She was left traumatized and with chronic pain, but still continued to attend classes. By August, when Taliban soldiers entered Kabul, she was only months away from receiving her degree. But now the Taliban decree appears to have rendered her dream impossible.

“All the hard work I have done so far looks like it is gone,” she said. “I find myself wishing I had died in that attack with my classmates instead of living to see this.”

Wali Arian and Lara Jakes contributed reporting.

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Prominent Chinese #MeToo Figure Vows to Appeal After Losing Case

A former television intern who became a prominent voice in China’s #MeToo movement against sexual assault and harassment has vowed to fight on after a court in Beijing ruled that she had not produced sufficient evidence in her harassment case against a star presenter.

The former intern, Zhou Xiaoxuan, told supporters and journalists outside the Haidian District court in Beijing that she would appeal after judges ruled against her claim late Tuesday night.

Ms. Zhou asserted in 2018 that Zhu Jun had assaulted her in a dressing room four years earlier. Mr. Zhu denied that accusation and sued Ms. Zhou, and she countersued him. Their legal battles became a focal case in China’s expanding movement against the sexual coercion of women.

The court in Beijing rejected Ms. Zhou’s case in a terse online statement that did not go into the substance of her claims. She had “tendered insufficient evidence to prove her assertion that a certain Zhu had engaged in sexual harassment,” the court stated.

crack their heads and spill blood” if they tried to stop its rise.

  • Behind the Takeover of Hong Kong: One year ago, the city’s freedoms were curtailed with breathtaking speed. But the clampdown was years in the making, and many signals were missed.
  • One Year Later in Hong Kong: Neighbors are urged to report on one another. Children are taught to look for traitors. The Communist Party is remaking the city.
  • Mapping Out China’s Post-Covid Path: Xi Jinping, China’s leader, is seeking to balance confidence and caution as his country strides ahead while other places continue to grapple with the pandemic.
  • A Challenge to U.S. Global Leadership: As President Biden predicts a struggle between democracies and their opponents, Beijing is eager to champion the other side.
  • ‘Red Tourism’ Flourishes: New and improved attractions dedicated to the Communist Party’s history, or a sanitized version of it, are drawing crowds ahead of the party’s centennial.
  • Since then, the Chinese Communist Party has moved to rein in public protest and contention over women’s rights, and fewer such cases have burst onto the internet.

    An exception was in July, when the police detained Kris Wu, a popular Canadian Chinese singer, after an 18-year-old university student in Beijing accused him of offering young women like her help with their careers, and then pressing them to have sex. He has denied the accusations.

    Mr. Wu was formally arrested last month on suspicion of rape. His case became one in a number of scandals that have prompted the Chinese government to crack down on youth celebrity culture and warn actors and performers to stick to official rules for propriety.

    Ms. Zhou has been barred from Weibo, the popular Chinese social media service where her claims against Mr. Zhu first spread. (His lawsuit against her has still not gone to trial.)

    Traditional state-run media outlets were ordered not to cover Ms. Zhou’s claims and lawsuit, according to three journalists who received the instructions and asked for anonymity because of the risk of repercussions. But word of Ms. Zhou’s loss in court rippled across Chinese social media on Wednesday. Many reactions that remained on Weibo were critical of her, some accusing her of making up her claims and acting as a pawn for forces hostile to China. Her supporters said that, despite the setback, she had set a lasting example.

    “I was very disappointed, but it didn’t surprise me,” said Zheng Xi, 34, a feminist in Hangzhou, in eastern China. “Her persistence in the last three years has educated and enlightened many people.”

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    Taliban Appoint Stalwarts to Top Government Posts

    KABUL, Afghanistan — The Taliban announced a caretaker government on Tuesday, taking a major step in re-establishing their Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, and empowering many of the movement’s stalwarts from their regime in the 1990s.

    After weeks of assurances from Taliban leaders that the movement would offer a more moderate and inclusive style of governing, most of the acting appointments on Tuesday were of senior figures who served in similar roles decades ago — a sign that the group’s conservative and theocratic core remain largely unchanged. All were men, and several are listed by the United States and United Nations as global terrorists.

    “I assure all our countrymen that these officials will work hard to uphold Islamic rules and Shariah law,” Sheikh Haibatullah Akhundzada, the movement’s supreme leader, said in a written statement handed out at a news conference in Kabul. “The Islamic Emirate needs the continued support of its people to rebuild the ruined country together.”

    The Taliban made clear that more appointments would be coming, extending a process that has already stretched for weeks since the group suddenly seized national control last month.

    “Guantánamo Five.” They were held at the American detainment camp at Guantánamo Bay for 13 years before being exchanged in 2014 for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, an American soldier captured by the Taliban.

    In order to govern, the Taliban will need to secure aid, which has been frozen by the United States and other nations. Yet U.S. sanctions against some cabinet members, including Mr. Haqqani and his uncle, Khalil Haqqani, appointed acting minister of refugees and repatriation — both listed as leaders of the terrorist-designated Haqqani network — will make that a difficult proposition.

    Another factor will be foreign governments, lenders and aid organizations who are waiting to see the fate of the opposition and whether the Taliban will respect rights for women and ethnic and religious minorities. Just hours before the Taliban announced their new government posts, in fact, their fighters were on Kabul’s streets violently breaking up a peaceful demonstration for the second time in less than a week.

    their origin story and their record as rulers.

    As they marched on Tuesday morning, they carried a banner with a single word: “Freedom.”

    The protests are happening as the Taliban cement their military grip on the country as well, announcing on Monday that they had seized the capital of restive Panjshir Province.

    Afghanistan also faces a worsening humanitarian crisis. Basic services like electricity are under threat, while the country has been buffeted by food and cash shortages.

    Thousands of Afghans are still desperately trying to flee the country, even as the United States works to evacuate dozens of its citizens. At a news conference in Doha, Qatar, on Tuesday, Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken said U.S. officials were “working around the clock” to ensure that charter flights carrying Americans can depart Afghanistan safely.

    One senior Western diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the fact that the Taliban took more than three weeks to announce even a transitional government, despite pressing need to reestablish services and economic functions, could be taken as a sign that “they weren’t really ready, and they didn’t have a plan.”

    The appointed officials, who were all men, were also notable for including only a few non-Pashtuns, despite the country’s ethnic diversity and the Taliban’s promises of inclusive government.

    At the news conference naming the new cabinet, the chief Taliban spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, who was named deputy information and culture minister, stressed the transitional nature of the government.

    “This is an acting cabinet appointed to handle current affairs, and we are preparing the foundations of government and state-building,” he said. “In the near future, the role of the people’s participation and the shuras will be developed.”

    Taliban officials said that a nationwide gathering of religious scholars and elders is still being planned in order to confirm Sheikh Haibatullah, a native of Kandahar Province and a widely respected religious scholar within the movement, as Afghanistan’s supreme leader.

    Reporting was contributed by Wali Arian, Sami Sahak, Mujib Mashal, Adam Nossiter, Michael Crowleyand Farnaz Fassihi.

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    Companies Stay Quiet on Texas’ New Abortion Law

    On Friday, some Silicon Valley technology companies began speaking out, too.

    Lyft’s chief executive, Logan Green, said the company would pay the legal costs of any drivers who faced lawsuits under the law. “TX SB8 threatens to punish drivers for getting people where they need to go — especially women exercising their right to choose,” he wrote on Twitter.

    Uber’s chief executive, Dara Khosrowshahi, said on Twitter that his company would also cover its drivers’ legal expenses.

    And Jeremy Stoppelman, the chief executive of Yelp, issued a statement. “The effective ban on abortions in Texas not only infringes on women’s rights to reproductive health care, but it puts their health and safety at greater risk,” he said. “We are deeply concerned about how this law will impact our employees in the state.”

    A couple executives tried to find a middle ground, cheering on democracy and opposing discrimination while remaining silent on the Texas law.

    Mr. Musk, who said he has moved to Texas and was investing a lot in the state through Tesla and SpaceX, was among them. “In general, I believe government should rarely impose its will upon the people, and, when doing so, should aspire to maximize their cumulative happiness,” he wrote on Twitter in response to Mr. Abbott’s comments. “That said, I would prefer to stay out of politics.”

    Hewlett Packard Enterprise, based in Houston, declined to comment on the ban, but said the company “encourages our team members to engage in the political process where they live and work and make their voices heard through advocacy and at the voting booth.”

    A spokesman for the company added that its medical plan allowed employees to seek abortions out of state, and would pay for lodging for such a trip.

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    Alibaba Faces Reckoning Over Harassment

    At an employee dinner, women were told to rank the attractiveness of the men at the table. During a team-building exercise, a woman was pressured to straddle her male co-worker in front of colleagues. Top executives traded lewd comments about male virility at company events and online.

    The e-commerce giant Alibaba, one of China’s most globalized internet companies, has often celebrated the number of women in its senior ranks. In 2018, the company’s billionaire co-founder, Jack Ma, told a conference in Geneva that one secret to Alibaba’s success was that 49 percent of employees were women.

    But that message of female empowerment is now being called into question after an Alibaba employee accused her boss of raping her after an alcohol-fueled business dinner. The woman, who has been identified by the police and her lawyers only by her surname, Zhou, said bosses and human resources had shrugged off her complaints. She eventually resorted to screaming about the assault in a company cafeteria last month.

    “An Ali male executive raped a female subordinate, and no one in the company has pursued this,” Ms. Zhou yelled, according to a video that was posted on the internet.

    fired the man accused of rape, said it would establish an anti-sexual-harassment policy and declared itself “staunchly opposed to the ugly forced drinking culture.” Yet former Alibaba employees say the problems run much deeper than the company has acknowledged.

    Interviews with nine former employees suggest that casual sexism is common at Alibaba. They describe a work environment in which women are made to feel embarrassed and belittled during team-building and other activities that the company has incorporated in its culture, a striking departure from the image of inclusion Alibaba has tried to project.

    The police investigation into Ms. Zhou’s case is continuing. Alibaba appears to be trying to keep a lid on discussions of the matter. The company recently fired 10 employees for leaking information about the episode, according to two people familiar with the matter. Most former employees who spoke with The New York Times asked to remain anonymous because they feared retaliation.

    immediate changes to the way it handles workplace culture and misconduct matters after Ms. Zhou’s case came to light, the statement said. Upon examining its policies and reporting processes, the company found “certain areas that did not meet our standards,” the statement said.

    The statement did not address any of the specific allegations made by the former employees who spoke to The Times.

    Many Alibaba departments use games and other ice-breaking activities to make co-workers feel at ease with one another. Kiki Qian joined the company in 2017. Her team welcomed her with a game of charades. When she lost, she said, she was punished by being made to “fly the plane,” as her co-workers called it. The stunt involved straddling a male colleague as he sat in an office chair. The colleague then lay back in the chair, causing Ms. Qian to fall on top of him, face first.

    “I realized while carrying out the punishment that it could be a little perverted,” Ms. Qian, 28, said in a telephone interview.

    On a separate occasion, Ms. Qian said, she saw a woman burst into tears after being pressured to jump into the arms of a male colleague during a team game.

    Other former Alibaba employees said ice-breaking rituals included uncomfortable questions about their sexual histories. One former employee said she and other women at a team dinner had been asked to rank their male colleagues by attractiveness. Another said she had felt humiliated during a game in which employees were required to touch each other on the shoulders, back and thighs.

    Mr. Ma joked onstage about how Alibaba’s grueling work hours affected employees’ sex lives.

    went further with the riff at the next year’s ceremony.

    “At work, we emphasize the 996 spirit,” he said, referring to the practice, common at Chinese internet companies, of working 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., six days a week.

    “In life, we need 669,” Mr. Ma said. “Six days, six times.” The Mandarin word for “nine” sounds the same as the word for “long-lasting.” The crowd hooted and clapped.

    Alibaba shared the remarks, with a winking emoji, on its official account on Weibo, the Chinese social media platform. Wang Shuai, the company’s public relations chief, wrote on Weibo that Mr. Ma’s comments had reminded him of how good it was to be young. His post included vulgar references to his anatomy.

    Alibaba also gives employees a handbook of morale-boosting “Alibaba slang.” Several entries are laced with sexual innuendo. One urges employees to be “fierce and able to last a long time.”

    Feng Yuan, a prominent feminist in China, said the kind of behavior described at Alibaba could create the conditions under which bullying and harassment were quietly tolerated and promoted.

    “In companies where men dominate, hierarchical power structures and toxic masculinity become strengthened over time,” Ms. Feng said. “They become hotbeds for sexual harassment and violence.”

    Last month, Ms. Zhou shared her rape accusation on Alibaba’s internal website. According to her account of the events, her boss told a male client who was also at the alcohol-fueled business dinner, “Look how good I am to you; I brought you a beauty,” referring to Ms. Zhou.

    Boozy meals have long been widespread in corporate China, where it can be seen as offensive to refuse to drink with a superior. Three days after Ms. Zhou reported the assault to Alibaba, her boss still had not been fired, she wrote in her account. She was told that this was out of consideration for her reputation.

    “This ridiculous logic,” she wrote. “Just who are they protecting?”

    Elsie Chen contributed reporting. Albee Zhang and Claire Fu contributed research.

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    Taliban Promise Peace, but Doubt and Fear Persist

    KABUL, Afghanistan — For the first time since retaking power in Afghanistan, the Taliban’s leaders on Tuesday sketched out what their control of the country could look like, promising peace at home and urging the world to look past their history of violence and repression.

    “We don’t want Afghanistan to be a battlefield anymore — from today onward, war is over,” said Zabihullah Mujahid, the Taliban’s longtime chief spokesman, in a news conference in Kabul, the capital.

    Mr. Mujahid, a high-ranking leader, said the Taliban had declared a blanket amnesty, vowing no reprisals against former enemies. And the group has in some places appealed to civil servants — including women — to continue to go to work.

    After days of uncertainty around the world over Afghanistan’s swift fall to a group notorious for its brutality, Mr. Mujahid’s words, delivered in a restrained tone, were a glimpse into a Taliban desire to portray themselves as ready to join the international mainstream.

    frenzied rush to Kabul’s airport, which continued to be a scene of mass desperation and chaos two days after the Taliban entered the city. The group said its fighters were acting to restore order, but in some corners, they were also inflicting fear.

    target of violence by the Taliban and other militants. Despite rampant fear about the Taliban’s intentions, the reporters directly challenged Mr. Mujahid’s promises.

    “Do you think the people of Afghanistan will forgive you?” one reporter asked, noting the long campaign of Taliban bombings and attacks that claimed tens of thousands of civilian lives. Another noted that Mr. Mujahid sat in the same spot occupied until last week by a government spokesman who was assassinated by the Taliban.

    Mr. Mujahid, responding patiently, allowed that civilian deaths had been “unfortunate,” but said such were the fortunes of war. “Our families also suffered,” he added.

    chaos at the airport, where U.S. troops shot and killed at least two people on Monday and others fell to their deaths trying to cling to a U.S. military transport as it took off, there were reports of several more deaths on Tuesday. Tens of thousands of people have flooded the airport in waves, trying their luck for a flight to anywhere.

    While American troops controlled a large part of the airport, the Taliban took control of the approaches to it, and at times beat people with rifle butts and clubs to force back the crowds trying to get in. It was not always clear whether they were attempting to prevent people from reaching the airport, or simply prevent another lethal crush.

    President Biden faced mounting criticism in Washington, including from fellow Democrats, over the stunning lack of preparation for the lightning advance of the Taliban and the collapse of government resistance, leading to confused and halting efforts to get Americans and their Afghan allies out of the country. Republicans said Mr. Biden was in too much of a hurry to withdraw U.S. forces, although he had postponed the date set by President Trump, who struck a deal with the Taliban.

    “We didn’t need to be in this position; we didn’t need to be seeing these scenes at Kabul airport with our Afghan friends climbing a C-17,” said Representative Jason Crow, a Democrat of Colorado and a former Army Ranger who served in Afghanistan.

    declared on Twitter.

    The Taliban attempted on Tuesday to project an image of being a force for stability, while tapping into the feared reputation their law enforcement and intelligence services acquired before the group was driven from power in 2001 by a U.S.-led invasion. The Taliban intelligence chief for Kabul made a statement telling looters that his group was watching and making arrests.

    treatment of women and girls under a resurgent Taliban has been one of the most acute concerns raised by their opponents in Afghanistan and by international rights groups.

    “There will be no violence against women, no prejudice against woman,” Mr. Mujahid said Tuesday. But his assurances were vague. Women, he said, would be allowed to work and study and study “within the bounds of Islamic law.”

    Similarly, he said the new Taliban needs and wants a free and independent press, which the old Taliban never tolerated — as long as it upholds Islamic and national values.

    Mujib Mashal reported from Kabul, and Richard Perez-Peña from New York. Carlotta Gall and Ruhallah Khapalwak contributed reporting.

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    With More Freedom, Young Women in Albania Shun Tradition of ‘Sworn Virgins’

    A centuries-old tradition in which women declared themselves men so they could enjoy male privilege is dying out as young women have more options available to them to live their own lives.


    LEPUSHE, Albania — As a teenager locked in a patriarchal and tradition-bound mountain village in the far north of Albania, Gjystina Grishaj made a drastic decision: She would live the rest of her life as a man.

    She did not want to be married off at a young age, nor did she like cooking, ironing clothes or “doing any of the things that women do,” so she joined a gender-bending Albanian fraternity of what are known as “burrneshat,” or “female-men.” She adopted a male nickname — Duni.

    “I took a personal decision and told them: I am a man and don’t want to get married,” Duni recalled telling her family.

    Few women today want to become what anthropologists call Albania’s “sworn virgins,” a tradition that goes back centuries. They take an oath of lifelong celibacy and enjoy male privileges, like the right to make family decisions, smoke, drink and go out alone.

    Enver Hoxha.

    Ms. Rakipi snorted with contempt when asked about people who undergo transition surgery. “It is not normal,” she said. “If God made you a woman, you are a woman.”

    Duni, from Lepushe village, also has strong views on the subject, saying that altering the body goes “against God’s will,” and that people “should be put in jail” for doing so.

    “I have not lived as a burrnesha because I want to be a man in any physical way. I have done this because I want to take on the role played by men and to get the respect of a man,” she said. “I am a man in my spirit, but having male genitals is not what makes you a man.”

    Locals in Lepushe, including Manushaqe Shkoza, a server at a cafe in the village, said Duni’s decision to become a man initially came as a surprise, but it was accepted long ago. “Everyone sees it as normal,” Ms. Shkoza said.

    Duni said she was sad that the tradition of sworn virgins would soon die out, but noted that her niece in Tirana had shown that there were now less drastic ways for a woman to live a full and respected life.

    “Society is changing, but I think I made the right decision for my time,” Duni said. “I can’t resign from the role I have chosen. I took an oath to my family. This is a path you cannot go back on.”

    Fatjona Mejdini contributed reporting.

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    How New Laws Across India Are Seeking to Ban All Interfaith Marriages

    SRINAGAR, Kashmir — Manmeet Kour Bali had to defend her marriage in court.

    A Sikh by birth, Ms. Bali converted to Islam to marry a Muslim man. Her parents objected to a marriage outside their community and filed a police complaint against her new husband.

    In court last month, she testified that she had married for love, not because she was coerced, according to a copy of her statement reviewed by The New York Times. Days later, she ended up in India’s capital of New Delhi, married to a Sikh man.

    Religious diversity has defined India for centuries, recognized and protected in the country’s Constitution. But interfaith unions remain rare, taboo and increasingly illegal.

    A spate of new laws across India, in states ruled by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party, or B.J.P., are seeking to banish such unions altogether.

    the idea that Muslim men marry women of other faiths to spread Islam. Critics contend that such laws fan anti-Muslim sentiment under a government promoting a Hindu nationalist agenda.

    Last year, lawmakers in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh passed legislation that makes religious conversion by marriage an offense punishable by up to 10 years in prison. So far, 162 people there have been arrested under the new law, although few have been convicted.

    Yogi Adityanath, a Hindu monk and the top elected official of Uttar Pradesh, said shortly before that state’s Unlawful Religious Conversion Ordinance was passed.

    Four other states ruled by the B.J.P. have either passed or introduced similar legislation.

    In Kashmir, where Ms. Bali and Mr. Bhat lived, members of the Sikh community have disputed the legitimacy of the marriage, calling it “love jihad.” They are pushing for similar anti-conversion rules.

    interrupted a wedding ceremony in December. The couple were taken into custody, and released the following day when both proved they were Muslim, according to regional police, who blamed “antisocial elements” for spreading false rumors.

    A Pew Research Center study found that most Indians are opposed to anyone, but particularly women, marrying outside their religion. The majority of Indian marriages — four out of five — are arranged.

    The backlash against interfaith marriages is so widespread that in 2018, India’s Supreme Court ordered state authorities to provide security and safe houses to those who wed against the will of their communities.

    In its ruling, the court said outsiders “cannot create a situation whereby such couples are placed in a hostile environment.”

    The country’s constitutional right to privacy has also been interpreted to protect couples from pressure, harassment and violence from families and religious communities.

    Muhabit Khan, a Muslim, and Reema Singh, a Hindu, kept their courtship secret from their families, meeting for years in dark alleyways, abandoned houses and desolate graveyards. Ms. Singh said her father threatened to burn her alive if she stayed with Mr. Khan.

    In 2019, they married in a small ceremony with four guests, thinking their families would eventually accept their decision. They never did, and the couple left the central Indian city of Bhopal to start a new life together in a new city.

    “The hate has triumphed over love in India,” Mr. Khan said, “And it doesn’t seem it will go anywhere soon.”

    In Bhopal, the capital of Madhya Pradesh state, the B.J.P.-led government passed a bill in March modeled after the Uttar Pradesh law, stiffening penalties for religious conversion through marriage and making annulments easier to obtain.

    The government is not “averse to love,” said the state’s home minister, Narottam Mishra, “but is against jihad.”

    Members of Kashmir’s Sikh community are using Ms. Bali’s marriage to a Muslim man, Shahid Nazir Bhat, to press for a similar law in Jammu and Kashmir.

    “We immediately need a law banning interfaith marriage here,” said Jagmohan Singh Raina, a Sikh activist based in Srinagar. “It will help save our daughters, both Muslims and Sikhs.”

    At a mosque in northern Kashmir in early June, Ms. Bali, 19, and Mr. Bhat, 29, performed Nikah, a commitment to follow Islamic law during their marriage, according to their notarized marriage agreement.

    Afterward, Ms. Bali returned to her parents’ home, where she said she was repeatedly beaten over the relationship.

    “Now my family is torturing me. If anything happens to me or to my husband, I will kill myself,” she said in a video posted to social media.

    The day after she recorded the video, Ms. Bali left home and reunited with Mr. Bhat.

    Even though a religious ceremony between people of the same faith — as Mr. Bhat and Ms. Bali were after her conversion — is recognized as legally valid, the couple had a civil ceremony and got a marriage license to bolster their legal protections. The marriage agreement noted that the union “has been contracted by the parties against the wish, will and consent of their respective parents.

    “Like thousands of other couples who don’t share same the religious belief but respect each other’s faith, we thought we will create a small world of our own where love will triumph over everything else,” Mr. Bhat said. “But that very religion became the reason of our separation.”

    Ms. Bali’s father filed a police complaint against Mr. Bhat, accusing him of kidnapping his daughter and forcing her to convert.

    On June 24, the couple turned themselves into the police in Srinagar, where both were detained.

    At the court, Ms. Bali recorded her testimony before a judicial magistrate, attesting that it was her will to convert to Islam and marry Mr. Bhat, according to her statement. Outside, her parents and dozens of Sikh protesters protested, demanding that she be returned to them.

    It is unclear how the court ruled. The judicial magistrate declined requests for a transcript or an interview. Her parents declined an interview request.

    The day after the hearing, Manjinder Singh Sirsa, the head of the largest Sikh gurudwara in New Delhi, flew to Srinagar. He picked up Ms. Bali, with her parents, and helped organize her marriage to another man, a Sikh. Following the ceremony, Mr. Sirsa flew with the couple to Delhi.

    “It would be wrong to say that I convinced her,” Mr. Sirsa said in an interview. “If anything adverse was happening, she should have said.”

    A written request for an interview with Ms. Bali was sent via Mr. Sirsa. He said she did not want to talk.

    “She had a real breakdown,” he said, repeating Ms. Bali’s parents’ claims that their daughter was kidnapped and forced to marry Mr. Bhat.

    Mr. Bhat was released from police custody four days after Ms. Bali left for Delhi.

    At his home in Srinagar, he is fighting the kidnapping charges. He said he was preparing a legal battle to win her back, but he feared the Sikh community’s disapproval would make their separation permanent.

    “If she comes back and tells a judge she is happy with that man, I will accept my fate,” he said.

    Sameer Yasir and Iqbal Kirmani reported from Srinagar, Kashmir, and Emily Schmall reported from New Delhi.

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    Taliban Try to Polish Their Image as They Push for Victory

    KABUL, Afghanistan — In June, when the Taliban took the district of Imam Sahib in Afghanistan’s north, the insurgent commander who now ruled the area had a message for his new constituents, including some government employees: Keep working, open your shops and keep the city clean.

    The water was turned back on, the power grid was repaired, garbage trucks collected trash and a government vehicle’s flat tire was mended — all under the Taliban’s direction.

    Imam Sahib is one of dozens of districts caught up in a Taliban military offensive that has swiftly captured more than a quarter of Afghanistan’s districts, many in the north, since the U.S. withdrawal began in May.

    It is all part of the Taliban’s broader strategy of trying to rebrand themselves as capable governors while they press a ruthless, land-grabbing offensive across the country. The combination is a stark signal that the insurgents fully intend to try for all-out dominance of Afghanistan once the American pullout is finished.

    have begun to muster militias to defend their home turf, skeptical that the Afghan security forces can hold out in the absence of their American backers, in a painful echo of the country’s devastating civil war breakdown in the 1990s.

    report. Some homes there were burned down by the Taliban, residents said.

    “The Taliban burned my house while my family was in the house,” said Sirajuddin Jamali, a tribal elder. “In 2015, a military base was under siege and we provided food and water for them, but now the Taliban are taking revenge,” Mr. Jamali sobbed. “Do they do the same in any area the Taliban take?”

    Zabihullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the Taliban, said the accusations of burning down homes was under investigation.

    The group’s public responses, though rarely sincere, play directly into a strategy meant to portray the insurgents as a comparable option to the Afghan government. And they ignore the fact that local feuds drive large amounts of the war’s violence, outweighing any official orders from the Taliban leadership.

    On the battlefield, things are shifting quickly. Thousands of Afghan soldiers and militia members have surrendered in past weeks, forfeiting weapons, ammunition and armored vehicles as the Taliban take district after district. Government forces have counterattacked, recapturing several districts, though not on the scale of the insurgents’ recent victories.

    But little reported are Taliban losses, aside from the inflated body counts announced by the Afghan government’s Ministry of Defense. The Taliban, with their base strength long estimated to be between 50,000 and 100,000 fighters, depending on the time of year, have taken serious casualties in recent months, especially in the country’s south.

    The casualties are primarily from the Afghan and U.S. air forces, and sometimes from Afghan commando units.

    Mullah Basir Akhund, a former commander and member of the Taliban since 1994, said that cemeteries along the Pakistani border, where Taliban fighters have long been buried, are filling up faster than in years past. Pakistani hospitals, part of the country’s unwavering line of support for the insurgents, are running out of bed space. During a recent visit to a hospital in Quetta, a hub for the Taliban in Pakistan, Mr. Akhund said he saw more than 100 people, most of them Taliban fighters, waiting to be treated.

    But despite tough battles, the weight of a nearly withdrawn superpower, and the Taliban’s own leadership issues, the insurgents continue to adapt.

    Even as they seek to conquer the country, the Taliban are aware of their legacy of harsh rule, and do not want to “become the same pariah and isolated state” that Afghanistan was in the 1990s, said Ibraheem Bahiss, an International Crisis Group consultant and an independent research analyst.

    “They’re playing the long game,” Mr. Bahiss said.

    Reporting was contributed by Asadullah Timory in Herat, Taimoor Shah in Kandahar, Ruhullah Khapalwak, Farooq Jan Mangal in Khost and Zabihullah Ghazi in Jalalabad.

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    From the Heart to Higher Education: The 2021 College Essays on Money

    Despite the loud busking music, arcade lights and swarms of people, it was hard to be distracted from the corner street stall serving steaming cupfuls of tteokbokki — a medley of rice cake and fish cake covered in a concoction of hot sweet sauce. I gulped when I felt my friend tugging on the sleeve of my jacket, anticipating that he wanted to try it. After all, I promised to treat him out if he visited me in Korea over winter break.

    The cups of tteokbokki, garnished with sesame leaves and tempura, was a high-end variant of the street food, nothing like the kind from my childhood. Its price of 3,500 Korean won was also nothing like I recalled, either, simply charged more for being sold on a busy street. If I denied the purchase, I could console my friend and brother by purchasing more substantial meals elsewhere. Or we could spend on overpriced food now to indulge in the immediate gratification of a convenient but ephemeral snack.

    At every seemingly inconsequential expenditure, I weigh the pros and cons of possible purchases as if I held my entire fate in my hands. To be generously hospitable, but recklessly drain the travel allowance we needed to stretch across two weeks? Or to be budgetarily shrewd, but possibly risk being classified as stingy? That is the question, and a calculus I so dearly detest.

    Unable to secure subsequent employment and saddled by alimony complications, there was no room in my dad’s household to be embarrassed by austerity or scraping for crumbs. Ever since I was taught to dilute shampoo with water, I’ve revised my formula to reduce irritation to the eye. Every visit to a fast-food chain included asking for a sheet of discount coupons — the parameters of all future menu choice — and a past receipt containing the code of a completed survey to redeem for a free cheeseburger. Exploiting combinations of multiple promotions to maximize savings at such establishments felt as thrilling as cracking war cryptography, critical for minimizing cash casualties.

    However, while disciplined restriction of expenses may be virtuous in private, at outings, even those amongst friends, spending less — when it comes to status — paradoxically costs more. In Asian family-style eating customs, a dish ordered is typically available to everyone, and the total bill, regardless of what you did or did not consume, is divided evenly. Too ashamed to ask for myself to be excluded from paying for dishes I did not order or partake in, I’ve opted out of invitations to meals altogether. I am wary even of meals where the inviting host has offered to treat everyone, fearful that if I only attended “free meals” I would be pinned as a parasite.

    Although I can now conduct t-tests to extract correlations between multiple variables, calculate marginal propensities to import and assess whether a developing country elsewhere in the world is at risk of becoming stuck in the middle-income trap, my day-to-day decisions still revolve around elementary arithmetic. I feel haunted, cursed by the compulsion to diligently subtract pennies from purchases hoping it will eventually pile up into a mere dollar, as if the slightest misjudgment in a single buy would tip my family’s balance sheet into irrecoverable poverty.

    Will I ever stop stressing over overspending?

    I’m not sure I ever will.

    But I do know this. As I handed over 7,000 won in exchange for two cups of tteokbokki to share amongst the three of us — my friend, my brother and myself — I am reminded that even if we are not swimming in splendor, we can still uphold our dignity through the generosity of sharing. Restricting one’s conscience only around ruminating which roads will lead to riches risks blindness toward rarer wealth: friends and family who do not measure one’s worth based on their net worth. Maybe one day, such rigorous monitoring of financial activity won’t be necessary, but even if not, this is still enough.

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