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America abandoned this fight before the Afghans did

The bravest woman I ever met was a schoolteacher in Afghanistan. She was a tiny figure in a black abaya and headscarf, but during the dark days of Taliban rule she had turned her home into a secret classroom for women and girls. Every lesson there was a victory against the odds. It was very

Are we seeing a new kind of Taliban?

Are we seeing a new kind of Taliban? The men who seized Kabul with such ease last weekend are doing their best to sound more moderate. Women, they say, should be allowed to work and have an education. They have offered amnesty to officials of the now-deposed Afghan government, something the old Taliban never dreamed

Like it or not, the Taliban are now players on the world stage

Many years ago, before the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan in 1988, I was based in Peshawar in Pakistan, near Afghanistan. I was responsible for British diplomatic reporting on the war and engaging with Afghan leaders. I came to know the Taliban. They were, to put it mildly, not particularly nice guys: intensely parochial, geographically and

Why I swapped my country pile for a tiny London pad

‘Londoners searching for more space during Covid are buying up English country manors,’ said a Wall Street Journal headline in January — and that was certainly the trend reported by eager out-of-town estate agents. The middle classes,spurred by a temporary stamp-duty cut, were deserting the city in search of green pastures, home offices and the

How corporations rebrand poverty

The other week, when I was shopping in Margate, I saw a number of posters from Boots urging support for its campaign against ‘hygiene poverty’. Barely aware of the term, I looked it up online and was soon presented by claims that much of Britain is gripped by a crisis of personal neglect because of

China is finding out the price of ‘zero Covid’

In January my 80-year-old grandmother had a large birthday party in her home city of Nanjing. For the British branch of her family, stuck in lockdown, it was surreal to see photos and videos of what can only be described as a banquet. A hundred people hugging, drinking, laughing — it was as if Covid

Notes on...

My strange night in a sensory deprivation tank

Hidden below St George’s Wharf in Vauxhall, down the road from a now defunct gay sauna, is Floatworks, a wellness centre that offers ‘floatation therapy’. Sensory deprivation tanks can be found in most British cities — in bohemian towns like Bristol and Brighton, but also in Birmingham and Belfast. The concept is simple enough: people