August 20, 2021
CANVAS is pleased to bring you another weekly report! This week covers the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, new internet regulations in Cuba, protests in Thailand, democratic crackdowns in Hong Kong, and the global COVID-19 situation.
Since May, Taliban forces have been seizing road posts and small cities across Afghanistan, gaining power through the forfeiture of posts by reportedly starving Afghan forces. On August 15th, hours after Afghan President Ashraf Ghani fled the country, the Taliban took power. Seizing the capital Kabul, photos of Taliban fighters in the presidential office circulated as panicked frenzies of citizens swarmed banks, visa offices, and the airport. A reported 17,000 Northern Afghans attempting to escape the Taliban forces fled to Kabul for safety just last week and are now stranded outdoors without sustenance as violent conflict continues in the city. From Kunduz, a reported 60,000 have fled. No medical assistance has been provided for those in the camps. The US Defense Secretary reports that there have been no violent confrontations between US service members and Taliban forces during the installment of the new regime as the US continues to evacuate ambassadors, citizens, and some afghans seeking refuge. The airport is flooded with people seeking escape, some clinging onto moving US cargo planes. Taliban forces have set up checkpoints outside the airport, using batons and firing into crowds to keep people from fleeing. Reportedly 8,000 total have been evacuated from the Kabul Airport, with the bulk of them flying to the US, but reports vary. Many attribute the quick takeover of the Taliban to the withdrawal of US forces, whose military equipment and biometric tracking devices have now been seized by the Taliban. As of Thursday, in the city of Khost, the Taliban will set a curfew indefinitely, prohibiting all movement in reaction to the hundreds strong anti-Taliban protests that took place on Wednesday. Similar protests in Jalalabad occurred on Wednesday, with demonstrators removing the Taliban flag and replacing it with the Afghan flag, leading to a violent response where protestors were beaten, and shots fired into the crowd, with one confirmed death and six injuries. On Thursday, in Asadabad as a result of the Taliban firing at a group waving the Afghan Flag at an Independence Day celebration, there were 2 dead and 6 injured. On Thursday in Kabul, a group of cars carried banners with the colors of the Afghan flag near the airport. In Nangarhar, during a protest on Thursday, a video circulated of a protestor with a gunshot wound being carried away. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has claimed that anti-Taliban forces are gathering in the Panjshir Valley, the last remaining territory to not be overtaken by the Taliban, led by vice president Amrullah Saleh and Ahmad Massoud, the son of a well-known anti-Taliban fighter. There have reportedly been talks of an armed resistance movement under the banner of the Northern Alliance, a group of mujahadeen militias that allied with the US during the invasion, corroborated by Ahmad Massoud article in the Washington Post, asking for weapons, ammunition, and supplies to fight the Taliban. The Taliban have claimed to offer amnesty to people who had worked with Afghan or foreign governments, and maintained that their forces would not disrupt businesses or enter homes. A UN document has claimed, contrary to Taliban reports, that the group is escalating it’s search for previous NATO and US collaborators, with priority lists of individuals to arrest, and targeting those who will not surrender and their families according to Sharia law. They have also encouraged women to join the government, saying “The Islamic Emirate doesn’t want women to be victims”, and are “committed to the rights of women within the framework of Sharia”. A harsh break from the politics of the prior Taliban, in which women were barred from employment, education, and kept covered and in the home. As such, many Afghans do not believe the more tolerant views espoused by Enamullah Samangani, part of the Taliban’s cultural commission. In his press conference, Samangani encourages Afghans to rejoice at expelling the foreign military forces and embrace the Taliban as legitimate in comparison to Ghani’s propped up, foreign run government. He has claimed that the Taliban will not seek revenge, and that all embassies will receive complete security. As of right now, only China, Iran, and Russia’s embassies remain in Afghanistan. The Taliban have requested the international community recognize international boundaries and request the right to act on religious and cultural principles.
The CDC announced on Wednesday the creation of a disease forecasting center to assess emerging health threats and help guide public health decisions around the globe. This follows concerns regarding the high infection rate of the Delta variant of Covid-19 along with declines in testing and lack of granular data about hospitalizations in vulnerable communities. This lack of consistent new data over a year into the pandemic has made it difficult to make effective public health decisions. The new disease forecasting center will help focus public attention on infectious disease risks, which is especially important with many reopening plans steadily approaching. The W.H.O.’s African Director, Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, has publicly criticized the choice of many countries to begin administering “booster shots” to fully vaccinated members of their population, claiming it “makes a mockery of vaccine equity” when the African continent is still struggling to get any vaccine supplies. With only 2 percent of the continent’s 1.3 billion people fully vaccinated against Covid-19 and with many of its poor countries having been ravaged by the virus, Dr. Moeti pushes rich countries to give priority to poor nations, and that they “threaten the promise of a brighter tomorrow for Africa” by hoarding vaccine doses. Scientists at the University of Oxford have conducted a study finding that a fully vaccinated person who contracts the Delta variant of Covid-19 carries a similar amount of the coronavirus as unvaccinated people who also contract the variant. UK survey data suggest that vaccinated people with breakthrough infections still pose the risk of infection for those who are unvaccinated, and while data has not yet shown this trend with the Delta variant, the strong virality of the variant suggests it would behave similarly. Researchers continue to stress the importance of vaccination as protection against catching the virus at all, getting seriously ill, and preventing hospitalization to avoid overcrowding. Israel, known for having high vaccination rates following a swift and sweeping vaccine campaign in spring, now has one of the highest infection rates in the world with the daily rate of confirmed new virus cases more than doubling in the past two weeks, with the Delta variant being the primary form of the virus in Israel. This has brought up questions regarding the efficacy of the vaccine for some, especially against the Delta variant. Following China’s refusal to cooperate with the WHO on a request for a renewed probe into the origins of Covid-19 earlier in August, the WHO now reports that China will be willing to cooperate with the effort. The WHO seeks to update the previous investigation earlier in 2021 that was criticized, especially by the United States, for lack of transparency and for lack of thorough examination of the controversial lab leak theory. The WHO is also requesting for China to share raw data on early Covid-19 cases in the country.
Myanmar’s military junta is targeting the ousted NLD (National League for Democracy), including leader Aung San Suu Kyi and its lawmakers in an attempt to remove the party from politics through disbandment to secure the junta’s power. Since February 1st, the military have arrested 324 NLD members, 98 being members of parliament, and some members have died in custody. According to human rights group Fortify Rights, commanders of the Karen National Defense Organization (KNDO) admitted that their security forces detained and killed 25 men in June by Myanmar’s border with Thailand, placing responsibility for the massacre on their men. Activist group Assistance Association of Political Prisoners have figures showing that, on Wednesday, the death toll in Myanmar since the Feb. 1st coup has topped 1,000. Covid-19 is spreading mainly in the country’s prisons. With a heightened number of prisoners admitted since the escalation of arrests following the military coup on February 1st, prisons have been overcrowded and the virus has spread quickly in such unsanitary conditions. Numbers are difficult to estimate due to little information being shared by the military junta. With only 3% of the country vaccinated, the United Kingdom has called for a pause in conflict to enable the vaccine effort to get further underway. The conflict has greatly weakened Myanmar’s health system and put a stopper on the country’s vaccine plan.