Millions of Afghans could run out of food before the arrival of winter and one million children are at risk of starvation and death if their immediate needs are not met, top United Nations officials warned on Monday, putting the country’s plight into stark relief.
Secretary General António Guterres, speaking at a high-level U.N. conference in Geneva convened to address the crisis, said that since the Taliban takeover in Afghanistan last month, the nation’s poverty rate has soared and basic public services have neared collapse and, in the past year, hundreds of thousands of people have been made homeless after being forced to flee fighting.
“After decades of war, suffering and insecurity, they face perhaps their most perilous hour,” Mr. Guterres said, adding that one in three Afghans do not know where they will get their next meal.
The deepening humanitarian crisis tops a dizzying array of challenges confronting the new Taliban regime as it navigates governing a country propped up for decades by aid from international donors.
face potential collapse. At a local hospital in Chak-e Wardak, administrators have been unable to pay salaries or purchase new medicines with banks still closed, according to Faridullah, the facility’s resident doctor.
as drought enveloped the nation.
On Monday, in his first public remarks to Congress, Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken defended the Biden administration’s withdrawal from Afghanistan, saying there was no reason to believe the country would have stabilized had the United States remained.
“There’s no evidence that staying longer would have made the Afghan security forces or the Afghan government any more resilient or self-sustaining,” Mr. Blinken told the House Foreign Affairs Committee, in a live teleconference call. “If 20 years and hundreds of billions of dollars in support, equipment, and training did not suffice, why would another year, or five, or 10, make a difference?”
international aid workers having fled the country out of safety concerns. Those who remain are unsure if they will be able to continue their work.
During the conference on Monday, the U.N. said it needed $606 million in emergency funding to address the immediate crisis, while acknowledging that money alone will not be enough. The organization has pressed the Taliban to provide assurances that aid workers can go about their business safely. By the end of the gathering, international pledges had surpassed the amount requested.
But even as the Taliban sought to make that pledge, the U.N.’s human rights chief, Michelle Bachelet, also speaking in Geneva, said Afghanistan was in a “new and perilous phase” since the militant Islamist group seized power.
“In contradiction to assurances that the Taliban would uphold women’s rights, over the past three weeks, women have instead been progressively excluded from the public sphere,” she said, a warning that the Taliban would need to use more than words to demonstrate their commitment to aid workers’ safety.
Monday’s conference was also intended to drive home the enormousness of the crisis and offer some reassurance to Western governments hesitant to provide assistance that could legitimize the authority of a Taliban government that includes leaders identified by the U.N. as international terrorists with links to Al Qaeda.
their origin story and their record as rulers.
Who are the Taliban leaders? These are the top leaders of the Taliban, men who have spent years on the run, in hiding, in jail and dodging American drones. Little is known about them or how they plan to govern, including whether they will be as tolerant as they claim to be. One spokesman told The Times that the group wanted to forget its past, but that there would be some restrictions.
On Sunday, Taliban authorities sent assurances that they would facilitate humanitarian aid deliveries by road, he said.
some $12 billion in assistance to Afghanistan over four years.
While the Taliban did not have a representative in Geneva for the meeting, Zabihullah Mujahid, the Taliban’s deputy information and culture minister, said the government welcomed all humanitarian efforts by any nation, including the United States.
He also acknowledged that not even the Taliban expected to be in control of the country so quickly.
“It was a surprise for us how the former administration abandoned the government,” he said. “We were not fully prepared for that and are still trying to figure things out to manage the crisis and try to help people in any way possible.”
More than half a million Afghans were driven from their homes by fighting and insecurity this year, bringing the total number of people displaced within the country to 3.5 million, Filippo Grandi, the U.N. refugee chief said.
The danger of economic collapse raised the possibility of stoking an outflow of refugees to neighboring countries.
Said, 33, lived in Kunduz before fleeing to Kabul, where he now lives in a tent in a park. He has been there with his wife and three children for a month.
“It’s cold here, we have no food, no shelter, and we can’t find a job in this city,” he said, adding that he had not received any aid.“We all have children and they need food and shelter, and it’s not easy to live here.”
Jim Huylebroek contributed reporting from Chak-e Wardak, Afghanistan. Sami Sahak also contributed reporting.
GENEVA — President Biden had three big tasks to accomplish on his first foreign trip since taking office: Convince the allies that America was back, and for good; gather them in common cause against the rising threat of China; and establish some red lines for President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, whom he called his “worthy adversary.”
He largely accomplished the first, though many European leaders still wonder whether his presidency may yet be just an intermezzo, sandwiched between the Trump era and the election of another America First leader uninterested in the 72-year-old Atlantic alliance.
He made inroads on the second, at least in parts of Europe, where there has been enormous reluctance to think first of China as a threat — economically, technologically and militarily — and second as an economic partner.
Mr. Biden expressed cautious optimism about finding ways to reach a polite accommodation with Mr. Putin. But it is far from clear that any of the modest initiatives the two men described on Wednesday, after a stiff, three-hour summit meeting on the edge of Lake Geneva, will fundamentally change a bad dynamic.
when he refers to Beijing’s actions against the Uyghur population and other predominantly Muslim ethnic minorities as genocide.
So Mr. Biden toned down his autocracy vs. democracy talk for this trip. And that worked.
Yet while “Biden has gotten words from the Europeans, he hasn’t gotten deeds,” said James M. Lindsay, director of studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. “Settling some trade issues is a very good start. But it’s not how you start, but how you finish, how you translate the sentiments in the communiqués into common policies, and that will be very difficult.’’
Mr. Biden carefully choreographed the trip so that he demonstrated the repairs being made to the alliance before going on to meet Mr. Putin. Mr. Biden made clear he wanted to present a unified front to the Russian leader, to demonstrate that in the post-Trump era, the United States and the NATO allies were one.
That allowed Mr. Biden to take a softer tone when he got to Geneva for the summit meeting, where he sought to portray Mr. Putin as an isolated leader who has to worry about his country’s future. When Mr. Biden said in response to a reporter’s question that “I don’t think he’s looking for a Cold War with the United States,’’ it was a signal that Mr. Biden believes he has leverage that the rest of the world has underappreciated.
Mr. Putin’s economy is “struggling,’’ he said, and he faces a long border with China at a moment when Beijing is “hellbent” on domination.
“He still, I believe, is concerned about being ‘encircled,’ ” Mr. Biden said. “He still is concerned that we, in fact, are looking to take him down.” But, he added, he didn’t think those security fears “are the driving force as to the kind of relationship he’s looking for with the United States.”
He set as the first test of Mr. Putin’s willingness to deal with him seriously a review of how to improve “strategic stability,’’ which he described as controlling the introduction of “new and dangerous and sophisticated weapons that are coming on the scene now that reduce the times of response, that raise the prospects of accidental war.”
It is territory that has been neglected, and if Mr. Biden is successful he may save hundreds of billions of dollars that would otherwise be spent on hypersonic and space weapons, as well as the development of new nuclear delivery systems.
But none of that is likely to deter Mr. Putin in the world of cyberweapons, which are dirt cheap and give him an instrument of power each and every day. Mr. Biden warned during his news conference that “we have significant cyber capability,” and said that while Mr. Putin “doesn’t know exactly what it is,” if the Russians “violate these basic norms, we will respond with cyber.”
The U.S. has had those capabilities for years but has hesitated to use them, for fear that a cyberconflict with Russia might escalate into something much bigger.
But Mr. Biden thinks Mr. Putin is too invested in self-preservation to let it come to that. In the end, he said, just before boarding Air Force One for the flight home, “You have to figure out what the other guy’s self-interest is. Their self-interest. I don’t trust anybody.”
David E. Sanger reported from Geneva and Steven Erlanger from Brussels.
Every year Lane Schiffman — who lives in Greensboro, N.C., and who co-owns a handful of high-end watch and jewelry stores, including Shreve & Co. — usually spends a couple weeks in Switzerland at the trade shows that have been anchors of the watch industry for decades.
But for Watches and Wonders Geneva, the virtual trade fair that hosts 38 brands and starts on April 7, he will be sitting in a friend’s house, watching each company unveil its newest timepieces on a computer screen.
Mr. Schiffman said he will miss having new watches in his hands and socializing with colleagues in person. He is realistic, however, about the current limitations on physical gatherings. “It’s not something we can do, so Plan B is the next best thing, and Plan B is to do things virtually,” he said.
Certainly the online presentations this year have filled a pandemic-inspired need, but what happens to watch fairs when restrictions on large gatherings and travel are lifted?
Frédéric Arnault, chief executive of TAG Heuer. “It helps us all create this mystique around not just this or that brand, but all watch brands.”
But virtual fairs have their supporters, too. “There is something about just being able to, I hate to say it, sit in your underwear and not leave your home and watch the show,” said Adam Craniotes, an editor at large at the watch magazine Revolution and co-founder of the RedBar Group, a collectors’ organization.
Watch fairs, like so many businesses, were forced to recalibrate by the pandemic. And in this case, experts say, that restructuring was overdue.
“Probably this year of Covid was useful for them to try to disrupt something that was difficult to disrupt without such an event,” said Claudia D’Arpizio, partner and head of luxury goods for the management consultants Bain & Company. “Everyone was questioning the value of these fairs.”
an addition promised, but not fulfilled, in 2019. (Some Baselworld mainstays, like Patek Philippe and Rolex, are scheduled at Watches and Wonders.)
Many brands also have pivoted to and invested in video equipment to be used at the fairs and beyond. Chopard, for example, installed a film studio in its Geneva headquarters that it intends to introduce during the fair this week.
Some videos are brilliant, some are just boring.
In addition to its presentation of new watches, Montblanc’s watch division will include a live conversation with Reinhold Messner, the mountaineer and a brand ambassador, talking about an expedition that helped inspire elements of a limited edition timepiece.
aBlogtoWatch. “It’s because these brands have put absolutely no effort into anything beyond, ‘Hey, we heard Zoom meetings are a thing.’”
As another option, next month Mr. Adams will be introducing his own online fair, called New Watch Week. He aims to create more engaging videos than those in typical brand launches. The fair will include content at intervals throughout the year, instead of just during its first week.
His target audience, he said, is consumers, who will be able to watch for free, no invitations needed.
That type of programming is likely to continue after the pandemic has gone. Physical fairs, he said, may well resume then, too.
“The luxury industry requires real relationships, social opportunities, travel and celebration, and consumers that want to express themselves and have the money to do so,” Mr. Adams said.
“If you don’t have those things happening, you don’t really have a functioning watch industry.”
GENEVA — Switzerland on Sunday became the latest European country to ban the wearing of face coverings in public places, prohibiting the veils worn by Muslim women.
Official results of the nationwide referendum showed 51.2 percent of voters supported the ban on full facial coverings, which was proposed by the populist, anti-immigrant Swiss People’s Party (S.V.P.), compared with 48.8 percent opposing it, a much narrower margin of victory than pollsters had initially predicted.
The initiative, started long before the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, makes exceptions for facial coverings worn at religious sites and for security or health purposes, but also bans coverings like the ski masks worn by protesters. Officials have two years to write legislation to put the ban into effect.
The federal government had urged voters to reject the ban as tackling a problem that didn’t exist and arguing that it would damage tourism.
Critics of the ban cited a study showing only some 30 women in Switzerland wear the veils and most of them were born in Switzerland and had converted to Islam. The only people seen wearing the burqa, a full head-to-toe covering, are visitors from the Middle East, mostly wealthy tourists from the Persian Gulf bringing welcome revenue to the country’s hospitality industry.
France, Denmark, the Netherlands and Austria ban face coverings, and opinion polls at the start of the year showed the Swiss initiative garnering the backing of around 65 percent of voters, but the gap narrowed quickly as liberals and women’s groups pushed back against a ban they condemned as racist, Islamophobic and sexist.
The Swiss People’s Party has “always profited from campaigning against minorities, and feel they have to keep doing it,” said Elena Michel, a manager of a campaign against the ban for Operation Libero, an activist group supporting liberal causes. “In the end all our freedoms are at stake. If we open that door, it shows a tendency that it’s OK to take away the fundamental rights of minorities.”
Switzerland’s Central Council of Muslims called the result of the vote “a dark day” for Muslims and issued a statement saying, “Today’s decision opens old wounds, further expands the principle of legal inequality, and sends a clear signal of exclusion to the Muslim minority.”
The proposal put forward by the Swiss People’s Party, the country’s largest, did not mention Islam or niqabs and burqas — veils traditionally worn by Muslim women — calling instead for a ban on “full facial covering.” But the party left no doubt as to whom it was targeting.
Menacing campaign posters depicting a black-garbed woman scowling from behind her veil carried the slogan “Stop Extremism!”
The initiative evoked memories of a successful 2009 campaign by the S.V.P. to ban the construction of minarets, the towers from which mosques traditionally broadcast the call to prayers. Switzerland had three minarets at the time but the party challenged such architecture as alien to the Alpine nation’s culture and landscape, and hammered home the message with posters depicting minarets as missiles.
The S.V.P. framed its campaign leading up to Sunday’s vote as part of a “war of civilizations” in which it was defending Switzerland against “the Islamization of Europe and our country.”
To win support from other parts of the political spectrum, the party also framed the initiative as liberating women from religious oppression and said it would help the police deal with hooligans in street protests and at sporting events.
Some liberal-leaning Muslims supported the ban.
“What the full veil represents is unacceptable; it is the cancellation of women from public space,” Saïda Keller-Messahli, president of the Forum for a Progressive Islam, told Swiss media.
Social commentators say Switzerland’s 400,000 Muslims, who make up around 5.5 percent of the population, are better integrated than those in France or Germany.
Some who campaigned against the ban called the outcome better than expected.
“We lost the battle but not the war,” said Ines el-Shikh, a Muslim and co-founder of the Violet Scarves, a feminist group, who celebrated the sharp drop in support for the ban. “This is huge. It shows the power that feminism as an organized movement can bring to public debate.”
Others said they feared the outcome would merely stoke the politics of division and fuel anti-Muslim sentiment.
“Things are going in a bad direction and this is going to make them worse,” Sanija Ameti, a political activist and member of the Green Liberals Party, said. “That frightens me.”