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Thursday, 29 October 2009
Page: 7624

Senator FORSHAW (2:07 PM) —My question is to Senator Faulkner, the Minister representing the Minister for Foreign Affairs, and my question relates to the terrorist attacks that occurred overnight on women and children in Pakistan and on UN employees in Afghanistan. I ask the minister if he could indicate what the government’s response is to these terrorist attacks.

Senator FAULKNER (Minister for Defence) —The Australian government and I know all senators condemn yesterday’s shocking terrorist attack on a street market in Peshawar in Pakistan. This was a brutal attack on innocent civilians, most of them women and children. In fact, the area that was targeted was part of the street market that held toy shops and women’s jewellery and clothing stores. Reports of dead and injured and intense fires in this crowded and popular market I think are particularly disturbing, and it appears that the surrounding area was largely destroyed in the devastating car bomb attack. I would say it highlights again the ruthlessness of terrorists and the challenge that the global community faces against terrorism.

I can inform the Senate that unfortunately, according to our Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the death toll is now 103 confirmed dead, with 235 injured. We are not aware that any Australians were in the vicinity of the attack, but officials are working to finally confirm that.

The Taliban are continuing a campaign to kill innocent Pakistanis and are attempting to undermine the government of Pakistan at a time when the confrontation against this enemy has been escalating. I think the gravity of the situation in Pakistan cannot be understated. This morning the foreign minister spoke to the Pakistani High Commissioner to Australia to formally extend Australia’s and the government’s condolences, and of course I know that all senators share those sentiments. (Time expired)

Senator FORSHAW —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Thank you, Minister, and certainly I know we all do share those sentiments and the outrage at these terrible attacks. Minister, I understand that there were early morning attacks on UN staff staying in accommodation in Kabul in Afghanistan, and I would ask you to comment on the government’s response to that attack particularly but also on the ramifications that this may have for the conduct of the upcoming run-off election in Afghanistan.

Senator FAULKNER (Minister for Defence) —I thank Senator Forshaw for that supplementary question. Yes, there was an attack on UN staff in Kabul yesterday in which at least five United Nations staff were murdered by heavily armed gunmen. Afghan civilians and security forces were also killed and injured in the attack, which was on a guesthouse which is popular with foreign workers. Around the same time, a rocket attack occurred on the Serena Hotel in a day of what can only be described as violence I think designed to undermine the upcoming election. We join with many others, including UN Secretary-General Ban, in condemning the attack and again send condolences to families of the victims. The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan and of course our own troops are deployed— (Time expired)

Senator FORSHAW —Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. I thank the minister and I ask the minister, particularly in relation to the attack discussed in the answer to that supplementary, to comment on the resolve of the UN in Afghanistan in regard to ensuring that this attack does not prevent or have an impact on the election.

Senator FAULKNER (Minister for Defence) —I was saying that UNAMA and our own troops are deployed to Afghanistan as a part of a UN mandated NATO led mission, and the UN of course has a very critical role in the up and coming run-off election. On 7 November Afghan institutions, including those backed by the UN, will again be called upon to ensure that constitutional and legal processes are followed in the second round of voting. The Taliban have let it be known that they will use violence and intimidation to disrupt the outcome, and I would say that this attack on the UN staff is just one act of violence to try and do just that. I am sure that many of the Afghan people will defy these threats to vote for a properly constituted government, but we remain committed to security and stability in Afghanistan. (Time expired)