The World Today for May 24, 2023

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Terrorist Vs. Terrorist


Since the US exited Afghanistan nearly two years ago, the leader of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, Hibatullah Akhundzada, has embraced the titles of “commander of the faithful” and “scholar of the Quran and the sayings of the Prophet Muhammad.” His word is literally law. He rules by fiat, wrote Voice of America.

Almost no one has ever seen him.

That’s because he rarely appears in public. Recently, however, he gave a speech where he promised to resist foreign influence that might contravene his harsh interpretation of Islam. “It is the success and good fortune of the Afghan nation that Allah has blessed (it) with an Islamic Sharia system,” he said in the southern city of Kandahar. “I have promised Allah that so long as I am alive, not a single law of infidelity will find a place in Afghanistan.”

Akhundzada might have at least partially realized his vision of a country governed under the strictest interpretation of Sharia law. In terms of Afghans’ security, prosperity, and liberty, he has fallen short, according to observers.

The Central Asian country’s economy, dependent on uncertain international aid, is on the verge of collapse, reported Bloomberg. The country is on the edge of famine, added the Associated Press. The legacies of war and corruption have helped exacerbate the humanitarian crisis, the Australian Broadcasting Company wrote.

Women can’t go to school, United Nations researchers determined in a recent report – though some girls attend secret schools, as the Washington Post showed. Women can’t go to work or even visit a park without being accompanied by a male family member. Women, say Afghan women, have become invisible.

Meanwhile, violence goes on. Convicted criminals sentenced to capital punishment face stoning, lashing, or live burial. Public floggings and amputations are other lawful punishments. The courts that deliver these rulings, meanwhile, are corrupt and riddled with bias.

In response to the UN report, the Taliban’s foreign ministry reminded the UN that the Emirate’s standards were different from those of the New York-based institution. “In the event of a conflict between international human rights law and Islamic law, the government is obliged to follow the Islamic law,” the ministry said in a statement to the press.

The Taliban’s draconian regime might keep some people in line – but not everyone. The Islamic State and other militants still roam the country in opposition to the Taliban, for example. Islamic State terrorists recently killed the Taliban’s governor of Balkh in northern Afghanistan, the BBC said. Taliban officials have also killed major figures in the country’s chapter of Islamic State, highlighting how seriously the Taliban are taking the threat of a jihadist rival, Asia Times explained.

Some people predicted that when the Taliban took over, violence would decrease in Afghanistan – and it has to some degree.

But it’s going to be a long time before it truly loses its momentum.


Gambling Big


Greece’s ruling conservatives and its main leftist opposition party rejected mandates to form a coalition government following the results of Sunday’s parliamentary elections – which could lead the European Union country to hold another vote next month, Reuters reported Tuesday.

The results of the elections showed the New Democracy party of Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis won nearly 41 percent of the vote. Meanwhile, the left-wing Syriza party secured just over 20 percent, a result that party leader Alexis Tsipras called a “painful” electoral defeat.

But despite being the largest party, Mitsotakis said he was against forming a coalition and pushed for a second vote in order to secure a comfortable majority for New Democracy.

On Tuesday, Tsipras also rejected a mandate to create a ruling alliance, saying many voters had turned away from Syriza’s radical, anti-establishment style that had swept it to power during the turbulent years of the Greek debt crisis.

Opposition parties also do not have enough seats to form a government without the conservative New Democracy party.

The Socialist PASOK party will still formally be given the mandate to form a coalition before the country’s president appoints a caretaker government to lead Greece to a second vote.

The new elections are tentatively scheduled for June 25 and will include a system of bonus votes: The winner of the second election will receive 20 additional seats in parliament if they get 25 percent of the vote.

The number goes to 50 seats if the winning party secures about 40 percent.

Observers noted that if Mitsotakis secured 40 percent of the vote again or even a little less, he would still gain a majority.

Slow March to Peace


Colombia’s government this week suspended a ceasefire agreement with a rebel group accused of killing Indigenous people in a recent attack, another setback for leftist President Gustavo Petro’s efforts to achieve peace with the country’s armed groups, Al Jazeera reported.

Officials announced they will resume attacks on the Estado Mayor Central (EMC) group, a splinter of the now-disbanded Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) – once Colombia’s largest rebel group.

The decision came after Indigenous groups accused EMC fighters of killing minors who were trying to escape forced recruitment in the southern province of Putumayo.

Petro decried the killings as an “assault on peace” and “an unacceptable crime against humanity.”

The incident underscores the challenges Colombia still faces in ending a decades-long conflict between the government and armed rebels.

In 2016, the government reached a historic peace deal with FARC rebels, which led the group to disband and more than 14,000 fighters to demobilize. Even so, some groups – including former FARC commanders – refused to participate in the agreement.

Petro – Colombia’s first leftist leader – has distanced himself from the heavy-handed approaches that his predecessors took toward the rebels, and has implemented an agenda of “total peace” to end nearly six decades of conflict.

The government has engaged in negotiations with various armed groups, but these talks have yielded mixed results and some of them have stalled, according to analysts.

In March, a Red Cross report found that Colombian civilians still face displacement and violence from armed groups, even though fighting between government forces and rebels has subsided.

A Gigantic Leap


Saudi biologist Rayyanah Barnawi became the first female Arab astronaut to go into space, a milestone for the desert kingdom where women were only given permission to drive in 2018, the BBC reported.

Barnawi is one of two Saudis on Axiom Space’s second private mission, which took off on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from the United States over the weekend. The complete crew consisted of fellow Saudi mission specialist Ali al-Qarni and two Americans.

Barnawi and her colleagues will spend 10 days in orbit on the International Space Station, where they will conduct more than 20 experiments, including the impact of space on human health, and rain-seeding technology.

The 34-year-old researcher said she will carry out stem cell and breast cancer research during her stay.

She called the experience of becoming the Gulf kingdom’s first female astronaut “a great pleasure and honor that I’m very happy to carry.” She also hopes to inspire other women in the Middle East.

Barnawi and al-Qarni are the first Saudis to ride in a rocket since a Saudi prince traveled on the space shuttle Discovery in 1985, Euronews noted.

Involving a Saudi woman in a space mission is the latest attempt by the oil-rich country to rebrand itself away from its ultraconservative image.


Lost and Found

Scientists recently identified the wearer of a 20,000-year-old pendant that was found in the renowned Denisova Cave in eastern Siberia, Reuters reported.

In a new study, a research team used a new method to extract DNA from the ancient artifact – a pierced elk tooth.

The technique allowed them to isolate genetic material present in skin cells or bodily fluids that can be absorbed by different types of porous materials, such as teeth or tusks.

The findings showed that the prehistoric pendant’s owner was a woman closely related to a group of hunter-gatherers who resided in a Siberian region located east of the cave site, near the foothills of Russia’s Altai Mountains.

The researchers aren’t certain if the woman made the pendant or simply wore it.

The necklace, meanwhile, is the first prehistoric artifact linked by genetic sleuthing to a specific person.

They explained that the new method could be used to extract ancient DNA from other archaic tools and personal adornments. It could also provide insights into the social roles and division of labor between genders in prehistoric times, and even help determine if an object was crafted by our own species.

Denisova Cave was once home to Denisovans, Neanderthals, and Homo sapiens. Over time, the cave has produced significant discoveries, such as the earliest known Denisovan remains and a range of tools and artifacts.

“I find these objects made in the deep past extremely fascinating since they allow us to open a small window to travel back and have a glance into these people’s lives,” said lead author Elena Essel.

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