April 30, 2021

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NEED TO KNOW

AFGHANISTAN

Walking Backwards

Farahnaz Forotan is an Afghan journalist who was granted an interview with Taliban leaders during peace negotiations in Doha, Qatar last year.

“The experience reinforced my sense that postwar Afghanistan, dominated by the Taliban, was bound to be a bleak place for Afghan women,” Forotan wrote in the New York Times, discussing how the Islamic militants refused to treat her like an equal because she was female. She now must live outside her country due to death threats.

Forotan’s story was an important reminder of the kind of country that the Taliban want to control in the wake of US President Joe Biden’s move toward a complete withdrawal from Afghanistan before September 11 – the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks on New York, Virginia and Pennsylvania that precipitated the American invasion in 2001.

Since then, many analysts have said the Afghan war was unwinnable, the Los Angeles Times reported. Barack Obama and Donald Trump pledged to cut troops from the conflict, too, but failed to live up to their promises due to fears over the instability that an American withdrawal would exacerbate. Biden and Afghan leaders have said the country’s armed forces can stand up to the Taliban. Many American commanders disagree, according to US News and World Report.

The fate of women after American and other NATO forces exit is especially worrisome. As Forotan’s experience illustrates, women’s rights and girls’ education are not high on the Taliban’s list of priorities.

“My first reaction was, wow, these girls are going to have real trouble with the Taliban,” former US President George W. Bush said during an interview with NBC News when he learned of Biden’s decision.” A lot of gains have been made and so I’m deeply concerned about the plight of women and girls in that country.”

The Taliban have been more tolerant of opening schools for girls than they were 20 years ago – then, girls were forbidden to go to class – because they want to broaden their popular appeal, explained the Washington Post. But the Taliban’s theocratic ideology is still deeply misogynistic and Afghan culture is still deeply patriarchal. Afghan militants murder females who dare to administer polio vaccinations to their impoverished neighbors, for example, the Guardian reported.

Professional Afghan women working in Kabul and other cities where US forces have bolstered government troops feel as if they will be dragged from their workplaces and punished or relegated to working in their homes, wrote Media Line, a US-based news agency covering the Middle East.

These women should feel as if the sky is the limit. Their country yearns for peace and the prosperity it brings. Instead, the Taliban will likely make them prisoners in their own country – again.

WANT TO KNOW

GERMANY

Climate Justice

Germany’s top court ruled Thursday that the government’s 2019 climate protection law is partly unconstitutional because it passed the buck on tough climate decisions to future generations, Politico reported.

The Constitutional Court found that the law violated future generations’ right to freedom because it “postponed high emission reduction burdens irreversibly to the period after 2030” in meeting the country’s obligations under the Paris Agreement.

The court ordered the government to create stricter emission reduction targets addressing the post-2030 period by the end of next year.

Germany set targets cutting emissions by 55 percent by 2030 and slashing them to net-zero by 2050. However, tougher goals set by the European Union are forcing the country to reduce emissions much more deeply after 2030 to reach that target.

The ruling is a victory for the Fridays for Future movement that filed the lawsuit and called on the government to speed up emission cuts. Activists said the ruling recognized “climate justice” as a fundamental right.

The ruling, however, complicates the political prospects of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservative bloc amid the rising popularity of the Green party. It also deals a blow to the ruling coalition’s climate compromise just months before September’s federal elections.

The 2019 law was heavily debated in the coalition between Merkel’s center-right Christian Democratic Union and the center-left Social Democratic Party, amid concerns that it would impose additional costs to crucial sectors like the auto industry.

The recent verdict is one of a series of similar rulings issued by EU-member courts: In 2019, the Supreme Court of the Netherlands found the government hadn’t gone far enough in reducing emissions and imposed steeper cuts.

COLOMBIA

No Water in the Stone

Tens of thousands of Colombians protested this week against the government’s proposed tax reforms, which critics say will hurt the country’s working and middle class, Al Jazeera reported Thursday.

The demonstrations occurred despite a court order to postpone the protests over concerns of an overstretched health system as the country grapples with a third wave of the coronavirus.

Protesters are rejecting right-wing President Ivan Duque’s new tax proposal aimed at boosting the economy which has been severely affected by the pandemic. The proposals will include an array of expanded taxes on citizens and business owners, as well as eliminate many tax exemptions.

Although the rallies focused on the tax reforms, demonstrators also bemoaned the country’s rising insecurity and growing inequality.

The security situation in the South American nation has degraded even though the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) rebel group ended their decades-long conflict following a peace deal in 2016.

Analysts said that many parts of Colombia remain almost lawless, prompting new armed groups to take control over drug trafficking businesses and illegal mining in areas that were once controlled by FARC.

Constant clashes between these groups have forced the displacement of thousands: Colombia’s ombudsman released a report this week showing that 27,000 people were forced from their homes between Jan.1 and March 31.

MEXICO

Looking for Friends

Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador drew fire recently for attempting to assert control over the country’s independent judiciary after his party voted to extend the term of the Supreme Court chief justice, the Washington Post reported.

Lawmakers of López Obrador’s Morena Party voted to add two more years to the four-year term of Chief Justice Arturo Zaldívar, whose term expires in 2022.

Zaldívar is thought to be sympathetic toward the president and analysts suggested that the populist leader is trying to secure an ally on the highest court through the end of his six-year term in 2024.

Opponents said the move was unconstitutional.

The move marks another instance where López Obrador has challenged institutions created as part of Mexico’s transition to a pluralistic democracy, including the national elections board and the freedom-of-information institute.

The leftist leader has also clashed in the past with judges that have blocked his signature programs: Recently, he called for the investigation of a judge who suspended a bill that favored the national electricity company over private firms.

Critics fear that the president, who came to power as a political outsider, could use his popularity to reestablish elements of the one-party system that ruled Mexico for seven decades.

DISCOVERIES

The Princess Melon

Japan’s muskmelons are not for the frugal fruitarian.

The melons are one of the most expensive fruits in the world at more than $200 each.

But recently, Malaysian farmers were able to cultivate the luxurious fruit in their tropical country after more than a decade of trial and error, Reuters reported.

Farmers at the Malaysia-based Mono Premium Melon would regularly rub the melons with a soft cloth or glove – a practice called “tama-fuki” – to enhance the fruit’s flavor. They would then play some classical music in the greenhouse, which is believed to stimulate growth.

“Every single Japanese melon that you see on our farm is almost like a piece of art,” said Seh Cheng Siang, director and co-founder of Mono.

Muskmelons are considered a luxury fruit in Japan and are admired for both their taste and look. They are found in high-end fruit stores and play an important part in Japan’s gift-giving culture, according to Business Insider.

In 2019, two melons from Hokkaido, Japan sold at an auction for more than $45,000.

Mono’s melons, however, are a tad more affordable: Each one costs just over $40.

Despite the arduous cultivation, the company grew 200 muskmelons which later sold out thanks to online sales.

“It’s pretty interesting to know that as a Malaysian, we can actually grow Japanese-grade melons in Malaysia,” said Elaine Chow, a customer.

COVID-19 Global Update

More than 180 nations worldwide have confirmed cases of the coronavirus. The following have the highest numbers worldwide as of 4 a.m. ET*:

  1. US: 32,289,255 (+0.18%)
  2. India: 18,762,976 (+2.10%)
  3. Brazil: 14,590,678 (+0.48%)
  4. France: 5,653,533 (+0.47%)
  5. Turkey: 4,788,700 (+0.79%)
  6. Russia: 4,742,142 (+0.19%)
  7. UK: 4,429,851 (+0.06%)
  8. Italy: 4,009,208 (+0.36%)
  9. Spain: 3,514,942 (+0.29%)
  10. Germany: 3,391,039 (+0.72%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours