JAKARTA: Indonesia hosted on Thursday the first international conference to garner support for Afghan women’s education.
Afghan girls and women have been facing growing uncertainty since the Taliban took control of the country last year, with an estimated 3 million secondary school girls kept out of school for more than a year.
The International Conference on Afghan Women’s Education was held in Bali, co-organized by the governments of Indonesia and Qatar — the first such meeting to take place since the Taliban takeover, gathering representatives of 38 countries, international organizations, NGOs and academics.
Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim-majority country, has made Afghanistan one of its priority foreign aid commitments, with assistance directed mostly to support women’s empowerment and education.
“We cannot choose to remain idle, we must do something,” Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi told a press conference.
“I firmly believe investing in women means investing in a brighter future, given the opportunity women can make a critical contribution to society.”
Marsudi said that creating conducive conditions for women’s participation in Afghan society was of critical importance, and urged participants to “encourage progress to establish an inclusive government that respects women’s rights” and “guarantee education for all.”
Under its new rulers, Afghanistan has been struggling to achieve growth and stability, as foreign governments have refused to recognize the Taliban and the aid-dependent Afghan economy has been in freefall following the suspension of billions of dollars in foreign aid.
As human rights violations against women and girls mounted steadily in the last year, restriction on women’s employment, in particular, was estimated to cost Afghanistan’s gross domestic product up to $1 billion, or about 5 percent, according to UN data.
The conference was a “good stepping stone,” Qatar’s assistant foreign minister, Lolwah Rashid Al-Khater, told participants at the Bali meeting.
Indonesia and Qatar are working together on a scholarship program dedicated to Afghan people and planning to create economic opportunities through microloans. The two governments are also keen on facilitating policies that would connect the Afghan private sector to their international counterparts.
“One message for the international community: Education is a basic right for all ... and it’s important for myself and my colleagues as well — me as a Muslim woman — to confirm that this is not part of a faith; preventing women from their basic rights is not part of the faith,” Al-Khater said.
“It is our obligation as Muslim-majority countries to confront that and to say to any actors that this does not represent us, this does not represent the faith of Islam.”
At least 23 dead as dozens of wildfires torch forests in Chile
Hundreds of wildfires have hit large areas in the country's southern regions, sparked by soaring temperatures
The sparsely populated three regions hit by fire are home to many farms, plus extensive tracts of forest land
Updated 05 February 2023
SANTIAGO, Chile: Dozens of wildfires blazing though Chile caused the government to extend an emergency order to another region on Saturday, as a scorching summer heat wave complicates efforts to control fires that have claimed at least 23 lives so far.
More than 1,100 people have sought refuge in shelters while at least 979 people have been reported injured by the raging fires, according to an official briefing later on Saturday.
The latest emergency order covers the southern region of Araucania, next to the previously declared Biobio and Nuble regions, located near the middle of the South American country’s long Pacific coastline.
“Weather conditions have made it very difficult to put out (the fires) that are spreading and the emergency is getting worse,” Interior Minister Carolina Toha told reporters at a news conference in the capital Santiago.
“We need to reverse that curve,” she added, noting that on Friday 76 more fires had ignited.
Another 16 fires sparked to life on Saturday, according to officials, as local temperatures in the Southern Hemisphere summer exceeded 104 degrees Fahrenheit (40 Celsius).
The sparsely populated three regions covered by the emergency orders are home to many farms, including where grapes, apples and berries are grown for export, plus extensive tracts of forest land.
Officials told reporters on Saturday that the governments of Spain, the United States, Argentina, Ecuador, Brazil and Venezuela have offered help, including planes and firefighters.
On Friday, an emergency-support helicopter in La Araucania crashed, killing its pilot and a mechanic, according to officials.
Authorities reported that 11 of the victims, or nearly half of the casualties reported so far, died in the town of Santa Juana in Biobio, located some 310 miles (500 km) south of Santiago.
Since late last week, helicopters have dropped fire retardant over raging fires as billowing clouds of smoke obstruct roadways. Firefighters and local residents alike are struggling to contain the flames against the backdrop of a hazy orange-tinted sky.
The orders allow for the deployment of soldiers and additional resources to deal with the natural disaster.
Some 40,000 hectares (99,000 acres) have been burnt by the fires, according to official data released late on Friday, an area larger than the US city of Philadelphia.
National forestry agency CONAF reported on Saturday that 80 of 231 total wildfires are being actively battled, while 151 of them are under control.
Officials said that over 90 percent of the wildfires have been smothered before they spread beyond 12 acres (5 hectares).
But for those unlucky enough to get caught up in one of the uncontrolled wildfires, immediate evacuation was the only option.
“I left with what I had on,” said Carolina Torres, who fled from an approaching fire near the city of Puren, in the region of Araucania.
“I think everyone here did the same thing because the winds shifted and you just had to grab everything right away.”
On Friday, President Gabriel Boric cut short his summer vacation and traveled to Nuble and Biobio, pledging to make sure the affected areas receive all necessary support.
Boric also pointed to “signs” that some fires may have been started intentionally, but did not provide any additional details.
Ukraine says latest Russian assault on Bakhmut beaten back
Updated 05 February 2023
KYIV: Ukraine fought off a fresh Russian assault on the embattled eastern city of Bakhmut, its leaders said Saturday, as it endured a fresh wave of shelling in the disputed Donetsk region.
Officials meanwhile recovered the bodies of two British volunteers, killed trying to help evacuate people from the eastern warzone.
And the southern city of Odesa suffered a massive power cut affecting half a million households after an accident at a war-damaged electrical substation.
“This week, the Russian occupation forces threw all their efforts into breaking through our defense and encircling Bakhmut, and launched a powerful offensive in the Lyman sector,” said Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Malyar.
“But thanks to the resilience of our soldiers, they did not succeed.”
Ukraine’s border guard service reported that its soldiers had stopped the latest attack, killing four and wounding seven of the opposing forces.
Russia unleashed a fresh wave of bombardment across the eastern front lines Saturday morning. Ukrainian officials reported shelling in the Chernigiv, Zaporizhzhia, Dnipropetrovsk, Kharkiv Lugansk, Donetsk and Mykolaiv regions.
In his evening address, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky acknowledged that the situation was getting tougher.
Russia, he said, was “throwing more and more of its forces at breaking down our defense.”
“It is very difficult now in Bakhmut, Vugledar, Lyman and other areas,” he added, referring to the frontline cities in the east of the country.
France, Italy and the United States on Friday all promised fresh deliveries of weapons to Ukraine.
Germany’s leader said in an interview Sunday there was agreement that weapons supplied by the West would not be used to attack Russian territory.
“There is a consensus on this point,” Chancellor Olaf Scholz said in an interview with the weekly Bild am Sonntag.
Kyiv, while expressing its gratitude for the pledged weapons, is already pressing for more, including fighter jets.
2 British rescuers killed
Officials in Kyiv said Saturday that the bodies of the two Britons killed while trying to help people evacuate from the eastern warzone had been recovered in a prisoner swap.
Chris Parry, 28, and Andrew Bagshaw, 47, were undertaking voluntary work in Soledar, in the Donetsk region of Ukraine, when their vehicle was reportedly hit by a shell.
Their bodies were returned to Ukraine authorities as part of a wider exchange, in which Kyiv got 116 prisoners and Russia 63.
“We managed to return the bodies of the dead foreign volunteers,” said Zelensky’s chief of staff Andriy Yermak, naming them as the two British men.
Concern had grown about their fates after the head of the Russian mercenary group Wagner, which helped capture Soledar from Ukrainian forces, said on January 11 that one of the missing men’s bodies had been found there.
Wagner boss Yevgeny Prigozhin had also published online photographs of passports that appeared to belong to Parry and Bagshaw, which he claimed were found with the corpses.
On Friday, news emerged of the death of an American medic killed in Bakhmut when his evacuation vehicle was hit by a missile.
Global Outreach Doctors, with whom he was working, said 33-year-old Pete Reed was a former US Marine Corps rifleman who also worked as a paramedic.
The Odesa power cut hit hundreds of thousands of people.
“As of today, almost 500,000 customers have no electricity supply,” said Maksym Marchenko, of the Odesa regional administration. Energy Minister Herman Galushchenko said that came to “about a third of consumers” there.
“The situation is complex, the scale of the accident is significant,” Prime Minister Denys Shmygal said on messaging app Telegram.
Ukrenergo, the country’s energy operator, reported an accident at a substation supplying both the city and the region of Odesa.
The power network there had been gradually degraded by repeated Russian bombardment in recent months, it added: “As a result, the reliability of power supply in the region has decreased.”
More embargo on Russian products
On Sunday, Russia faces a fresh turn of the sanctions screw, with an embargo on ship deliveries of its refined oil products.
The European Union, the Group of Seven industrialized nations and Australia will cap the price of Moscow’s refined oil products.
Already in December, the EU imposed an embargo on Russian crude oil coming into the bloc by sea and — with its G7 partners — imposed a $60-per-barrel cap on Russian crude exports to other parts of the world.
The new embargo and price caps starting Sunday will target Russian refined oil products such as petrol, diesel and heating fuel arriving on ships.
The Kremlin has warned that the measures will destabilize world markets.
’Consensus’ with Zelensky that Western arms do not hit Russia: Scholz
“Again and again we are forced to repel the aggression of the collective West,” he said Thursday on the 80th anniversary of the Soviet victory at the Battle of Stalingrad
Updated 05 February 2023
BERLIN: Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky agrees that weapons supplied by the West will not be used to attack Russian territory, Germany’s leader said in an interview Sunday.
“There is a consensus on this point,” Chancellor Olaf Scholz said in an interview with the weekly Bild am Sonntag.
Ukraine’s Western allies have pledged to arm it with precision rockets and missile systems, as well as tanks, as it tries to push back Russian troops in its east.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has compared the intervention of countries such as Germany with his nation’s struggle during World War II.
“Again and again we are forced to repel the aggression of the collective West,” he said Thursday on the 80th anniversary of the Soviet victory at the Battle of Stalingrad.
But Scholz rejected the comparison.
“His words are part of a series of absurd historical comparisons that he uses to justify his attack on Ukraine,” he said.
“But nothing justifies this war.
“Together with our allies, we are supplying battle tanks to Ukraine so that it can defend itself. We have carefully weighed each delivery of weapons, in close coordination with our allies, starting with America.”
He said that such a consensus-based approach “avoids an escalation.”
China plays down Blinken’s canceled visit over balloon
The Pentagon rejected that out of hand — as well as China’s contention that the balloon was not being used for surveillance and had only limited navigational ability
Updated 05 February 2023
TAIPEI: China played down the cancellation of a visit by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken after a large Chinese balloon suspected of conducting surveillance on US military sites roiled diplomatic relations, saying that neither side had formally announced any such plan.
“In actuality, the US and China have never announced any visit, the US making any such announcement is their own business, and we respect that,” China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement on Saturday.
Blinken was due to visit Beijing on Sunday for talks aimed at reducing US-China tensions, the first such high-profile trip after the countries’ leaders met last November in Indonesia. But the US abruptly canceled the trip after the discovery of the huge balloon despite China’s claim that it was merely a weather research “airship” that had blown off course.
The Pentagon rejected that out of hand — as well as China’s contention that the balloon was not being used for surveillance and had only limited navigational ability.
• US Secretary of State Antony Blinken was due to visit Beijing on Sunday for talks aimed at reducing US-China tensions.
• The US abruptly canceled the trip after the discovery of the huge balloon despite China’s claim that it was merely a weather research ‘airship’ that had blown off course.
Uncensored reactions on the Chinese internet mirrored the official government stance that the US was hyping up the situation.
Many users made jokes about the balloon. Some said that since the US had put restrictions on the technology that China is able to buy to weaken the Chinese tech industry, they couldn’t control the balloon.
Others called it the “wandering balloon” in a pun that refers to the newly released Chinese sci-fi film called “The Wandering Earth 2.”
Still others used it as a chance to poke fun at US defenses, saying it couldn’t even defend against a balloon, and nationalist influencers leapt to use the news to mock the US. One wrote wryly: “The US, because of the balloon incident, delays Blinken’s visit to China.”
Censorship was visible on the topic — the “wandering balloon” hashtag on Weibo was no longer searchable by Saturday evening.
“The US is hyping this as a national security threat posed by China to the US. This type of military threat, in actuality, we haven’t done this. And compared with the US military threat normally aimed at us, can you say it’s just little? Their surveillance planes, their submarines, their naval ships are all coming near our borders,” Chinese military expert Chen Haoyang of the Taihe Institute said on Phoenix TV, one of the major national TV outlets.
NEW DELHI: Middle Eastern influence on Indian architecture is most famously represented by the iconic Taj Mahal, but the mausoleum is not the only fine example of the unique style that throughout centuries developed into a blend of Arab, Persian and indigenous designs.
The earliest examples of Islamic architecture to survive in the Indian subcontinent date from the late years of the 12th century, but the cultural influence of Islamic art had already been present there since the Arabs conquered the Sindh region — now in Pakistan — in 712.
As Muslims came to India, new features and architectural techniques were introduced in building design, including the use of the arch and dome, the construction of which was further refined by the Hindu craftsmen who long before had mastered the art of stonework.
The Quwwat-ul-Islam Mosque in the Qutb Minar complex in Delhi is the earliest surviving mosque in India. Its construction began in 1192, under Qutb-ud-din Aibak, a Turkic general, who later became the first ruler of the Sultanate of Delhi.
The mosque’s arched facade gives it an Islamic feel, but rich floral ornamentation is an Indian feature.
“Cultural interactions started from the Sultanate period onwards…The coming of Turks and their local interactions led to Hindu architecture influencing mosque architecture,” said Syed Ali Nadeem Rezavi, professor of history at Aligarh Muslim University and secretary of the Indian History Congress.
“Muslim rulers brought architects and engineers from Iran, the Arab world and Central Asia…but the master craftsmen and artisans were locals. The end result was the amalgamation of traditions.”
As time passed, new Muslim powers arrived in India, bringing their architectural heritage. At the same time, local sultanates emerged and flourished as well, developing their own forms. The Hindu kingdoms that retained different degrees of independence during the time of Muslim supremacy also produced important works and influenced predominant styles.
These multilevel exchanges yielded an architecture that was neither strictly Islamic nor strictly Hindu.
“There are many places in Gujarat where it is not easy to identify mosques and temples. In the northern Hindu city of Ayodhya, temples look similar to mosques because they have domes,” Rezavi told Arab News. “If you are talking about India’s history, you cannot talk in terms of Hindus and Muslims. There was no distinction between them.
They borrowed each other’s characteristic features.” But it was the Mughals who brought the Indo-Islamic style to its full bloom.
The advent of the Mughal dynasty, which ruled the subcontinent between the 16th and 19th centuries, marked the global revival of Islamic architecture with works that until today are examples of the highest quality and refinement.
Originally from Central Asia, the Mughals carried cultural elements borrowed from Arabs, Persians and Ottomans. As they settled in India, they fused them with the various provincial styles they found in their new domains.
For Anuj Srivastva, one of the most renowned Indian architects who teaches at the New Delhi School of Planning and Architecture, it is no wonder that when the British took control of the subcontinent in the 19th century, they regarded Mughal architecture as the classic Indian style.
“Indo-Saracenic architecture is an amalgamation of styles. It drew stylistic and decorative elements from native Indo-Islamic architecture,” he told Arab News.
“When the Mughals came, they carried Central Asian, Arab and Persian influences, and they created their own style and integrated it with the existing architecture in India.”
The 1570 tomb of Humayun, the son of Babur, the founder of the Mughal Empire, inaugurated the Mughal dynasty’s style. The first garden tomb on the subcontinent, it inspired other major architectural innovations, which three generations later culminated in the construction of the Taj Mahal.
One of the most significant architectural achievements of Humayun’s son, Akbar, was the great fort at Agra and the city of Fatehpur Sikri. They also brought Middle Eastern styles deeper into the Indian realm.
“Fatehpur Sikri displays distinct Persian and Arabic influence,” Rezavi said.
“Some of the temples in the Hindu city of Mathura have the same carvings as Mughal King Akbar’s capital Fatehpur Sikri. You have the same architecture, the same carvings, the same styles, big vaults. Entire temple grounds are similar to the typical features that were used in mosques.”
It was during the reign of Akbar’s grandson, Shah Jahan, when Mughal architectural creativity reached its zenith.
He built the great Red Fort complex at Delhi in 1648, where the planning of the palace was based on Islamic prototypes but the pavilions and garden design reflect a fusion of all traditions of the subcontinent at that time. The structure influenced later buildings and gardens in Rajasthan, Delhi, Agra and beyond.
The Jama Masjid was built by Shah Jahan in Delhi in 1656. Constructed in red sandstone and marble, it is one of the largest and finest mosques in India. It took a decade to complete and the work of thousands of artisans.
But the greatest masterpiece of Shah Jahan’s time is the Taj Mahal, a white-marble mausoleum he built in Agra in 1648, in memory of the emperor’s wife, Mumtaz Mahal.
Known as one of the world’s wonders and a “monument of love,” it is recognized by UNESCO as “the greatest architectural achievement in the whole range of Indo-Islamic architecture.”
For Rezavi, it is also a structure where native Indian styles reached their finest display.
“The architecture in India is an amalgamation of indigenous and Indo-Islamic traditions,” he said.
“Look at the Taj Mahal. It has both Indian and Iranian influences, but I feel that indigenous influences are more prominent.”