The World Today for August 23, 2021

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The Winners of Nothing

A week ago, the Taliban toppled the Afghan government and took over the country. Thousands have fled and many thousands more are trying to. Most of the international community is holding back diplomatic recognition. The US has frozen billions in Afghan assets desperately needed to prevent financial collapse, while donors including Germany and the IMF halt aid. Protests and armed resistance are growing.

By most measures, the Taliban may have won the battles but it has yet to win the war.

Over the past week, protests broke out in cities across Afghanistan, the New York Times reported. At least three people died in Jalalabad, Asadabad, Khost and elsewhere as the Taliban shot into crowds. Hundreds of women, some armed, also have taken to the streets in protests, demanding to keep their freedoms and rights.

And over the weekend, the Taliban lost control of three northern provinces after armed Afghans drove them out, the Washington Post reported. As Sediqullah Shuja, a former Afghan soldier who fought the Taliban told the Post. “As long as we are alive, we do not accept the Taliban’s rule.”

Analysts say that the Taliban is militarily far more superior than it was during its prior rule, from 1996-2001. Even so, some believe the anti-Taliban factions are also better trained now – many are US-trained former military or special forces – and have a better arsenal. They say they have been preparing for this day for years.

For example, one anti-Taliban force in another part of the north is the National Resistance Front of Afghanistan, led by Ahmad Massoud, the son of the legendary Afghan mujahideen leader, Ahmad Shah Massoud – he fought the Taliban before being assassinated in 2001. This group operates from the Panjshir valley, which the Taliban hasn’t captured yet. The younger Massoud is asking for Western help to oust the Taliban.

Still, other former mujahideen leaders such as Gulbuddin Hekmatyar who also fought the Taliban are not resisting. Former reconciliation council leader Abdullah Abdullah and former President Hamid Karzai, meanwhile, want to work with the Taliban because they believe the group will create an inclusive government, the Guardian reported.

Some say that type of cooperation is contingent on the group doing as it says. The Atlantic and other outlets, meanwhile, recalled how the Taliban made the same promises 25 years ago – to offer amnesty to opponents, for example – and how they broke them.

After their takeover, the Taliban pledged to refrain from bloodshed, offer amnesty to opponents and respect women’s rights. But a week later, even as they protected a Shiite group’s religious festival – once unthinkable – they have shot at protestors, blown up a statue of Shiite militia leader, and beaten women and children trying to get to the airport. This week, the militants killed a family member of a local reporter that works for Deutsche Welle, while targeting other journalists, the German state broadcaster reported.

And the Taliban has gone door-to-door searching for people on their black list, a report prepared for the UN said and locals confirmed. There are reports of executions of soldiers and government officials outside of Kabul, where it’s harder to document them.

It’s this treatment that armed opposition groups say is fueling the resistance. “Taliban fighters did not listen to us,” said Shuja, referring to the deal local leaders made with the Taliban to stay out of the villages in exchange for support. “They came to our houses and harassed people. In our villages, people are very traditional and Muslim. There is no reason for the Taliban to come and teach us about Islam.”



Children Welcome

China will allow couples to have a third child, the government announced, an attempt to defuse a demographic timebomb that threatens its prosperity and global influence, NBC News reported over the weekend.

On Friday, the ceremonial legislature formally amended the Population and Family Planning Law.

The change in the law – which was initially decided this spring at a Communist Party Politburo meeting – is part of a decades-long effort by the ruling Communist Party to dictate the size of families. In the 1980s, China began limiting couples to one child – which resulted in forced abortions as well as the killing of female fetuses and a resulting imbalance in the sex ratio. Still, China credited its one-child policy for preventing 400 million additional births in the world’s most populous country, thus saving resources and driving economic growth.

Then six years ago, the one-child policy was amended to two children as the birthrate plummeted. China fears it will age before it becomes wealthy, the news outlet wrote.

The number of Chinese over 60 made up 18.7 percent of the country’s total population in 2020, 5.44 percent higher than in 2010. Meanwhile, the working-age population fell to 63.3 percent from 70.1 percent a decade ago. And China’s census in May showed the nation’s total fertility rate dropped from 1.7 in 2018 to 1.3 in 2020, below the 1.5 mark that usually warns of a population decline, the South China Morning Post, reported.

Meanwhile, the National People’s Congress also called for additional parental leave and childcare resources as well as addressing discrimination against pregnant women and mothers in the workplace. The government, meanwhile, is also considering new measures in finance, taxation, schooling, housing and employment “to ease the burden on families,” the amendment said.


Giant Among Giants

Iconic American-born singer Josephine Baker, who fought with the French resistance, will be reinterred at the Pantheon in Paris, making her the first Black woman – and the fifth female – to be bestowed with France’s highest honor, the Associated Press reported Sunday.

French President Emmanuel Macron will hold a ceremony on Nov. 30 at the monument, which houses the remains of 76 French luminaries including scientist Marie Curie, philosopher Voltaire and writer Victor Hugo.

Born in St. Louis, Baker became a megastar in the 1930s, especially in France, where she moved in 1925 to escape racism and segregation at home. She became a French citizen after her marriage to industrialist Jean Lion in 1937.

During World War II, she joined the French Resistance, where she gathered information from Nazi officials at social events and passed it to the Allies.

After Baker died in 1975, she was buried in Monaco in a French military uniform along with the medals she received for her contribution to the war effort.

Baker will be the first entertainer honored by the French government with interment at the Pantheon.


Musical Chairs

Malaysia’s longest-governing political party reclaimed the control over the country it lost in a shock 2018 election defeat after the king named its candidate, Ismail Sabri Yaakob, as the country’s new leader over the weekend, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Ismail, who was deputy prime minister in the prior government, was sworn in on Saturday.

Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin resigned last week after less than 18 months in office. His administration collapsed as infighting within his governing coalition cost him majority support.

Ismail’s appointment essentially restores Muhyiddin’s alliance even as it returns the country to the rule of the United Malays National Organization: The party had governed Malaysia since independence from Britain in 1957 but was ousted over a multi-billion dollar financial scandal, the Associated Press reported.

King Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah, whose role is mostly ceremonial, is charged with appointing the prime minister. He urged the country’s leaders to stop playing politics and unite to tackle the country’s worsening pandemic.

Meanwhile, Malaysians launched an online petition to protest Ismail’s appointment, collecting more than 340,000 signatures. Many believe the choice of Ismail will fail to solve the country’s problems.

Malaysia has one of the world’s highest infection rates of Covid-19 and deaths per capita. Daily new infections have more than doubled since June to hit a record of 23,564 on Friday, bringing the country’s total to more than 1.5 million cases. Deaths have topped 13,000.


Bee Rustlers

The decline of bee populations around the globe is already alarming but the ill-fated pollinators are facing another issue: Bee thieves.

Beekeeper Chris Kelly was recently a victim of bee-napping: He told the police that thieves stole some of his prized Long Island Stock bees in a case that has puzzled authorities and worried the beekeeping community, according to the Washington Post.

Kelly, the owner of Promised Land Apiaries on Long Island, said that “bee rustlers” took the special breed of insects he had hand-raised and replaced them with other bees. He added that the mysterious criminals had also burglarized two other properties where he has hives.

The bee heist is unprecedented for the police but Kelly and the apiarist community are all too familiar with bee rustling – also known as honeybee theft.

They explained that bees are part of a lucrative industry and that there is a worldwide black market of stolen bees stretching from New Zealand to the United Kingdom.

The perpetrators are generally beekeepers themselves – many of whom are believed to be washed-up beekeepers trying to save their businesses.

However, Kelly suspects that he was targeted because his special bees were bred to withstand Long Island’s volatile climate. He has now employed a private investigator to check his phone and vehicle for tracking devices.

“There’s one level of hurt because you stole my babies, okay,” he said. “But there’s another level of hurt because you’re part of a community that normally is the most beautiful, ethical type of individuals you’re ever going to meet.”

COVID-19 Global Update

Total Cases Worldwide: 211,844,766

Total Deaths Worldwide: 4,431,554

Total Vaccinations Worldwide: 4,924,823,126

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

  1. US: 37,709,970 (+0.10%)
  2. India: 32,449,306 (+0.08%)
  3. Brazil: 20,570,891 (+0.07%)
  4. France: 6,700,252 (+0.26%)
  5. Russia: 6,653,498 (+0.30%)
  6. UK: 6,523,563 (+0.49%)
  7. Turkey: 6,215,633 (+0.30%)
  8. Argentina: 5,133,831 (+0.06%)
  9. Colombia: 4,889,537 (+0.05%)
  10. Spain: 4,770,453 (+0.00%)**

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours

**Numbers have been adjusted by affected country

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