Friday, August 20 2021

Dive In

Tagore's mother and some other relatives would not hold him in their arms because he was 'dark-skinned'... There are two types of fair skinned people. One that are very fair with a yellowish hue and those who are fair but with a reddish tinge. Kabiguru belonged to the second category.

Union Minister Subhas Sarkar triggered great outrage with these bright remarks on Rabindranath Tagore’s skin colour during a visit to Visva Bharati university—with angry defenders of Tagore asking: “Did the minister mean to say Rabindranath was as dark as Africans? Or he meant he had a complexion that was somewhat between fair and dark?" Trinamool Congress went further and called it a “racist comment.” Really?


Editor’s note: Be sure to check out the latest episode of the splainer team’s podcast ‘Press Decode’ over at the IVM website, Spotify or Apple podcasts. Don’t forget to sign up to reserve your place for our next Ask Me Anything session with Neha Dixit—a brilliant independent journalist best known for her international award-winning reporting. Time/date: 6:30 pm, Saturday, August 21, 2021.

Big Story

The battle for Afghanistan’s future

The TLDR: As protests spread across cities, the Taliban showed every sign of returning to their old ways—even as the scramble to flee the country continues. Since we don’t have a single big story to explain today, here’s a quick update on the fast-moving developments in Afghanistan. 


On the streets of Afghanistan…

Thursday was Afghanistan’s Independence Day—which was marked in protests across several cities. Protesters waved the national flag—shouting “Our flag, our identity”—in Kabul, Asadabad and Jalalabad. They also tried to take down the Taliban flag. Taliban members shot at least two people, and 12 others were injured. As the New York Times notes: “It was a remarkable display of defiance, coming just one day after violence broke out at protests in two other cities, with Taliban members shooting into crowds and beating demonstrators.” 


Also this: In a Washington Post op-ed, Ahmad Massoud—son of the famous mujahideen commander Ahmad Shah Massoud—struck a note of militant defiance:


“I write from the Panjshir Valley today, ready to follow in my father’s footsteps, with mujahideen fighters who are prepared to once again take on the Taliban. We have stores of ammunition and arms that we have patiently collected since my father’s time, because we knew this day might come.”


He claimed to have the support of the Afghan army troops, and urged allies in the West to “find a way to supply us [with arms] without delay.” Massoud has reportedly joined forces with former vice president, Amrullah Saleh—who has declared himself the “caretaker” president. 


A tone deaf moment: Even as Afghan women bravely stand up for their rights, British model Lily Cole posted a photo of herself in a burkha to promote a new book, saying: “Let’s embrace diversity on every level – biodiversity; cultural diversity; diversity of thinking; diversity of voices; diversity of ideas.” Cole’s excuse: “I hadn’t read the news at the time I posted so it was incredibly ill timed.” Embracing total ignorance, as well?


Meanwhile in the Taliban…

A hunt for ‘traitors’: Contrary to public promises of amnesty, an intelligence report indicates that the Taliban have begun rounding up Afghans who have worked in key roles with the previous Afghan administration or with US-led forces. The report says:


“Taliban are intensifying the hunt-down of all individuals and collaborators with the former regime, and if unsuccessful, target and arrest the families and punish them according to their own interpretation of Sharia law… Particularly at risk are individuals in central positions in military, police and investigative units.”


A big headache: for the Taliban is the state of the Afghan economy. Prices are spiralling in the midst of shortages and chaos. There is widespread hunger and at least 14 million are malnourished. All these will become more serious if the Afghan government—which is the single largest employer—doesn’t send out paychecks at the end of the month. But the US has already frozen $9 billion in Afghan assets. The International Monetary Fund has blocked Afghanistan’s access to about $460 million in emergency reserves. Moreover, roughly 80% of the government budget comes from international grants and aid—which has dried up overnight. 


The upside for the Taliban: Things are looking brighter on the military front—now that the Taliban have access to US weapons and equipment. The US supplied the Afghan army with more than 7,000 machine guns, 4,700 Humvees and 20,000 grenades in recent years. In fact, their fighters have been parading in US uniforms and showing off huge stashes of arms.


And the Americans are worried about being on the receiving end of their own weapons—so much so that the US is considering air strikes against the larger equipment, such as helicopters. The Taliban are believed to control more than 2,000 armored vehicles, including US Humvees, and up to 40 aircraft potentially including UH-60 Black Hawks, scout attack helicopters, and ScanEagle military drones.


Very good related reads: Sarah Chayes is a former NPR reporter and US official. In her blog post, she lays out a compelling argument for Pakistan’s role in the victory of Taliban—and former Afghan president Hamid Karzai’s relationship with its intelligence agency ISI. Also read: Ian Fritz—who spent five years in the military eavesdropping on the Taliban—talks about what he learned about the enemy in The Atlantic. Mint on why the rise of the Taliban puts India at a terrible disadvantage vis-a-vis Pakistan.


Meanwhile at the airport...


In today’s edition

Headlines That Matter

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Weekend Advisory

  • What is the average penis size?
  • Gen Z is cranky over the ‘incorrect’ use of the smiley face

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