Sep 9, 2021 - Podcasts

Brutal crackdowns as Afghanistan gets a new government

The Taliban yesterday announced the first members of a new temporary Afghan government. And as Axios’ national security reporter Zach Basu writes, the interim cabinet is made up of mostly “old-guard Taliban officials.”

  • Plus, disappointing jobs numbers with some glimmers of hope.
  • And, actor Simu Liu on turning a movie into a movement.

Guests: Axios' Zachary Basu, Kate Marino, and Hope King.

Credits: Axios Today is produced in partnership with Pushkin Industries. The team includes Niala Boodhoo, Sara Kehaulani Goo, Dan Bobkoff, Alexandra Botti, Nuria Marquez Martinez, Sabeena Singhani, and Michael Hanf. Music is composed by Evan Viola. You can reach us at [email protected]. You can text questions, comments and story ideas to Niala as a text or voice memo to 202-918-4893.

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NIALA BOODHOO: Good morning! Welcome to Axios Today! It’s Thursday, September 9th. I’m Niala Boodhoo. Here’s what we’re watching today: disappointing jobs numbers with some glimmers of hope. Plus, actor Simu Liu on turning a movie into a movement. But first, today’s One Big Thing: Afghanistan’s new government.

The Taliban yesterday announced the first members of a new temporary Afghan government and as Axios’ national security reporter, Zach Basu writes the interim cabinet is made of “mostly old-guard Taliban officials.” Hey Zach.


NIALA: What do we need to know about this new government?

ZACH: So, yeah, the Taliban announced the formation of this all-male cabinet, mostly dominated by ethnic Pasthuns and high-level Taliban, loyalist members of the old-guard who served in the first Taliban government in the 1990s. Just one key figure, Sirajuddin Haqqani, who was wanted by the FBI and actually has a $10 million bounty on his head, has been named the interior minister which would essentially be the equivalent of the Justice Department or the Department of Homeland security in the U.S. He leads the Haqqani network which has been designated as a terrorist organization by the U.S. and maintains close ties to al-Qaeda.

NIALA: So Zach, what has been American and other world leaders' reactions to this?

ZACH: So no countries have recognized the Taliban but several have had diplomatic engagement with them - Russia, China, Qatar, Iran, Turkey, and Pakistan have kept their embassies in Kabul open. And I think we can expect a handful of those countries to ultimately recognize the regime. And one point I'd like to make is that nobody's in a hurry to recognize the Taliban. I think most world leaders, especially Western ones, are more concerned right now about getting humanitarian aid to Afghanistan and preventing a humanitarian crisis. But in terms of international recognition, it's really a waiting game to see what the permanent Taliban government looks like. And the State Department has said that the Taliban's legitimacy is something that will have to be earned over time and very much dependent on their actions and not just their words.

NIALA: To that point of inspiring confidence, we also saw protests in Afghanistan this week, especially by women. How has the Taliban reacted?

ZACH: Yeah, I mean the Taliban have responded in quite brutal fashion to these sporadic protests we've seen around the country, including by beating journalists and some of the women who are leading the demonstration. There was some pretty grim footage circulating yesterday of Taliban fighters beating female activists with whips, which sort of gives indication of how the new government is likely to respond to dissent. And the Taliban spokesperson said at a press conference that all protests have to be cleared by the ministry of justice. So already we're getting signs that this is not going to be a very tolerant regime.

NIALA: Zach Basu is a national security reporter for Axios. Thanks, Zach.

ZACH: Thank you, Niala.

NIALA: In 15 seconds: Delta variant’s dent on the job market.


NIALA: Welcome back to Axios Today. I’m Niala Boodhoo. We’re getting a bunch of data out about the American workforce - and - it’s pretty clear that the Delta variant is having an impact on the job market. One report out yesterday shows there’s a growing number of people who are staying out of the workforce because they’re worried about COVID, is increasing. And, the August jobs report numbers from Friday were also pretty disappointing - While economists predicted 750,000 new jobs would be created in August, just about 235,000 were created. Axios’ business editor Kate Marino joins us now to take us behind these numbers -- Hi Kate!

KATE MARINO: Hi, thank you.

NIALA: Kate, how do you make sense of these numbers? Are there signs of a recovery? Friday's numbers were pretty disappointing, right?

KATE: Yes. The jobs report was a pretty big letdown for everyone who's watching the economic recovery, you know, from the lockdowns and the recession last year. Buried beneath the big headline disappointment, there are a couple of bits of data that point to, you know, a slow, but continuing momentum. Both the June and July jobs numbers were actually revised up. So that added a total of 134,000 in additional jobs created to the June and July numbers. And then overall unemployment also declined, to 5.2% from 5.4%. And underemployment actually dropped to 8.8% from 9.2%.

NIALA: What disparities came into sharper relief in Friday's jobs report?

KATE: Well, for one thing, the gap between unemployment for Black people and white people, unfortunately widened in August. So unemployment for white people went from 4.8% in July to 4.5% in August. So that went down. And then the Black unemployment rate went from 8.2% up to 8.8%.

NIALA: Thanks for giving us kind of a sense of what the summer has looked like with the jobs report. What are you looking for in the next one?

KATE: Well, the next jobs report is going to potentially show the impact of school being back in session and whether or not that enables more working parents to rejoin the workforce. And then the second thing is if there's any impact on the final roll off of all of the extra unemployment insurance benefits, which are basically coming to an end at the beginning of September here.

NIALA: Kate Marino is an Axios business editor. Thank you, Kate.

KATE: Thank you.

NIALA: Last week when Axios’ Hope King kindly sent him for me while I was on vacation, she shared her thoughts about the new Marvel movie Shang Chi and the Legend of the Ten rings. It's the first in the Marvel universe with an Asian lead. Well, the movie has since shattered box office expectations and yesterday, Hope spoke with the movie star Simu Liu about the massive hit and what it means. And she's here to share that with us. Hey, Hope.

HOPE KING: Hi Niala.

NIALA: Let's start with how big of a financial success has this movie been, when we in the past have talked about the film industry struggling during the pandemic.

HOPE: Right. Well, with the rise of COVID through the Delta variant, there were concerns that the turnout over the first couple of days of this movie would not be strong. And the movie absolutely shattered expectations, collecting 94.4 million in its first four days of the release over the Labor Day weekend. And that is a high, a new high, for the holiday weekend.

NIALA: You shared how much anxiety you had ahead of the release as someone who is of Chinese-American heritage. What does Simu have to say about that?

HOPE: He absolutely wants this to be just one chapter in a much bigger movement. And here's what he said to me during the interview.

SIMU LIU: I think I worry that-that this is a, you know, a flash in the pan that, that this is, just a single moment that will, that will disappear in time and not a part of a greater movement like I hoped. I would just hope that the momentum keep going. I would hope that more minority voices are uplifted and I hope that more communities are able to see their superheroes.

NIALA: And to that point now we've had not just Shang Chi and the Ten Rings. We're talking about the success of the Black Panther. How much does this create a business case for Hollywood to create more diverse movies?

HOPE: You're right, Niala. These movie studios want to make sure that an investment big budget investment pays off. And a box office opening like this may prove to them there is enough of an audience, especially when you consider that, according to Disney, about 17% of the film goers this opening weekend were Asian, which means that largely this movie has transcended beyond just the origins, the Asian heritage, and the Asian origins of the story. If you look at Black Panther and Crazy Rich Asians. they were released in 2018, which was pre-pandemic and they also approved that there were audiences willing to go to the theaters and pay the money to see it. That's something that Simu spoke to as well.

NIALA: Hope, the movie actually hasn't been released yet in China. Do we know if it will be?

HOPE: So China has not yet approve the film for release and many speculate it's due to the origins of the storyline itself, which dates back to the seventies and eighties. When people from East Asia were seen and painted as culturally inferior or a threat to Western civilization.

NIALA: Hope King is a business reporter for Axios. We're going to post the entire interview she did with Simu Liu on our show page, should be sure to check that out. Thanks, Hope.

HOPE: Thank you Niala.

NIALA: That’s all we’ve got for you today! I’m Niala Boodhoo - thanks for listening - stay safe and we’ll see you back here tomorrow morning.

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