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Afghanistan Has Fallen to the Taliban. Here’s What You Need To Know

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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.


Lightning Offensive

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.

Airport Chaos

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.

The Future

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.

American Response

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)

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China Cautiously Crawls Out of Zero COVID Policy

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Estimates put the number of people who will die if China fully reopens between 1.3 and 2 million, but higher vaccination rates could limit the death toll.


People Go Back to Bars

The Chinese government has begun to ease some of its notoriously strict pandemic lockdown measures, signaling that the end of the “zero-COVID” policy may be on the horizon.

On Monday, commuters in Beijing and at least 16 other cities were allowed to board buses and subways without a virus test in the previous 48 hours for the first time in months.

In Shanghai, visitors to most sites will require a negative test within the last week, rather than the last two days, though schools, hospitals, and bars will require one within the past 48 hours.

Dining in restaurants in some parts of Beijing is still prohibited, but bars and restaurants in many areas of the country are reopening.

In Urumqi, where anti-lockdown protests erupted late last month after an apartment fire killed 10 people, authorities said in a statement Monday that malls, markets, and other venues will reopen.

Zhengzhou, the central city home to the world’s largest iPhone plant which was last month rocked by violent unrest, will no longer require COVID test results for public transport, taxis, and visits to “public areas”, authorities said in a Sunday statement.

Beijing authorities had required registration to purchase fever, cough, and soar throat medicine, which they believed people were using to hide their coronavirus infections, but that mandate has been lifted. Certain districts in the capital also announced that some residents may self-isolate inside their homes rather than being forced to quarantine in a centralized facility.

Is China Ready to Reopen?

Vice Premier Sun Chunlan, who oversees COVID efforts, said last week that the country’s health system had withstood the test of the virus and that the omicron subvariant is less deadly than previous strains.

But there has not been a significant drop in cases recently to prompt the easing of restrictions. On Monday, the government reported 30,014 new cases, down from last week’s peak of over 40,000 but still near record highs for China.

Some observers speculate that the government’s move was related to the recent protests, in which thousands of people poured onto the streets of several major cities to demand freedom and an end to the zero-COVID policy. Authorities cracked down on demonstrators, and any mention of the protests was rigorously censored on Chinese social media.

There was no sign of any significant unrest this weekend.

Although many people are excited to enjoy less restricted lives and restart a shuddered economy, others are concerned about the public health consequences reopening society could incur. Estimates put the number of people who will die from the coronavirus if China fully reopens between 1.3 and 2 million, but higher vaccination rates could limit the death toll.

Last week, the government launched a campaign to vaccinate the elderly population.

Only about 40% of people over the age of 80 have gotten their booster shot, according to official statistics.

Health experts and economists say vaccination rates and ICU preparedness won’t be sufficient to fully end the zero-COVID policy until mid-2023 or 2024.

See what others are saying: (BBC) (Associated Press) (Reuters)

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India Pedestrian Bridge Collapsed 4 Days After Renovations, Killing Over 100 People

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The company responsible for the upkeep of the Morbi bridge did not obtain a safety certificate before re-opening.


Bridge Collapses

After seven months of renovations, the Morbi walking bridge in India opened to the public. Four days later, the bridge collapsed, killing more than 130 people. 

According to the local government, there were about 200 people on the bridge when it collapsed on Sunday, despite its capacity of 125. 

During a campaign event on Monday, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi said the state government had set up a committee to investigate the tragedy.

“I assure the people of the country that there will be nothing lacking in the relief and rescue efforts,” he stated.

Along with the investigation, the state has launched a criminal complaint against Oreva Group, the company responsible for maintaining the bridge. Oreva Group reopened the bridge after renovations without getting a safety certificate from the government. 

Shifting Blame

In response, Oreva Group spoke to a local news outlet and blamed those on the bridge for its collapse.

“While we are waiting for more information, prima facie, the bridge collapsed as too many people in the mid-section of the bridge were trying to sway it from one way to the other,” the group claimed.

The state government has offered compensation for the families of the deceased, but that is not enough for some. One father whose wife and two children died in the collapse told VICE he wants answers and accountability.

“Why were so many people given tickets? Who allowed them? Who is answerable?” he asked.

Indian police have arrested nine people including ticketing clerks and security guards for failing to regulate the crowd, according to Reuters. 

See what others are saying: (Reuters) (VICE) (CNN)

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Xi Jinping Tightens Grip on China by Eliminating Rivals

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Despite the staggering power grab, Xi faces geopolitical competition from abroad as well as social and economic instability at home.


Xi Surrounds Himself With Allies

Chinese President Xi Jinping shook up politics over the weekend when he revealed the government’s new leadership, almost exclusively composed of his own hardline loyalists.

Six men — Li Qiang, Zhao Leji, Wang Huning, Cai Qi, Ding Xuexiang, and Li Xi — will form the Politburo Standing Committee, China’s top ruling body.

The four new members are all Xi loyalists, pushing out Premier Li Keqiang and the head of China’s top advisory body Wang Yang, two key party figures outside Xi’s inner circle who retired despite being eligible to serve another term.

For the first time in a quarter-century, China’s 24-member Politburo will be made up entirely of men, underlining the exclusion of women from Chinese politics.

An official account of the selection process said that a top criterion for leadership was loyalty to Xi, and rising officials must stay in lockstep with him “in thinking, politics and action.”

Topping off the developments, Xi officially secured an unprecedented third term as leader, something that was only made possible in 2018 when the government abolished term limits on the presidency. The weekend marked China’s greatest consolidation of political power in a single figure in decades.

As the 20th Communist Party Congress came to a close Saturday, China’s former leader Hu Jintao appeared reluctant as he was suddenly and inexplicably escorted from his seat next to Xi out of the Great Hall of the People.

Some commentators have argued that a tightly knit band of yes men may help Xi fend off internal party dissent, but it could ultimately result in poor governance as his subordinates fear giving him bad news.

The Arc of History Bends Toward China

Despite the extreme concentration of political power, China’s Communist Party stares down a gauntlet of challenges both foreign and domestic.

Beijing remains locked in a strategic competition with Washington, which has sought to contain the East Asian rival’s rise as a global superpower, but the past week’s congress may portend a stubbornly defiant China for years to come.

Xi is expected to use his firmly secure position within the party to pursue his agenda in full force — by strengthening Beijing’s claim over Taiwan, expanding China’s economic foothold in developing countries, and achieving self-sufficiency in strategic technologies such as semiconductors.

At home, China’s economy has faltered during the pandemic, with high unemployment, low consumption, and slow economic growth putting pressure on a government that stakes much of its legitimacy on promises to deliver prosperity to the population. Between July and September, the country’s GDP grew by 3.9%, according to official data released Monday, which is above many analysts’ expectations but still far below the state’s target of around 5.5%.

China’s National Bureau of Statistics postponed the data’s publication last week ahead of the 20th party congress, reinforcing concerns that Xi’s leadership will put politics before economics.

Monday’s announcement roiled stock markets, with Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Index plunging 6%, as well as the Shanghai Composite and the Shenzhen Composite Index both falling by about 2%.

Beijing has also seen increased political resistance from the population, from anti-lockdown protests in Shanghai to widespread mortgage boycotts over delays from real estate developers.

Last week, a man unfurled two large banners from an overpass in Beijing and called President Xi a “dictator” through a megaphone.

Such small-scale demonstrations are not new, but they took place in the capital just before the congress drew enough attention for photos of the stunt to go viral on social media, where an equally swift censorship campaign stamped out any mention of it.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (CNN) (The Washington Post)

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