The World Today for August 16, 2022

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Terror, Redux


On Monday, the Taliban marked the first anniversary of their takeover of Afghanistan with a national holiday, small victory parades and televised speeches boasting of their “great achievements” over the past year, the Associated Press reported.

“We fulfilled the obligation of jihad and liberated our country,” Niamatullah Hekmat, a fighter who entered Kabul on Aug. 15, 2021, told France 24, adding, “Those were moments of joy.”

Around the country, however, most people were not celebrating. They were too busy scrambling to scrape together some sustenance or avoid getting in the Taliban’s crosshairs.

In the year since the Taliban promised Western leaders and their own people they would restore peace, boost the economy, eliminate corruption, offer amnesty to opponents, shut the door on terrorists and allow women to continue to study, work and travel alone, the country has hit rock bottom.

The economy and banking system have collapsed. Attacks by affiliates of Islamic State are growing, and women again are forced to remain indoors or face the vice and virtue police and end up beaten, imprisoned or forcibly disappeared, as Amnesty International reported. Meanwhile, the recent killing of an al-Qaida leader highlights how world-class terrorists can again call Afghanistan home – with the Taliban’s blessing.

“What does the record show,” asked Geraldine Byrne Nason, the Irish ambassador to the United Nations, writing in PassBlue, a magazine that covers the organization, “a year of broken promises.”

In the aftermath of the Taliban’s takeover, the international community has withheld recognition, frozen about $9 billion in Afghan assets and halted most humanitarian aid and financial support. Now, the country is experiencing a “potentially non-reversible” economic collapse, says the UN.

These days, only five percent of Afghan families have enough to eat. Nine million people face starvation, the most of any country in the world. And almost 97 percent of the country’s 40 million are estimated to be below the poverty line.

“People are already selling their children and their body parts, in order to feed their families,” said UN chief António Guterres.

Women-headed households are hit especially hard because the Taliban has made it almost impossible for them to work. In some cases, Taliban officials asked female government employees to suggest male relatives to replace them, the Guardian reported.

Others, like Fawzia Amini, a former senior judge on Afghanistan’s Supreme Court, were targeted from the start.

Soon after the takeover, the Taliban closed the Elimination of Violence Against Women Court that Amini headed, fired all its judges and froze their bank accounts, CNN reported. The new leaders also released thousands of inmates, including some she had sentenced in her courtroom for sexual assault, abuse of a minor and femicide.

Under threat, she escaped to London with her family, her law degree sewn into her dress.

About 80 female judges remain in Afghanistan, most in hiding, desperately trying to leave because of frequent threats, despite the amnesty the Taliban promised all former opponents, government officials and soldiers, many of whom are now dead.

“Now I live like a prisoner,” another judge, Samira, told CNN from Afghanistan. “(The Taliban) stole my life.”

And they are stealing her daughter’s life, too, she added.

Her young daughter is growing up with new rules that leave girls out of school after the 6th grade, force them to cover their faces in public, and ban them from traveling more than 45 miles without a male relative.

In this new world, girls as young as nine are being sold in marriage – also to members of the Taliban – and daily, women are ending their own lives in Afghanistan because of the current situation, Fawzia Koofi, the former deputy speaker of the Afghan parliament, told the UN.

That situation she describes includes devastating earthquakes, droughts and floods and a security situation that has only somewhat improved – and that’s only because those who were perpetrating most of the violence are now in power, say analysts.

Still, new violence has ignited, instigated by breakaway Taliban leaders, resistance groups and warlords, and terror groups such as Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISIS-K), a bitter enemy of the Taliban. Over the past year, they have killed hundreds in attacks in Kabul on schools, mosques and other public spaces, reported the Washington Post.

That is partly due to the intensifying competition between al-Qaida and ISIS-K following al-Qaida’s return to the country and its consolidation of power there, with help from the Taliban, USA Today reported.

That collaboration – a violation of the troop withdrawal deal between the US and the Taliban – was underscored by the US drone strike on July 30 that killed one of the world’s most wanted terrorists, al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahri, an architect of the September 11 attacks. He was living in Kabul with the full acquiescence of the Taliban.

This rivalry between al-Qaida and the ISIS-K has resulted in both terror groups looking for ways to launch high-profile attacks in order to recruit and fundraise off of them, to generate more attention and differentiate themselves, Colin Clarke, research director at the Soufan Group, a security consultancy, told USA Today.

“They want to be able to say, ‘We’re not the kind of guys that sit around and talk,’” he said. “’We can get things done.’”

What that all means for the future for most Afghans is no respite from terror, be it from ISIS-K or the Taliban, or hunger.


The General’s Generals


Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador is attempting to introduce a constitutional amendment to extend the military’s control over policing, a move that many critics called a slide toward authoritarianism, the Associated Press reported.

López Obrador proposed plans to make the quasi-military National Guard a part of the Defense Department “to give it stability over time and prevent it from being corrupted.”

Formed in 2019, the National Guard, along with the army,  has been performing policing duties in Mexico, where violence and insecurity have remained high despite years-long efforts by the military to curb crime.

The president had initially pledged the force would be under nominal civilian control and that the army would be off the streets by 2024. But his recent proposal would completely remove civilian control over the National Guard.

And because López Obrador lacks the votes in congress to alter the constitution, he is searching for legal workarounds – such as executive orders – to push for the changes.

The proposed plans mark a shift for the populist leader, who had called for removing the army from the streets before his election in 2018. Since then, he has come to heavily rely on the military for certain tasks, including the building of major infrastructure projects, halting migration and overseeing customs at seaports.

The proposal, meanwhile, drew condemnation from civil society groups and human rights advocates, who said the military has done little to curb violence and crime since the start of the 2006 drug war.

The army and the National Guard have also been accused of numerous human rights violations: Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission has received thousands of complaints alleging abuses, including excessive use of force and torture.

Ana Lorena Delgadillo of the Mexico-based Foundation For Justice warned that 15 years of experience with the military in policing roles has shown “the falseness of the paradigm that the army was going to solve the problems.”

A Ritual Silence


Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida sent a ritual offering to a controversial World War II shrine in the capital on Monday, a monument that has drawn criticism from Japan’s wartime victims, South Korea and China, the Guardian reported.

The offering was made to Tokyo’s Yasukuni shrine in remembrance of the anniversary of Japan’s defeat in World War II.

The shrine honors 2.5 million Japanese soldiers and civilians who lost their lives in wars in the 19th and 20th centuries – but also the 14 men convicted by the Allies as class-A war criminals.

The visits to the monument by high-ranking officials and conservative politicians are controversial because South Korea and China consider the shrine a symbol of Japanese militarism. The Yushukan museum, located next to the shrine, promotes the belief that Japan went to war to save Asia from Western imperialism. The museum makes no mention of Japanese wartime atrocities committed in Asia.

Choosing to avoid the risk of antagonizing both countries, Kishida sent three of his ministers in his place in recent days.

Still, China and South Korea criticized the visits, with Beijing urging the Japanese government to “profoundly reflect on its past history of aggression” and learn from it to win the trust of its Asian neighbors.

Even so, Seoul called for an end to historical tensions between Japan and South Korea, which have deteriorated in recent years over disputes stemming from the war that include forced labor and the sexual enslavement of Korean women by the Japanese army.

Meanwhile, Kishida said during a separate ceremony that Japan was determined to never again wage war, but made no mention of its wartime aggression. Former prime minister, Shinzo Abe, who was murdered last month, was the last Japanese leader to visit Yasukuni while in office, drawing rebukes from China, South Korea and even the US.

Cats Will Be Cats


Cat owners in a southwestern German town will be allowed to let their pets out for the first time on Monday, following a three-month lockdown that authorities had imposed to protect an endangered bird species, the BBC reported.

In May, local authorities ordered residents in Walldorf to keep their feline house pets indoors and only take them out if they were on a leash no more than six feet in length.

If a cat escaped, owners had to call a special hotline so that the authorities could detain the offending feline. But if the animal injured or killed one of the protected birds, the owner was liable for a fine of nearly $51,000.

The restrictions are part of an attempt to protect the local population of the crested lark, a bird species that is endangered in the southwestern state of Baden-Württemberg, and across Germany as a whole.

Officials warned there were just three breeding pairs left in Walldorf itself.

Animal rights advocates had criticized the lockdown on cats, but acknowledged the efforts to protect the birds.

It’s not clear whether the lockdown benefited the larks but authorities said that birds that hatched in the spring are now sufficiently mature and therefore less vulnerable to attack.

Even so, Walldorf’s mayor said the lockdown would be reimposed again next spring and in subsequent years during the birds’ breeding season.

Britain’s Royal Society for the Protection of Birds said millions of birds die naturally each year but there is no clear scientific evidence that cats in gardens are causing a population decline.


  • Russian President Vladimir Putin pledged to increase military cooperation with allies Monday, saying Moscow is prepared to provide them with the most cutting-edge weaponry, the Associated Press reported. Putin asserted that Russia’s exports of weapons are crucial to the creation of a “multipolar world,” the Kremlin’s phrase for its initiatives to counter what it sees as American dominance. Meanwhile, the Russian president told North Korean leader Kim Jong Un that he wants to expand ties between Moscow and Pyongyang, Al Jazeera added.
  • WNBA star Brittney Griner’s defense team filed an appeal against her conviction on drug charges in Russia, nearly two weeks after she was sentenced to nine years in jail by a Moscow court, NBC News wrote.
  • The Russian investigative news outlet iStories has released an alleged war crimes confession from a soldier stationed on the outskirts of Kyiv during the early stages of the Kremlin’s invasion of Ukraine, according to the Moscow Times. iStories’ reporters identified four Russian servicemen suspected of looting and the murder of civilians in the village of Andriivka by using photos the soldiers took on a phone stolen from a local resident.


Smooching Fossils

The spread of the herpes virus began thousands of years ago when kissing became popular among ancient humans, Live Science reported.

The Herpes simplex virus 1 – or HSV-1 – is a very common type of pathogen that mainly causes cold sores around the lips but can sometimes lead to genital herpes. The lifelong condition is mainly passed via oral-to-oral contact and those affected usually catch it during childhood or early adulthood.

There are currently around 3.7 billion people under the age of 50 who are infected, according to the World Health Organization.

To determine how the virus became so ubiquitous, scientists analyzed traces of herpes DNA from the remains of four individuals unearth in Europe.

In their study, researchers looked at the teeth roots of these individuals to dust for genetic “fingerprints” of herpes viruses. They wrote that until now, the oldest herpes genomes collected only dated to 1925. However, the current samples are much older – ranging between 350 and 1,500 years old.

Their findings showed that the HSV-1 virus likely appeared about 5,000 years ago and coincided with the Bronze Age mass migrations from the Eurasian steppes to Europe. But the virus also emerged during a period when kissing was starting to become a common practice.

The team suggests that kissing helped the HSV-1 virus outcompete other strains of herpes but said further study is necessary to establish a proper link.

“Kissing is one of those behaviors that doesn’t fossilize well,” co-author Charlotte Houldcroft told the Guardian.

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