In Other News – Taliban offensive complicates Pakistan’s position, Multiple nations explore weather-modification technology, & More – 8/13/2021

August 13, 2021

As the Taliban offensive continues, Pakistan’s position grows increasingly complicated. Of the many nations who met this week in Qatar to discuss Afghanistan’s future, including the United States who will remain a major player even after the troop withdrawal, Pakistan is best positioned to impact what happens next. Pakistan officially denies supporting the Taliban, but for years it has provided the group with operating space, ideological recruits, medical treatment, money, and weapons– transfers further enabled by cross-border ethnic and tribal ties. On Monday, US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin spoke to Pakistani Army chief General Bajwa about the need to eliminate safe havens for the Taliban along the Afghan-Pakistan border, but the outcome of such talks is unclear and Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan has stated that Islamabad is not taking sides. The international community is overwhelming against a complete Taliban takeover: China, Russia, and the United States have all put pressure on Pakistan to convince the Taliban not to take Kabul, and other key regional players like Iran have long opposed Taliban rule. But if the Taliban is rapidly capturing territory without substantial opposition, most strikingly in the northern region historically resistant to the group, it’s also uncertain whether Pakistan could even convince the Taliban to stop if it tried. Pakistan’s stance on the Taliban is increasingly complicated by its alliance with China who wants to keep Taliban influence far from its Muslim Xinjiang region. Further, a Taliban-led state might give Pakistan a stronger position against India, but a devastating civil conflict in Afghanistan also means an excessive inflow of refugees and the threat that Pakistani extremist groups are invigorated by the establishment of an Islamic Emirate next door. For our take on the important role of covert actions in the region, please see Jack Devine’s 2010 WSJ op-ed that remains relevant today: Jack Devine: The CIA Solution for Afghanistan – WSJ

Multiple nations seriously exploring weather-modification technology as climate change worsens. A new report by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) indicates that the world is heating up much more quickly than previously assessed, and water-related disasters like drought and flooding are becoming more prevalent as a result. Water security and access, long a cause of territorial disputes, is increasingly important, and according to the World Meteorological Organization more than 50 countries have been pursuing weather modification programs. The UAE, in collaboration with researchers from the UK, is actively testing a new system of cloud seeding that creates artificial rain by flying drones into clouds and delivering an electric shock. The new system is reportedly safer for the environment than previous methods involving salt flares, and “rain enhancement science” is gaining traction worldwide. In January, China conducted its first successful unmanned weather-modification drone “sweet rain” flight- part of Beijing’s larger plan to extend its artificial rain program to over 60% of the country’s landmass by 2025. Some countries like Thailand and Indonesia are pooling resources on weather modification initiatives, and similar alliances are anticipated. Although the technology itself is still under debate, both for its effectivity and potential impact on the greater surrounding environment, the conversation will only increase and calls for international regulations are likely on the horizon.

Private digital asset platform is selected by US government to manage seized cryptocurrency. Criminals have been increasingly demanding cryptocurrency payments for a myriad of illicit activities, including notably lucrative ransomware attacks, but the government has simultaneously become much more adept at tracking and seizing the digital assets and now holds millions in recovered crypto. The US Marshals Service, a division of US DOJ who oversees asset recovery, used to deal with the seized crypto the same way it did with items like real estate or art- auctioning it off to the highest public bidder. But with larger amounts of crypto being recovered in an extremely volatile environment, the government wants a better solution. Since at least 2018 the Marshals have been looking to partner with a private sector company to help manage the crypto assets, and public records indicate that by June 2020, 15 companies were vying for the contract. Anchorage Digital, the first federally chartered bank for crypto as of January 2021, has won the five-year contract after closely edging out a competitor deemed too large to win a small business deal. The contract comes at a time of heated crypto debate; national and international governmental bodies are grappling with related issues on how to regulate the currencies and how and if to implement national digital currencies.