Something for the weekend: life under the Taliban, overpriced watches and water like diamonds

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It has been almost a year since the Taliban took over Afghanistan. At the time, the story dominated the news, with gruesome dispatches from Kabul as Afghans and expats clamored to get on the last flights out of the country.

As is often the case, the media and the public moved on. The story of Afghanistan, however, continues. This week, FT Edit aired a three-part series to mark one year of Taliban rule. What is life like for families struggling to feed themselves amid the country’s near-total economic collapse? And what exactly is the Taliban planning to do about it? (Hint: it involves a lot of coal and a lot of child labor.)

The process of developing a project like this, with journalists working in difficult environments, can often say as much about a story as the story itself. We spoke to FT South Asia correspondent Benjamin Parkin for the story behind the story.

A young balloon seller in the streets of Kabul, where thousands of people have to struggle to feed their families in a context of economic collapse © Oriane Zerah/FT

Children as young as eight work in mines controlled by the Taliban in northern Afghanistan. The energy crisis has made coal an essential source of income for activists © Oriane Zerah/FT

Ben first visited Afghanistan in December, four months after the Taliban took power. Aid agencies warned he was on the brink of starvation, but managed to muster just enough humanitarian aid to avert mass starvation. However, the country remains in a difficult economic situation.

The focus of this week’s series was to understand how life has changed for Afghans. “The Taliban takeover was experienced very differently by different people. Many people will tell you, for example, that they are relieved at the improvement in security since the end of the war,” Ben said.

“At the same time, many have had some of their most basic rights taken away. Most egregiously, the Taliban have closed secondary schools for girls since taking power.

For journalists too, relations with the Taliban can be ambiguous. “Many foreign journalists working in Afghanistan will tell you that security has improved dramatically since the end of the war,” Ben said. “A lot of the road trips journalists now take across the country, for example, would have been unthinkable before.

“The group, which until not so long ago perhaps saw you as a target, can be quite welcoming to foreign media and will meet you and answer your questions quite openly. But there have been several clashes where journalists have been harassed, expelled or even detained. The situation therefore remains tense.

It’s a very different picture for Afghan journalists, who are “much more vulnerable to retaliation and have much more at stake”.

What is the future of Afghanistan? Ben points to some signs of economic stabilization, if only because an economy can’t go down in such a short time. But Afghanistan is now a much poorer and hungry country.

“The Taliban are still evolving from being an insurgent group to being a leader, a messy process that has exposed rivalries and divisions between different factions within the group,” Ben said. “But there is little evidence that these have reached the stage of threatening the Taliban’s unity, and therefore their grip on power.”

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Our favorite pieces

• FT Edit editor Malcolm is on vacation this week (at least I guess he’s gotten the travel gauntlet right – no news is good news) so I’ll go wild and give you of them of my favorite stories that we ran in FT Edit.

First, our resident watch expert (yes, we have one) Nick Foulkes’ article on the staggering sports watch market. It’s a world in which pre-owned watches regularly sell for five, sometimes six figures and brands with years-long waiting lists find themselves training their staff to deal with frustrated and desperate customers. But there are signs that things may have gotten a little too hot: have we reached peak vigil?

As someone who resolutely orders tap water with every meal, this article on the world’s best sparkling waters was an indirect delight. Vichy Catalan has “big crunchy bubbles that fill your mouth like a shrimp cracker”. Châteldon, favorite of Louis XIV, is “fresh and luxuriant”. And Vals is “like a mouthful of diamonds”. Boy, bring the water menu!
Hannah Rock (@HannahRockFT)
Deputy Editor, FT Edit

Our favorite thing of the week…

When we are unskilled in a particular area, we are more likely to overestimate our abilities in that area. Our incompetence makes it all the more difficult for us to understand how bad we are, a phenomenon now widely known to be the Dunning-Kruger effect. From secrecy to honest reviews that actually work

something to listen to

behind the money — FT journalists break down what led to Sri Lanka’s economic collapse and ask if other emerging markets are vulnerable.

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Technical Tonic — Why did Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan cause so much tension? The disproportionate role of the small island in the manufacture of computer chips has something to do with it.

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Work – The FT Work and Careers Podcast examines how sports stars’ strategies for managing stress and improving performance can be translated for the office.

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something to watch

Along with the ground war in Ukraine, there was a fierce struggle on the airwaves. This FT film looks at radio warfare, from citizens decoding Russian military messages in their bedrooms to the mysterious activity of Cold War-era number stations.

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