The World Today for August 18, 2023

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Promises, Betrayed


This week, the Taliban marked two years since it returned to power following the US-led troop withdrawal.

Men and boys waved Taliban flags from armored vehicles, played Taliban songs and spoke about how “happy” they were to finally have freedom, NBC News reported. Men wished each other a “happy freedom day.”

Nowhere in the scenes of celebration were women. That was not surprising, though. Because in the past two years, females in Afghanistan have been virtually “erased,” CNN wrote.

In practice that means bans on women going to most workplaces, parks, gyms and pretty much anywhere else in public without a male relative, even in a taxi, the Associated Press reported.  That means no school beyond the sixth grade, much less university – 3.5 million females are now out of school. It means poorer health because women are denied access to male doctors and female doctors have been disappearing.

“There is no such thing as women’s freedom anymore,” Mahbouba Seraj, an Afghan women’s rights activist told CNN. “The women in Afghanistan are being slowly erased from society, from life, from everything.”

Afghan leader Hibatullah Akhundzada recently countered that his government has improved Afghan women’s lives, and that they are now provided with a “comfortable and prosperous” existence.

Over the past two years, Akhundzada has realized his vision of a country governed under his version of Sharia law. Music is banned, as are musical instruments, which have become kindling for bonfires, the BBC reported. So are ties for men and the shaving of beards. And as of Wednesday, all political parties, too, VOA reported.

The harsh punishments are back, too, for violating the rules. Stoning, public floggings and amputations are common again, as they were in the 1990s when the Taliban was first in power, according to RFL/RE. The courts that deliver these rulings are made up of loyal Taliban officials or clerics, not judges, and are often corrupt, the broadcaster noted.

Afghanistan, meanwhile, has remained isolated on the diplomatic front: The Taliban-run government is not officially recognized by any country.

Economically, the Taliban takeover has been a disaster for the country. About 80 percent of the government’s budget before 2021 came from international aid most of which has been frozen along with the country’s assets abroad for two years. The economy has all but collapsed, Bloomberg wrote, with inflation and unemployment in the mid-double-digits. About 90 percent of the country grapples with food insecurity.

In the meantime, the violence goes on. The death toll in terror attacks has dropped mainly because the perpetrators are now in power, as the Diplomat noted. But 1,095 people have died since August 2021, the majority in bombings and other attacks perpetrated by the Taliban, sometimes against former officials and military, sometimes against minority groups, according to Al Jazeera. But for the Taliban, this terrorizing of the population is necessary to flaunt its jihadi credentials to young men who might be tempted to join other militant groups.

Those groups include the Islamic State’s local affiliate, the ISIL-K, which is continuing to grow in strength and is the Taliban’s main threat. Besides other militant groups, the armed opposition to the Taliban hangs on. For example, the National Resistance Front continues to fight the Taliban in the Panjshir Valley.

There is a growing division within the Taliban, too, as CBS News noted, and Atalayar detailed, mainly from the faction that originated in Pakistan known as the Haqqani network, which controls Kabul and the east. At the same time, many Afghans are growing increasingly resentful of the harsh rules and punishments, the disastrous economic situation, the continued violence and instability and domination by the minority Pashtuns who make up less than 50 percent of the country’s population.

The Taliban is not living up to its promises in the US-brokered troop withdrawal agreement to be inclusive, the UN says, adding that it also breaking its commitment to stop harboring terrorists.

These days, members of Al-Qaeda openly serve in the government, including one terrorist on the US’ most wanted list, VOA noted. They serve in positions that include provincial governors, the deputy director of the intelligence agency and a training director in the defense ministry. In fact, that ministry is using the terror group’s training manuals.

“The link between the Taliban and both Al-Qaeda and (Pakistani terror group) Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP) remains strong and symbiotic,” a recent report by the UN Security Council detailed. “A range of terrorist groups have greater freedom of maneuver…There are indications that Al-Qaida is rebuilding operational capability…”

The report said about 20 insurgent groups are now openly operating training camps. Some are threats to China, others to Tajikistan, to Uzbekistan and also to Pakistan, which has threatened Afghanistan with a military response.

The international community, however, is doing little to counter the Taliban as it betrays its promises other than complaining about the women’s rights issue and withholding aid and diplomatic recognition, wrote David Loyn, a research fellow at Chatham House. It is not investing in any opposition movement but it should, he added.

That’s because the Taliban’s control is fragile, he added: “If it implodes, there is a danger Afghanistan would become a failed state of feuding warlords and a crucible for terrorism.”

In other words, Afghanistan could easily revert to the state that led to the 2001 US-led invasion in the first place.


The Scorched Earth


A mob attacked a number of churches and homes belonging to Pakistan’s Christian minority this week, following accusations that members of the community had desecrated Islam’s holy book, a blasphemous act in the Muslim-majority country, CNN reported.

The violence took place in the town of Jaranwala in the province of Punjab. It started after police detained two Christian men on charges of “desecrating the holy Quran and abusing the Prophet Mohammed.”

The two men were booked under Pakistan’s blasphemy laws.

But soon after their detention, an angry Muslim crowd began vandalizing the homes and places of worship of Jaranwala’s Christian community. Officials said some churches, including the town’s Catholic Church and the Pentecostal Church, were set on fire by the mob.

The riots prompted authorities to summon soldiers to restore order. So far, nearly 130 Muslim rioters have been arrested, the Associated Press added.

Government officials and religious leaders condemned the violence, calling it “sad and shameful.” Caretaker Prime Minister Anwaar-ul-Haq Kakar also slammed the riots and vowed that “stern action would be taken against those who violate law and target minorities.”

Pakistan is among the countries where blasphemy is a crime and punishable by death although authorities have yet to carry out a death sentence for such an act.

Critics and Pakistan’s religious minorities have often complained that the blasphemy laws have been used to persecute and isolate them from public life.

In 2013, more than 100 Christian homes were set on fire by Muslims in Lahore following the arrest of a young man accused of speaking against Islam’s Prophet Mohammed.

In a separate 2010 incident, a mother of five known as Asia Bibi from Punjab was sentenced to death for blasphemy after being accused of disrespecting Prophet Mohammed.

Bibi was released from death row in 2018 following a successful appeal against her conviction and death sentence.

Heal Thyself


The World Health Organization called for countries to integrate traditional and complementary medicine into their healthcare systems, prompting online backlash from medical researchers who see the practices as pseudoscience, Politico reported Thursday.

The United Nations agency made the announcement Thursday during the WHO Traditional Medicine Global Summit in India. Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that traditional medicine has made “enormous contributions to human health, and has enormous potential.”

He added that the practice was “not a thing of the past,” noting that there has been a growing demand for traditional medicinal practices to prevent and treat non-communicable diseases.

The WHO made a series of posts on the social platform X – formerly known as Twitter – highlighting how traditional medicine has been integral to some scientific advances.

But many health specialists criticized the global organization for sponsoring “pseudoscience,” including prompting homeopathy.

The WHO responded that it aims to provide evidence and scientific validation for traditional medicine to ensure its safety and effectiveness for millions who use complementary and traditional practices.

Health insurance providers typically do not regularly cover the costs of complementary and alternative medicines. A study conducted in 2020 revealed that European nations like Sweden, Denmark, and Norway provided higher reimbursement rates for these treatments compared to countries such as Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic.

The Modern Crusade


A Nicaraguan court ordered the confiscation of all assets belonging to a prestigious Jesuit-run university this week, the latest measure in a crackdown by the government against the Catholic clergy and church-affiliated institutions, Reuters reported.

The Central American University (UCA) said it had received a letter from a criminal court this week accusing it of being a “center for terrorism organized by criminal groups.”

The official document added that all of the university’s assets would be transferred to the government.

UCA denied the accusations and announced it would suspend all its classes and administrative activities without giving a restart date.

Many regional Jesuit and Catholic groups decried the court order and described the seizures as “part of a series of unjustifiable attacks” on Nicaraguans.

The 63-year-old university is one of Central America’s top private institutions of higher learning.

Observers noted that it was the alma mater of the many student leaders that participated in the 2018 protests against the government of President Daniel Ortega. More than 360 people died in those demonstrations, mostly at the hands of authorities and government-affiliated forces, according to human rights groups.

The institution had already been targeted by the government: Officials froze the university’s bank accounts and last year barred its rector from returning to Nicaragua after traveling to Mexico.

The recent seizures follow escalating tensions between the government and Nicaragua’s Catholic Church, whose leaders acted as mediators in the aftermath of the 2018 protests.


This week, the Ukrainian army successfully liberated the village of Urozhaine in the Donetsk region, advancing into Russian defenses on the southern front, Politico reported. The victory is part of the ongoing Ukrainian counteroffensive, which aims to breach heavily mined Russian defense lines. The village’s recapture will now help minimize the risk of Russian flanking attacks and allow for faster progress toward the village of Staromlynivka.

Also this week:

  • The United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights said that 9,444 Ukrainian civilians, including 545 children, have died as a result of Russia’s invasion, Radio Free Europe noted. Additionally, the office said 16,940 individuals were injured, including 1,126 children, since the invasion began in February 2022. However, it is believed that the actual number of casualties is likely significantly higher because some information needed to tally the casualties is missing from conflict-heavy regions among other issues, the UN said.
  • Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy fired all 24 regional military recruitment chiefs to combat corruption undermining draft efforts to counter the Russian invasion. Recently, the government said they found officers accepting bribes from recruits to evade conscription. Following the firings, Zelenskyy said he wants to restore public trust, address corruption, and maintain support from Western backers.
  • The Russian ruble rose two percent against the dollar to about 93 rubles per dollar following an announcement that Russia won’t implement outright capital controls, the Guardian wrote. An emergency 350-basis-point interest rate hike by the Bank of Russia had limited impact on stabilizing the rubble: It recently traded at almost 102 rubles per dollar. Financial analysts suggested further measures might be needed to bring the ruble back to the acceptable 80-90 range.
  • Two Russian citizens have been detained for distributing propaganda materials of the Wagner Group in Warsaw and Krakow, the Moscow Times reported. Polish Interior Minister Mariusz Kaminski said the detainees were charged with espionage but did not provide further details about the individuals. Stickers with the Wagner logo and slogans have been appearing in Polish cities, but it’s unclear if the arrests are directly related to the distribution of those materials. Poland has expressed concerns about potential provocations from the Wagner group from its base in Belarus and has announced plans to increase troops at the border. Meanwhile, Latvia’s State Security Service (VDD) said that the Kremlin-funded mercenary group has also initiated recruitment efforts in the country, with “direct and indirect invitations” on social media platforms, Newsweek added.
  • British firms trading with Ukrainian companies are having their bank accounts forcibly closed due to concerns about Russian sanctions and money laundering, business leaders told This is hindering efforts to support Ukraine’s war-affected economy. The British-Ukrainian Chamber of Commerce (BUCC) said it has received complaints from companies whose accounts have been closed or who have been denied accounts due to dealings in Ukraine. Despite banks’ claims of legal and regulatory obligations, this cautious approach has been harming economic ties between the two nations, the newspaper wrote.


Made in Space

The Bern Historical Museum in Switzerland is holding a 3,000-year-old arrowhead that was first discovered in the late 19th century.

While it looks like an ordinary artifact, a new analysis showed that it was crafted from a meteorite that crashed on Earth 3,500 years ago, Live Science reported.

Researchers wrote in their paper that the arrowhead was found in the Bronze Age dwelling of Mörigen, Switzerland. Upon closer examination, they found that it contained aluminum-26 isotopes – these don’t occur naturally on Earth – as well as traces of iron and nickel alloy consistent with meteorites.

Their findings also showed grind marks left over from when the meteorite was shaped into a weapon.

But what’s more interesting, say researchers, is that the meteorite was not crafted near the Mörigen dwelling.

The research team first suspected that the materials originated from the 170,000-year-old Twannberg meteorite site, less than five miles from the dwelling. However, they found that the artifact’s element concentrations weren’t a match.

Instead, these elements metals likely originated from the Kaalijarv meteorite site in Estonia, located more than 1,400 miles away.

The authors suspect that the extraterrestrial object was traded among Bronze Age societies, adding that long-distance trade networks were well-established during that period.

“These early people likely knew that when the impact happened there in (1500 BCE), the material was precious and had value to it,” said lead author Beda Hofmann.

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