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Afghan men sell Taliban flags outside the former US embassy in Kabul.

REUTERS

Can a deadly quake inspire change for Afghanistan?

Struggling with a drought, economic collapse, famine, and an enemy more extreme than themselves, the Taliban now face Afghanistan’s worst natural calamity in years.

More than a thousand people were killed in last week’s earthquake, and while humanitarian organizations are eager to help, there is a gap in the international relief effort. Questions about recognizing the Taliban during this time of crisis, or working with the Islamists for the long-term development of the country, come sharply into focus.

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Osama bin Laden sits with al-Qaeda's second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahri in 2001.

Reuters.

US braces for impact as UN finds al-Qaida resurgent

Al-Qaida is resurging in Afghanistan. The militant group is recruiting, raising funds, positioning itself to conduct long-distance attacks, even upping its propaganda, and remains close to the Taliban.

That’s according to a new UN Security Council report, compiled with intelligence from member states. The report, released by the UN office monitoring international sanctions on the Taliban, has further claimed that al-Qaida’s core – under Dr. Ayman al-Zawahri’s leadership and estimated to be several dozen-people strong – is located in eastern Afghanistan’s Zabul and Kunar provinces, along the border with Pakistan, where the terrorists have enjoyed a “historical presence.” It also noted that some members were reportedly living in Kabul’s former diplomatic quarters, where they have access to the Taliban-run Ministry for Foreign Affairs, though this wasn’t confirmed by the investigators.

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What We're Watching: Filipinos vote, Taliban vs Afghan women

Is the Philippines ready for Marcos 2.0?

Filipinos go to the polls Monday to vote in perhaps the most consequential and polarizing presidential election in recent memory. The clear frontrunner is Ferdinand Marcos Jr., the son and namesake of the late dictator. Marcos is leading the polls by a 30-point margin over Vice President Leni Robredo, who has campaigned on a message of good governance to contrast with the kleptocracy associated with the 21-year rule of the senior Marcos. Despite her long odds, Robredo supporters hope that their candidate's late surge in popularity and possibly lower-than-expected turnout could turn the tide in their favor. Marcos, meanwhile, is confident of a victory that'll return his family to Malacañang Palace 36 years after his dad and shoe-loving mom Imelda were chased out of power and into exile in Hawaii. His election would be yet another triumph for political dynasties, which have tightened their long-held grip on Philippine politics in recent years (Marcos' running mate for VP is none other than the daughter of outgoing President Rodrigo Duterte). Though his victory seems inevitable, will Marcos' many critics accept the result?

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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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Paige Fusco

What We're Watching: Taliban ditch poppies, another Chinese COVID mishap, Darfur war crimes tribunal

Taliban ban poppy cultivation

Fulfilling a long-held promise, the Taliban have banned the cultivation of poppies, the main ingredient used in heroin and other opiates. “If anyone violates the decree, the crop will be destroyed immediately, and the violator will be treated according to Shariah law,” the group said. Afghanistan is by far the largest producer of opium, accounting for 85% of all production globally. (After the Taliban took control last year, opium production increased in the country by 8%.) Indeed, the move comes as the Taliban are vying to gain recognition from the international community as the legitimate ruler of Afghanistan and unlock millions of dollars worth of foreign reserves currently held in US banks. However, as cash runs dry from the opium trade, regular Afghan farmers who depend on the crops for their livelihood will feel the economic pain. Observers are warning of an impending calamity in Taliban-ruled Afghanistan, which is already reeling from economic collapse with reports of Afghans being forced to sell their children and organs to survive.

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Hina Khar: Pakistan Must Solve Its Domestic Problems and Step Back From a Global Role | GZERO World

Hina Khar: Pakistan must solve its domestic problems and step back from a global role

With Washington ready to downgrade its relationship with Islamabad, Pakistan's PM Imran Khan, looking to form new friendships to protect Pakistan's strategic interests visited Moscow as Russian forces invaded Ukraine. In a GZERO World interview, Ian Bremmer talks to Pakistan’s former Foreign Minister, Hina Khar, about Afghanistan, Pakistan’s future choices, and India.

Khar argues that the West needs to accept its responsibility for starving Afghans. Military interventions like the US-led war in Afghanistan, she adds, cast a “deep shadow on the entire democratic value system.” She also thinks that the best way to help end the humanitarian crisis is to talk to the Taliban.

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Talks With Taliban Won’t Legitimize Them (US Already Did That) | Pakistan's Hina Khar | GZERO World

Talks with Taliban won’t legitimize them (US already did that)

Want the Taliban to form a more inclusive Afghan government? Talk to them. Otherwise, don't complain about millions of starving Afghans.

That's the advice of Hina Khar, Pakistan's former foreign minister, to Western nations who say they don't want to "enable" the regime.

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Ian Explains: Pakistan's Pivot Towards Russia | GZERO World

Pakistan's pivot towards Russia

Russia's invasion of Ukraine has left Moscow isolated through US-led sanctions and economic boycotts. Still, the Kremlin does have friends.

One of them is China. Another is Belarus. And now Vladimir Putin has a new country in his camp: Pakistan.

As Russian forces pummeled Ukraine, Pakistan's PM Imran Khan visited Moscow to discuss a new gas pipeline. Khan says he wants peace, but his trip did not go down well in Washington, Ian Bremmer explains on GZERO World.

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