Prime Minister Boris Johnson will meet with leaders of Denmark, Estonia, Finland and Iceland, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Norway, and Sweden in order to plan new ways of segregating Russia. This pre-existing coalition is known as the Joint Expeditionary Force.
New tactics regarding further military presence around the North Atlantic and Baltic Sea will be a major objective, in light of the Russian invasion in Ukraine.
Prime Minister Johnson said, “European security has been shaken by the attack of Russia on Ukraine, and alongside our partners, we will take action to ensure we emerge stronger and more united than before.”
He further stated that The UK and it’s Nordic and Baltic allies need to remain proactive and protect themselves from Russian disturbances in regards to their energy supplies and overall economy.
Johnson fears that Russia’s military action may extend far beyond Ukrainian borders. Therefore it is imperative to keep the vulnerable allies safe. He claims that the entire security of Europe has come under major threat following the onslaught in Ukraine.
The summit is taking place immediately after The UK military has sent its forces to Norway to train 30,000 troops from 27 countries on how to repel future attacks similar to the one in Ukraine.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson intends on being a leading figure that will help combat further security threats in Europe.
A main focus of the agenda will be on how to rebuild Ukraine after the war has finished.
The Russian attack on Ukraine has certainly sent shock waves throughout the Baltic countries. With Lithuania already declaring a state of emergency. These Baltic nations were also annexed by Joseph Stalin during WWI. They have also been a leading voice that calls for strict sanctions against Russia.
The Lithuanian Foreign Minister stated, “The battle for Ukraine is a battle for Europe. If Putin is not stopped there, he will go further.”
The US has also deployed 800 infantry soldiers and artillery throughout the Baltic states. Biden described this move as ‘purely defensive’.
Lativian state secretary, Janis Garisons states that Russia is always looking at a vulnerability to target, claiming, “Once they see a weakness, they will exploit that weakness.”
Will these alliances and meetings truly provide Europe with a peaceful outlook? Or will this isolation enrage Russia into further violence?
America stands with Taiwan: Nancy Pelosi visits Taiwan amid tensions with China
Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the US House of Representatives, arrived in Taiwan on Tuesday, 2nd August despite the strained relationship between Taiwan and China. As a result, the tension between China and the US has also increased.
China considers Taiwan to be part of its territory but Taiwan asserts its independence as a self-governing island. Thus China/Taiwan and international relations are very delicate. If the island is visited by another nation like the US, it suggests a certain recognition of Taiwanese sovereignty. The US does not currently officially recognize Taiwan as an independent country but is still required to help the country defend itself if necessary.
Before Pelosi’s trip to Asia, Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian already warned, “There will be serious consequences if she insists on making the visit [to Taiwan],” but he did not spell out any specific consequences. “The People’s Liberation Army [PLA] will never sit idly by. China will take strong and resolute measures to safeguard its sovereignty and territorial integrity,” he added.
As soon as Pelosi visited the island, she tweeted, “Our visit reiterates that America stands with Taiwan: a robust, vibrant democracy and our important partner in the Indo-Pacific.”
In retaliation, Lijian stated, “This will definitely not have a good outcome … the exposure of America’s bullying face again shows it as the world’s biggest saboteur of peace.”
Shortly before her visit, Chinese Su-35 jets crossed the Taiwan Strait, a river bordering the Island with China, with no distinct purpose. Similarly, on the day that Pelosi landed, unidentified hackers cyberattacked the Taiwanese Presidential official website so it could not be accessed. Clearly rattled after her visit, China held its biggest-ever show of military force in the air and seas around Taiwan, which included the firing of ballistic missiles.
Ross Feingold, a Taipei-based political analyst, and lawyer told Al Jazeera that this kind of antagonistic behaviour by China after the visit could be a one-off event but it could also “become part of a sustained pattern of aggression.”
US Operations in Afghanistan and Beyond: A threat to locals
The assassination of Ayman Al- Zawahiri through a drone attack shows the US has still not given up on its operations in Afghanistan.
The assassination of Ayman Al- Zawahiri through a drone attack shows that US operation in Afghanistan have still not ended.
The Al- Qaeda leader, wanted for his role in various terrorist attacks around the world and in the US, has not only left an empty place for a future successor but has also opened a place for the Taliban to calculate their moves against the US and the groups within the country.
The Twitter feeds of Afghan journalists are filled with various videos of clashes between Taliban militants and the Islamic States sympathizers of Khorasan Province (ISKP). The clashes have resulted from the former group’s attack on Shia gatherings and busses that has caused numerous casualties. These videos containing several graphic scenes of blood and bodies are just an insight into the state of Afghanistan after a year of America abandoning it in the hands of the Afghan Taliban.
Since the United States removed its forces from Afghanistan after 2 decades of controlling the country’s borders and shifting the political and social dynamics of the region, the country has been struggling to regain its identity and strength. While the Taliban forces are trying to imitate governance with an Islamic rule in the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, extremist groups from the inside of the country are becoming a challenge for them. ISKP has already claimed the lives of more than 300 people between January 2020 and July 2021. The casualties from the Kabul airport attack and the recent attacks on Shia groups in the Holy month of Muharram hike the number up to around 600.
The recent killing of Al- Qaeda’s leader Ayman al Zawahiri in a drone attack orchestrated by the US in Kabul has further fueled the unrest. Zawahiri, who was leading Al-Qaeda’s operations since the killing of Osama Bin Laden, had been on the United State’s wanted list for years. His involvement in the infamous 9/11 plans had put a bounty of 25 million dollars on his head. The attack through which according to the US “justice has been delivered,”, has been called a violation of the Doha pact signed between the Taliban and US officials in 2020. While Al-Qaeda is deciding on a new leader, the group is also being prompted to respond to this loss. Several statements from ISKP’s telegram have been made to frame the Taliban for assistance in the attack, mocking the apparent alliance between Al-Qaeda and The Taliban forces.
The situation in Afghanistan keeps getting worse but it appears that America is using the savior narrative, to explain the US operations in Afghanistan, for its people to distract from the bigger changes that are taking place in the dynamics of foreign affairs, seeming to be a threat to locals. The narrative that aided its involvement in Iraq, sanctions on Iran, and 20 years long control over Afghanistan have not bore any fruitful results, but rather have overturned the sociological and international stature of the region.
US President Biden, in his remarks on the attack, assured the people of America of their safety and security, “We will always remain vigilant, and we will act. And we will always do what is necessary to ensure the safety and security of Americans at home and around the globe.”
In the meantime, the US continues aid to Ukraine against Russia, and its visit to Taiwan amid growing tensions between China and Taiwan is signaling a threat that is potentially greater than Al-Qaeda.
As Biden pledges to “continue to conduct effective counterterrorism operations in Afghanistan and beyond”, it remains unclear how the US plans to address the impact of these operations on the lives of the people in Afghanistan and beyond where people are already living under a threat of a humanitarian crisis.
China Threatens Consequences if Pelosi Visits Taiwan
- US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi has landed inTaiwan. Prior to the visit, China’s Foreign Ministry has voiced their disapproval, stating that “China will take resolute responses and strong countermeasures to defend its sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
- US Secretary of State Antony Blinken emphasized in response that “The speaker will make her own decisions about whether or not to visit Taiwan,” and that the US is looking to Beijing to “act responsibly and not to engage in any escalation going forward.”
- The US has made it clear that members of Congress routinely visit Taiwan and that this trip is non-threatening and has precedent. Even so, some officials have expressed concern that China may invade Taiwan’s air defense zone or send missiles near Taiwan in retaliation.
- Pelosi has criticized China’s leadership and vocalized support for Taiwan in the past. She is currently on her tour of Asia, with scheduled visits to Singapore, Malaysia, South Korea and Japan.
First Grain Ship Departs Ukraine After Six Months of Russian Blockade
- The first shipment of grain departed the port of Odesa on Monday after Russia’s blockade of Ukrainian ports for the last six months trapped around 20 million metric tons of wheat and corn.
- Russia recently made a deal with Ukraine, brokered by the UN and Turkey, allowing grain exports to resume, appeasing fears of a global food supply crisis and rising prices.
- Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba celebrated the shipment, calling it a “day of relief for the world, especially for our friends in the Middle East, Asia, and Africa.”
- Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky was more hesitant to celebrate the shipment, stating “it is too early to draw any conclusions and make any forecasts” and he wants to “see how the agreement works and whether security will be really guaranteed.”
‘Don’t forget them’: millions of Afghans face hunger, economic crisis
International aid workers share stories of children and families struggling to make ends meet
“Winter is coming.”
That’s how Ammar Ammar, spokesperson for the International Committee of the Red Cross in Afghanistan, describes the situation in Afghanistan. The current hunger crisis, the result of a collapsing economy and drought, will only get worse if the country doesn’t get help, he says, especially in the colder months when people also have to stay warm.
“It’s not Game of Thrones here, it’s reality.”
Almost a year after the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, the world has become silent about the plight of the country and its people, who are facing one of their worst humanitarian and economic crisis in decades.
After the fall of Kabul, the international community declined to recognize the Taliban regime. Countries paused foreign aid and imposed sanctions. The United States also froze billions in Afghan state assets.
A country that had become reliant on external aid was left on its own. In the process, millions of Afghans were abandoned, too.
On a recent lunch break in Kabul, Ammar saw two girls, one about six years old and the other about three. One of them was lying down on the sidewalk, while the other was squatting next to a big nylon bag. They’d been collecting pieces of scrap metal on the streets to make ends meet.
“You could see that they were exhausted,” Ammar said. “You are going for your break and at the same time you can see two kids on the street, where they have no break at this age. It strikes you.”
And there are thousands of children like them.
“We are doing a massive job,” Ammar says. “But the sad reality is we can’t help everyone at the end of the day.”
A woman in Qala-e-Naw, the capital of the Badghis province recently told the UN-run World Food Programme (WFP) in Kabul how she made ends meet after her husband died five years prior.
“In the past, she said, she had a fair life, just getting by cleaning and washing for other people. After the economy collapsed, families have no money anymore to pay her and her work dried up,” said WFP spokesperson Philippe Kropf in an email. As a result, she borrows money to buy food, going further into debt.
“She told me she has not been able to buy cooking oil for weeks. She eats bread with tea and sometimes rice,” he said.
A young man told Kropf that “his family went to sleep many evenings without anything to eat in the past months.”
“They borrowed food with neighbours, but increasingly the neighbours have nothing to share,” he added, noting the young man had only completed second grade and was trying to find labour jobs to make ends meet. “But these jobs are getting rarer and rarer because of the collapse of the economy, too.”
The man participated in a training program to gain skills such as tailoring or mobile phone repair to earn a livelihood. The program trains 200 men and women over six months, during which participants receive food assistance for their families.
“After the training, (the young man) hopes to either open his own little shop, sewing clothing for men and children or to find work in a tailor shop and work for a salary,” Kropf said.
Prospects of famine remain
With the country reeling from recent droughts, and facing high inflation, a difficult situation is becoming even worse.
“For the first time, urban residents are suffering from food insecurity at similar rates to rural communities, marking the shifting face of hunger in the country,” Kropf said, noting some people are seeking help from WFP for the first time in their lives.
“The scale of the crisis in Afghanistan is immense, and needs continue to outpace available funding,” he added. The WFP needs nearly US $1 billion by the end of 2022 to help 18 million people – nearly half the population of Afghanistan.
Of that, the group urgently needs US $172 million to secure 150,000 metric tonnes of food to support 2.2 million people in remote parts of Afghanistan, which can get cut off by ice and snow in winter.
“We need these even more urgently because of the long lead-times for food commodities that we need to buy internationally,” Kropf said, including vegetable oil and specialized nutritious foods. “We need to get them into (the) country and then drive them into the mountains.”
The lack of funds in state bank accounts means civil servants aren’t being paid regularly, companies are shutting down and ordinary civilians face restricted access to their own savings.
Prospects of famine remain, said Ammar, noting that the main indicator is farming, which most people depend on to make ends meet. Farmers say climate change is resulting in less food production, resulting in extended periods when people don’t have adequate access to food.
Need for international aid
At the end of June, a 5.9 magnitude earthquake hit southeast Afghanistan, killing over 1,000 people and causing damage the International Rescue Committee described as “catastrophic.”
“This earthquake is a catastrophe for the people affected, but the response to the wider crisis in Afghanistan remains a catastrophe of choice for the international community,” said David Miliband, the group’s CEO and president in a release at the time.
“While humanitarian aid has averted famine for now, policies of economic isolation, the halting of development funding, and the lack of support for Afghan civil servants are unraveling the two decades of development progress that western leaders vowed to protect.”
He noted that families across the country face unemployment, leading to lower demand among local businesses which in turn leads to further job losses. He called for the international community to urgently provide funding to the country as well as “the phased and closely monitored unfreezing of assets.”
The question of frozen assets
Advocates for Afghanistan have criticized U.S.’s decision to freeze a portion of the country’s assets and decried a proposal for the U.S. to use some of them to support families affected by 9/11.
Afghanistan’s assets rightfully belong to Afghanistan, said Zubair Iqbal, a scholar at the Middle East Institute in Washington.
However, while unfreezing the funds would help bring immediate help to alleviate Afghanistan’s crisis, the country will need more support in the long-term, said Iqbal, who previously worked at the International Monetary Fund for more than 30 years.
The solution is to grant foreign aid to Afghanistan in a sustainable way to allow recovery, while managing its spending through an independent entity, he said.
Concerns around a proposal in the U.S. to use some of the Afghan assets to support families affected by 9/11 prompted a group of Afghan women to write an open letter to U.S. President Joe Biden in February.
“Taking funds from the Afghan people is the unkindest and most inappropriate response for a country that is going through the worst humanitarian crisis in its history,” the letter reads. “It is the squeezing of a wounded hand.”
Freezing the assets from the Taliban was the right decision, said one of the signatories in an interview, but they belong to the Afghan people and must be released to address the humanitarian crisis.
“My expectation from the international community is to put serious attention on Afghanistan,” said Roshan Mashal, former deputy director of Afghan Women’s Network, who left Afghanistan after the takeover and is now a fellow at the University of Texas at Arlington.
She called for coordination on how countries engage with the Taliban and to support the country’s people, as millions of Afghans face hunger and economic crisis.
“Don’t forget them,” she said.
Concerns Rise As US Teeters on the Brink of Recession
- The US economy declines for the second quarter in a row, causing, what other countries would consider, an economic recession.
- The prices for groceries, gas, and other basics are rising at the fastest pace since 1981. The US Central Bank is quickly trying to raise borrowing costs in order to cool the economy and ease the prices on goods, but with the contraction, at the annual rate of 0.9% in the 3 months to July, many are still getting concerned.
- President Biden struggles to convince the public that the economy is sound, with the unemployment rate at a low 3.6%. But with inflation in the US hitting 9.1% in June, the fastest price appreciation in 4 months, consumer spending has slowed at an annual rate of 1%.
- Many other countries, such as China and the UK, have been hit harder by the surge in energy prices and the War in Ukraine, causing risks from abroad. Other countries are facing much more serious problems and once they’re hit, their problems can spill over and affect the US.
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