Global Translations takes a break next week. See you in September!
PROGRAMMING NOTE: Global Translations will not publish from Monday Aug. 30-Monday Sept. 6. We’ll be back on our normal schedule on Wednesday, Sept. 8.
Most militaries evacuating Afghanistan, including the British, French and Turkish, are at or near the end of their operations. The U.S. military will need to start prioritizing its own evacuation starting over the weekend … unless the administration decides to follow former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta’s advice: “we’re going to have to go back in to get ISIS.”
Beyond the gates of Hamid Karzai International Airport the Taliban is in charge, but not yet fully in control: there’s no functioning government, and foot soldiers aren’t always following orders. The U.N. is in disarray and Western intelligence is now thin and patchy. The takeaway: everything you see and read needs to be treated as only a partial picture.
Familiar, predictable pattern: Kabul’s suicide attackers sought a global publicity stage; the victims were overwhelmingly Afghan; and the U.S. military suffered the biggest casualties among foreign forces. The outlines of that grim news — now with a death toll over 100 — came as no surprise. There is no love lost between the Taliban and the attackers from ISIS-K, the Afghan Islamic State affiliate — and two-week lull between ISIS-K attacks left many in Kabul expecting an attack near the airport.
Ongoing threat: “ISIS’s ability to target individuals who are on the ground in Afghanistan is very different from ISIS’s ability to attack the United States and attack the homeland,” said White House press secretary Jen Psaki. “We will maintain and continue over-the-horizon capacity with a presence, in partnership with countries in the region, to ensure that they don’t develop that ability.”
TALIBAN SPLIT SCREEN: Taliban leaders are playing nice with their senior peers in the media, at the U.N. and other governments — be it at the Chinese and Russian embassies, in providing escorts of foreigners to the airport, or taking inventories of Western hotels rather than ransacking them. Why? There’s already been a huge brain drain out of Afghanistan over the past month, and the Taliban can’t afford to lose everyone capable of running public services.
That caution from Taliban leadership isn’t being matched by all of the organization’s foot soldiers. More than 20 U.N. staff have faced attacks, Afghan Interior Ministry officials have been beaten, and a disturbing video is circulating of the Taliban murdering a special immigrant visa applicant (caution: graphic content).
Bloomberg profiles the people the Taliban must deal with to avoid civil war in Afghanistan.
WHO’S STILL LEFT BEHIND?
The number of Americans who want out, but are not yet out, is likely now below 1,000, according to officials. The number of Afghans who worked with the U.S. still in Afghanistan is around 250,000. The number of U.N. staff and contractors left is around 30,000.
One of the biggest U.S.-affiliated groups remaining is the U.S. Agency for Global Media, which runs the pro-democracy Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Around 550 employees and their families now have little hope of evacuation — drawing pleas for action from a group of 67 members of Congress, the letter reads.
SO WHO’S REALLY AT RISK NOW? It’s hard to say, even for those involved in keeping government ministries and U.N. agency staff safe. Here’s what Global Translations has gleaned from conversations with staff on-the-ground in Kabul over the last 36 hours.
— Many remaining U.N. staff and contractors are considered by their senior colleagues to be at low risk of Taliban reprisal because their functions (giving out food, driving trucks and so on) did not involve dealing with foreign governments and intelligence services. Some of them reject those reassurances, and have not left their houses for 10 days. There are few women on the streets.
— The U.N. created a mess for itself by encouraging staff based in provincial towns and cities to concentrate in Kabul as the Taliban takeover gained speed. The problem: U.N. leaders didn’t articulate how they would keep staff safe if and when Kabul fell. “To live in their own communities was much safer” said one foreigner still on-the-ground. “If you move someone from their home to Kabul for safety, by extension then the people are already thinking about risks, and should be moved to a safe place if Kabul becomes untenable.”
— Houses of U.N. staff are being searched but not ransacked, and female health workers are encouraged to come to work: two signs that the Taliban is keeping tabs on Afghans, but wary of driving even more educated people out of the country.
— Medicines and other medical products in Afghanistan could run out in a week. Ibrahima Socé Fall, the WHO assistant director-general for emergencies response, said Wednesday he was hopeful of getting more supplies into the country — but it’s not clear how: Will the Taliban open airports to commercial flights on Sept. 1? Around 500 metric tons of medical supplies are ready to transport from Dubai.
— The ISIS-K attack is a reminder that the Taliban is not the only threat to Afghans, or democratic allies. Stefano Stefanini, Italy’s former NATO ambassador, told Global Translations: “Yesterday’s attack turned the clock back twenty years. Terror is back in Afghanistan. Whether it’s Al Qaeda or ISIS-K doesn’t really matter … now we’re back to September 10, 2001.”
AID: “The sense that U.N. staff are being abandoned will reverberate across U.N. missions around the world,” predicted Adam Lupel, vice president of the International Peace Institute.
ECONOMY: Gargi Rao, an economic analyst at GlobalData, predicts the Afghan economy will shrink by around one-fifth during the next year.
FINANCE: The World Bank has joined the list of financial institutions freezing assets and funds in the Afghan government’s name.
REFUGEES: Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi has been calling European colleagues on Afghanistan. POLITICO’s China watcher in Europe, Stuart Lau, reports Wang told Italy’s Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio that stabilizing a Taliban government could “[forestall] the occurrence of refugee and migrant waves, which is crucial for Italy and the entire Europe.” He told British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab it would reduce “the impact of refugees and immigrants.”
PERCEPTIONS: There is no fundamental shift in how others perceive the U.S. since the fall of Kabul, according to a new Morning Consult poll. The percentage of Chinese with favorable views fell from bad (24 percent) to worse (18 percent), the largest shift.
THE DOMESTIC FRONT
A majority of all U.S. voters continues to support resettlement of Afghan refugees, including in one’s own state, but a significant minority thinks U.S. support should end with airlifts, and that other countries should host the refugees, per Morning Consult.
Pompeo takes his own arrows over the Afghanistan collapse: Few GOP officials have been more intimately involved with U.S.-Afghan relations than Mike Pompeo, who as secretary of State helped lead negotiations with the Taliban to lead to an end of the 20-year-old war. That’s complicating his White House ambitions.
FEDERAL RESERVE’S CENTRAL BANKER RETREAT: The Fed’s annual Jackson Hole symposium is underway, but virtually, after an abrupt Delta variant-induced change of plans. The big debate is around whether, when, and how to taper the central bank’s $120 billion monthly asset purchase program.
QATAR — THOUSANDS OF MIGRANT WORKERS DEATHS UNINVESTIGATED: a new report by Amnesty International found that Qatar, host of soccer’s World Cup in 2022, has failed to investigate the majority of deaths of migrant workers over the past decade. Many of the deaths do not even have a specific cause of death attributed. Migrant workers there — most from South Asia — are dying well below life expectancy, amid long hours of work in Qatar’s grueling heat.
TECH — THE STATE-IFICATION OF FACEBOOK: The world’s most popular digital platform is looking to form an election commission. The company already has a de facto Supreme Court and currency, and it’s central premise is to act as a digital town square.
TRANSATLANTIC — TRADE AND TECH COUNCIL DETAILS: The first meeting is Sept. 29. The top thematic discussions will be supply chain coordination (especially semiconductors) and investment screening coordination (hello, China). It’s TBD whether platform regulation makes the agenda. The U.S. Trade Representative and the EU’s trade department are running fewer of the 10 working groups than expected. Full details (including names of working group chairs) here.
BALKANS — WHAT HAPPENS WHEN THE EU CLOSES ITS MEMBERSHIP DOOR: Albania, Serbia and North Macedonia know the EU isn’t really committed to making them full members, with several EU countries stalling their membership process due to domestic political concerns. Faced with vague suggestions from Brussels that the Balkan region needs to get its act together, the spurned governments are starting to act accordingly, forming their own economic club.
TECH — SOUTH KOREA VOTES YES TO BIG TECH CURBS: A South Korean parliamentary committee is recommending barring Google and Apple from requiring that software developers use their payment systems, reported Reuters. The tech giants would no longer be able to charge commissions on in-app purchases as a result. A final vote is expected Aug. 30.
COVID — U.S. A LONG WAY FROM BEING THE WORLD’S VACCINE ARSENAL: So far in 2021, the United States has spent only $145 million of the $16 billion it allocated to help increase global Covid vaccine production capacity (that is, less than 1 percent) per a new NGO analysis. What has been spent should help Merck, working with Johnson & Johnson, produce one billion vaccine doses more than they otherwise would have, starting in early 2022. The White House insists it has allocated more than $10 billion — but a group of Senators concerned that Covid remains out-of-control both at home and abroad have included a request to double the original money (to $34 billion) in the upcoming budget reconciliation process.
TRADE — BANGLADESH ACCORD GOES GLOBAL: Textile companies and trade unions have reached a deal on a new legally binding agreement to protect textile factory workers, broadening to a global scale a national compact known as the Bangladesh Accord. The new deal — the International Accord for Health and Safety in the Textile and Garment Industry — takes effect Sept. 1 and will run until Oct. 31, 2023. “This International Accord is an important victory towards making the textile and garment industry safe and sustainable,” said Valter Sanches, the general secretary of IndustriALL Global Union.
The back story: After the 2013 collapse of the Rana Plaza garment factory building in Dhaka killed more than 1,100 people, 200 fashion brands including H&M, Inditex and Primark, American Eagle and Fruit of the Loom signed the original deal, which ensured independent safety inspections of textile factories and allows workers to anonymously launch safety complaints.
Next steps: The European Commission in Brussels is set to present a proposal Oct. 27 on corporate due diligence, with the intention of more closely policing supply chains for human rights and environmental violations.
ESSENTIAL WORKERS SUMMIT: Leaders of worker movements covering street vendors, and domestic, care and agricultural workers from all continents (except Australia) will meet Sept. 8 to 10, with executives including Brid Gould of Sodexo and the head of the International Labor Organisation Guy Ryder. Six out of 10 workers in the world are still in the informal economy, lacking basic social rights and benefits. Schedule here.
UN CALLS FOR ENERGY COMPACTS: U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres wants countries to join a series of global commitments to clean up the energy sector next month around the U.N. General Assembly leaders week. Two compacts are listed on the U.N. website, with the promise of more to come. One focuses on green hydrogen; the other is a push for “24/7 Carbon-Free Energy.” The U.N. is asking for governments to create and submit additional pledges.
The champions: Guterres has also appointed 30 ministers from around the globe to tackle thematic challenges.
Beyond Oil and Gas Alliance: Reuters reports a Danish-led coalition to curtail oil and gas production is working to establish a deadline for stopping production of fossil fuels. So far only Denmark and Costa Rica, which has never drilled for oil, are on-board.
POLITICO SOLD TO GERMAN PUBLISH AXEL SPRINGER: Europe’s biggest publisher is already co-owner of POLITICO Europe, a 125-person newsroom.
GAVELED: The Fifth World Conference of Speakers of Parliament, the world’s largest gathering of the highest level of parliamentary representation, will take place in Vienna, Sept. 7 and 8.
NOMINATED: President Biden is nominating Thomas Barrett, the mayor of Milwaukee since 2004, as ambassador to Luxembourg.
SHORT READ: With Poland’s independent media under state attack, should Congress provide funding for Radio Free Europe, Radio Liberty and Voice of America to reestablish their broadcasts and websites in the Polish language, which were closed down after the Soviet Union collapsed? David Ensor makes the case.
LONG READ: “Not so remote drone warfare,” International Politics
BOOK: “The Key Man,” all about Arif Naqvi and the rise and fall of Abraaj — “a lot of behind-the-scenes on the global impact investing universe.” h/t Jordana Fichtenbaum
FILM: The Nordic International Film Festival is now open at Fotografiska, New York City, featuring 27 Nordic films and five world premieres.
Thanks to editor Ben Pauker, Carmen Paun, Alex Ward, Stuart Lau, Sarah Anne Aarup, Leonie Cater and Aitor Hernández-Morales.