The World Today for August 16, 2021

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The Fall

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani fled the country Sunday as Taliban fighters entered Kabul, leading to the collapse of Afghanistan’s democratically elected government and the takeover of the country.

For anyone watching the country over the past few weeks, it was no surprise.

In early August, commentators and news reports such as National Public Radio elaborated on how the ultra-orthodox Islamic group’s lightning advance evoked the run-up to the group’s takeover of the capital in 1996. Some have compared it to the fall of Saigon.

Regardless, more than a dozen provincial capitals fell to the Taliban over the past week with little or no resistance from demoralized Afghan forces. By Saturday, the group had taken most of the country. And pretty easily at that.

And so it was for the capital.

Early Sunday morning, the government-held city of Jalalabad surrendered to the militants without a shot fired. Security forces in the districts ringing Kabul melted away, the Washington Post reported. Within hours, Taliban forces entered the city and took over the Presidential Palace, CNN said.

How did this happen so quickly? Some including US officials say it was inevitable the Taliban would take over but believed it would take a few months. However, as the Taliban began its advance after a May announcement by the US saying it would withdraw its troops by fall, thousands of government soldiers deserted, sometimes crossing borders into neighboring countries. At the same time, sources told the Post and other news outlets that the surrender of towns and provinces was brought about by Taliban representatives who convinced local leaders that if they gave up, there would be a peaceful transition to power and amnesty for the opposition, Vice reported. The deals often included the Taliban paying local officials or elders for the surrender.

And while a peace deal was still being hammered out between the government and the Taliban – it was initiated last year by former President Donald Trump – a European diplomatic consultant told Vice that there was likely a backdoor agreement to avoid bloodshed in Kabul.

“(Ghani’s) going to claim he was betrayed but it’s clear he was dumped by the rest of Afghanistan,” said the consultant. “The estimates that the government could hold out for 90 days before the Taliban won were probably accurate but everyone decided to try and skip that bloodshed by dumping Ghani.”

The Taliban had initially said they would not enter the city until a transitional government was formed but later reversed their decision to “prevent chaos and looting.” But those scenes were omnipresent over the weekend via photos and videos on social media as Afghans swarmed Kabul’s airport to flee the country. Banks were deluged as people tried to withdraw money before the government fell – the ATMs ran out of cash. Meanwhile, Afghans flocked to passport offices to obtain travel documents to leave.

“We have no idea what will happen from one moment to the next in this situation,” Mohammad, a worker at a non-governmental organization, told the Wall Street Journal, as fear of the new order under the Taliban’s Islamic Emirate – Afghanistan’s former official name before the US ousted the armed group in 2001 – grew. “But what can we do? There is nowhere for us to go.”

Thousands, however, have fled to displacement camps around the country, some offering very little shelter or food, with aid officials predicting a dangerous humanitarian crisis. The International Organization for Migration estimates the internally displaced at about 360,000. Neighboring countries such as Pakistan, which already host millions of Afghan refugees, are bracing for more.

Meanwhile, the US, the UK and other countries scrambled on Sunday to evacuate their diplomatic personnel – and Afghans who had worked with them and others likely to be targeted by the Taliban such as journalists and activists. Especially those who are female have reason to worry, Time noted.

For those left behind, the fear of the future is palpable because the threat is real, they say.

Civilians in areas of recent Taliban takeover have already reported the closing of girls’ schools, poor families being forced to feed Taliban fighters and the forced recruitment of young men, the Washington Post reported. At the same time, cell phones are being confiscated, people are being forced to attend the mosque and strict rules on appearance are being enforced: Women must wear burqas, men must sport beards.

Worst of all are the threats, say locals.

Mah Jan, a teacher in the northern Balkh province, told the Post how after baring one’s face for a moment from under a burqa, the Taliban sent a message warning not to do it again: “We will take you away and nobody can save you,” she recalled.

And for those who think this time around will be different under Taliban rule, she says that before, the militants watched but didn’t interfere that much. Now, she adds, “the Taliban have grown very brutal.”



No Respite

More than 1,200 people died after a 7.2 magnitude earthquake struck Haiti over the weekend, a catastrophe that comes as the poor Caribbean nation grapples with a deep political crisis and braces for Tropical Storm Grace, which is complicating search and rescue, and relief efforts, NBC News reported.

The quake occurred around five miles from the town of Petit-Trou-de-Nippes, about 90 miles west of the capital, Port-au-Prince. The tremors were felt hundreds of miles away in Cuba and Jamaica.

More than 5,700 people have been injured and many houses, government buildings and hospitals were damaged or destroyed, according to NPR.

Haitian Prime Minister Ariel Henry declared a state of emergency and asked citizens to “show a lot of solidarity.”

For many Haitians, the recent earthquake evoked memories of a similar calamity that struck the country 11 years ago: The 2010 quake killed more than 200,000 people and displaced about 1.5 million.

Meanwhile, the country is grappling with political turmoil and instability following the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse last month.

Prime Minister Henry said that he is considering holding presidential elections later this year.


Passports, Please

Canada, unlike most of the world, announced over the weekend it will require all passengers and workers on commercial flights and other forms of international travel to prove they have been vaccinated, a move aimed at curbing the spread of the coronavirus as the country opens its borders to the United States, NPR reported.

The new policy will apply to passengers and workers on planes, trains and cruise ships.

The government said the decision comes amid a “dynamic public health situation” due to the Covid-19 pandemic. It said the policy would take effect before October.

There will be exceptions to the mandatory vaccination requirement but officials didn’t elaborate.

The decision comes a week after Canada reopened its border with the United States when the government eased the travel ban for Americans who have been vaccinated for at least 14 days and provide a negative test.

Canada is the US’ second most popular travel destination after Mexico.

Meanwhile, the country has gone through two Covid-19 waves and is experiencing another rise in confirmed cases.

Currently, more than 70 percent of eligible Canadians are fully vaccinated and more than 82 percent have had their first shot, according to the Canadian Treasury Board.


Unfinished Business

Polish President Andrzej Duda approved a controversial law Saturday that would hinder Holocaust survivors or their descendants from reclaiming property confiscated during and after the Second World War, a move that has infuriated Israel and the United States, Haaretz reported.

The law mainly concerns properties seized by Poland’s postwar communist government after being appropriated by the Nazis during World War II: It says any administrative decision made more than 30 years ago cannot be challenged thereby nullifying claims by property owners seeking compensation for properties seized by the communist government, which fell more than three decades ago, according to the Associated Press.

Duda said that he signed the bill “after thorough analysis” adding that it “will put an end to an era of legal chaos,” referring to numerous cases over properties whose ownership remains in dispute after decades.

However, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett criticized the law as “a disgraceful contempt for the memory of the Holocaust.” Israel recalled its top diplomat. Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said the government will review a 2018 joint statement, which rejected blaming Poland for Nazi crimes and those by collaborators.

The statement – issued by then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki – was aimed at improving relations between the two countries after the Polish government amended a law that penalized anyone who accused Poland of complicity in Nazi crimes.


Crawling Short

Every homeowner has come across “daddy long legs” – or harvestmen – spiders, known for their very long appendages disproportionate to their bodies.

Now, scientists have created a new breed of “daddy short legs” by altering the creatures’ genes, CNET reported.

Lead researcher Guilherme Gainett and his team sequenced the genome of the Phalangium opilio, believed to be the most widespread of more than 6,000 different species of harvestmen documented worldwide.

They later used a technique known as RNA interference to turn off the genes responsible for leg development in hundreds of daddy long legs embryos. When the engineered harvestmen emerged, six of the animals’ eight legs were about half the size of their normal, non-mutant counterparts.

The team reported in a paper that the new appendages functioned as pedipalps, which are used in handling food.

“The genome of the daddy long legs holds great potential to clarify the complex history of arachnid genome evolution and body plan, as well as to reveal how daddy long legs make their unique long legs,” Gainett said.

Gainett and his colleagues said that the findings could help in the development of more sophisticated tools to understand “how genes give rise to novel features of arachnids such as spider fangs and scorpion pinchers.”

Daddy long legs are considered arachnids but they aren’t spiders. Contrary to popular urban legend, the creepy-looking creature is not venomous and doesn’t produce silk.

COVID-19 Global Update

Total Cases Worldwide: 207,207,710

Total Deaths Worldwide: 4,362,268

Total Vaccinations Worldwide: 4,585,034,074

Countries with the highest number of confirmed cases worldwide as of 4 a.m. ET*

  1. US: 36,678,865 (+0.10%)
  2. India: 32,225,513 (+0.10%)
  3. Brazil: 20,364,099 (+0.07%)
  4. Russia: 6,511,431 (+0.32%)
  5. France: 6,471,262 (+0.00%)**
  6. UK: 6,297,157 (+0.42%)
  7. Turkey: 6,078,623 (+0.31%)
  8. Argentina: 5,084,635 (+0.07%)
  9. Colombia: 4,867,761 (+0.06%)
  10. Spain: 4,693,540 (+0.00%)**

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours

**Numbers have been adjusted by affected country

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