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A Taliban fighter stands guard at the site of an explosion in Kabul.

REUTERS

In spring offensive, the Taliban get a taste of their own medicine

After months of tense calm, a fresh wave of terror attacks by insurgents and airstrikes by Pakistan have killed dozens across Afghanistan, exposing the inability of the Taliban to secure a country already suffering from the world’s worst humanitarian crisis and an economic free fall.

The spate of violence is intense, escalating, and widespread. The attacks have mostly targeted the Hazaras, Afghanistan’s Shia minority, but Sunni Muslims with liberal leanings have also been hit. ISIS-K, the South Asian branch of the Islamic State, has claimed responsibility for most of the attacks. (A bomber from the same group killed 13 US military personnel and 170 Afghans at Kabul airport last August during the last days of America’s military pullout.)

Meanwhile, the Taliban’s scorched-earth policy of pursuing ISIS-K fighters and sympathizers – including the enforcement of collective punishment – has created further unrest and resistance against the Islamist regime, which prefers to ban social media and prohibit females from attending schools and colleges.

Spring is the fighting season in Afghanistan. During the 20 years of US occupation, the Taliban would always step up their attacks against US, NATO, and former Afghan government forces in what was traditionally known as the “spring offensive.” But this time, the Taliban are the ones being challenged by an insurgency even more extremist than their own.

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Pakistan's prime minister-elect Shehbaz Sharif.

Reuters

Can Sharif succeed despite Khan’s fiery exit?

As Pakistani PM Imran Khan saw his tenure draw to a close in recent weeks, the former cricket star began pointing fingers at the West, blaming the push for regime change in Pakistan on a US conspiracy. While it didn’t help him stay in the red zone, it did mean Khan was already plotting his return.

Claiming it was “an establishment stitch-up,” says Peter Mumford, head of Eurasia Group's South and Southeast Asia desk, “was not so much about trying to cling to power … as it was sowing the seeds for the election campaign to come.”

Following Khan’s ouster on Saturday, the parliament elected Shehbaz Sharif on Monday. This prompted the resignation of much of Khan’s Tehreek-e-Insaf Party from the National Assembly, setting the stage for by-elections to fill those seats.

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Pro-Russian troops inspect streets in the southern port city of Mariupol, Ukraine.

REUTERS/Alexander Ermochenko

What We’re Watching: Mariupol on the brink, Pakistan’s new leader, Finland’s NATO bid

Is Mariupol on the brink?

The fight for the strategic southeastern Ukrainian port of Mariupol continues to rage. Unconfirmed reports late Monday pointed to the possible use of chemical weapons dropped by a Russian drone. US and British officials said they were monitoring reports of the possible chemical attack. The fate of Mariupol is critical for the next phase of the war. If Russia is able to take the city, it would be able to do two things: establish a land bridge to Crimea and punch northward as part of a broader effort to encircle Ukrainian forces fighting in the Donbas. As Russia now points its army towards a full-fledged assault on eastern Ukraine, Kyiv has warned of the bloodiest land battles in Europe since World War II and pleaded for more military assistance from the West.

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Russia-Ukraine War Update: Will Oil & Coal Be Cut Off From Russia? | World In :60 | GZERO Media

Russian war crimes push West to escalate sanctions and Ukraine support

With evidence of Russian war crimes in Ukraine mounting, how will the West respond? Is Imran Khan done in Pakistan? Is Elon Musk joining the Twitter board good or bad news for free speech? Ian Bremmer shares his insights on global politics this week on World In :60.

With evidence of Russian war crimes in Ukraine mounting, how will the West respond?

With further escalation. We're a month and a half into this war and every week, the most consistent thing we're seeing is further economic sanctions from the West, further diplomatic isolation from the West with all these Russian diplomats being thrown out of countries, and of course, further military support for Ukraine. I think that continues to accelerate and step up from the Europeans. We are moving towards oil and coal being cut off from Russia, though not gas, which is still the critical issue and the big money spinner but that's where we're heading right now. And of course, that also means that negotiations are very far from what we're talking about.

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A shopkeeper tunes a television screen to watch the speech of Pakistani PM Imran Khan in Islamabad.

REUTERS/Akhtar Soomro

Captain vs. America: Pakistan’s Khan drags US into regime change

Pakistan’s flamboyant cricketer-turned-PM Imran Khan is known by his followers as “Kaptaan” (Captain) for his against-all-odds brand of leadership. On Sunday, he pulled the pin from the only political grenade he had left in his arsenal of populism by dissolving parliament and pushing for a snap election to avoid being ousted in a no-confidence vote he was set to lose.

Using a cricket term to explain his defense of the political challenge he faces, Khan had vowed last week to defend his government till the “last ball” against so-called foreign conspirators and their local assets. Who was he referring to? Right-wing Pakistan’s go-to foe: the United States.

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Biden speaks in Warsaw.

Slawomir Kaminski /Agencja Wyborcza.pl via REUTERS

What We’re Watching: Biden "gaffe" fallout, Russia changes war plan, Pakistani political turmoil

Does Biden have a red line?

In a fiery speech in Warsaw on Saturday, US President Joe Biden framed Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as a battle between authoritarian brutality and the free world. “For God’s sake, this man cannot remain in power,” Biden said at the very end, reportedly going off-script — a comment the White House would later walk back as Biden simply meaning that Russian President Vladimir Putin cannot continue to strong-arm Russia’s neighbors. But the confrontational phrase speaks for itself, and it’s hard to imagine Biden didn’t mean it at some level. He also notably called the Russian president a war criminal. For Putin, Biden’s words likely spell out what he’s been warning about for years: that America seeks regime change in Moscow. US allies, meanwhile, were quick to distance themselves from the remark, which some may fear could escalate tensions or trigger direct confrontation with Russia.

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Meet the party that runs China
Meet the party that runs China

China in the (South Asian) ‘hood

As China faces pressure and criticism from the West for not changing its “neutral” stance despite Vladimir Putin’s actions in Ukraine, Beijing is trying to create space for itself by shoring up old allies and mending fences in its rough neighborhood.

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Imran Khan speaks during an interview with Reuters in Islamabad.

REUTERS/Saiyna Bashir

Palace intrigue plagues Pakistan

Pakistan’s PM Imran Khan is no stranger to controversy.

He has called Osama bin Laden a martyr of Islam. He’s praised the Taliban for breaking the shackles of slavery. Khan hasn’t defended rape, but he has lectured women on how to dress modestly to avoid it – something detractors call a tad rich, considering his past as a West End playboy.

Yet, Khan, now a self-declared, born-again Muslim, has been brazen and unapologetic about his brand of politicized Islam. In office, he’s been decidedly anti-West and pro-China. And in a new foreign policy pivot, Khan stood by Vladimir Putin’s side on the eve of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, defending his trip to Moscow by saying it was “an exciting time” to be at the Kremlin.

But the 68-year-old Kaptaan — Captain, as he’s known for his cricketing accolades and carefully cultivated against-all-odds brand of leadership — is officially in trouble. Later this week, he’ll face a vote of no-confidence in Pakistan’s notoriously corrupt and raucous parliament.

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