Geopolitics

Why Iran Is Actively Backing The Taliban For The First Time

Iran's clerical Shiite regime has seemingly overturned its long-held hostility to the Taliban, and may be readying itself to welcome the 'enemies of America' as Kabul's new masters.

Afghan Taliban fighters in the Laghman Province celebrate a peace deal between US and Taliban
Afghan Taliban fighters in the Laghman Province celebrate a peace deal between US and Taliban
Hamed Mohammadi

-Analysis-

There can be no doubt the situation in Afghanistan is critical. As U.S. and allied troops depart, the Taliban are exploiting the Kabul government's weakness to capture districts and towns, especially in the north.

In some areas, conditions seem normal by day but as darkness falls, armed motorcades attack villages, patrols or army posts, firing on any Afghan citizen trying to resisit.

A UN report from May listed 50 of Afghanistan's 400 regions as being in Taliban hands. And that progression appears relentless, with eight districts falling in June in less than two days in the provinces of Takhar, Samangan and Balkh, and some fighting reaching the outskirts of cities like Mazar-i Sharif.

There have been reports of Afghan troops simply handing over their trucks to the Taliban, by some accounts as many as 700 trucks or lorries in recent weeks, in addition to armored vehicles and artillery equipment. All these will aid the Taliban in their war effort.

The head of the Islamic Party of Afghanistan, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, says "there are secrets behind the fall of cities without any fighting, and circles inside the Afghan governments have a hand in their fall."

The Revolutionary Guards want the country turned into another quagmire for the United States.

U.S. security sources say the Taliban may take Kabul within six to 12 months after Western forces have fully withdrawn. Still, International Crisis Group analyst Andrew Watkins recently told the Wall Street Journal the Taliban were not invincible, and Kabul's fall is by no means a certainty. Other specialists have pointed out that the Taliban have been capturing rural terrain of little strategic worth, attributing their successes also to the uneven distribution of Afghan troops, mostly trained to defend the big cities and highways.

And then, there are accusations from Afghan politicians that certain foreign powers, Iran, Turkey and Pakistan, were helping the insurgents.

Abdulsattar Husseini, a legislator, has accused the Iranian Revolutionary guards and Pakistan's ISI intelligence agency of helping the Taliban, saying arms have been smuggled in from Iran.

Ali Khamenei meeting with Iranian President-elect Ebrahim Raisi in Tehran — Iranian Supreme Leader'S Office/ ZUMA Wire

In the past 20 to 30 years, Afghanistan has, like Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, entered the Iranian regime's "resistance" map of regions where it sought to extend its ideological sway at the West's expense. The Revolutionary Guards have been biding their time ahead of a Western withdrawal.

Aware of the West's strategic and security interests in Afghanistan, and its rivalries with China and Russia, the Guards want the country turned into another quagmire for the United States, like Iraq. In fact, backing the Taliban and al-Qaeda could help the Iranian regime send its own militias into a lawless country, compensating for its weakened position in Syria and Iraq. These are used to extort concessions from Western powers, regardless of the cost to the long-suffering Afghans.

The Islamic Republic is not only inclined to see the Taliban take Kabul, but already busy whitewashing the terrorists at home, with one conservative daily in Tehran writing: "the Taliban today are not the Taliban who used to cut heads off."

"But after the United States toppled the Taliban in 2001, the Iranian Supreme Leader not only sheltered them but is now veering toward closer ties with them"

According to U.S. State Department documents, many Taliban and al-Qaeda leaders have been living in Iran in recent years. Cities like Mashhad, Qom and Tehran are in turn training bases for the Shia Fatemium militiamen fighting in Syria under the Quds Army, the Revolutionary guards' strike force in the Middle East. Dozens have returned to Iran as war winds down in Syria, ready to fight in Afghanistan instead, if not inside Iran. The Revolutionary guards would have no qualms about using them to crush domestic protests in Iran.

Some years ago, Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, denounced the Taliban as sworn enemies of Shia Muslims, describing them as "hard-hearted," criminal and "creatures' of the United States. But after the United States toppled them in 2001, he not only sheltered them but is now veering Iranian foreign policy toward closer ties with them. And it is the task of various figures in Tehran to start rehabilitating the terrorists. The legislator Ahmad Naderi has called the Taliban "one of the region's essential movements," with whom "we have shared enemies." Ali Shamkhani, a former defense minister, now a senior security official, has praised their leaders for their resolve in fighting the Americans.

Iran's ambassador in Kabul, Bahador Aminian, calls the "resistance" in Afghanistan part of an "Islamic awakening" influenced by the ideas of Iran's late revolutionary leader, Ruhollah Khomeini. The fact is the regime and the Revolutionary guards have extended their tentacles, and their money, into both the Afghan government and the Taliban.

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Society

Debt Trap: Why South Korean Economics Explains Squid Game

Crunching the numbers of South Korea's personal and household debt offers a glimpse into what drives the win-or-die plot of the Netflix hit produced in the Asian country.

In the Netflix series, losers of the game face death

Yip Wing Sum

-Analysis-

SEOUL — The South Korean series Squid Game has become the most viewed series on Netflix, watched by over 111 million viewers and counting. It has also generated a wave of debate online and off about its provocative message about contemporary life.

The plot follows the story of a desperate man in debt, who receives a mysterious invitation to play a game in which the contestants gamble their lives on six childhood games, with the winner awarded a prize of 45.6 billion won ($38 million)... while the losers face death.


It's a plot that many have noted is not quite as surreal as it sounds, a reflection of the reality of Korean society today mired in personal debt.

Seoul housing prices top London and New York

In the polished streets of downtown Seoul, one sees endless cards and coupons advertising loans scattered on the ground. Since the outbreak of the pandemic, as the demand for loans in South Korea has exploded, lax lending policies have led to a rapid increase in personal debt.

According to the South Korean Central Bank's "Monetary Credit Policy Report," household debt reached 105% of GDP in the first quarter of this year, equivalent to approximately $1.5 trillion at the end of March, with a major share tied up in home mortgages.

Average home loans are equivalent to 270% of annual income.

One reason behind the debts is the soaring housing prices. In Seoul, home to nearly half of the country's population, housing prices are now among the highest in the world. The price to income ratio (PIR), which weighs the average price of a home to the average annual household income, is 12.04 in Seoul, compared to 8.4 in San Francisco, 8.2 in London and 5.4 in New York.

According to the Korea Real Estate Commission, 42.1% of all home purchases in January 2021 were by young Koreans in their 20s and 30s. For those in their 30s, the average amount borrowed is equivalent to 270% of their annual income.

Playing the stock market

At the same time, the South Korean stock market is booming. The increased demand to buy stocks has led to an increase in other loans such as credit. The ratio for Korean shareholders conducting credit financing, i.e. borrowing from securities companies to secure stock holdings, had reached 21.4 trillion won ($17.7 billion), further increasing the indebtedness of households.

A 30-year-old Seoul office worker who bought stocks through various forms of borrowing was interviewed by Reuters this year, and said he was "very foolish not to take advantage of the rebound."

In addition to his 100 million won ($84,000) overdraft account, he also took out a 100 million won loan against his house in Seoul, and a 50 million won stock pledge. All of these demands on the stock market have further exacerbated the problem of household debt.

42.1% of all home purchases in January 2021 were by young Koreans in their 20s and 30s

Simon Shin/SOPA Images/ZUMA

Game of survival

In response to the accumulating financial risks, the Bank of Korea has restricted the release of loans and has announced its first interest rate hike in three years at the end of August.

But experts believe that even if banks cut loans or raise interest rates, those who need money will look for other ways to borrow, often turning to more costly institutions and mechanisms.

This all risks leading to what one can call a "debt trap," one loan piling on top of another. That brings us back to the plot of Squid Game, "Either you live or I do." South Korean society has turned into a game of survival.

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