Monday, July 5 2021

Dive In

In these 15 beautiful years together we have shared a lifetime of experiences, joy and laughter, and our relationship has only grown in trust, respect and love. Now we would like to begin a new chapter in our lives—no longer as husband and wife, but as co-parents and family for each other. We began a planned separation some time ago, and now feel comfortable to formalise this arrangement, of living separately yet sharing our lives the way an extended family does.

That’s part of a joint statement put out by Aamir Khan and Kiran Rao announcing the end of their marriage. Yes, they plan to co-parent together and continue their joint ventures in films. You can also watch them speak about their decision in this video posted on their foundation. Weird fact: Khan’s previous marriage fell apart almost around the exact same time—15-odd years. And a number of media outlets are making much of the fact that Khan fell in love with Rao in the aftermath of his past divorce.

Big Story

The big, big problem of Afghanistan

The TLDR: On Friday, the United States withdrew from the Bagram Air Force base—the headquarters of its military operations, and where its forces first arrived after the 9/11 attacks. The quiet departure—without notice or fanfare—also marks the inevitable return of the Taliban, and a decisive tipping point that has everyone worried—especially India. 


Are there American troops still in Afghanistan?

Not that you’d notice, but yes, they have long maintained a small but symbolic presence: 13,000 troops as of last year, when they signed an agreement with the Taliban to fully draw down their military presence. 


An agreement with the Taliban?

The US has been trying to extricate itself from Afghanistan since 2015, when Barack Obama concluded the war was essentially unwinnable. But Americans were still reluctant to deal with the Taliban—which had returned in strength soon after the US pivoted from Afghanistan toward the Iraq war in 2003. That changed with the election of Donald Trump—who appointed a special envoy to negotiate directly with the Taliban, cutting even the Afghan government out of the loop. The result: a peace agreement signed in Doha in 2020 which said the following:


  • The Taliban will provide “guarantees” and spell out “enforcement mechanisms” to ensure that Afghanistan is not used by any group working against the “security of the United States and its allies.”
  • In turn, the United States will provide guarantees and announce a “timeline for the withdrawal of all foreign forces from Afghanistan.” This includes a schedule to shut down all military bases.
  • The Taliban and the Afghan government will swap prisoners, and the US will work toward persuading its allies and the UN to remove members of the Taliban from their sanctions lists.
  • The US was supposed to have withdrawn entirely by May—but due to the pandemic, the new deadline is September 11, exactly 20 years after the 9/11 attacks.


Wait, isn’t there an Afghan government?

Kinda. The country held elections last year, and Ashraf Ghani was sworn in as President this year. But the verdict was challenged by his rival Abdullah Abdullah—who held his own swearing in ceremony. In May, the two men signed a power-sharing deal—but that truce is fragile, and the divisions within the leadership run deep. 


More importantly, given all the infighting, the government has failed to craft any kind of strategy to either negotiate with the Taliban—or prevent its return. It instead clung to the US presence for protection—which will no longer be available:


“Officials inside the government, along with those who have left it, describe an atmosphere of improvisation, a bureaucracy caught off guard despite weeks of warning signs — even before the latest advance, the Taliban were slowly picking off districts — and the absence of a coherent plan… ‘There is no response. They don’t have a counteroffensive strategy,’ said Mr. Asey, the former deputy defense minister. ‘Nobody knows what it is.’”


Point to note: Many intelligence experts predict the government will fall within six months. 


So the Taliban is coming back?


In today’s edition

Headlines That Matter

  • Covaxin trial data is here!
  • Billionaire space wars
  • Captain Mithali Raj set a new record
  • A new desi Netflix dating show


Smart & Curious

  • Jill McCabe Johnson on the time she hooked up a man she didn’t know was a serial killer
  • How much money does it take to keep the President of India in required style?

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