In a shocking turn of events, the Taliban have taken the vast majority of Afghanistan, including the capital Kabul, in just over a week and are now the de facto government.
Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan, fell to the Taliban on Sunday after an offensive that lasted a little over a week saw the group capture every major city and provincial capital.
Taliban leadership posed for interviews from the presidential palace, and in a later statement to Al Jazeera, spokesperson Mohammad Naeem said, “Today is a great day for the Afghan people and the mujahideen [Taliban]. They have witnessed the fruits of their efforts and their sacrifices for 20 years.”
“Thanks to God, the war is over in the country.”
Just before the Taliban arrived, Afghanistan’s former President fled and resigned to avoid “a flood of bloodshed,” and he is reported to have taken massive amounts of cash and luxury vehicles with him. For many, the move serves as an example of why some Afghans didn’t mind the Taliban over the central government due to the latter’s rampant corruption. President Ashraf Ghani first tried to land in Tajikistan but was denied. He is now in Oma with the possibility of counting onto the United States.
In the meantime, there won’t be any kind of interim government, according to the Taliban, which instead opted to become the government with little input from those governed.
While the Taliban control the vast majority of the country and are now the de facto government, there are still small pockets held by Afghan National Army troops, including one just 100 miles northwest of Kabul. It’s believed that Vice President Amrullah Saleh fled there. He announced on Twitter that he would continue the fight for the country and that he was the “legitimate caretaker President.”
How successful that fight will be is unclear, as most encounters over the last month between National Army troops and the Taliban have ended quickly with a Taliban victory.
For many Afghans, that’s a minor issue right now because they’re trying to flee the country. Thousands rushed to Kabul airport Monday morning, the last lifeline out of the country after border crossings were closed. In various videos from the scene, gunshots can be heard either from Taliban fighters taking aim at fleeing aircraft or from American forces at the airport shooting over the crowds to slow them.
People are desperately trying to get on flights, which has led to scenes of some waiting in lines or forcefully making their way onto planes. In some of the most dramatic and tragic footage, people are seen attempting to hold onto the wheels and exterior of a plane, only to fall off once it takes off.
At least seven deaths were reported at the airport, most likely from stampeding, people falling off of planes, or possibly even from gunfire by Taliban or security forces.
Currently, American forces have taken over the airport, along with air traffic control, and are directing flights to and from Kabul’s airport. Throughout Monday, evacuations were halted amid the chaos, but they have since resumed. Multiple outlets report that all 10,000 members of the U.S. embassy staff have been evacuated and that 6,000 troops in total will be deployed to secure the location. Yet, the Taliban hasn’t made any serious efforts to interfere with the evacuations.
American authorities plan to evacuate at least 5,000 people a day, including not just Americans but also Afghans who are eligible for a special visa because they worked with U.S. forces. Around 88,000 Afghans qualify for the Special Immigrant Visa, though it’s unclear how many will be able to get out or how long the U.S. will be able to maintain control at the airport. The Pentagon is preparing plans to relocate 30,000 applicants to the U.S. despite not having their paperwork done or vetted, something President Joe Biden said was against the law just a month ago before seemingly reversing course as the situation deteriorated.
What happens next in Afghanistan remains a mystery. There are fears that the Taliban will return to their strict adherence to Sharia Law as they did before being ousted in 2001. However, the group has made claims to say that they’ve softened their views.
Spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid told reporters on Monday via a press conference that women in the country “are going to be working with us, shoulder to shoulder with us, and the international community – if they have concerns – we would like to assure them that there is not going to be any discrimination against women, but of course within the frameworks that we have.”
While they may say that, there are mixed reports that say some areas under Taliban control have already returned to its more strict interpretation of Islamic law and scripture, which probits such behaviors.
Mujahid also went on to urge government officials to return to work, as they will be given a general amnesty.
For many, there was one statement that was keenly missing for over 36 hours, that of President Biden. By Monday afternoon he finally addressed the public about the situation in Afghanistan and assured the world that the decision for American troops to pull out of the country was the correct one, adding that he didn’t want to pass the problem onto the next president.
The U.S. has also moved to block billions in Afghan reserve funds, effectively cutting off the Taliban from liquid assets. The Biden administration hasn’t closed the possibility of recognizing the Taliban as the legitimate government of Afghanistan, depending on how the group acts in the coming months.
However, the Taliban will likely receive some international recognition from major powers such as Russia and China, neither of which abandoned their embassies and have continued their diplomatic missions in the nation.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (CNN) (Politico)
Israel Relaxes Abortion Restrictions in Response to U.S. Supreme Court Ruling
The reforms follow similar moves by France and Germany as leaders across the political spectrum denounce the court’s decision.
Health Minister Makes Announcement
Israel is easing access to abortion in response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s repeal of Roe v. Wade, Nitzan Horowitz, the country’s health minister and head of the small left-wing Meretz party, announced Monday.
“The U.S. Supreme Court’s move to deny a woman the right to abortion is a dark move,” he said in the announcement, “oppressing women and returning the leader of the free and liberal world a hundred years backward.”
The new rules, approved by a majority in the parliamentary committee, grant women access to abortion pills through the universal health system. Women will be able to obtain the pills at local health centers rather than only hospitals and surgical clinics.
The new policy also removes the decades-old requirement for women to physically appear before a special committee that must grant approval to terminate a pregnancy.
While women will still need to get approval, the process will become digitized, the application form will be simplified, and the requirement to meet a social worker will become optional.
The committee will only conduct hearings in the rare case it initially denies the abortion procedure.
Israel’s 1977 abortion law stipulates four criteria for termination of pregnancy: If the woman is under 18 or over 40, if the fetus is in danger, if the pregnancy is the result of rape, incest, or an “illicit union,” including extramarital affairs, and if the woman’s mental or physical health is at risk.
All of the changes will take effect over the next three months.
The World Reacts
Politicians across the political spectrum from Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson have denounced the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision since it was announced Friday.
On Saturday, French Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne expressed support for a bill proposed by parliament that would enshrine the right to an abortion in the country’s constitution.
“For all women, for human rights, we must set this gain in stone,” she wrote on Twitter. “Parliament must be able to unite overwhelmingly over this text.”
Germany scrapped a Nazi-era law prohibiting the promotion of abortion Friday, just hours before the U.S. Supreme Court ruling.
In Israel, abortion is a far less controversial issue than it is for Americans. Around 98% of people who apply for an abortion get one, according to the country’s Central Bureau of Statistics.
Part of the reason for Israel’s relatively easy access to abortion is that many residents interpret Jewish law to condone, or at least not prohibit, the procedure.
In the United States, several Jewish organizations including the American Jewish Committee, Hillel International, and the Women’s Rabbinic Network have expressed opposition to the court ruling, and some Jews have protested it as a violation of their religious freedom.
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (ABC News) (The Guardian)
Flight Deporting Refugees From U.K. to Rwanda Canceled at Last Hour
The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights said the U.K.’s asylum policy sets a “catastrophic” precedent.
Saved By The Bell
The inaugural flight in the U.K. government’s plan to deport some asylum seekers to Rwanda was canceled about an hour and a half before it was supposed to take off Tuesday evening.
A last-minute legal intervention by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) halted the flight. Tuesday’s flight originally included 37 people, but after a string of legal challenges that number dwindled to just seven.
In its ruling for one of the seven passengers, a 54-year-old Iraqi man, the court said he cannot be deported until three weeks after the delivery of the final domestic decision in his ongoing judicial review proceedings.
Another asylum seeker, a 26-year-old Albanian man, told The Guardian he was in a “very bad mental state” and did not want to go to Rwanda, a country he knows nothing about.
“I was exploited by traffickers in Albania for six months,” he said. “They trafficked me to France. I did not know which country I was being taken to.”
A final domestic effort to block the flight in the Court of Appeals failed on Monday. The High Court will make a ruling on the asylum policy next month.
Britains Divided by Controversial Policy
U.K. Home Secretary Priti Patel spoke to lawmakers after the flight was canceled, defending the asylum policy and saying preparations for the next flight will begin immediately.
“We cannot keep on spending nearly £5 million a day on accommodation including that of hotels,” she said. “We cannot accept this intolerable pressure on public services and local communities.”
“It makes us less safe as a nation because those who come here illegally do not have the regularized checks or even the regularized status, and because evil people-smuggling gangs use the proceeds of their ill-gotten gains to fund other appalling crimes that undermine the security of our country,” she continued.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Filippo Grandi, told CBC the policy sets a “catastrophic” precedent.
“We believe that this is all wrong,” he said. “This is all wrong. I mean, saving people from dangerous journeys is great, is absolutely great. But is that the right way to do it? Is that the right, is that the real motivation for this deal to happen? I don’t think so. I think it’s… I don’t know what it is.”
An Iranian asylum seeker in a British detention center who was told to prepare for deportation before being granted a late reprieve was asked by ABC whether he ever thought the U.K. would send him to Africa.
“I thought in the U.K. there were human rights,” he said. “But so far I haven’t seen any evidence.”
The Conservative government’s plan was announced in April, when it said it would resettle some asylum seekers 4,000 miles away in Rwanda, where they can seek permanent refugee status, apply to settle there on other grounds, or seek asylum in a safe third country.
The scheme was meant to deter migrants from illegally smuggling themselves into the country by boat or truck.
Migrants have long made the dangerous journey from Northern France across the English Channel, with over 28,000 entering the U.K. in boats last year, up from around 8,500 the year prior. Dozens of people have died making the trek, including 27 who drowned last November when a single boat capsized.
See what others are saying: (BBC) (The Guardian) (CNN)
Ryanair Draws Outrage, Accusations of Racism After Making South Africans Take Test in Afrikaans
Afrikaans, which is only spoken as a first language by around 13% of South Africa, has not been the country’s national language since apartheid came to an end in 1994.
Airline Won’t Explain Discrimination
Ryanair, Europe’s largest airline, has received widespread criticism and accusations of racism after it began requiring South African nationals to complete a test in Afrikaans to prove their passport isn’t fraudulent.
The airline told BBC the new policy was implemented because of “substantially increased cases of fraudulent South African passports being used to enter the U.K.”
Among other questions, the test asks passengers to name South Africa’s president, its capital city, and one national public holiday.
Ryanair has not said why it chose Afrikaans, the Dutch colonial language that many associate with white minority rule, for the test.
There are 11 official languages in South Africa, and Afrikaans ranks third for usage below Zulu and IsiXhosa. Only around 13% of South Africans speak Afrikaans as their first language.
“They’re using this in a manner that is utterly absurd,” Conrad Steenkamp, CEO of the Afrikaans Language Council, told reporters. “Afrikaans, you have roughly 20% of the population of South Africa understand Afrikaans. But the rest don’t, so you’re sitting with roughly 50 million people who do not understand Afrikaans.”
“Ryanair should be careful,” he continued. “Language is a sensitive issue. They may well end up in front of the Human Rights Commission with this.”
Ryanair’s policy only applies to South African passengers flying to the United Kingdom from within Europe, since it does not fly out of South Africa.
The British government has said in a statement that it does not require the test.
Anyone who cannot complete the test will be blocked from traveling and given a refund.
Memories of Apartheid Resurface
“The question requiring a person to name a public holiday is particularly on the nose given that SA has a whole public holiday NEXT WEEK commemorating an historic protest that started in response to language-based discrimination,” one person tweeted.
South African citizen Dinesh Joseph told the BBC that he was “seething” with anger when asked to take the test.
“It was the language of apartheid,” he said, adding that it was a trigger for him.
Officials in the country were also surprised by Ryanair’s decision.
“We are taken aback by the decision of this airline because the Department regularly communicates with all airlines to update them on how to validate South African passports, including the look and feel,” South Africa’s Department of Home Affairs said in a statement.
Any airline found to have flown a passenger with a fake passport to the U.K. faces a fine of £2,000 from authorities there. Ryanair has also not said whether it requires similar tests for any other nationalities.
Many people expressed outrage at Ryanair’s policy and some told stories of being declined service because they did not pass the test.