Tuesday, August 17 2021

Dive In

Me, Myself, My company — we all need to go beyond this approach.

That line was part of a 19-minute rant unleashed by Commerce Minister Piyush Goyal—at the annual meet of the Confederation of Indian Industry. In his rambling diatribe, the minister accused Indian companies (especially the Tatas) of putting profit before national interest—and came close to calling them ‘anti-national’. Goyal appears to have regretted his outburst because CII was asked to pull down the video from its YouTube channel. An edited version was uploaded on Thursday night but this too disappeared later. The Telegraph has more on what sparked this meltdown.

Big Story

Editor’s note: I was delighted to be interviewed by food entrepreneur extraordinaire Gauri Devidayal on her podcast ‘This Round Is On Me’. We talked about all things splainer—so it is an excellent behind-the-scenes view of who we are, what we do—and why we do it:) Check it out over at the IVM website, Spotify or Apple podcasts.


The astounding collapse of Afghanistan

The TLDR: Contrary to popular predictions, there was no fight or even negotiation over the future of Kabul or Afghanistan. Taliban just walked into the capital city over the weekend—thereby taking control of the entire country. President Ashraf Ghani fled the country, and the Afghan military and police simply melted away. Panicked citizens swarmed the airport—which is now the only way out of Afghanistan. Women wept and raged, but to little effect. Taliban leaders were gracious in victory, allowing the Americans to face (and defend) the enormity of their defeat.


Chaos at the airport

For the past 24 hours, the Kabul airport has emerged as the symbol of the catastrophic future of Afghanistan. It reflects all the themes of this enormous event: desperation of ordinary Afghans, America’s hasty departure, and Taliban’s supreme triumph. Here’s what you need to know about what happened:


One: The Taliban now control all the border crossings. Hence, the Kabul airport is the only way out of the country. 


Two: The US embassy staff now has been entirely relocated to the airport—including US citizens plus Afghan staff who will be evacuated. Also at the airport: other foreign nationals, Afghans eligible for repatriation—and thousands of desperate citizens who swarmed its premises. The crowds grew as rumours spread that even those without visas were being allowed to travel.


Three: The airport is divided into military and civilian sections. But US troops took control of the civilian side when people rushed through the boarding gates and tried to push their way onto two commercial planes that were parked beside the terminal. Now, the entire airport is under the “protection” of the US military. An ironic situation given that the US is pulling out saying this isn’t their country or their fight. As one Afghan human rights activist at the airport points out:


“How can [the Americans] hold the airport and dictate terms and conditions to Afghans? This is our airport but we are seeing diplomats being evacuated while we wait in complete uncertainty.”


Four: All commercial flights have been cancelled—and most airlines are avoiding Afghan air space:


“Several airlines, including British Airways and Air France-KLM, are avoiding Afghan airspace. CNBC reported that United Airlines has started rerouting its India flights, while Flydubai and Emirates have also suspended flights to Kabul. Cathay Pacific said it hasn’t been flying over Afghanistan for some time but is closely monitoring the situation. A spokesman for Air India said scheduled flights to Kabul cannot fly because Afghanistan is declared closed.”


Five: So now we have the Americans in charge, and Washington has sent 6,000 troops to assist with the evacuation. Their priority: “Thousands of American citizens, locals  embassy staff and their families, as well as other ‘vulnerable Afghan nationals’"—to be flown out on US military planes. There is so much chaos and confusion that no one knows the arrangements available to any of the others. And as the New York Times notes:


“With civilian air travel temporarily halted, the arriving and departing military planes underscored the stark divide between foreign nationals and some Afghans who were a flight away from safety, and many more who would have no escape.”


Six: Desperate to leave, hundreds of Afghans swarmed the tarmac—which prevented the US military planes from taking off. And now those flights have been suspended as well. And the US troops are flying cargo planes and Apache helicopters low to the ground over runways to clear the crowds. Fire engine trucks have been brought in to act as water cannons. 


Seven: The US soldiers also fired into the air to stop people from boarding a military flight evacuating embassy staff. Five people were killed during that incident—but it is unclear if they died due to a stampede or were shot. There is also a separate report of US troops shooting and killing two armed men at the perimeter of the airport. The eyewitness claims these were Taliban fighters firing in the air to clear the vehicles at the gate—but the US authorities say they have no clue who these men were. 


Eight: There were also scenes of citizens clinging to the sides of US military planes—desperate to get on. The symbolism was clear and heartbreaking:


“Images of people clinging to the hulking aircraft even as it left the ground quickly circulated around the world. It seemed to capture the moment more vividly than words: a symbol of America’s military might flying out of the country even as Afghans hung on against all hope.”


Nine: There are reports that at least two people held on to a plane after it took off, and fell to their death—which sparked comparisons to the people videotaped jumping off the Twin Towers during the 9/11 attacks (if you would like to watch it, see contrasting footage here). There is also video footage of the bodies of three people—two men and a woman—lying on the ground in the airport complex. It is unclear how they died. Some eyewitnesses claim that they were shot.


Ten: A US cargo plane to Qatar on Sunday was suddenly flooded with 640 Afghan civilians—who ran on board and sat down. The crew made the decision to take them along. See the photo below:


Eleven: The Taliban has now taken control of the area surrounding the airport—and are clearing the people outside:


“Several witnesses said the Taliban were now controlling access to entrances on the civilian side — allowing groups of people and vehicles to leave the airport but turning people away if they were trying to get in. One international worker for a humanitarian group who was trying to get to the airport was told that no one would be allowed to leave the country now without permission from the ‘new government.’”


Wall Street Journal has reports of some Taliban fighters entering the airport—shooting in the air and terrifying passengers.


Elsewhere in the world...



In today’s edition

Headlines That Matter

  • A big victory for digital news media
  • India wins at Lords
  • Two big dino discoveries
  • Pizza Hut offers unusual toppings


A list of intriguing things

  • An Egyptian real-life ninja
  • How Emirates filmed the highest ad in the world

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