Conditions in Afghanistan continued to deteriorate days after the Taliban effectively gained control over most of the country, with a U.N. assessment from Friday warning that the Taliban are targeting what they call “collaborators” in major cities.
Amnesty for Some
Conditions in Afghanistan continued to deteriorate days after the Taliban effectively gained control over most of the country, with an assessment from the United Nations warning on Friday that the Taliban are targeting what the Taliban call “collaborators” in major cities.
The Norwegian Center for Global Analysis, a U.N.-linked intelligence support center, said Taliban fighters are going door-to-door in major cities looking to arrest or kill their alleged enemies and/or their family members. There are also reports of checkpoints that have been set up throughout the country in an effort to stop and identify potential enemies of the Taliban, although it’s unclear at this time just how many have been affected by the practices. The move comes just two days after the Taliban promised a general amnesty.
One of the most prominent people targeted despite the amnesty pledge was Haji Mullah Achakzai, the police chief for Baghdis province near Herat. Achakzai’s execution was captured on camera and shared online, drawing concerns that the Taliban’s claims to not engage in acts of vengeance or reprisals against former enemies may not be true.
Doubts Over Media Commitments
Adding to this fear are reports of Taliban efforts to target journalists. Like other groups, the Taliban promised to respect journalists and promote a free press in Afghanistan so long as they follow Islamic rules. However, German outlet DW reported that several of its journalists, translators, and their families have all been hunted down by the Taliban.
In one instance, the Taliban went door-to-door looking for a DW journalist who has already left the country and is working in Germany. Regardless, his family was targeted, with at least one member being killed and another seriously injured. Peter Limboiurg, DW‘s Director-General issued a statement about the slaying, condemning the attack and calling on the German government to take action.
“The killing of a close relative of one of our editors by the Taliban yesterday is inconceivably tragic, and testifies to the acute danger in which all our employees and their families in Afghanistan find themselves,” Limbourg said. “It is evident that the Taliban are already carrying out organized searches for journalists, both in Kabul and in the provinces. We are running out of time!”
DW has had at least three journalists targeted in total. Nematullah Hemat of the private television station Ghargasht TV is believed to have been kidnapped by the Taliban, and Toofan Omar, who ran Paktia Ghag Radio, was shot dead by Taliban fighters. Additionally, a translator for Die Zeit was shot dead by two Taliban members this week.
Panjshir Valley and the National Resistance Front
While the Taliban continue to try and consolidate their rule, there are still some efforts to push back against the group. Hundreds attended protests throughout major cities in the country on Wednesday and Thursday saw to defend the Afghan National Flag, which the Taliban have largely replaced with their own. These protests were most often met with brutal reprisals, including beatings and shootings.
Beyond that, Amrullah Saleh, the former Vice President of the now-defunct Afghan National Government, continues to fight the Taliban from the Panjshir Valley. The region is infamous for having never been conquered during the Soviet invasion of the country in the ’80s, and for being home to the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance. The latter was a group that allied with the United States to bring down the Taliban in 2001, although it remained largely autonomous from the control of the National Afghan Government.
Panjshir Valley now hosts some of the most senior members of the ousted Afghan government, with Saleh declaring himself caretaker president after President Ashraf Ghani fled the country with over $160 million.
“I will never, ever and under no circumstances bow to the Taliban terrorists,” Saleh wrote on Twitter. “I will never betray the soul and legacy of my hero Ahmad Shah Mas[s]oud, the commander, the legend, and the guide.”
Massoud was a commander of the Northern Alliance and remains a venerated figure for many Afghans. His son, alongside Saleh, is hoping that a second alliance can topple the Taliban.
In an op-ed he wrote in The Washington Post on Wednesday, Ahmad Massoud said the regions have prepared for a Taliban takeover for twenty years, adding that “we also have the weapons carried by the Afghans who, over the past 72 hours, have responded to my appeal to join the resistance in Panjshir.”
“But that is not enough. If Taliban warlords launch an assault, they will of course face staunch resistance from us,” he said, adding, “The flag of the National Resistance Front will fly over every position that they attempt to take, as the National United Front flag flew 20 years ago.”
He ended with a plea for the U.S. to remain “a ‘great arsenal of democracy,'” and arm the so-called National Resistance Front.
Lifeline at the Kabul Airport
While many Afghans continue to lay low in their homes or flee into Panjshir Valley in preparation to fight the Taliban, evacuations from the Kabul Airport have continued to be a tense affair. Throughout the week, flights were required to intermittently pause as the situation on the ground worsened, leading to chaos over boarding the flights.
Outside of the airport, the scenes are chaos. Crowds of thousands have waited outside in attempts to enter the airport. The Taliban claimed they had no interest in anyone seeking to leave the country but have since set up checkpoints at the two entrances to the airport.
In footage from Thursday, Taliban fighters can be seen beating crowds of would-be refugees back, or according to some reports, even firing at the crowd.
Thousands of American troops continue to guard the airport and direct evacuation flights; however, Britain and France also maintain troops at airport facilities and have sent ore over the last week. Unlike the American mission, which is limited to the airport at this point in time, French and British forces have conducted raids throughout Kabul in an effort to extract their citizens. According to The Telegraph, at least 200 British Nationals have been successfully extracted so far.
As evacuations continue, the U.S. and U.N. are asking more and more nations to accept Afghan Refugees as common destinations, such as Qatar, are reaching their capacity to successfully take care of them.
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (DW) (Military Times)
India Pedestrian Bridge Collapsed 4 Days After Renovations, Killing Over 100 People
The company responsible for the upkeep of the Morbi bridge did not obtain a safety certificate before re-opening.
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.
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.
Xi Jinping Tightens Grip on China by Eliminating Rivals
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)
Elon Musk Walks Back Threat to Cut Ukraine’s Starlink Internet Service
Although the satellites have been invaluable for Ukrainian military operations, outages have left soldiers without communication devices in recent weeks.
Let Them Eat Satellites
SpaceX founder Elon Musk said on Saturday that his company would continue funding internet service for Ukraine after declaring that he would have no choice but to cut it off the day prior.
“The hell with it,” he tweeted. “Even though Starlink is still losing money & other companies are getting billions of taxpayer $, we’ll just keep funding Ukraine govt for free.”
It wasn’t immediately clear whether the often jocular billionaire was being sarcastic, but in response to another Twitter user he said, “We should still do good deeds.”
SpaceX’s Starlink satellites help the Ukrainian military operate drones, receive intelligence updates and communicate out in the field, which is vital since many regular internet and cellular phone networks have been destroyed by Russia.
At least 20,000 satellite terminals have been donated to Ukraine since the spring, but SpaceX has footed the bill for a small minority of them. According to a letter the company sent to the Pentagon last month, around 85% of the terminals were paid for in part or in full by the United States, Poland, and other entities, who also covered some 30% of the internet connectivity.
SpaceX claimed in the letter that Starlink services for Ukraine would cost over $120 million for the rest of the year and nearly $400 million for the next 12 months.
“We are not in a position to further donate terminals to Ukraine, or fund the existing terminals for an indefinite period of time,” it said.
The company, therefore, requested that the Pentagon take over funding for the satellite terminals.
Earlier this month, Musk claimed on Twitter that Ukraine’s Starlink services had cost SpaceX $80 million so far.
On Friday, following CNN’s publication of the SpaceX letter, Musk reaffirmed that his company “cannot fund the existing system indefinitely, *and* send several thousand more terminals that have data usage up to 100X greater than typical households.”
He added, however, that it was not seeking to recoup past expenses.
On Monday, Politico reported that the Pentagon is considering paying for the Starlink satellite network from a fund that has been used to supply weapons and equipment over the long term, according to two U.S. officials who are involved in the deliberations.
Starlink Leaves Ukraine’s Soldiers Stranded
Ukrainian troops experienced “catastrophic” outages in their Starlink communication devices in recent weeks, according to a Financial Times report earlier this month.
The services reportedly stopped functioning at critical moments, such as when soldiers breached the front lines into Russian-controlled territory or engaged in pitched battles.
“They were acute in the south around the Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions, but also occurred along the frontline in eastern Kharkiv, Donetsk and Luhansk,” an official told the outlet.
Last month, Russian President Vladimir Putin claimed to annex all four regions and held referendums widely considered to be a sham justification for his conquest of the Donbas.
The regions are also the focus of a massive Ukrainian counteroffensive that has sent Russian troops scrambling in recent weeks.
One Starlink donor reportedly believed the outages were a result of SpaceX’s efforts to block Russian forces from misusing Starlink terminals.
As Ukrainian soldiers liberated Russian-occupied territory, the sources said, public announcements of their gains lagged behind, and so did Starlink’s coverage.
Another official told the outlet that connection failures were widespread and led to panicked calls from soldiers to helplines.
Musk responded to the report by tweeting, “As for what’s happening on the battlefield, that’s classified.”