Your Tuesday Briefing

We’re covering the Taliban’s disputed claim to the Panjshir Valley and a sentence for a Belarusian opposition leader.

Taliban claim control of Panjshir Valley

The Taliban claimed on Monday to have captured the Panjshir Valley, raising their flag over Bazarak, the last Afghan provincial capital not firmly under their control, even as opposition forces there said that they would fight on from the mountains.

The Taliban never managed to control Panjshir, a rugged area 70 miles north of Kabul, the last time they ruled Afghanistan, from 1996 to 2001. It was the launching point for the U.S.-led invasion after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on New York and the Pentagon.

Soviet forces, during their occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s, made advances into the territory on at least nine occasions, only to be repelled each time.

Details: Taliban fighters posted images online said to be of militants raising the flag of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, as the Taliban call the country, as well as of their forces talking to local leaders.

Uncertainty: The opposition group, the National Resistance Front, disputed the Taliban’s claim of having conquered the entire province, but conflicting accounts of what was happening on the ground were hard to verify because internet and telephone service into the region has been cut off.

Belarus opposition leader sentenced to 11 years in prison

A Belarusian court on Monday sentenced Maria Kolesnikova to 11 years in prison after a closed-door trial in Minsk, the capital.

Kolesnikova tried to run for president last year. She and her colleague, Maksim Znak, another opposition figure and a lawyer, were charged with extremism, conspiring to seize power illegally, and damaging state security. Znak received a 10-year sentence in a maximum security penal colony.

It was another sign that President Aleksandr Lukashenko was pursuing an unrelenting crackdown on dissent after an election widely condemned by many Western governments as a sham. An estimated tens of thousands of opposition supporters have fled Belarus since the crackdown began last year.

“This verdict is illegal and unfounded,” said the pair’s lawyer, Yevgeny Pylchenko, announcing an appeal. “It is not based on evidence. During the trial, neither their guilt, nor even the commission of the crimes imputed, was confirmed.”

Context: Kolesnikova became one of Belarus’s most prominent opposition leaders last year after the candidate, whose campaign she managed, was arrested and barred from running. She threw her support behind Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, who entered the race after her husband was also barred from running and put in jail. They and a third female candidate, Veronika Tsepkalo, drew tens of thousands of supporters to their pre-election rallies.

New Zealand eases Covid restrictions

New Zealand announced on Monday that it would ease restrictions outside Auckland, ending a series of lockdowns that began in August.

Residents outside Auckland will be allowed to return to work and school, and the nationwide alert level will be lowered to Level 2 starting Wednesday morning, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said at a news conference.

Auckland, a city of around 1.7 million, will remain at Level 4, which means that everyone but essential workers must stay at home. Schools will reopen on Thursday morning.

Context: New Zealand is one of the last countries pursuing a so-called Covid zero strategy, enforcing severe restrictions on movement and activities. Other governments that have employed this strategy, including Hong Kong and Singapore, have said they may start loosening their measures.

Data: The average number of daily new cases remains relatively low, at 36, but New Zealand’s vaccination campaign has gotten off to a sluggish start: only 49 percent of the population has received at least one dose, below the 62 percent in the United States and the 72 percent in Britain.

Here are the latest updates and maps of the pandemic.

In other developments:

South Korea relaxed some social-distancing rules.

Covid deaths are surging in the U.S., and hospitals in Oregon and Idaho are running out of I.C.U. beds.

A World Cup qualifier between Argentina and Brazil was stopped just a few minutes in over possible violations of quarantine rules by some of the players.


News From Asia

Weibo suspended 22 K-pop fan accounts, a move by the Chinese social media app that fits into a broader government crackdown on online fan culture.

On the first day of their testimonies at The Hague, relatives of the victims of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 accused Russia of lying about its role in the 2014 downing that killed 298 people, Radio Free Europe reports.

Taekwondo made its debut at the Paralympics. The Tokyo Games ended on Sunday with 68 athletes from 35 countries competing in the sport.

Opinion polls showed that Japan’s vaccine czar, Taro Kono, has the public’s support in the race to replace Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, The Japan Times reports.

Around the World

The winter that just ended in New Zealand was the warmest on record, The Guardian reports. For the three months through August, the average temperature was 9.8 Celsius (50 Fahrenheit).

Rupert Murdoch’s media outlets in Australia are planning an editorial campaign next month advocating a carbon-neutral future.

Among some Biden administration officials, a Supreme Court order reinstating a Trump-era policy requiring asylum seekers to wait in Mexico was quietly greeted with relief following a surge in migrants.

Palestinians escaped a prison in Israel by digging a tunnel.

Democrats are meeting this week to begin drafting their plan for a transformation of the American social safety net.

Jacob Zuma, the former South African president jailed over corruption charges, was granted medical parole. The opposition leader criticized the move.

A Morning Read

Piping plovers, an endangered bird species in the U.S., have a defender when they roam New York beaches: the plover patrol. Volunteers monitor the area, making sure that people stay away, keep their dogs off the sand and keep the chicks out of harm’s way.


If humans were more rational

Steven Pinker, the Harvard cognitive psychologist, has made the case for positivity in an uncertain age. Our Talk columnist asked him about his latest book, which takes on rationality.

Your new book is driven by the idea that it would be good if more people thought more rationally. What mechanisms would induce more people to test their thinking for rationality? Ideally there’d be a change in our norms of conversation. Relying on an anecdote, arguing ad hominem — these should be mortifying.

The most powerful means of getting people to be more rational is not to concentrate on the people. We achieve rationality by implementing rules for the community that make us collectively more rational than any of us are individually. People subject their beliefs to empirical tests.

Are there aspects of your own life in which you’re knowingly irrational? The answer is almost certainly yes. I probably do things that morally I can’t justify, like eating meat. I probably take risks that if I were to do the expected-utility calculation could not be justified, like bicycling. But nonetheless I enjoy bicycling.

What about love? There’s nothing irrational about love. Ultimately our values are neither rational nor irrational. They’re our values; they’re our goals.


What to Cook

Zucchini shines in this take on panzanella, a Tuscan bread salad commonly featuring tomatoes.

What to Read

With his violent noirs, S.A. Cosby claims the rural South as his own.

What to Watch

The animated series “Q-Force” and the gritty thriller “Kate” are among our top picks for streaming in Australia this month.

Now Time to Play

Here’s today’s Mini Crossword, and a clue: Desert animal with humps (five letters).

And here is today’s Spelling Bee.

You can find all our puzzles here.

That’s it for today’s briefing. See you next time. — Melina

P.S. Beena Raghavendran, an expert in community engagement journalism, will be joining The Times’s Newsroom Development and Support team.

The latest episode of “The Daily” is about the new abortion law in Texas.

You can reach Melina and the team at

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