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Author: Don Obrien

Life under the Taliban: ‘Herat is now like a ghost city’


This is an audio transcript of the FT News Briefing podcast episode: Life under the Taliban: ‘Herat is now like a ghost city’

Marc Filippino
Good morning from the Financial Times. Today is Friday, August 27th, and this is your FT News Briefing.

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Two explosions near Kabul’s airport killed at least 13 US troops and many civilians. US military officials blame the blasts on Isis. And in western Afghanistan, people in the city of Herat are adjusting to life under the Taliban.

Najmeh Bozorgmehr
They are patrolling in the streets with guns and whips so that scares people.

Marc Filippino
Also, US central bankers are gathering today for the annual Jackson Hole Economic Symposium, and we’ll tell you about an internet data spat between Britain and the EU. I’m Marc Filippino. Here’s the news you need to start your day.

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Two bombs exploded near Kabul airport yesterday just as western countries were scrambling to get people out of Afghanistan on the last evacuation flights. The explosions killed at least 13 US service members and an unknown number of civilians. US military officials blame the attacks on suicide bombers linked to Isis. Here’s the FT’s Aime Williams.

Aime Williams
There’s been some speculation that now that US forces are retreating it just gives Isis a bit more room to do things like this. And when you have the Taliban in control of Kabul, it’s creating an environment where Isis has been able clearly to attack again and has targeted US forces in the airport.

Marc Filippino
The head of the Pentagon’s central command, General Kenneth McKenzie, said they would work to find the people associated with the attack.

Aime Williams
He also said, interestingly, that they expected to be attacked. They think that Isis will continue to try and attack them. US troops are passing along intelligence to Taliban manning checkpoints. And he thinks that Taliban have, in fact, thwarted several Isis attacks already using US intelligence.

Marc Filippino
The FT’s Aime Williams is based in Washington.

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Let’s go now to western Afghanistan, to the country’s third-largest city, Herat. Herat’s now under the control of the Taliban. It was one of those places where people benefited from the changes brought about by the US presence. It’s a cultural centre with a big university that has women, students and professors. The FT’s Najmeh Bozorgmehr has been speaking to people in Herat to find out what’s happening under the Taliban.

Najmeh Bozorgmehr
They are patrolling the streets with guns and whips so that scares people, even though there are not lots of women in the streets. And women say that they have stayed at home for now. But men who go out, they say it’s frightening.

Marc Filippino
Najmeh, there’s one man in particular you spoke with. He’s a government employee. How is he feeling about this moment in Herat?

Najmeh Bozorgmehr
Like others I’ve spoken to felt utterly miserable. I can’t give details of his background because then he could be detected and he had serious concerns about his future and his life, his family life. But he had to change his clothes, which it was like torture to him. He is a breadwinner with kids. He doesn’t know whether he’ll be paid by the end of the month or in even in the coming months. There is fear about revenge.

Marc Filippino
Yeah, and we’ve been hearing a lot about that revenge. The fear that the Taliban will retaliate against Afghans who worked for the US-backed government. The Taliban have said that they won’t take revenge and they also said they would respect life and property. Are they, at least for now, sticking to their word?

Najmeh Bozorgmehr
Local Taliban officials in Herat tell people that they should not be scared of the Taliban and that under sharia, Islamic sharia law, the Taliban would respect their rights. And women I spoke to, they say, what do they mean by sharia? Because when Taliban speaks about Islam, it’s as if they are talking about a new religion. And of course, all these people I have spoken to are Muslims.

Marc Filippino
Najmeh, what would you say is the biggest concern you’re hearing from people living in Herat?

Najmeh Bozorgmehr
I have a feeling that people’s concerns are quickly shifting from civil rights and freedom to daily issues. There is already an economic meltdown in Herat. Prices of foodstuffs are going up. The cash is in short supply. Banks in Kabul have opened, but banks in Herat remain closed. There is only one ATM machine, and if it works, apparently there are long lines of people who need cash. Those who could leave have left, and some people, even from Herat, have gone to Kabul because they think Kabul is safer for them and it’s a bigger city, it’s easier to hide. Those who are stuck in Herat, they feel miserable and they say they are waiting for the first window to open for them to leave.

Marc Filippino
That’s the FT’s Najmeh Bozorgmehr. She’s based in Iran and has been reporting on events in Afghanistan.

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Today, central bankers are gathering for their big annual meeting that usually takes place in Jackson Hole. The FT’s Colby Smith was about to head out to Wyoming to cover the conference, but last week, organisers pivoted to a virtual format like they did last year because of Covid, which says a lot about the times we live in.

Colby Smith
Fed officials have said in recent days and weeks that, you know, you can’t really be quite sure what the impact is going to be of this latest wave of Covid. And I think that the move to an online format really shows that this is quite an uncertain time and it does lead to these last minute u-turns both in kind of logistical planning but also perhaps in policy decisions as well.

Marc Filippino
So let’s talk about policy, Colby. As you’ve been reporting, the key discussion is the tapering of asset purchases. A hundred twenty billion dollars a month, a big pillar of the Fed’s pandemic economic support programme. Do you think Fed chair Jay Powell could mention that in his speech today?

Colby Smith
So perhaps we will hear some hints about the sequence of events. The minutes from the last meeting in July indicated that officials largely supported a move by the end of the year. But whether that means, you know, some kind of announcement comes in September, November or December is really uncertain here. So I think there’s gonna be a lot of attention on what the actual sequence of tapering will be. If there is any indication that we’re closer to the date at which they could be thinking about announcing some kind of retreat. At the same time, we’ll probably hear quite a lot about the Delta variant and the broader economic risks, perhaps, of this recent surge in cases. The labour market recovery is a critical thing for the Fed to see before they can even think about pulling back their support. And so if Covid concerns are once again becoming a top issue, then that could very much delay this whole process.

Marc Filippino
Colby Smith is the FT’s US economics editor.

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Internet privacy rules are another issue for Britain and Europe to scuffle over post-Brexit. Yesterday, the UK proposed changes to data laws, including removing those cookie pop-ups that let you know you’re being tracked. A British official called them pointless and Britain could possibly get rid of them. The EU was not happy about that. As the FT’s European technology correspondent Madhumita Murgia reports.

Madhumita Murgia
The worry there is if the UK diverges too far from GDPR, which is the current sort of standard in the region, and maybe even the gold standard globally for data protection, its own citizens data might be at risk and their privacy would be compromised, and therefore they wouldn’t want to have open data flows between the UK and the EU.

Marc Filippino
Brussels also warned the UK that it would break off an existing data sharing agreement if the UK’s rule changes compromised EU citizens privacy, which would be a big deal.

Madhumita Murgia
Breaking down data flows between regions makes it just very difficult for multinational businesses to operate, particularly in the internet space. And in this day and age, that’s pretty much any company with an online presence. This doesn’t mean that it will just affect internet companies like social media or ecommerce. This could be any company that operates online that collects data of citizens. And if the adequacy relationship is put at risk, it means that those businesses will find it very hard to operate cross-border.

Marc Filippino
That was the FT’s European technology correspondent Madhumita Murgia.

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You can read more on all of these stories at FT.com. This has been your daily FT News Briefing. Make sure you check back next week for the latest business news.

The FT News Briefing is produced by Fiona Symon and me, Marc Filippino. Our editor’s Jess Smith. We had help this week from Taylor Nicole Rogers, George Drake Jr., Zoe Han, Gavin Kallmann, Michael Bruning and Persis Love. Our theme song is by Metaphor Music.

This transcript has been automatically generated. If by any chance there is an error please send the details for a correction to: typo@ft.com. We will do our best to make the amendment as soon as possible.



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