Wednesday, September 8 2021

Dive In

The government is betting more than $200 million in a virtual casino, and that’s taxpayer money.

That’s senior economist Ricardo Castañeda expressing his disapproval of El Salvador’s decision to accept bitcoin as one of its national currencies—alongside the US dollar. The government has purchased 550 bitcoins worth $26.7 million and will distribute bitcoins worth $30 to each citizen—via an app called Chivo which means ‘cool’. While cryptocurrency advocates are delighted, the International Monetary Fund and others are not. And their worries are not unfounded because the value of bitcoin fell by as much as 17% on Tuesday. It is a big gamble by a poverty stricken country that is massively in debt. Read more at CNN, or read Wall Street Journal via Mint on the risks to El Salvador.

Important reminder: Thanks to Ganapathi Puja, we all have a long weekend coming up. There will be no splainer on Friday as we will be busy eating modaks instead.

Big Story

Taliban leaders divide the spoils of war

The TLDR: The Taliban unveiled their new government which looked remarkably like the old one from the 1990s. There was no sign of “inclusivity” or a more moderate face. And many claim that Pakistan’s role is evident in the leaders who landed the plummest posts. 


Tell me about this government... 

The Taliban announced the top leaders of its new government in a hastily called news conference last night. It included zero women, one member of an ethnic minorityand lots of faces from the old regime. The most powerful are veteran hardlinersand the newcomers include one of the most-wanted terrorists in the world. The spokesperson insists these are “temporary” appointmentsbut did not say how long it will remain in power. 


Here are the five you need to know:


Haibatullah Akhundzada: He has been appointed the supreme leader of the Taliban and of the so-called Islamic Emirate of Afghanistanwhich is a spiritual rather than political position. However, the Islamic legal scholarwho apparently holds final authority over the group’s political, religious and military affairshas not been seen in public since he became leader in 2016. His whereabouts are unknown, and rumours were that he fell gravely ill after contracting Covid in June.


Mullah Hasan Akhund: is the new Prime Minister. He is one of the four men who originally formed the Taliban in 1994and was very close to its founder Mullah Omar. He served as foreign minister and deputy prime minister in the previous government between 1996-2001. A longtime head of the group’s powerful leadership council, Rehbari Shura, he is a known hard-linerand signals a return to the Taliban’s extremely rigid ideological policies. Akhund is the man who infamously ordered the destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas in 2001. He is also among the oldest Taliban leaders.


Abdul Ghani Baradar: is now the deputy prime minister. He led the Taliban insurgency after they were toppled by the USand spent eight years in a Pakistani prison. He was released in 2018 to help move the peace process forwardand has led the negotiations with the US and its allies in Doha. He is seen as the moderate face of the Talibanand the one best suited to negotiate with other countries, be it the US or China.


Sirajuddin Haqqani: has been appointed as the Interior Minister (equivalent of a Home Minster)a powerful position handed to a man who is on the FBI’s most wanted list. After the death of his father, Jalaluddin, he took over the Haqqani networkwhich is responsible for the most violent attacks against Afghan forces and their Western allies in recent years. The Haqqani networkwhich oversees the Taliban’s military and financial strategyis one of the region's most powerful militant groups. A retired US general says:


“I do not believe that anyone in the West fully understands the reach of the Haqqani network. It is the single most impressive nonstate militant group I have ever seen, with the exception of ISIS in the first two years of the caliphate.”


Mohammad Yaqoob: is the new defence minister and son of Taliban founder Mullah Omar. At 30, he is the youngest of the Taliban leaders, and most of his public comments have been moderate. As Taliban fighters advanced across the country, Yaqoob urged them not to harm Afghan officials or loot their homes.


So what does this tell us about the ‘new’ Taliban…


In today’s edition

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