NewsFix: Monday August 16, 2021
All eyes on Afghanistan as the Taliban take the seat of power in Kabul, just hours after it was vacated by Ashraf Ghani.
ALL EYES ON AFGHANISTAN
Only last Thursday, a US intelligence assessment was widely reported by international media. In it, there was a warning - Kabul could fall to the Taliban within 90 days, 30 in a worst case scenario.
A stark look at how rapidly the Taliban gained ground across the country, the graphic is from this BBC article.
GHANI IS GONE
Yet days later, here we are. Where? Well, the Taliban are in Kabul, they’ve also taken control of every other major city in the country, the Afghan government has fallen, and (former?) President Ashraf Ghani has fled.
Where has Ghani gone to? It is actually unclear. He was originally believed to have fled to neighbouring Tajikistan. There are now multiple reports he may have gone to Uzbekistan. In a Facebook statement, Ghani said “to avoid bloodshed, I thought it would be better to leave”.
Also, here is a link to the Twitter account of Amrullah Saleh, who served as the country’s vice president. He has stayed in Afghanistan, and repeatedly denounced the Taliban.
CHAOS IN KABUL
Within hours of Ghani fleeing the country, Taliban members were seen inside the presidential palace.
Also, thousands of the “most dangerous terrorism captives” were released by the Taliban from Bagram prison, a former US base. According to The Times, the base held 5,000 Al Qaeda, Taliban and ISIS fighters.
Meanwhile, there were extraordinary scenes at Kabul’s airport, where ‘thousands’ made an attempt to flee. The US military has now taken control of the airport and air traffic control, as 6,000 troops assist in the evacuation of American citizens, and some of those who assisted the US during the war.
Who are the Taliban? ‘Taliban’ is the plural for ‘Talib’ - meaning ‘student’ - in Pashto. Most members of the Taliban are Pashtun, which is also the largest ethnic group in Afghanistan. The Taliban’s objective is to be in power under a strict interpretation of Sharia law. They were in power in Afghanistan back in the 1990s. Following the attacks on 9/11, the Taliban - accused by the US of providing a sanctuary for Al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden - were overthrown.
What is Sharia law? ‘Sharia’ literally means “a road that leads one to water”. It is the term used for the principles and legal system within Islam. Among the world’s roughly 1.9 billion Muslims, there is a wide variation of how Sharia law is interpreted - the Taliban adopting a brutal version of it.
How extreme? Well, the Taliban has supported punishments that include public executions, stoning, and chopping a person’s hand off. They also call for a ban on television, dancing, and the playing of any music that is not Islamic. They have also been against education for girls over the age of ten.
*Here is the astonishing moment a spokesman for the Taliban rang a BBC anchor live on air. Here is a link to the spokesman’s Twitter account, he has been tweeting in English over the last 24 hours.
WHAT ABOUT THE WEST?
As events unfolded on Sunday, a piece in The Financial Times said the “miscalculation” will “haunt the rest of the Biden presidency”.
President Biden - who has not cut his summer holiday short at this point - is said to be receiving continuous updates on the situation. CNN reported he will address the nation “in the next few days,” though no exact time was given.
The US Ambassador to Afghanistan has left the country, and the American flag was taken down from the embassy. There are now 6,000 US troops facilitating evacuations from the country.
POLITICS AT PLAY
Earlier this year, a majority of Americans were in support of US withdrawal from the 20-year war in Afghanistan.
Now that the situation has deteriorated so rapidly, the blame game begins - but why are both Biden and Trump saying the other is to blame?
During his presidency in February 2020, the Trump administration signed a deal with the Taliban after prolonged talks, paving the way “to bring our people back home” by May 1, 2021. *May 1 was the 10th anniversary of President Obama announcing the death of Osama bin Laden.
The Taliban agreed they would not allow al Qaeda or other terrorist groups to operate in areas under their control. Worth nothing: Ashraf Ghani’s government did not participate in these talks.
Anyway, President Biden now argues that this agreement left his administration with limited choices. He argues the agreement put Americans in the country beyond that date in danger. He extended the date, saying the withdrawal would have happened by September 11, the 20th anniversary of 9/11.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he doesn’t want “anyone bilaterally recognising the Taliban,” adding “we want a united position amongst all the like minded” countries.
The UK Ambassador to Afghanistan has stayed at Kabul airport, and is personally processing visas for Afghans who assisted western allies.
The UK Parliament is also expected to be recalled this week to discussion the situation, and Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab returns from holiday amid the Taliban takeover.
Journalists on the ground
The safety of journalists reporting from Afghanistan has been raised a number of times over the last few days.
According to Trip Gabriel of The New York Times, the company “is doing everything we can” to evacuate staff and their families.
“We’re trying to reach out to the Taliban to be in contact with them, so that they protect our rights as journalists. But, obviously we’re watching the situation very closely. Most foreigners are now evacuating the country, and we will have to be looking very closely at when the time comes that we should do so as well.” - CNN’s Chief International Correspondent, Clarissa Ward
WHAT ELSE HAPPENED OVER THE WEEKEND?
- An earthquake in Haiti has left at least nearly 1,300 dead. ITV reports around 5,700 were injured by the 7.2 magnitude earthquake.
- In Lebanon, a fuel tank explosion left at least 28 dead. Around 79 people were believed to have been injured. The explosion occurred as the country battles with severe fuel shortages. Reuters reported the military had seized the fuel tank from those selling it on the black market.
In Canada, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has called for a snap election to take place on September 20. Why? At the moment, his party is reliant on the support of others. This is an attempt to secure a majority in the country’s House of Commons.
Why are opposition parties criticising the move? They say it was an unnecessary move amid the pandemic. The country could have continued until 2024 without the need for an election.
- From today in England, people who are fully vaccinated will no longer half to self-isolate if they are identified as a close contact.
- BBC News: Self-isolation ends for double-jabbed and under-18s
- The Guardian: Afghanistan live news: desperate crowds converge on Kabul airport as Taliban declare ‘war is over’
- The Financial Times: Taliban forces pour into Kabul after president flees Afghanistan
- The Irish Times: Maureen Dowd: Barack Obama’s birthday party signals the end of cool
- RTÉ News: Ireland to cease deliveries of AZ, Janssen vaccines
- Al Jazeera: Taliban says Afghanistan war is over as president, diplomats flee
*Worth noting: A story about the situation in Afghanistan was the second most-read article in every publication.
- Five years since the Playboy mansion sold for $100 million - half of what it was originally listed for. Under the terms of the sale, Hugh Heffner was allowed to remain at the residence for as long as he wanted to. He died in 2017, at the age of 91.
ON A LIGHTER NOTE…
When would you like your pizza? Whenever, wherever.