Your Tuesday Briefing

We’re covering the Taliban’s disputed claim to the Panjshir Valley and a sentence for a Belarusian opposition leader.

The Taliban claimed on Monday to have captured the Panjshir Valley, raising their flag over Bazarak, the last Afghan provincial capital not firmly under their control, even as opposition forces there said that they would fight on from the mountains.

The Taliban never managed to control Panjshir, a rugged area 70 miles north of Kabul, the last time they ruled Afghanistan, from 1996 to 2001. It was the launching point for the U.S.-led invasion after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on New York and the Pentagon.

Soviet forces, during their occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s, made advances into the territory on at least nine occasions, only to be repelled each time.

Details: Taliban fighters posted images online said to be of militants raising the flag of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, as the Taliban call the country, as well as of their forces talking to local leaders.

Uncertainty: The opposition group, the National Resistance Front, disputed the Taliban’s claim of having conquered the entire province, but conflicting accounts of what was happening on the ground were hard to verify because internet and telephone service into the region has been cut off.


A Belarusian court on Monday sentenced Maria Kolesnikova to 11 years in prison after a closed-door trial in Minsk, the capital.

Kolesnikova tried to run for president last year. She and her colleague, Maksim Znak, another opposition figure and a lawyer, were charged with extremism, conspiring to seize power illegally, and damaging state security. Znak received a 10-year sentence in a maximum security penal colony.

It was another sign that President Aleksandr Lukashenko was pursuing an unrelenting crackdown on dissent after an election widely condemned by many Western governments as a sham. An estimated tens of thousands of opposition supporters have fled Belarus since the crackdown began last year.

“This verdict is illegal and unfounded,” said the pair’s lawyer, Yevgeny Pylchenko, announcing an appeal. “It is not based on evidence. During the trial, neither their guilt, nor even the commission of the crimes imputed, was confirmed.”

Context: Kolesnikova became one of Belarus’s most prominent opposition leaders last year after the candidate, whose campaign she managed, was arrested and barred from running. She threw her support behind Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, who entered the race after her husband was also barred from running and put in jail. They and a third female candidate, Veronika Tsepkalo, drew tens of thousands of supporters to their pre-election rallies.


New Zealand announced on Monday that it would ease restrictions outside Auckland, ending a series of lockdowns that began in August.

Residents outside Auckland will be allowed to return to work and school, and the nationwide alert level will be lowered to Level 2 starting Wednesday morning, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said at a news conference.

Auckland, a city of around 1.7 million, will remain at Level 4, which means that everyone but essential workers must stay at home. Schools will reopen on Thursday morning.

Context: New Zealand is one of the last countries pursuing a so-called Covid zero strategy, enforcing severe restrictions on movement and activities. Other governments that have employed this strategy, including Hong Kong and Singapore, have said they may start loosening their measures.

Data: The average number of daily new cases remains relatively low, at 36, but New Zealand’s vaccination campaign has gotten off to a sluggish start: only 49 percent of the population has received at least one dose, below the 62 percent in the United States and the 72 percent in Britain.

Here are the latest updates and maps of the pandemic.

In other developments:

News From Asia

Piping plovers, an endangered bird species in the U.S., have a defender when they roam New York beaches: the plover patrol. Volunteers monitor the area, making sure that people stay away, keep their dogs off the sand and keep the chicks out of harm’s way.

Steven Pinker, the Harvard cognitive psychologist, has made the case for positivity in an uncertain age. Our Talk columnist asked him about his latest book, which takes on rationality.

Your new book is driven by the idea that it would be good if more people thought more rationally. What mechanisms would induce more people to test their thinking for rationality? Ideally there’d be a change in our norms of conversation. Relying on an anecdote, arguing ad hominem — these should be mortifying.

The most powerful means of getting people to be more rational is not to concentrate on the people. We achieve rationality by implementing rules for the community that make us collectively more rational than any of us are individually. People subject their beliefs to empirical tests.

Are there aspects of your own life in which you’re knowingly irrational? The answer is almost certainly yes. I probably do things that morally I can’t justify, like eating meat. I probably take risks that if I were to do the expected-utility calculation could not be justified, like bicycling. But nonetheless I enjoy bicycling.

What about love? There’s nothing irrational about love. Ultimately our values are neither rational nor irrational. They’re our values; they’re our goals.



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