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Geopolitics

Why Ukraine War Won't Slow Iran's Quest To Become A Nuclear Power

A new round of comments from inside Iran's leadership ranks reaffirms its intention to produce a nuclear bomb, a decades-long cat and mouse game between the regime and an ever cautious West that hasn't seemed to change even as the Russia-Ukraine war brings in a new world order.

-OpEd-

Ali Mottahari, a former deputy-speaker of the Iranian Parliament, recently revealed that "right from the start of our nuclear activity, our aim was to build a bomb and strengthen our deterrent force. But we couldn't keep this a secret." It appeared he was admitting to what regional and Western states have long suspected and Iran's regime denies — that it wants to make nuclear bombs.

Mottahari's father, Morteza Mottahari, was a prominent theologian and confidante of the late revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. This has allowed his son to speak with relative freedom under the Islamic Republic. In comments to a local press outlet broadcast on April 22, Mottahari blamed the Mujahedin-e Khalq, a Marxist opposition group, for revealing Iran's supposed nuclear plans.

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100,000 Trapped In Mariupol As Odessa Braces For Russian Attack

👋 བཀྲ་ཤིས་བདེ་ལགས།*

Welcome to Wednesday, where an estimated 100,000 are still trapped in Mariupol, the black box has been found in the China Eastern Airlines crash, and Zoom meetings are about to become wild. We also explore, from a Swedish perspective, how the COVID-19 pandemic has sparked a resurgence of labor unions.

[*Tashi delek - Tibetan]

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Taliban Education, Inside A Madrasa Islamic School Shaping Afghanistan's Future

No girls, no science, no foreign languages, only the Koran. This is how the Taliban want to erase the generation of students educated for 20 years by the "Western usurpers." La Stampa's Francesca Mannocchi visits one of the rigid, boys-only madrasas near Kabul.

KABUL — When I ask Mufti Hayatullah Masroor to choose a text for the morning lesson in the Al-Jami'a Al-Islamiya Al-Mohammadia-Kabul madrasa he oversees in Qala Haidar Khan, a village outside Kabul, he takes his time, approaches the shelf where he keeps his books, flips through it, carefully selects the lines, and reads this hadith aloud: "I heard the Messenger of Allah say, 'Every woman who dies will enter Paradise if God has been pleased with her behavior'."

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Sanctioning Putin Directly, Relaxing COVID rules, Mekong Species

👋 Grüezi!*

Welcome to Wednesday, where the U.S. threatens Vladimir Putin with personal sanctions, COVID restrictions are easing from Beijing to Copenhagen and we count the Mekong region’s newly discovered wildlife. Weekly news magazine Jeune Afrique also looks at Morocco’s unique counseling-centered response to Islamic extremism.

[*Swiss German]

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Geopolitics
Atal Ahmadzai and Faten Ghosn

Taliban Redux, Cleaned-Up Image Can't Mask Their Cruel Reality

Twenty years later the Islamist group is back in power in Afghanistan, but trying this time to win international support. Now that several months have passed, experts on the ground can offer a clear assessment if the group has genuinely transformed on such issues as women's rights and free speech.

The international community is closely monitoring the Taliban, after the group re-seized power in Afghanistan in August 2021.

There is legitimate reason for concern. The Taliban are again ruling through fear and draconian rules.

The Taliban’s last regime, in the mid-1990s, was marked by human rights violations, including massacres, mass detentions and rape. The regime collapsed on Nov. 14, 2001, shortly after the U.S. launched its global war on terrorism.

Even after the Taliban officially fell from power, their subsequent two decades of insurgency produced various gross human rights violations, an encompassing term under international human rights law.

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In The News
Hannah Steinkopf-Frank, Anne-Sophie Goninet and Bertrand Hauger

First Ukraine Evacuations, Taliban In Oslo, Navratilova v. Australian Open

👋 Салом!*

Welcome to Monday, where the U.S. and UK have started advising their nationals to leave Ukraine, the Taliban are in Oslo for first talks with the West since returning to power and Martina Navratilova is outraged at Australian Open organizers for a certain T-shirt ban. Meanwhile, Les Echos’ Yann Rousseau spoke with Masahiro Hara, the creator of the ubiquitous QR code.

[*Salom - Uzbek]

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Geopolitics
Jan Koehler and Jonathan Goodhand

Inside The Taliban's Laissez-Faire Policy On Drug Trafficking

Unlike ISIS-K (Islamic State Khorasan), drug cultivation and trafficking are not an ideological matter for the new rulers of Afghanistan — more likely a bargaining chip in negotiations with the West.

In the frontier town of Zaranj on Afghanistan’s border with Iran, young men jostle one another as they cram into pickups that leave at regular intervals to be smuggled across the border. Human trafficking is one of the few sectors of the Afghan economy that is thriving. Another is drugs.

Some 950 kilometers to the east of Zaranj, on a remote and cold mountain pass, men with backpacks follow the narrow path to the border-crossing at Tabai, before beginning their descent into the “tribal areas” of Pakistan. Hidden in their loads are bags of heroin, bound for markets in Peshawar and Karachi, with much of it ending up on the streets of the UK.

The trade in drugs and people are growing in importance as other sectors of the economy contract or shut down and poverty deepens.

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Geopolitics

Taliban And Iran: The Impossible Alliance May Already Be Crumbling

After the Sunni fundamentalist Taliban rulers retook control of Afghanistan, there were initial, friendly signals exchanged with Iran's Shia regime. But a recent border skirmish recalls tensions from the 1990s, when Iran massed troops on the Afghan frontier.

The clashes reported this week from the border between Iran and Afghanistan were perhaps inevitable.

There are so far scant details on what triggered the flare up on Wednesday between Iranian border forces and Taliban fighters, near the district of Hirmand in Iran's Sistan-Baluchestan province. Still, footage posted on social media indicated the exchange of fire was fairly intense, with troops on both sides using both light and heavy weaponry.

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In The News
Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

Taliban Decree On Women, Averted Shutdown, Metal Planet

👋 Sannu!*

Welcome to Friday, where the Taliban issue a decree on women’s rights, the U.S. avoids another government shutdown, and we discover the most metallic planet ever. Delhi-based news website The Wire also suggests Indians should pause before any nationalistic boasting about the choice of Parag Agarwal as new Twitter CEO.

[*Hausa - Nigeria & Niger]

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Geopolitics
Alfred Hackensberger, Sebastian Backhaus, Ricardo Vilanova

Ghosts Of Defeat Inside Deserted NATO Base In Afghanistan

The new Taliban commander shows reporters from Die Welt around the deserted Camp Marmal, the German army's former headquarters in Afghanistan.

Fries, beer and barbecued meat. That's what was on the menu every year when the German troops stationed at Camp Marmal celebrated German Unity Day. "That was always a special day," remembers Mohammed Sayed (names have been changed to protect identities), who worked as an interpreter for the German army.

"It was a big celebration," he says, with a wistful look. "Ambassadors from other countries came to visit, as well as governors from various provinces in Afghanistan." This year, at Camp Marmal near the northern Afghan city of Mazar-i-Sharif, there was no Oct. 3 holiday celebration in sight.

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In The News
Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

Emergency Afghan Aid, U.S. Reopens Borders, Royal Marriage Equality

👋 Kamusta!*

Welcome to Wednesday, where G20 leaders agree to involve Taliban in distributing help to Afghanistan, the U.S. announces it will reopen borders with Mexico and Canada, and Dutch royals can marry as they please. Thanks to Chilean daily El Mercurio, we also follow the tumultuous journey of a Haitian migrant in her efforts to reach the U.S.

[*Filipino]

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In The News
Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

U.S.-Taliban Talks, China-Taiwan Tensions, Coconuts And Prayers

👋 Hallo!*

Welcome to Monday, where American and Taliban negotiators sat down for the first time since the U.S. withdrawal, Taiwan's president pushes back on China threats and a couple is accused of selling nuclear submarine secrets. We also look at the migratory path of the international bubble tea craze.

[*Norwegian]

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Ideas
Mihir Chitre

Reading Rumi In Kabul: A Persian Poet's Lesson For Radical Islam

Born some eight centuries ago, the famed poet and philosopher Rumi offered ideas on religion that bear little resemblance to the brand of Islam being imposed right now in Afghanistan by the Taliban regime.

Among the various Afghan cities that the Taliban has invaded and apparently "reclaimed" in recent weeks is Balkh, a town near the country's north-western border. Interestingly, it was there, about 800 years ago, that a man called Jalal ad-Din Mohammad Balkhi, better known as Rumi, was born.

Some see the grotesque exhibitionism of the Taliban advance as a celebration of Islam or a "going back to the roots" campaign. As if followers of Islam were always like this, as if every willing Muslim always propagated austerity and oppressiveness. As if it was always meant to be this way and any shred of liberalism was a digression from the quest of the religion.

In fact, a look at the history of the religion — and of the region — tells a different story, which is why there's no better time than now to rediscover the wisdom of the poet Rumi, but without doing away with its religious context.

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In The News
Hannah Steinkopf-Frank, Bertrand Hauger and Anne-Sophie Goninet

Myanmar Kidnappings, Suspect Chinese Cell Phone, Side-Eyeing Chloe Auction

👋 안녕하세요*

Welcome to Thursday, where Tunisia's president tightens his grip, Lithuania tells people to throw away their Made-in-China phones, and a memeworthy side-eye gets the NFT treatment. Chinese-language weekly Economic Observer also explains why some cities in China waste millions in massive building projects that go unused.

[*Korean]

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In The News
Anne-Sophie Goninet, Hannah Steinkopf-Frank and Bertrand Hauger

Taliban & United Nations, China’s Green Pledge, Tale Of Tails

👋 Laba diena!*

Welcome to Wednesday, where Afghanistan's Taliban demand to speak at the United Nations, China takes a bold ecological stand and we find out why monkeys kept their tails and humans didn't. Business magazine America Economia also looks at how Latin American countries are looking to attract a new generation of freelancers known as "digital nomads" in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

[*Lithuanian]

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In The News
Anne-Sophie Goninet and Bertrand Hauger

Campus Shooting In Russia, Vaccines Safe For Kids, Pacquiao For President

👋 Goedendag!*

Welcome to Monday, where a shooting in a Russian university leaves at least 8 dead, the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is confirmed to be safe for children and Philippine boxer star Manny Pacquiao announces he will run for president. Meanwhile, Persian-language daily Kayhan-London meets women in Afghanistan who are taking part in protests against the Taliban.

[*Dutch]

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