More than 1.3 billion people live in India, making it the world's second most populous nation (just a whisker behind China.) That means many Indian states alone are equal in population to some of the world's biggest countries. India's largest state, Uttar Pradesh, for example, is home to more people than Brazil. The population of Maharashtra, meanwhile, exceeds Japan's. Even tiny Assam, the 15th most populous state in India, is more populous than Saudi Arabia. Here's a map of India in which each state is labelled as a country with a similar population size.
When Zoe Marshall decided to switch careers in her forties and become a fishmonger, she was scared. After leaving her job of 23 years, Zoe was forced to pivot in order to keep her family's home. Despite challenges, she forged ahead, opening Sea-Licious. Accepting Visa payments in her fishmonger shop, this access to commerce helps Zoe provide convenience to her customers and confidence in their transactions. Though she's one of the only women in the fish market each morning, her business and its place in the local community are flourishing with Visa's help.
Back in August, when the Taliban took over, we asked whether anyone in the international community would recognize them. Now it looks like things are heading that way.
This week, the Kremlin hosted a summit with the Taliban that was attended by China, India and Pakistan, as well as all five Central Asian Republics.
The domestically-focused US, however, wasn't there. The US continues to maintain that the Taliban can't be trusted. But does it matter? In 2021 does a Taliban-led government even need American recognition to function and thrive?
Background: who's willing to recognize the Taliban?
Regional powers like Russia and China have suggested they'll recognize the Taliban, provided that the group safeguards their respective interests.
A pragmatic and increasingly ambitious China wants two things: access to Afghanistan's mineral wealth, and an opportunity to build bridges and roads across the country as part of its vision to crisscross Asia with Chinese infrastructure. Russia wants to ensure the Taliban don't give safe haven to militants targeting Russia and the Muslim-majority former Soviet republics in Central Asia.
The isolated Taliban will surely want Beijing's infrastructure investment – and the job creation that goes with it. And while it's unclear how much economic influence Russia has on the ground, Moscow has emerged as the key power-broker in recent months, suggesting it does have diplomatic clout as it tries to maintain good relations with the new government in Kabul.
Moreover, Pakistan has long enjoyed close ties with the Taliban, while Turkey has been cozying up to the Taliban as part of its effort to expand its influence in Muslim-majority countries, and stop an influx of Afghan refugees arriving via Iran. India – worried that a Taliban-controlled Afghanistan would help its arch-nemesis Pakistan launch attacks against it – wants to maintain solid relations with Kabul as well.
But… does the Taliban-led government even need the US' endorsement to function?
To a certain degree, yes. The US dominates the global financial system, with some two-thirds of international trade and lending done in US dollars. It also has sufficient control over the SWIFT system, which allows financial institutions and banks to safely transfer money around the globe. Indeed, blocking countries from this network can be extremely painful (just ask the Iranians).
The US has also used its clout at international organizations like the IMF and the World Bank to compel these institutions to suspend projects and payments to Afghanistan in recent months. Additionally, there is still some uncertainty about how US sanctions might apply to a Taliban-run Afghanistan. Anyone caught doing business with Taliban-administered banks might face the risk of sanctions, as is the case with Iran. This is hardly a solid PR ploy to attract outside investment.
What's more, the bulk of Afghanistan's foreign reserves – more than $9 billion – are tied up in US banks, and Washington has ensured that the Taliban only have access to a meager 0.1-0.2 percent of this stash. Even before the takeover, the country's economy was slated to shrink because of the pandemic. Now, a depreciating currency as a result of a cash crunch and falling imports is making matters worse: the IMF recently warned that the state's GDP could shrink by 30 percent this year.
Still, the Taliban can get support and aid from other places. Indeed, the Islamist group could turn to regional development banks for disbursements like the Beijing-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, which the US is not a member of, as well as the Asian Development Bank that already has extensive operations in Afghanistan.
And if all else fails, there's always opium. The Taliban have made a mint from opium production in recent years, with the group accounting for around 85 percent of the global supply. Illicit mining activities have also proven to be a cash-cow, as has the side hustle of selling US-made weapons and vehicles left behind amid the chaotic American withdrawal.
Looking ahead. For all the banter about America being in decline, Uncle Sam still pulls (most of) the levers of power in the global financial system. The Taliban can find alternative sources of support and income – but it certainly won't be easy.
Taking place on October 21 and 22, the Sustainability Leaders Summit will go beyond preexisting narratives and debate priorities for governments and industries ahead of COP26. Placing the spotlight on Asia's role in the global sustainability agenda, the event will address whether Asian countries and companies can achieve shared sustainability goals, and what is needed to help get them there. The summit will be co-hosted by Tak Niinami, CEO of Suntory Holdings, and Ian Bremmer, founder and president of Eurasia Group and GZERO Media. We will address three key questions: How can Asian countries, with the help of the private sector, achieve shared Sustainability Goals? Why does this matter? And what are the policy changes needed to bring it about?
Attendance is free and open to the public. Register to attend.
October 21, 2021: Protecting the planet: Asia's risk and responsibility
Thursday | 8 am ET / 8pm SGT
October 22, 2021: Plastics: Unlocking sustainable solutions
Friday | 8 am ET / 8pm SGT
- Ian Bremmer, President and Founder, Eurasia Group and GZERO Media
- Tak Niinami, CEO, Suntory Holdings
- Inger Andersen, Under-Secretary-General, United Nations and Executive Director, United Nations Environment Program (UNEP)
- Ko Barrett, Vice Chair, The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and Deputy Assistant Administrator for Research, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)
- Shari Friedman, Managing Director of Climate and Sustainability, Eurasia Group
- Shinta Kamdani, CEO, Sintesa Group
- Rob Kaplan, CEO, Circulate Capital
- Sean Kidney, CEO, Climate Bonds Initiative
- Aloke Lohia, CEO, Indorama Ventures
- Tadashi Maeda, Governor, Japan Bank for International Cooperation
- Kevin Rudd, former prime minister, Australia
- Hannah Testa, Activist
October 21 & October 22, 8 am ET / 8 pm SGT
For Kevin Rudd, former Australian PM and now CEO of the Asia Society, the science on climate change is pretty much done, so the only unresolved issues are tech and — more importantly — lack of political leadership. He can't think of a single national political leader who can fill the role, and says the only way to get political action on climate is to mobilize public opinion.
The minutiae of supply chains makes for boring dinner table talk, but it's increasingly becoming a hot topic of conversation now that packages are taking much longer to arrive in the consumer-oriented US, while prices of goods soar.
With the issue unlikely to be resolved anytime soon, right-wing media have dubbed President Biden the Grinch Who Stole Christmas, conjuring images of sad Christmas trees surrounded by distraught children whose holiday gifts are stuck somewhere in the Pacific Ocean.
It hasn't been a good run for Uncle Joe in recent months. What issues are tripping him up?
Global shipping systems are in complete disarray. Many shipping containers are caught in traffic jams at the entrance to US ports, and even when they unload, truck driver shortages have meant massive delays in transporting goods to stores and warehouses.
The underlying condition is the pandemic, which has upended consumption patterns. Consider that older people, who are usually tech averse, started shopping online, while the laptop cohort has gone crazy gobbling up office supplies. This combined with panic buying – where manufacturers and retailers are now over-ordering across the board – has sent global supply chains into a tizzy. Scarcity of staples like diapers, coffee and toilet paper has also worsened the pandemic-fueled inflation problem.
Supply chains are now the most acute crisis facing the Biden administration. As a result, the White House recently stepped in to help boost capacity at the Port of Los Angeles – the busiest one in the Western Hemisphere, which is now operating 24/7. Backlogs there are crucial to the health of the US economy, but since the entire world is feeling the supply chain crunch, Biden has limited options to fix the multi-layered problem.
Congress: not the family you choose. For weeks, the White House has been embroiled in political wrangling with Congress to ensure the passage of Biden's signature Build Back Better plan – a two-part bill that includes investment in traditional infrastructure like roads, bridges, and yes, ports, as well as funding for child care and climate-change mitigation schemes.
But infighting between progressive and moderate Democrats on the price tag has led to a weeks-long stalemate, and will ultimately result in Biden significantly watering down things like his clean electricity agenda and free community college. While Republicans oppose many of the bill's provisions, recent surveys found that voters blame divisiveness within the Democrats for the legislative impasse, and the president's abrupt popular decline.
COVID: the messy house guest that won't leave. Biden's perceived successes – and failures – were always going to be linked to his ability to get the pandemic in check. While in the spring Biden saw a boost in the polls linked to a speedy vaccine rollout, that honeymoon period is now over, with half the American electorate disapproving of the president's handling of the pandemic.
A big part of the problem comes from the politicization of COVID and polarization in America more broadly, which means that pandemic containment means vastly different things to different people.
For many, pandemic success means having kids back in schools and bodies in offices without further disruption. It also means the power to choose whether to get vaccinated or to mask up. For others, it means minimizing the number of COVID cases nationwide at all costs, and boosting vaccination rates – including through mandates. Reconciling these world-views would be almost impossible for any president, both Republican and Democrat, in the post-Trump era.
Virginia: a sign of what's to come? Democrats and Republicans will be closely watching the November 2 race for governor in Virginia – a purple state where Democrats have an advantage. But the race, broadly seen as a temperature check for President Biden one year into the job, is very close. It's also seen as a bellwether one year out from midterm elections, when Republicans will contend to take control of the US Congress. Though it's still early days for Biden, the outcome in Virginia will illuminate the national mood at a crucial point in time.
Looking ahead: Biden's approval rating has dropped 10 points since June, including among Democratic voters and independents. But he could save face if he manages to save Christmas.
Ian Bremmer shares his insights on global politics this week with a look at the NBA's latest rift with China, Brazil's Senate investigation, and COVID booster shots.
China wipes Boston Celtics from NBA broadcast after the "Free Tibet" speech from Enes Kanter. Is NBA boxing itself into a corner?
Nice mixed sports metaphor there. NBA has some challenges because they are of course the most progressive on political and social issues in the United States among sports leagues, but not when it comes to China, their most important international market. And you've seen that with LeBron James telling everyone about we need to learn better from the Communist Party on issues like Hong Kong and how Daryl Morey got hammered for taking his stance in favor of Hong Kong democracy. Well, Enes Kanter's doing the same thing and he's a second-string center. Didn't even play yesterday and still the Chinese said that they were not going to air any Boston Celtics games. Why? Because he criticized the Chinese government and had some "Free Tibet" sneakers. This is a real problem for a lot of corporations out there, but particularly publicly, the NBA. Watch for a bunch of American politicians to make it harder for the NBA going forward, saying how dare you kowtow to the Chinese when you're all about "Black Lives Matter" inside the United States. No fun.
Brazil's Senate committee accused President Bolsonaro of crimes against humanity for COVID-19 negligence. What's happening there?
Well, they did actually consider accusing him of genocide. They chose not to do that, probably because someone looked into the definition of genocide and realized that that was really stupid. Certainly this is going to make a lot of headlines in Brazil. It's embarrassing for Bolsonaro. None of it's going to pass into law. None of it's going to lead to him being incarcerated or sent to The Hague, but it is one more thing, along with energy price spikes because of drought and their reliance on hydro, because of the economy not doing very well. His popularity right now is in the toilet. It's around 30% and they've got elections next year. Very unlikely that Bolsonaro is able to win. That's the real importance here, is his days are numbered.
FDA is set to approve the "mix and match" approach for COVID booster shots in the US. Will this deepen global vaccine inequality?
I don't know if it would deepen it, but it's going to extend it in the sense that we in the United States have been saying publicly that the vaccine..., this pandemic is not over anywhere until it's over everywhere, which is a great thing to say. But of course it's not in any way true in terms of the way we act. The way we act is as long as we've got our Moderna, we've got our Pfizer and we've got our boosters, we get to live like normal again. While around the world, most of the lower-developed countries haven't even gotten their first shot yet. That's the reality around the world. And that's driving much greater mistrust between wealthy countries and poor countries. At the same time, we have our own political differences that are growing inside the United States.
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Jon Lieber, head of Eurasia Group's coverage of political and policy developments in Washington, shares insights on US politics:
A Trump media platform? Is this for real?
This week, President Trump announced his potential return to social media through the creation of his own digital media platform that's going to merge with an existing publicly-traded company in a deal known as a SPAC. These deals are increasingly popular for getting access to capital, and it seems like that's where President Trump is headed.
The publicly-traded company's stock was up on the news, but it's really hard to see this coming together. The Trump media company claims it wants to go up against not only Facebook and Twitter, but companies like Amazon and cloud computing and even Disney providing a safe space for conservatives to share their points of view. The fact of the matter is, conservatives do quite well on existing social media platforms when they aren't being kicked off for violating the terms of service, and other conservative social media platforms that have attempted to launch this year haven't really gone off the ground.
More likely, this is a recognition by President Trump that he's unlikely to be restated into Facebook and Twitter anytime soon, and that can really matter because it will end up silencing, taking away one of his key platforms in the run up to the 2022 midterms and potentially as he prepares his own run for president in 2024.
It's possible that next year we'll all be sharing cat pictures on President Trump's social media platform, but these platforms take years to build, involving millions of dollars of investment and people and technology, and critically, they need a critical mass of a network to get them off the ground. It's really hard to see that happening. I'd be surprised if this SPAC even goes ahead.
Protests in Sudan: Protests are again shaking the Sudanese capital, as supporters of rival wings of the transitional government take to the streets. Back in 2019, after popular demonstrations led to the ouster of longtime autocrat Omar al-Bashir, a deal was struck between civilian activists and the army, in which a joint civilian-military government would run the country until fresh elections could be held in 2023. But now supporters of the military wing are calling on it to dissolve the government entirely, while supporters of the civilian wing are counter-protesting. Making matters worse, a pro-military tribal leader in Eastern Sudan has set up a blockade which is interrupting the flow of goods and food to the capital. The US, which backs the civilian wing, has sent an envoy to Khartoum as tensions rise, while Egypt, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey are all vying for a piece as well.
NBA in hot water again with China: The NBA season is barely underway, and the league is already embroiled in a fresh political scandal involving China. Boston Celtics center Enes Kanter posted a video supporting Tibetan independence (a throwback issue to be sure, but hey the 1990s are popular again) and blasting Chinese President Xi Jinping as a "brutal dictator." He also posted, and wore, these absolutely fire "Free Tibet" sneakers. In response, the Chinese sports app Tencent promptly pulled all Celtics games and highlights. The NBA is wildly popular — and lucrative — in China, and the CCP knows it: back in 2019, Chinese state TV stopped broadcasting NBA games for months in response to an NBA team exec's pro-Hong Kong tweet, in a move that reportedly cost the league hundreds of millions of dollars. So what should the NBA do now? If they stand up for Kanter, they risk losing big money. If they don't, they look like they are kowtowing to a repressive government. Is it an impossible situation? Maybe, but it's only the latest values vs valuations struggle for an American company that does business in the world's largest market.EU leaders talk Poland, energy: EU leaders are meeting in Brussels for a two-day summit where two items will dominate the agenda. First, how to respond to Poland's defiance of the bloc's rules, after the country's top court recently ruled that its own constitution trumps EU law. Brussels is fuming at this direct challenge to its power and values, and may withhold badly-needed COVID relief funds until Warsaw backs off. The "illiberal" Polish government, meanwhile, is in a pickle because EU membership is so popular among Poles they can't push Brussels too far, let alone seriously threaten to leave the Union. The other big issue at the summit is how to deal with rising energy prices, an issue that has split the Union: the European Commission, Germany and others say the current price surge will be resolved once pandemic-related shortages are over, but Greece, Hungary, and Spain want the bloc to reform the way power is bought and sold across the EU. Both sides agree that Russia could do a lot more to help its top natural gas customers, but Vladimir Putin perhaps thinks it's precisely the best time to squeeze the EU amid a broader rift with NATO.