Monday, March 2, 2020

Announcement of the day

Boris Johnson is having a baby, and is now engaged to his partner, Carrie Symonds. This will be his third marriage and, er, 🤷🏽‍♀️ child. True fact: there is no official confirmation as to how many kids the UK PM has sired—including from Johnson who has steadfastly refused to answer the question. But we do know that 31-year-old Symonds will be the youngest spouse to occupy Downing Street in 174 years. And Johnson will be the first PM to get both divorced and married while in office. Cool Britannia, indeed!

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The biggest news story today, explained.

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The peace deal struck between the US and the Taliban

Nearly 20 years after the 9/11 attacks, the United States struck a peace deal with those who aided its masterminds. And no one is happy about it… except the Taliban.


A quick recap: After the 9/11 attacks, the United States declared war on Taliban-ruled Afghanistan, accusing it of aiding and abetting Al Qaeda. At the time, President George Bush declared: “I will not forget this wound to our country or those who inflicted it. I will not yield; I will not rest; I will not relent in waging this struggle for freedom and security for the American people.” Here’s what’s happened since

  • The US bombed and invaded Afghanistan, and installed a civilian government.
  • Bush then turned his attention to Iraq, and lost that war.
  • Barack Obama redoubled his efforts in Afghanistan, but finally ceased all combat operations in 2014, and brought the number of troops down to 8.400 by the end of his tenure. 
  • Starting in 2015, the Taliban staged a comeback, and reclaimed control of nearly half the country by 2018.
  • In 2017, Donald Trump upped the number of troops to 14,000, warning against “a hasty withdrawal.” But in 2019, he started negotiations to withdraw all US forces.


The deal: was signed in Doha, Qatar—the political headquarters of the Taliban—between the United States and “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan which is not recognized by the United States as a state and is known as the Taliban.” And it’s just four pages long. Point to note: The elected government of Afghanistan is nowhere in the picture.


And what does it say? The TLDR version: The US will get the hell out of Afghanistan if the Taliban pinky promises not to attack the US, or harbour any group that has plans to do the same. And no, the US doesn’t really care what happens to Afghanistan or its people. But if you need more details:

  • The US will first cut its troops presence down to 8,600 within 135 days, and make sure its NATO allies also draw down. And there will be a full withdrawal of all US personnel—including “non-diplomatic civilian personnel” (read: CIA)—within 14 months.
  • In return, the Taliban promises not to “allow any of its members, other individuals or groups, including al-Qaeda, to use the soil of Afghanistan to threaten the security of the United States and its allies”.
  • The Taliban has committed to holding ‘intra-Afghan’ talks with the current Afghan government within 10 days in Oslo, Norway. The agenda includes “a comprehensive cease-fire, the role of the Taliban in a future government, and rights for women and civil society. No format has been established, and there is no deadline for completion.”
  • Point to note: The recent election in Afghanistan has resulted in total chaos. The election commission declared Ashraf Ghani as the winner, but his rival Abdullah Abdullah refuses to recognize the results. So no one knows who will be negotiating on behalf of the government.
  • However, all UN sanctions on Taliban leaders will be removed within three months, and US sanctions by August 27.
  • Up to 5,000 imprisoned Taliban and 1,000 prisoners from “the other side” held by Taliban “will be released” by March 10—which is when the intra-Afghan talks are supposed to start in Oslo. The Afghan PM has already rejected this plan.


Why do we care? As with the Afghan government, Trump has thrown India under the bus, as well. 

  • Since the ouster of the Taliban from power, the Indian government has worked closely with successive governments, investing up to $3 billion in massive infrastructure projects.
  • However, it has been entirely sidelined from all US-Taliban negotiations, and the Indian ambassador to Qatar only showed up for the signing. And New Delhi’s statement on the deal pointedly did not mention the Taliban by name.
  • The reason: The Taliban has worked closely with Pakistan, and long harboured anti-India terrorist groups, such as Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed.
  • The pact makes zero mention of the above, restricting the conditions to those who threaten the US and its allies—which includes Pakistan, btw. 


The bottomline: The United States is the bull that enters a china shop, breaks everything in sight, takes ‘ownership’ of the shop, wreaks even greater damage in the name of ‘rebuilding’, and then saunters out, declaring “everyone is tired of war.” (Watch Trump here) And everyone pays the price, including Americans.

Learn more: Here’s the best of the reporting out there:

  • Indian Express offers the best overview of the deal, including implications for India.
  • Watch Secretary of State Mike Pompeo—who to his credit refused to personally sign the deal—put a lipstick on this porcine deal.
  • BBC News tallies up the cost of this decades-long war to Afghans and the US.
  • The actual text of the deal is here.
  • Foreign Affairs (registration required) offers the best analysis of Afghanistan as a hub of terror—including of anti-India groups.
  • The Diplomat explains why even a Taliban in power may not be able to control terror groups.
  • The Telegraph looks at what the deal means for Indian peacekeeping troops in Afghanistan.
  • Washington Post reports on why this is a very bad deal for Afghans.
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while Broadsheet was having a mini tech meltdown

Your Delhi violence update: includes the following:

  • The death toll is now 45.
  • BJP workers raised ‘goli maaro saalon ko’ slogans at Amit Shah’s rally in Kolkata. Yup, that’s our Home Minister! The same slogan was also raised at a ‘peace march’ led by the infamous Kapil Mishra. Also in the capital: a “Delhi Against Jihad” march. (clip here)
  • Times of India reports on how Babarpur—barely a kilometre from Maujpur—kept the peace at the height of violence (with zero help from the police, of course).
  • The image of a single Muslim man, beaten and bloodied, surrounded by an armed mob became an iconic symbol of the violence. The good news: he survived and Caravan has his first-person account.
  • The Telegraph reports on the mood in Shaheen Bagh which is holding firm.
  • Mark Tully in Hindustan Times offers an important reminder of the pressures on the police force in India—and why it inevitably leads to tragedy.
  • Manu Joseph in Mint offers a contrarian and civilisational view of the violence and its causes.
  • Reddit India put together a handy timeline of FIR-related headlines. Chronology samajhiye.


In CAA-related news: A citizen filed an RTI asking for evidence of PM Modi’s citizenship. The answer: “Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi is a citizen of India by birth in terms of Section 3 of the Citizenship Act, 1955 and as such the question of his having a citizenship certificate which is for citizenship by registration does not arise.” (Siasat)


Your viral outbreak update: includes the following:

  • Mint explains why a pandemic will stunt the Indian economy’s ‘green shoots’ of growth.
  • The Atlantic has a must-read on why new coronavirus is spreading uncontrollably. The unexpected reason: it has a low fatality rate—less than 2%. Also: why the future may bring routine “cold and flu and COVID-19 seasons”
  • Just how contagious is Covid-19? This chart is all you need to answer that question.
  • The surgeon-general of the United States has a public service message: STOP buying face masks! They don’t protect the aam aadmi, and create shortages for medical staff.
  • In related news: Gwyneth Paltrow posted a photo of herself wearing a mask, asking: “Paranoid? Prudent? Panicked? Placid? Pandemic? Propaganda?” 
  • Apple is sending care packages to its workers stranded in China. Included: snacks, hand sanitisers and an iPad!
  • South Koreans are using super smart apps to keep themselves safe. These show the user “the date a patient was confirmed with the disease, demographic data about the patient, and, crucially, some of their location history.” 
  • Meanwhile over at Paris Fashion Week: “Marine Serre sent models down the runway on Wednesday in a variety of face masks, including knit pieces. Influencer and model Kozue Akimoto attended the show, wearing a red and black non-disposable face mask.” Yes, there are photos.
  • Also: an important reminder that ordinary Chinese people have maintained their sense of humour amidst the panic and suffering.
  •  A WhatsApp rumour that the coronavirus can be spread by chickens slashed poultry sales in India by almost 50%. 
  • US medical authorities have lots of suggestions on how to stay safe, and some of them take aim at facial hair. Yes, gentlemen some kinds of muchhies and beards are safer than others.


Vaping is bad for your mouth: The aerosol inhaled by vapers deposits bad bacteria in the mouth—which in turn increases the risk of cavities, infection, bad breath, and even oral cancer, says a new study. (Business Insider)


Uber, translate! The company is integrating Google Translate into their app. The aim: to enable drivers and riders to communicate with each other when they don’t share the same language. And it will be available in more than 100 languages. Of course, Uber drivers can continue to cancel your ride without saying a damn word. (Mashable)


Is your flight experiencing a ‘fume event’? This alarming investigation reveals that commercial planes often experience incidents where the in-flight air becomes contaminated with toxic fumes—often affecting the crew, including pilots. 😱 (BBC News)


Things that make you go WTF: Here’s a jaw dropping clip that shows how much Jeff Bezos is worth in grains of rice. It’s insaaaane!


Weekend reads you might have missed: include the following:

  • The Guardian has a great read on famous actors who suffer from crippling stage fright.
  • Also in The Guardian, a very creepy new fad of collecting ‘hyper-realistic’ baby dolls. Yikes!
  • Do you need to master the art of handling a back-handed compliment—the kind we women receive all the fricking time? Why, CNN has you covered. 
  • What if Lady Gaga’s latest bae is, umm, your ex-boyfriend? New York Times has a first-person account of the woman who once dated Gaga’s latest squeeze, Michael Polansky.
  • Washington Post takes a sceptical look at something called ‘momcation’—when women get time off from taking care of the fam. 
  • Ozy profiles the legendary Pandit Jasraj—who is always worth your time.
  • Atlas Obscura reports on how the world’s most famous drug lord Pablo Escobar’s ‘pet’ hippos have turned Columbia into a giant toilet.
  • Daily Mail highlights a new spinal cord stimulation device called Evoke which is implanted under the skin—and can relieve upto 80% of chronic pain.
  • Sandip Roy in Mint has a lovely take on the ‘family values’ of ‘Shubh Mangal Zyaada Saavdhan’. 


Your daily quota of sunshine items: include the following:

  • Taylor Swift being totally awesome at playing a stereotypical man in her latest single, ‘The Man’.
  • Deepika Padukone’s unexpected ‘lungi dance’ shimmy in the midst of her workout.
  • This compelling clip that involves extracting an entire beach towel… from a snake!
  • This BBC News roundup of the most adorable animal moments from last week is totally the best!
  • Gal Gadot and Brie Larson making love not war.
  • The brilliant news that Scotland will soon be the first country to provide free tampons and pads.
  • Everyone is in love with gymnast Nia Dennis’ floor routine, served up to a mash up of Beyonce’s biggest hits.
  • And we absolutely adore this Indian Tik Tok fan of Shakira.
  • A number of Indian men openly displayed their fanboi crush on Ivanka. Her deadpan and gracious response here and here.
  • A TV reporter accidentally activated the filter generator on his phone. The results are hilarious.
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