does not recognise the Taliban government and a US official warned earlier this week that the Doha talks should not be interpreted as diplomatic recognition of Kabul’s current rulers.
Special Representative for Afghanistan Thomas West and Taliban Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi led their respective delegations at the meeting. Muttaqi’s spokesman Abdul Qahar Balkhi wrote on Twitter after the meeting that a US Treasury Representative also attended the meeting and spoke about their discussions with “the US Justice Department and other legal experts on frozen Afghan assets”.
A State Department official told Dawn that the US delegation included Treasury Deputy General Counsel Addar Levi and USAID Deputy Assistant Secretary Maria Longi. Balkhi said a White House official also came with them.
The Afghan delegation included officials from the finance ministry and the Afghan Central Bank, Balkhi added, confirming that the talks focused on “unfreezing Afghan assets”. The US media reported earlier this week that the US and Taliban officials were working on a mechanism to allow the Afghan central bank to access the frozen funds. The US Treasury withheld about $7bn of Afghan assets after Taliban fighters captured Kabul in August 2021. Median reports suggested that the Taliban were also seeking US support for unfreezing $2b held in European banks.
In February, US President Joe Biden freed half the $7 billion, to be used to benefit the Afghan people. The rest was held for ongoing terrorism-related lawsuits in US courts against the Taliban. Most Afghans, including the Taliban and their opponents, want the United States to release the entire amount of $7bn. A State Department spokesperson confirmed to the Voice of America news service that the Biden administration was “working to help find an appropriate mechanism that can serve as a steward of the $3.5 billion that President Biden set aside”. The spokesperson added that Washington was “urgently working to address complicated questions about the use of these funds to ensure they benefit the people of Afghanistan and not the Taliban”. Balkhi said the Taliban foreign minister stressed that engagement with his government “should be cooperative and positive instead of pressure tactics to achieve progress”. Balkhi claimed that the US delegation assured them that Washington “preferred engagement and sought a stable Afghanistan”. US officials also said that Washington “did not support any armed opposition in Afghanistan” and called such actions “detrimental” to that country, Balkhi said. The Taliban claimed that Muttaqi renewed his government’s commitment for not allowing anyone to use Afghan territory to harm neighbouring and other countries.
Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday rejected British Prime Minister Boris Johnson's charge that if he were a woman he would not have invaded Ukraine. Speaking at a news conference in the early hours of Thursday during a visit to Turkmenistan, Putin pointed to former British leader Margaret Thatcher's decision to send troops into the Falklands as a rebuttal of Johnson's theory.
Johnson on Wednesday dubbed Putin's decision to launch what Moscow calls a "special military operation" against Ukraine a "perfect example of toxic masculinity" and mocked Putin's macho posturing. Hitting back, Putin told reporters: "I just want to recall the events of recent history, when Margaret Thatcher decided to launch military operations against Argentina for the Falkland Islands. So, a woman took the decision to launch military action.
"Therefore it's not an entirely accurate reference from the British Prime Minister to what is happening today." The Russian leader went on to criticise Britain's move, 40 years ago, to respond militarily to Argentina's attempt to seize the sparsely populated British-run islands in the South Atlantic. "Where are the Falkland Islands and where is Britain?" Putin asked. "Thatcher's actions were dictated by nothing less than imperial ambitions and (a desire to) confirm their imperial status." Moscow repeatedly rails against Western military interventions in the likes of the former Yugoslavia, Afghanistan and Iraq as examples of Western imperialism and hypocrisy. But during his two-decade rule Putin himself has faced multiple charges of imperialism, wanting to forcefully expand Russia's borders and influence across the former Soviet space, and has himself said he wished he could reverse the collapse of the Soviet Union. Russia's February 24 invasion of Ukraine has destroyed numerous cities, killed thousands of civilians and forced millions from their homes across Ukraine.
Pakistan has expressed alarm over India blocking Twitter accounts of Pakistani embassies in several locations.
"Deeply concerning that India has blocked flow of information to Indian Twitter by withholding access to following official accounts," the Foreign Office said on Twitter, adding that the accounts that were withheld in India are official handles run by Pakistan's missions in Iran, Turkiye, Egypt, and the United Nations.
Yesterday, it was reported in Indian news outlets that the neighbouring country had also withheld the Twitter handle of the official Radio Pakistan.
According to India Today, the move came after the Indian Ministry of Information and Broadcasting earlier blocked 16 YouTube news channels including six Pakistan-based channels, claiming they were "spreading disinformation related to India's national security, foreign relations, and public order". Earlier, Twitter had also blocked accounts of certain journalists — Indian and international — who are critical of the Modi regime. Condemning the restriction on Twitter, Pakistan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs noted on Monday night that the diminishing space for plurality of voices and access to information in India was "extremely alarming".
"Social media platforms must abide by applicable international norms," it stressed.
In a follow-up tweet, the FO urged Twitter to immediately restore access to the Pakistan missions' accounts and ensure adherence to democratic freedom of speech and expression.
Afghanistan's Taliban administration on Saturday called on international governments to roll back sanctions and lift a freeze on central bank assets following the earthquake that killed more than 1,000 people and left thousands homeless.
The 6.1-magnitude quake that struck the east of the country early on Wednesday destroyed or damaged 10,000 homes and injured about 2,000 people, straining the country's fragile health system and posing a major test for the ruling Taliban.
“The Islamic Emirate is asking the world to give the Afghans their most basic right, which is their right to life and that is through lifting the sanctions and unfreezing our assets and also giving assistance,” Abdul Qahar Balkhi, foreign affairs ministry spokesman, told Reuters in an interview.
While humanitarian aid continues to flow to Afghanistan, funds needed for longer-term development were halted when the Taliban seized control of the country in August 2021 as foreign forces withdrew.
The administration of the hard-line group is not formally recognised by international governments. Billions of US dollars in Afghan central bank reserves remain frozen overseas and sanctions hamper the banking sector as the West pushes for concessions on human rights. Western governments are particularly concerned about the rights of women and girls to work and study under Taliban rule. In March, the group stopped high schools for girls from opening.
Asked about the issue, Balkhi said Afghans' right to life-saving funds should be the priority, adding that the international community handled concerns over human rights differently depending on the country involved.
“Is this rule universal? Because the United States just passed an anti-abortion law,” Balkhi said, referring to the Supreme Court's overturning on Friday of the landmark Roe v Wade ruling that recognised a woman's right to an abortion.
“Sixteen countries in the world have taken away the rights of religious minorities, especially Muslims ... are they also facing sanctions because they are violating rights?” he asked.
White House spokesperson Karine Jean-Pierre said on Saturday the US government was working on “complicated questions about the use of these [frozen central bank] funds to ensure they benefit the people of Afghanistan and not the Taliban.” She added that the US Agency for International Development was providing assistance with humanitarian organisations.
An earthquake of magnitude 6.1 that rocked Afghanistan has killed at least 130 people in the country's east, disaster management officials said on Wednesday. The majority of confirmed deaths were in the province of Paktika, where 100 people were killed and 250 injured, said Mohammad Nassim Haqqani, the head of the Taliban administration's disaster management authority. Deaths were also reported in the eastern provinces of Nangarhar and Khost, he added, as authorities check for further casualties. According to US Geological Survey, the earthquake occurred at 1:54am (PST), about 44 km (27 miles) from the city of Khost, near the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, at a depth of 51 km. The shaking was felt over some 500km by about 119 million people in Pakistan, Afghanistan and India. In Pakistan, tremors were felt in Peshawar, Islamabad, Lahore, Kohat, Mohmand, Swat, Buner and other parts of Punjab and KP. People left their homes in panic for safer places. "It was strong," said a resident of Peshawar. There were, however, no immediate reports of damage or deaths. The disaster comes as Afghanistan has been enduring a severe economic crisis since the Taliban took over August, as US-led international forces were withdrawing after two decades of war. In response to the Taliban takeover, many governments have imposed sanctions on Afghanistan's banking sector and cut billions of dollars worth of development aid.
UNITED NATIONS: The Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) urged the international community on Monday to outlaw all willful provocations and incitement to hate and violence.
In a statement read at a high-level UN meeting on countering hate speech, the OIC also expressed grave concern on the “denigration of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH)” by officials of India’s ruling Bhartiya Janta Party. Pakistan’s UN Ambassador Munir Akram read the statement on OIC’s behalf. The OIC demanded that all “willful provocations and incitement to hate and violence must be universally outlawed.”
Ambassador Akram reminded the international community that the OIC “remains concerned about willful provocations and defamation of Islamic holy personalities and religious symbols.”
On Saturday, June 18, the OIC joined the international community in commemorating the first ever international day for countering hate speech in pursuance of a General Assembly resolution passed recently.
The resolution for observing this day was presented by the Kingdom of Morocco, and the OIC described it “as an important milestone in advancing global efforts to address and counter hate speech.”
The OIC argued that observing this day would promote inter-religious and intercultural dialogue and tolerance in countering hate speech and would underline the need to counter all kinds of discrimination and xenophobia.
In his message to the high-level meeting, UN Secretary General António Guterres said that “hate speech is in itself an attack on tolerance, inclusion, diversity and the very essence of our human rights norms and principles.”
“Hate speech,” he added, “undermines social cohesion, erodes shared values and can lay the foundation for violence, setting back the cause of peace, stability, sustainable development and the fulfillment of human rights for all”.
Ambassador Akram pointed out that “the scale and impact of hate speech is amplified today by new technologies of communication, so much so that hate speech has become one of the most frequent methods for spreading divisive rhetoric and ideologies on a global scale.”
He warned that “if left unchecked, it can erode peace and development, since it creates the conditions for conflicts, religious tensions and wide scale human right violations, and can be a precursor for crimes of atrocity.”
The statement noted that while hate speech had proliferated across the globe, “the OIC is particularly alarmed at the sharp rise in Islamophobia and anti-Muslim hatred in many parts of the world.”
Such Islamophobic acts, the OIC added, “hurt the sensitivities of over 1.5 billion Muslims and constitute a gross abuse of the right of freedom of expression. They also reinforce extremist narratives.”
The OIC group condemned “the practice of insulting Islam, Christianity, Judaism and any other religion alike,” adding that it “stands against all acts of hate and violence on the basis of religion or belief.”