What We're Watching: Afghan peace talks, Israel-Bahrain normalize ties, Peruvian president impeached

Taliban delegates shake hands during talks between the Afghan government and Taliban insurgents in Doha, Qatar

Afghanistan peace talks kick off: Months of political wrangling and impasse dashed hopes of reconciliation in Afghanistan, but now expectations have risen again after historic intra-Afghan peace talks kicked off Saturday in Doha, the Qatari capital. These direct negotiations — the parameters of which were set out by the Taliban and the US government earlier this year — symbolize the first time the Afghan government and the Taliban are sitting down face-to-face since the US invasion two decades ago, in the hopes of establishing a power-sharing arrangement to end decades of violence. The Taliban, which subscribe to an extreme Islamic political ideology, have long deemed the US-bolstered Afghan government as illegitimate. But now, in showing a willingness to engage directly, the Taliban are offering the Afghan people — 90 percent of whom live below the poverty line — a (small) glimmer of home regarding the prospect of reconciliation. Still, divisions persist between the two sides on major issues including the role of religion in society, women and minority rights, and ongoing insurgent violence. Complicating matters further, this all comes as the Trump administration says it will withdraw thousands of US troops from Iraq and Afghanistan by November.


Israel, Bahrain establish diplomatic ties: After weeks of speculation following the historic peace deal signed between the United Arab Emirates and Israel, the Persian Gulf kingdom of Bahrain has followed suit in normalizing ties with the Jewish state. The Israel-Bahrain deal, also brokered by the Trump administration, formalizes relations between the two sides that have been warming behind closed doors for decades over mutual enmity towards Iran as well as a desire to deepen trade ties and security cooperation. It's also a sign, analysts say, of Bahrain's attempt to increasingly endear itself to Washington amid intensifying regional tumult. (Bahrain was one of only a few countries that expressed support for the Trump administration's Middle East peace proposal earlier this year, which most international players rejected as being overly deferential to Israel, giving Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a "green light" to annex parts of the occupied West Bank.) It's widely believed that neither the UAE nor Bahrain would have gone ahead with normalization without the go-ahead from the "mother hen" Saudi Arabia — yet another sign, they say, that compromise on the Palestinian issue is no longer a precondition for the Arab world embracing Israel.

Peruvian president impeached: Perú's parliament has approved impeachment proceedings against President Martín Vizcarra for allegedly trying to block an investigation into misuse of public funds. The centrist Vizcarra — who swept into power in 2018 on an anti-corruption agenda — denies the accusation of "moral incapacity" despite leaked audio recordings in which he appears to suggest lying about his hiring of an obscure singer for $49,500 to deliver "pro-government motivational talks." The (bizarre) bombshell revelation has provoked a public outcry in pandemic-stricken Perú, the country now with the highest COVID-19 death rate per capita in the world. Perú's economy is also struggling to recover from the three-month shutdown of the mining sector due to the coronavirus, which saw its quarterly GDP plummet by more than 40 percent in June. Will the Peruvian leader survive impeachment? Sixty-five out of 130 lawmakers voted in favor on Friday, but the opposition parties altogether hold 95 seats — more than the 87 votes needed to remove Vizcarra.

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Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:

Hi, everybody. Ian Bremmer here from sunny Nantucket and going to be here for a little bit. Thought we would talk about the latest on COVID. Certainly, we had hoped we'd be talking less about it at this point, at least in terms of the developed world. A combination of the transmissibility of Delta variant and the extraordinary misinformation around vaccines and COVID treatment means that we are not in the position that many certainly had hoped we would be today.

The United States is the biggest problem on this front. We are awash in vaccines. Operation Warp Speed was an enormous success. The best vaccines in the world, the most effective mRNA, the United States doing everything it can to get secure doses for the entire country quick, more quickly than any other major economy in the world, and now we're having a hard time convincing people to take them. The politics around this are nasty and as divided as the country, absolutely not what you want to see in response to a health crisis.

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If your country had suffered decades of crippling corruption, wouldn't you want to prosecute those responsible? Of course you would. On Sunday, almost 98 percent of Mexicans who voted in a national referendum on this subject said, in so many words: "Yes, please prosecute the last five presidents for corruption!"

The catch is that turnout was a dismal 7 percent, meaning the plebiscite fell way short of the 40 percent turnout threshold required for its result to be binding.

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The COVID delta variant — which first surfaced in India earlier this year — is spreading rampantly throughout every continent, and is now the most dominant strain globally. But low- and middle-income countries, particularly in regions where vaccines have been scarce, are bearing the brunt of the fallout from the more contagious strain. We take a look at the 10 countries now recording the highest number of daily COVID deaths (per 1 million people), and their corresponding vaccination rates.

China tackles delta: China is the latest country to express serious concern over the highly contagious delta variant, after recording 300 cases in 10 days. Authorities there are trying to trace some 70,000 people who may have attended a theatre in Zhangjiajie, a city in China's Hunan province, which is now thought to have been a delta hotspot. Making matters worse, a busy domestic travel season in China saw millions recently on the move to visit friends and family just as delta infections spiked in more than a dozen provinces. Authorities have enforced new travel restrictions in many places, including in central Hunan province, where more than 1.2 million people have been told to stay in their homes for three days while authorities roll out a mass testing scheme. The outbreak has reached Beijing, too, with authorities limiting entrance to the capital to "essential travelers" only. Indeed, the outbreak has raised fresh concerns about Chinese vaccines' protection against delta, though many experts say they are still at least 55 percent effective in preventing serious illness.

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It was a weird series of events. Belarusian sprinter Kristina Timanovskaya took to Instagram to lament that her country's Olympic Committee had registered her for the 4x400 relay event at the eleventh hour (because a fellow participant had failed to pass drug screenings) despite not having trained.

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100: A scorching heat wave has caused more than 100 wildfires across Turkey's Mediterranean and Aegean coastline in recent days. Scientists say that dry conditions induced by climate change have helped spread the fires, which have already killed eight people and caused mass evacuations from tourist hotspots.

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Alcohol. It's a dangerous drug that has ruined countless lives and derailed many a global summit. But it's also humanity's oldest social lubricant, a magical elixir that can fuel diplomatic breakthroughs, well into the wee hours of the night. As Winston Churchill once quipped, "I've taken more out of alcohol than alcohol has taken out of me." On GZERO World, we take a deep dive down the bottle and examine the role alcohol has played in society, politics, and global summitry—from the earliest hunter-gatherer days to that memorable Obama Beer Summit in 2009. Joining Ian Bremmer is philosopher Edward Slingerland, whose new book Drunk: How We Sipped, Danced, and Stumbled Our Way Into Civilization makes a compelling, if nuanced, case for alcohol's place in the world.

Also: since alcohol isn't the only social drug, a look at the state of marijuana legalization across the US and around the world.

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GZERO World with Ian Bremmer. Watch episodes now

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Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter: Signal

GZERO World with Ian Bremmer. Watch episodes now

GZEROMEDIA

Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter: Signal