The World This Week

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The World This Week
The New Afghanistan

  GP Team

The World This Week #135, Vol. 3, No. 36

D. Suba Chandran

The New Afghanistan, with an Old Taliban

What happened?
On 4 September, Kabul airport became functional, and news reports mention the first domestic flight taking off. 

On 4 September, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar told Al Jazeera, "I assure the people that we strive to improve their living conditions and that the government will be responsible to everyone and will provide security because it is necessary for economic development, not just in Afghanistan but in the whole world… If we are able to provide security, we will overcome other problems, and from here the wheel of progress and advancement will begin."

On 4 September, Amrullah Saleh, former Vice-President, released a video informing that he is staying in the Panjshir valley and organizing a resistance against the Taliban. There have been contradicting reports from the Taliban and the National Resistance Front, about the capture of the Panjshir Valley by the former.

On 4 September, a group of women marched in Kabul. According to an Al Jazeera report, "dozens of women took to the streets of the capital on Saturday to demand their right to work, a role in any future government, and a seat at the table in discussions with the Taliban."

On 31 August, President Biden made a lengthy statement after completing what he considered as the "biggest airlifts in history, with more than 120,000 people evacuated to safety." And he said: "This is a new world. The terror threat has metastasized across the world, well beyond Afghanistan. We face threats from al-Shabaab in Somalia; al Qaeda affiliates in Syria and the Arabian Peninsula; and ISIS attempting to create a caliphate in Syria and Iraq, and establishing affiliates across Africa and Asia. The fundamental obligation of a President, in my opinion, is to defend and protect America — not against threats of 2001, but against the threats of 2021 and tomorrow. That is the guiding principle behind my decisions about Afghanistan. I simply do not believe that the safety and security of America is enhanced by continuing to deploy thousands of American troops and spending billions of dollars a year in Afghanistan."

On 30 August, the UN Security Council adopted a resolution on Afghanistan. According to the press release from the UNSC, the resolution was "adopted by a vote of 13 in favour with two abstentions (Russian Federation and China), the 15-member organ demanded that Afghan territory not be used to threaten or attack any country and reiterated the importance of combating terrorism in Afghanistan."

What is the background?
First the new normal in Afghanistan. While the Taliban is trying to form a government, the people are getting ready to live with the new government. With the frantic evacuation by the international community over by 31 August and the windows of escaping the Taliban over, people are getting ready to face their future with the Taliban. The primary emphasis for them is the daily economy; with the banks closed and no work, how to manage their lives and provide for the family has become an important question than the form of the Afghan government. The rest of the world is also getting ready to face the new reality in Afghanistan.

Second, the delay in the Taliban announcing the formation of a new government and the reasons behind it. The Taliban occupied Kabul and took over the Presidential Palace on16 August. Three weeks later, it is yet to announce the government. While it is easier for the Taliban to wage guerrilla warfare and run down provinces and cities until 15 August, governing Afghanistan would be a more significant challenge. The delay in announcing the government underlines the background discussion within the Taliban and with other leaders like Hamid Karzai and Abdullah Abdullah. Who would lead the Taliban government, and who all will become its public face, seem to be the focus of an internal debate. The Taliban would need to showcase a façade of an inclusive government to attract international aid. While their supporters outside the borders would have supported the Taliban war machine, helping them to run Afghanistan would need larger global assistance.

Third, the global confusion on what to do with the Taliban Afghanistan. While for the first two weeks after 16 August, the international community was busy witnessing the evacuation and the return of the Taliban, now the question is – should they recognize the new government or not. How to respond to humanitarian aid to the Afghan people and how to channel it without supporting the Taliban are two primary questions.

Fourth, the resistance against the Taliban. Though there were a few oppositions in the eastern provinces, including a group of women in Kabul marching with a set of demands, the Taliban is yet to witness a serious resistance against it. The only exception is whether the National Resistance Front in the Panjshir Valley. While the Taliban is trying to recapture the valley and crush the NRF, the latter is trying to find space and keep floating. Their first priority would be survival before any counterattack. For any meaningful resistance against the Taliban, it is a long road to Kabul.

What does it mean?
The Taliban is back in Afghanistan. Though they are yet to announce the new government, the people are adjusting to the new normal in Afghanistan. Until 31 August, those countries that were engaged in Afghanistan, including the US, were preoccupied with the evacuation. Now the exit is complete, the international community is assessing their likely interests in Afghanistan, and exploring options to deal with the Taliban. 

The UN Security Council stands divided, with Russia and China backing the Taliban; will the rest of the UNSC members leave the fate of Afghanistan to these two countries, along with Iran and Pakistan, or will they continue to invest?

Biden's recent statement is vital in the above context: "I respectfully suggest you ask yourself this question: If we had been attacked on 11 September 2001, from Yemen instead of Afghanistan, would we have ever gone to war in Afghanistan — even though the Taliban controlled Afghanistan in 2001? I believe the honest answer is "no." That's because we had no vital national interest in Afghanistan other than to prevent an attack on America's homeland and their our friends. And that's true today." Emphasis added.

Also, in the news …
By Sukanya Bali, Avishka Ashok and Juan Mary Joseph

East and Southeast Asia This Week 
China: Armed forces can "paralyse" Taiwan's defences
In its annual report to parliament on China's military, Taiwan's Defence Ministry presented a far graver view of China as a rising threat than last year, when China still lacked the capability to launch a full assault on Taiwan. This year's report said that China can launch "soft and hard electronic attacks", including blocking communications across the western part of the first island chain, the string of islands that run from the Japanese archipelago, through Taiwan and down to the Philippines. China "can launch wired and wireless attacks against the global internet, which would initially paralyse our air defences, command of the sea and counter-attack system abilities, presenting a huge threat to us," said the Ministry

China: US climate envoy Kerry visits China for emissions talks
On 2 September, the US climate envoy John Kerry held talks with China on carbon emissions and cutting support for fossil to urge efforts before the upcoming UN COP26 climate conference in November. Kerry's visit hoped to build on commitments secured during a visit in April that China will urgently work to curb climate change. However, China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi warned that the worsening relationship between the two countries could hamper future cooperation on climate issues. Kerry's visits come after the US Treasury's decision to oppose the involvement of multilateral development banks in fossil fuel projects. China, the US and Japan are the world's biggest, second- and fifth-biggest carbon emitters.

China: To set up the Beijing stock exchange for SMEs
On 2 September, China's President Xi Jinping said at the opening of the China International Fair for Trade in Services (CIFTIS), that the country would set up a stock exchange in Beijing, to serve small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). The country already has two major stock exchanges in the financial hub of Shanghai and the southern city of Shenzhen, near the border with Hong Kong. China's securities regulator said that setting up a Beijing stock exchange would help deepen financial supply-side structural reforms and improve capital market systems.

South Korea: WHO chief welcomes Seoul push for regional cooperation
On 1 September, WHO welcomed the Seoul initiative for a regional cooperation forum to tackle the public health crisis. Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus at the Korean Global Forum for Peace said: "We welcome the Northeast Asia Cooperation Initiative for Infectious Disease Control and Public health, proposed by President Moon during last year's UN General Assembly." Last year, the forum proposed cooperation among countries, such as North Korea, the US, China, Japan, and Mongolia. Pyongyang has remained unresponsive.

Japan: PM Suga withdraw from the party presidential election
On 3 September, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said he will not run for the party presidential election, later this month. He said: "A huge amount of energy would have been required to deal with the pandemic and also conduct party presidential campaign activities," he added "I felt it would have been impossible to do both, so I had to decide on one of the two." LDP Secretary-General Toshihiro Nikai said, "To be honest, I am very surprised."

Myanmar: Hong Kong pulls out from power projects; NCA no longer valid 
On 3 September, Hong Kong-listed power generation company, VPower announced it is pulling out of the two projects in Myanmar. The company will not be renewing its stakes from the nine power stations in Kyaukphyu Township, Rakhine State, and Myingyan Township in Mandalay Region. On the same day, Ethnic Karen leaders announced, the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) which was signed between the government and ethnic armed groups, 'no longer valid due to the military coup.' Former Vice Chairwoman of the Karen National Union (KNU) said: "To review the NCA, the military after its coup unfairly arrested protesters, politicians, and journalists and committed extrajudicial killings. So, we can assume that the NCA is null and void."

Myanmar: UK Slaps Sanctions on the junta's ally
On 3 September, the UK government-imposed sanctions against Myanmar tycoon U Tay Za and his businesses for providing financial support and arms to the military. The move is hinted at limiting the Myanmar junta's access to financial and economic resources. Notorious arms broker and long-time military crony U Tay Za is the founder and chairman of the Htoo Group. The UK's Foreign Office said in a statement that U Tay Za is associated with the military "through his extensive links with the former and current junta regimes and has provided support for serious human rights violations in his role in assisting the military to procure arms. "The UK would freeze all the assets held by Htoo Group and U Tay Za in the UK and ban him from entering the country. The sanctions will also prevent others from providing funds or economic resources to the tycoon and his companies.

South Asia This Week 
India: Envoy meets Taliban leader in Doha 
On 31 August, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) announced that its Ambassador to Qatar, Deepak Mittal met with the head of the Taliban's political office, Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanekzai in a move that indicates India's softened stance on the Taliban. This is the first public acknowledgment by the government of India about engagement with the Taliban. The meeting came as a request from the Taliban as they are keen to receive some "acceptability" while India remains "cautious" about its approach to the group. The discussion focused on safety, security, the early return of Indian nationals stranded in Afghanistan as well as the travel of Afghan nationals, especially minorities, who wish to visit to India. According to the statement by the MEA, the Taliban leader assured that all the issues would be "positively addressed" as well as called for India to continue its political, trade and connectivity ties with Afghanistan.

India: Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla visits the US for talks officials
On 2 September, India's Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla arrived in Washington for meetings with officials including the US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman. The Foreign Secretary's visit to the city precedes a possible month-end visit by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The Foreign Secretaries held "substantive discussions on advancing the India-US Strategic Partnership across healthcare, defence & security, trade & investment, S&T, climate change, clean energy, people to people ties, continued coordination on Afghanistan and strengthening Indo-Pacific cooperation through the Quad." tweeted the Ministry of External Affairs Spokesperson Arindam Bagchi.

India: 101 sterilisations in 8 hours on tribal women
On 4 September, the Chhattisgarh health department served notices to two doctors who allegedly conducted over a hundred tubectomy surgeries on poor tribal women in a matter of eight hours in the Surguja district of Chhattisgarh, in violation of government norms. The mass sterilisation reportedly took place at the Narmadapur community health centre between 7 pm and 3 am on 26 August.

Sri Lanka: President Rajapaksa declares economic emergency
On 1 September, Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa declared a state of emergency under the under the Public Security Ordinance on the supply of essential goods. The emergency which came into effect on the same night is aimed to prevent the hoarding of essential items, including rice and sugar. The government has also appointed a former army general as commissioner of essential services, who will have the power to seize food stocks held by traders and regulate their prices. The emergency move followed sharp price rises for sugar, rice, onions and potatoes, while long queues have formed outside stores because of shortages of milk powder, kerosene oil and cooking gas. Sri Lanka, a net importer of food and other commodities, is witnessing a surge in COVID-19 cases and deaths which has hit tourism, one of its main foreign currency earners.

Afghanistan: Taliban will 'raise voice for Kashmir Muslims'
Suhail Shaheen told the BBC that: "As Muslims, we also have a right to raise our voice for Muslims in Kashmir, India or any other country." There has been violence on the Indian-run side of India-Pakistan's Muslim-majority territory for 30 years, due to a separatist insurgency. This is the first time that the Taliban has commented on Indian-administered Kashmir. In previous interview with the CNN-News18 Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid urged Pakistan and India to sit together to resolve all issues. He added on that the Taliban "had no policy" of launching armed operations against any country. His remarks after India raised concerns about Afghanistan's Hindu and Sikh minorities under the Taliban.

Pakistan: German Foreign Minister's visit  
On 31 August, Federal Minister of Foreign Affairs of Germany Heiko Maas called on the Pakistani Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Qamar Javed Bajwa at the General Headquarters in Rawalpindi. According to the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), matters of mutual interest, the overall regional security situation including the latest developments in Afghanistan and bilateral cooperation in various fields were discussed. The army chief said that "Pakistan attaches great importance to its relations with Germany" and expressed a desire for enhanced mutually beneficial bilateral relations. The German minister had earlier met Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan where the two leaders had "fruitful exchange of views" on the Afghanistan situation and thanked Pakistan's assistance during evacuations from Kabul.

Central Asia, Middle East and Africa This Week
Nigeria: Almost 6,000 Boko Haram fighters surrender
On 2 September, the Nigerian armed forces said that close to 6,000 fighters from the Boko Haram Islamist insurgent group in northeast Nigeria have surrendered in response to the military's counter-insurgency efforts. Close to 350,000 people have died in the conflict between Boko Haram and the Nigerian army since it began 12 years ago, according to UN estimates, with the fighting spilling over to the neighbouring countries of Niger, Chad and Cameroon.

South Sudan: Hundreds of thousands affected by heavy floods 
On 24 On 31 August, the UN's humanitarian agency, OCHA said that heavy flooding has affected about 380,000 people in South Sudan, with overflowing rivers submerging homes and displacing families in the impoverished country. Close to three-quarters of the affected areas are in the two states of Unity and Jonglei, which are inaccessible by road. The OCHA has warned of heavier rains and flooding in the coming months. The devastation has also caused prices to skyrocket, with the damage to roads slowing down agricultural production and obstructing transport.

Azerbaijan: Joint military exercises with Turkey 
On 3 September, the Defence Ministry of Azerbaijan said that the Turkish and Azerbaijani commandos launched joint military exercises in accordance with an agreement on military cooperation between the two countries. The service members of the "two fraternal countries" kicked off the exercises till 12 September in Azerbaijan's capital Baku in accordance with an agreement on military cooperation between the two countries.

Azerbaijan: Foreign Ministry strongly condemns statements of Armenian officials inciting separatism in Karabakh
On 3 September, Azerbaijan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs released a statement strongly condemning the statements of the Prime Minister and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Armenia which "serve to incite separatism in the Karabakh region of Azerbaijan". In June this year, Azerbaijan's President Ilham Aliyev and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan signed the joint declaration in Azerbaijan's historic city of Shusha, also known as the pearl of Karabakh, which was liberated last year from nearly three decades of occupation by Armenian forces. 

Egypt: Trilateral summit discusses Palestinian crisis
On 1 September, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas arrived in Cairo to take part in a joint trilateral Egyptian-Palestinian-Jordanian summit. One of the aims of the summit is to unify their positions on the Palestinian issue before the upcoming annual meeting of the UN General Assembly. Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi reaffirmed Cairo's pledge to help the Palestinians restore their legitimate rights, push for the resumption of peace negotiations and consolidate the truce between the Palestinians and Israel, stressing the importance of unified efforts to achieve a political settlement. Egypt and Jordan have been in talks with regional and international parties to revive the Israeli-Palestinian talks following the international resolutions.

Europe and The Americas This Week
Kosovo: Murder of 18-year-old woman stirs anti-state protests 
On 2 September, anti-femicide protestors continued to stage protests against the police and the state after the brutal sexual assault and murder of Marigona Osmani, an 18-year-old woman. The protestors criticized the government and blamed the police for not being able to keep the violators of law in jail. The accused in the Osmani case have more than 130 cases of previous crimes such as rape, fraud, robbery, theft, extortion, etc. The murder of Osmani has created unease and angst among the Kosovans who are now questioning the lack of legislation for the safety of women despite an increase in female parliamentarians. 

Turkey: Personal Data Protection Authority fines WhatsApp for violation of privacy
On 3 September, the data protection authorities in Turkey issued a fine worth EUR 1,97,000 to the messaging platform WhatsApp for violating the privacy of its users. After months of discussion, the Personal Data Protection Authority (KVKK) claimed that the company did not specify how the user's data was being used and said: "Persons are forced to give consent to the contract as a whole, thereby trying to exclude express consent." 

The UK: Government announces plans to introduce E10 petrol to cut emissions
On 1 September, the BBC reported that the UK was making the shift to E10 petrol in an attempt to reduce carbon emissions. E10 consists of comparatively lesser carbon than other available alternatives and makes use of ethanol. The use of Ethanol to run vehicles has been used previously in Brazil. The current shift will ensure that the fuel used will consist of 10 per cent of Ethanol which is derived from plants like sugar beet and wheat. This shift in the UK will help cut on carbon emissions by 7,50,000 tonnes every year.

Italy: Military drone making company taken over by Chinese firms
On 3 September, the managers of the Italian company that makes military grade drones for the NATO reported that a Hong Kong firm and two state-owned companies from China had bought stakes in the Italian company. The Italian authorities have raised concern over the sale of stakes to the Chinese firms and claim that the takeover violate arms laws in the country. The Italian company which plans to move its production to Wuxi, China said that there were no breaches in the law and that the deal was transparent.  

Russia: Justice Ministry accuses four more media outlets to be foreign agents
On 3 September, the Russian government clamped down on four more media outlets. The authorities said: "The Justice Ministry of Russia entered the following legal entities into the register of foreign media performing the functions of a foreign agent: Altair 2021 LLC, Vega 2021 LLC, Editor-in-Chief 2021 LLC and Romashki Monolit LLC." The four outlets were established by Russian journalists who were also accused of being "foreign agents". The crackdown on journalists and media outlets is raising concern in Russia as well as Europe as the actions continue to restrict the existence of free press in the country. 

Belarus: Group of hackers attack government agencies with the aim to overthrow the regime
On 3 September, Deutshe Welle reported that the Belarusian Cyber Partisans aimed to overthrow the Belarusian regime by hacking into the government websites. The Belarusian Cyber Partisans are a group of tech experts from the country and have claimed responsibility for numerous attacks on the government websites and databases. While the group claims to hack with the intention of providing the population with essential information, they have hacked into police databases, Interior Ministry, Passport details, internal security plans, telephone numbers and other important information. The group has promised to release the gathered information gradually after thorough investigation. 

Chile: President claims disputed continental shelf near Argentina 
On 3 September, the Chilean President Sebestian Pinera claimed that the 5000 square kilometres of undersea territory near it's southern coast belongs to Chile. He said that the territory has had overlapping claims with Argentina also claiming it as it's territory. He encouraged dialogue and negotiations with each other to resolve the mutual claim to the continental shelf and the eater surrounding it. He said, "How do we have to solve this overlap? As countries that act wisely and prudently, with dialogue and accords."

About the Authors
D Suba Chandran is Professor and Dean in the School of Conflict and Security Studies at the National Institute of Advanced Studies. Sukanya Bali and Avishka Ashok are Research Associates at NIAS. Juan Mary Joseph is a research intern at NIAS.

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