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Market selloff: Mcap of top-10 most valued companies erodes by over Rs 2.53 lakh cr

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The m-cap of State Bank of India (SBI) tanked by Rs 4,863.91 crore to Rs 4,48,729.47 crore and that of ICICI Bank slumped by Rs 10,811.98 crore to reach Rs 5,58,699.39 crore.

The top-10 most valued companies suffered a combined erosion of Rs 2.53 lakh crore in market valuation last week, as the domestic equity benchmarks witnessed heavy selling in line with the global market rout.

Benchmark indices witnessed nearly a 4 per cent cut last week as FPIs booked profits across large-caps and select mid-caps. On a weekly basis, the Sensex lost 2,185.85 points or 3.57 per cent, while the Nifty slumped 638.60 points or 3.49 per cent.

Mirroring the lacklustre trend in the broader market, the combined market capitalisation (m-cap) of the country’s top-10 firms eroded by Rs 2,53,394.63 crore during last week.

Corporate major Reliance Industries’ m-cap fell by Rs 40,974.25 crore to Rs 16,76,291.69 crore.

IT bellwethers – TCS and Infosys Technologies – together lost Rs 1,09,498.10 crore from their cumulative market cap. The m-cap of TCS stood at Rs 14,18,530.72 crore, while that of Infosys was at Rs 7,51,144.40 crore.

Country’s top lenders HDFC Bank, ICICI Bank and SBI saw a cumulative erosion of Rs 29,239.04 crore in their market capitalisation.

HDFC Bank’s valuation dipped by Rs 13,563.15 crore to Rs 8,42,876.13 crore.

The m-cap of State Bank of India (SBI) tanked by Rs 4,863.91 crore to Rs 4,48,729.47 crore and that of ICICI Bank slumped by Rs 10,811.98 crore to reach Rs 5,58,699.39 crore.

The valuation of Hindustan Unilever Ltd (HUL) tanked by Rs 9,938.77 crore to Rs 5,45,622.08 crore and that of Bajaj Finance declined by Rs 27,653.67 crore to Rs 4,45,033.13 crore.

HDFC’s valuation slipped by Rs 22,003.75 crore to Rs 4,69,422.38 crore

Telecom major Bharti airtel also witnessed a dip of Rs 14,087.05 crore from its market valuation which stood at Rs 3,81,723.36 crore.

In the ranking of top-10 firms, Reliance Industries was leading the chart, followed by Tata Consultancy Services, HDFC Bank, Infosys, ICICI Bank, Hindustan Unilever, HDFC, State Bank of India, Bajaj Finance and Bharti Airtel.

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Burkina Faso govt denies army takeover after barracks gunfire – Times of India


OUAGADOUGOU: Burkina Faso‘s government denied that the army had seized control of the country on Sunday after exchanges of gunfire took place at multiple army barracks, including two in the capital.
“Information on social media would have people believe there was an army takeover,” government spokesman Alkassoum Maiga said in a statement.
“The government, while recognising the validity of shootings in some barracks, denies this information and calls on the population to remain calm.”
The gunfire came after a day after clashes between police and demonstrators during banned protests against the authorities’ failure to stem the jihadist violence ravaging the West African country.
It also follows the arrest earlier this month of numerous soldiers over a suspected plot to “destabilise institutions” in the West African country, which has a long history of coups.
“Since 1 am, gunfire has been heard here in Gounghin coming from the Sangoule Lamizana camp,” said a soldier in the district on Ouagadougou’s western outskirts on Sunday.
Residents there also spoke of “increasingly heavy fire”.
Shots were also heard at another military camp, Baby Sy, in the south of the capital, and at an air base near the airport, military sources said.
There was also gunfire at barracks in northern towns of Kaya and Ouahigouya, residents there told AFP.
The gunfire follows the country’s most recent protests against intractable jihadist bloodshed.
Police used tear gas to disperse protesters in rallies across the country on Saturday, arresting dozens. The authorities earlier in the week said they were banning the protests for security reasons.
Security sources reported that two soldiers were killed after their vehicle drove over a makeshift bomb in the north on Saturday.
In Kaya, residents told AFP that protesters had stormed the headquarters of the ruling party.
Groups linked to Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State group have plagued the landlocked Sahel nation since 2015, killing about 2,000 people, according to an AFP tally.
Attacks targeting civilians and soldiers have become increasing frequent — and are largely concentrated in the country’s north and east.
The jihadist violence in recent years has forced around 1.5 million people to flee their homes, the national emergency agency says, and many have settled in the region around Kaya.
On November 27, hundreds demonstrated against the failure of President Roch Marc Christian Kabore to quell the jihadist violence, sparking clashes with security forces that wounded dozens.
Those protest came days after an ambush by suspected jihadists targeting civilians and the VDP, an official self-defence force, in the northern You region left 41 people dead, including Ladji Yoro, considered a leader of the VDP.
Among the soldiers arrested this month over the plot to “destabilise institutions” was Lieutenant-Colonel Emmanuel Zoungrana, who had been commanding anti-jihadist operations in country’s badly hit western region.


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Ireland’s data centers are an economic lifeline. But environmentalists say they’re wrecking the planet


If approved, it would be one of the country’s biggest. A Dublin-based company called Art Data Centres Ltd. submitted the planning application for the center in July. Not much is known about the company, which was set up in 2018. Its director and secretary have been involved in more than 6,500 other listed Irish companies — over 3,000 of which have since closed, according to the Irish company records checking site SoloCheck. CNN was unable to establish contact with Art Data Centres and its representatives did not respond to requests for comment.

It is not clear what the data center will be used for, nor if other larger tech companies could ultimately be involved.

The €1.2 billion ($1.4 billion) investment is likely to be welcomed by the Irish government, which has included large data centers as part of its “strategic infrastructure development,” despite concerns growth in data centers could undermine the country’s commitment to cut carbon emissions in half by 2030.

Despite that favorable climate, Ireland’s data centers eat up a significant amount of electricity, leaving how their operations square with the country’s ambitious climate goals in question. According to state-owned power operator EirGrid, they are on track to have consumed 17% of power generated in Ireland in 2021.

EirGrid notes that Irish data centers are so energy-needy that over the past four years, the power they required was the equivalent of adding a half a million homes to the grid.

Host in Ireland, a trade group that promotes Ireland “as the data hosting centre of Europe,” said in a 2021 report that the number of completed data centers had grown by 25% between May 2020 and May 2021. And, cumulatively, data centers contributed 1.85% of the country’s carbon emissions last year, Host in Ireland estimates.

As more centers are built across the country, environmental advocates fear Ireland’s climate targets are slipping further out of reach.

In response, a spokesperson for the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications told CNN in a statement that the government’s Climate Action Plan 2021 “sets out a suite of actions to address electricity demand from data centres,” which includes a review of its strategy on data centers “to ensure that growth of such users can only happen in alignment with sectoral emissions ceilings and renewable energy targets.”

When tech came to town

Local authorities in Ennis are advocating for the data center’s construction, a key project of the town’s strategic economic plan. Developers say the center will create 250 permanent jobs and 1,200 temporary ones during construction, while also helping to diversify the tech sector away from Dublin, thereby reducing pressure on the capital’s power grid.

Ennis resident Pears Hussey told CNN that he would much prefer to see investment used “to ready and buffer us against the worst impact of climate, and to transition us into a more sustainable equitable society — rather than seeing huge areas of land, public infrastructure, and our national grid being devoted to multinational corporations.”

If the project is approved, it wouldn’t be the first time that tech came to town.

In 1997, Ennis was awarded the title of Ireland’s “Information Age Town,” along with a $22 million cash injection from Irish telecommunications company Telecom Eireann that provided more than 80% of homes with computers at a discount and all of the town’s schools with new computers and free Internet connections.

But it was the tech industry in Dublin, 155 miles (245 kilometers) away, that really exploded. Ireland’s tech industry now employs over 37,000 people and generates €35 billion ($39.5 billion) in annual exports with Dublin at the center of those operations.

Ennis authorities are keen to get a piece of that pie, with hopes the data center could bring jobs and growth to west Ireland. But the energy demands of the Ennis data center are eye-watering.

According to its plan, the center comprises six two-story buildings and a massive 50,310 square-foot energy center, with 18 lean burn natural gas engines and 66 diesel backup generators. The plans also say that solar panels will be located on each of the centers and that rainwater harvesting is included in the development.

A rendering of the proposed Ennis data center from developers.

While planning documents from developers say its potential environmental impact won’t be significant “in relation to Ireland’s obligations under the EU 2030 target,” the site is expected to emit the equivalent of 657,000 tonnes of CO2 per year, amounting to approximately 1.1% of Ireland’s estimated total in 2020.

“It’s pretty big,” says Phoebe Duvall, planning and environmental policy officer for the environmental agency An Taisce.

“Around 1% may be small if you look at that one data center, but on average … each one would use 0.3 to 1% of Ireland’s annual emissions. If you look at all (70) data centers — with many more in the pipeline, that’s actually a lot,” she said.

Ground the cloud

Language like the “cloud” evokes a benign, ethereal picture of how data is stored. But in reality, that cloud lives on the ground in data centers that are extremely power-hungry.

Melina Sharp of the environmental group Futureproof Clare told CNN that while people now understand the harms of single use plastic, the environmental impact of everyday tasks that use data, like sending an email, are less visible — and perhaps less considered.

“Like a plastic cup, those emails are also contributing to emissions. They’re building up somewhere, just not in your home, but in new data centers built over the world,” she said.

“People are worried about single use cups, but actually they (plastics and data) are both fossil fuel-based at the moment,” Sharp added.

Melina Sharp of Futureproof Clare holds up a sign in protest of the data center outside the Clare County council offices in Ennis.

Ireland has pledged to source up to 80% of its electricity from renewables by 2030. But with the average data center using as much electricity as a small Irish city, like Kilkenny (population 26,500, according to the 2016 Census) it’s likely that those centers will continue to be at least partially powered by fossil fuels, experts say.

Adding to environmental concerns is the distinct possibility that there will be ongoing fuel shortages.

Earlier this year, Ireland’s energy and water regulator, the Commission for Regulation of Utilities (CRU) warned that a surge in data center growth could result in rolling blackouts, prompting lawmakers from the Social Democrats party to call for a temporary ban on new data centers. They say the government “does not have a grasp on exactly what it means for Ireland and for our infrastructure.”

The CRU, however, decided against a moratorium on new centers, saying that “constructive engagement with industry stakeholders … removed the need for radical policy changes or the implementation of a moratorium on data centre connections.”

Some places, including parts of the Netherlands, have previously or are currently enforcing data center moratoriums because of environmental concerns. The Singapore government in 2019 placed a temporary moratorium on all new data center projects to moderate growth in the sector, which accounted for about 7% of the country’s total electricity consumption that year. Since then, the Singapore government has been consulting with industry experts on how to ensure sustainable growth, with that review due to conclude this year.

But in Ireland, the energy regulator says it will now assess data center connection applications based on a variety of factors, including whether the center is tapping into an already energy-strapped region and whether it could generate its own power in the event that supply was cut. It’s a decision that squares with the government’s stance. The 2018 Government Statement on the Role of Data Centres in Ireland’s Enterprise Strategy gives “data centers over certain size thresholds” special status for planning purposes, a move that helps authorities to streamline decision-making around their growth.

Google's data center in Dublin.

The Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications spokesperson said that “further (regulatory) measures will be considered to manage demand from large users, such as data centres. This will be in the context of our national climate targets and the future needs of the (electricity) network.”

“Research and development, to put Ireland firmly on a pathway to net-zero-carbon data centres, will be required,” the department said in its statement to CNN.

Ireland still has a long way to go to meet its 80% renewables target by 2030, and is already showing signs of falling behind. In 2020, it was 2.5% below its 16% interim goal, according to the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI) 2021 report. The SEAI report said, however, that renewable electricity “formed the backbone” of that target, and that it was the renewable heating sector that had stalled progress. “Renewable energy sources are now the second largest source of electricity after natural gas,” it said.

‘Window dressing’

As awareness of the pressure data centers put on power grids grows, big tech is being asked to do more to make up for its impact.

Patrick Bresnihan, a science and technology lecturer at Maynooth University, said most of the large tech companies are “opaque” about how they are achieving their climate goals, in a way that makes it difficult to hold them accountable. He points to a key idea within global climate governance: That environmental problems, including pollution and emissions, can be “offset” by investing in green energy or planting trees in forests.

In Ireland, big tech (and smaller businesses) can enter corporate power purchase agreements (CPPAs) where they agree to buy electricity from renewable sources at a fixed price for a certain amount of time. It gives financial security to generators to build a wind farm, for example, and gives businesses a guaranteed price on that wind power.

But Bresnihan calls many of those CPPAs window dressing, explaining that most of the investments are “minimal” compared to the amount of energy that large tech companies use.

“They are really just a way for (companies) to say, ‘we are doing our part,'” he said.

Renewables are being installed at top speed -- but still far too slow to fix the planet, energy watchdog says
Amazon (AMZN) is among the country’s biggest corporate buyers of renewable energy. When CNN asked Amazon for a response to the criticism of CPPAs, a representative pointed to a statement from Emma Tinker, the CEO of Asper Investment Management, a UK-based investment firm focused on sustainable infrastructure. Asper and its partner Invis are the developers of three windfarm projects in Ireland that have been enabled through CPPAs.

“Amazon’s long-term commitment to procure 100% of the power from our wind farms in Cork, Donegal, and Galway enabled Invis to finance these projects and build them without the need for government subsidies, saving energy consumer tens of millions of euros,” Tinker said. “These projects represent a significant proportion of wind projects in construction in Ireland today, and support jobs and investment in this critical sector as the country moves towards meeting 80% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2030.”

And a spokesperson for Meta (Facebook) told CNN the company commits “to supporting our operations with 100% renewable energy,” and said that the renewable projects the company is associated with in Ireland produce as much energy as its Ireland data center consumes.

A fuller picture

County authorities in Ennis have given developers until the spring to provide further information about their plans for the new data center before making a decision on its approval.

Councillor Johnny Flynn has called on the developers to do more for the environment, asking them to use an alternative, “sustainable green low carbon primary energy model” for its operation.

“At the moment we are trying to decarbonize our way of living, but it’s like trying to walk down an escalator coming up,” Flynn said, quoting a webinar he attended about the project.

Councillor Johnny Flynn stands on the Tulla Road, which runs parallel to the proposed data center site in Ennis.

Still, Flynn is optimistic about the development, citing the economic potential it could bring, and not just data center jobs. Flynn hopes that this center might entice tech companies to expand their operations to Ennis, given the town’s proximity to the River Shannon and the Atlantic — home to a burgeoning offshore wind farm industry.

An EirGrid draft proposal supports that idea, saying that large power users like data centers could be positioned in the west and the south, close to sources of clean energy generation, to take pressure off the eastern grid and prepare for 2030 emissions targets.

The Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications spokesperson said that “energy demand as a whole, including from data centres, will be expected to operate within sectoral emissions ceilings,” and that “data centres that locate close to renewable energy, bring their own renewable energy, are highly flexible and include some element of storage provide an opportunity for significantly lower carbon emissions.”

“If you have your renewable energy on the western seaboard, why not have the data storage where the renewable energy is and encourage tech clusters to locate along it?” Flynn said.

But Hussey, the Ennis resident, doesn’t share that optimism.

“It doesn’t feel very democratic that a small town of Ennis can have such a huge development with such a huge impact on our efforts to meet our climate targets kind of hoisted upon us, when the impact is going to go on for generations and generations,” he said.

“For every step forward Ennis takes, the power plants will take us two or three steps back.”



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Kashmir Press Club closure is the latest blow to media freedom in the conflict-torn region, journalists say



Reporting on these contentious encounters has landed journalists in jail. Sajad Gul, a 26-year-old journalism student writing for a local website, was arrested in early January, according to his family. That week, Gul had uploaded a video to Twitter showing a militant’s family shouting slogans critical of India. In a statement, the police said the video was “objectionable” and accused Gul of routinely spreading “false narratives” to provoke violence.



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German navy chief resigns over controversial Ukraine comments


Vice admiral Kay-Achim Schoenbach came under fire after saying Putin deserves ‘respect’ and Kyiv will never regain Crimea.

The head of the German navy has resigned after coming under fire at home and abroad for saying that Ukraine would never regain the Crimean Peninsula, which was annexed by Russia in 2014.

Speaking at an event in New Delhi, India, on Friday, Vice Admiral Kay-Achim Schoenbach also said it was important to have Russia on side against China, and suggested that Russian President Vladimir Putin deserved “respect”.

“Is Russia really interested in having a tiny strip of Ukraine’s soil? No. Or to integrate it in the country? No, this is nonsense. Putin is probably putting pressure because he knows he can do it and he knows that it splits the European Union,” Schoenbach said.

“What he (Putin) really wants is respect. And my God, giving someone respect is low cost, even no cost … It is easy to give him the respect he really demands – and probably also deserves,” he added, calling Russia an old and important country.

The comments came at a sensitive time as Russia has amassed tens of thousands of troops on Ukraine’s borders. Russia denies it is planning to invade Ukraine.

Diplomatic efforts are focused on preventing an escalation.

Schoenbach’s comments, captured on video, caused anger in Ukraine and the German ambassador was summoned to receive its objections.

Ukraine’s foreign ministry called on Germany to publicly reject the navy chief’s comments, saying in a statement that they could impair Western efforts to de-escalate the situation.

“Ukraine is grateful to Germany for the support it has already provided since 2014, as well as for the diplomatic efforts to resolve the Russian-Ukrainian armed conflict. But Germany’s current statements are disappointing and run counter to that support and effort,” Ukraine’s foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba said separately in a tweet.

German stand

The comments also sparked consternation and a swift rebuke back in Berlin.

By late Saturday, Schoenbach had presented his resignation, saying he wanted to prevent further damage to Germany and its military.

“My rash remarks in India … are increasingly putting a strain on my office,” he said. “I consider this step (the resignation) necessary to avert further damage to the German navy, the German forces, and, in particular, the Federal Republic of Germany.”

In a statement, the German navy said defence minister Christine Lambrecht had accepted Schoenbach’s resignation and appointed his deputy as interim naval chief.

The German government has said it stands united with its NATO allies on the issue of Russia’s military threat to Ukraine, warning that Moscow will pay a high price if it makes any military moves against its neighbour.

But unlike many other NATO countries, Berlin says it will not supply Ukraine with weapons, arguing that it does not want to inflame tensions further.

On Saturday, the first shipment of a $200m US security support package for Ukraine arrived in Kyiv, the US embassy said. The delivery followed US Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s visit to Kyiv this week amid concerns over Russian military build-up.



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South Korea reports second-highest Covid count ahead of holiday – Times of India


SEOUL: South Korea posted its second-highest daily number of coronavirus cases on Sunday, despite extended Covid-19 curbs and a high vaccination rate, raising concerns of further spread during the upcoming Lunar New Year holiday.
The country recorded 7,630 new cases on Saturday, the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) said, above the 7,009 cases reported a day earlier and near the mid-December record of 7,848 logged.
South Korea in mid-January extended tougher social distancing rules for three weeks, including a 9 pm curfew for restaurants, cafes and bars, and limits on private gatherings, ahead of the holiday that starts on Saturday.
Tens of millions of Koreans across the country typically travel during Lunar New Year for family gatherings during one of the country’s main holidays.
South Korea has recorded 733,902 Covid-19 infections and 6,540 deaths, KDCA data showed, although nearly 95% of adults have been fully vaccinated and more than half having received a booster shot.
To contain the rapid spread of the virus, health officials have required proof of vaccination and a booster to gain access to most public facilities, but a court ruled that large shops and teenagers should be temporarily excluded from COVID-19 vaccine pass mandates.


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Covid: New Zealand PM Ardern cancels wedding amid Omicron wave


New restrictions are set to be introduced after nine Omicron cases were confirmed in the country.

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Arnold Schwarzenegger Involved In 4-Vehicle Crash, Woman Injured: Report


Actor Arnold Schwarzenegger stayed at the scene and checked on the injured woman. (File)

Los Angeles:

Hollywood actor Arnold Schwarzenegger escaped unhurt after he was involved in a car crash in Los Angeles.

The four-vehicle crash happened late Friday afternoon and sent a woman to the hospital with minor injuries, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s spokesperson confirmed.

According to the Los Angeles Times, the 74-year-old star and former California governor was driving his car when it was involved in a crash with another vehicle at the intersection of Sunset Boulevard and Allenford Avenue, near the Riveria Country Club.

Two other cars in the intersection were also struck as a result of the collision, the outlet reported.

Paramedics transported a woman who suffered a head abrasion to the hospital, according to a Los Angeles Police Department statement.

Mr Schwarzenegger’s spokesperson confirmed the actor was unhurt and was only concerned about the woman who was injured. He stayed at the scene and checked on her. He later spoke with firefighters and police.

There were no indications of drugs or alcohol being involved in the crash but an investigation is still under way, the LAPD said.

A native of Austria, Schwarzenegger was a champion body builder and later became a Hollywood star in the 1980s. Some of his hit films include “Conan the Barbarian”, “Commando”, “Terminator”, “Total Recall” and “True Lies”.

(This story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)



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https://www.rt.com/news/546863-vaccine-mandate-nhs-delay/1,000s of unvaccinated NHS staff may be fired later than expected


Prime Minister Boris Johnson allegedly fears a coup if he goes too far with his Covid-19 policies

The UK government’s threat to fire unvaccinated National Health Service (NHS) staff is likely to be delayed amid fears of a Conservative Party revolt against Prime Minister Boris Johnson, according to The Telegraph.

The NHS vaccine mandate will probably be “kicked down the road” and delayed by six months, though not scrapped altogether, an unnamed government source told the publication on Saturday.

The Telegraph reported that the government fears a backbench revolt as some MPs are preparing to file a motion of no confidence in Johnson if he is implicated in the Downing Street parties which allegedly took place last year in breach of Covid-19 restrictions. One source told the newspaper that “a substantial number” of government ministers and MPs would be willing to vote no confidence in Johnson.

Disaffected Conservative backbench MPs have called for the NHS vaccine mandate to be repealed, arguing that it would cause further staff shortages at a time when the health service is already under major pressure.

Hundreds of NHS staffers and their supporters took to the streets of London on Saturday in protest over the mandate, holding signs which read, “My Body My Choice,” “No NHS Mandates,” and “From Clapping to Sacking” – the latter in reference to the weekly applause NHS staff received in 2020 for their pandemic efforts.

Under the current mandate, NHS workers have until April 1 to get fully vaccinated against Covid-19 or face being fired. Those who have not received their first jab by February 3 will reportedly be informed of their dismissal. ITV reports that as many as 70,000 NHS employees remain unvaccinated.

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‘Why Was I Born a Girl?’ An Afghan Poem Inspires U.S. Students


KABUL — When Fariba Mohebi, an 11th grader, learned in September that most Afghan girls would not join boys returning to school under Taliban rule, she shut the door and windows to her room. Then she broke down and sobbed.

From her despair, a poem emerged: “Why Was I Born a Girl?”

“I wish I was a boy because being a girl has no value,” Fariba wrote. Afghan men “shout and scream: Why should a girl study? Why should a girl work? Why should a girl live free?”

Fariba’s poem found its way to Timothy Stiven’s A.P. history class at Canyon Crest Academy, a public high school 8,000 miles away in San Diego. It was relayed via Zoom calls between Canyon Crest and Mawoud, a tutoring center Fariba now attends in Kabul, where girls sit in class with boys and men teach girls — testing the limits of Taliban forbearance.

Periodic Zoom sessions between the Afghan and American students have opened a window to the world for girls at Mawoud, hardening their resolve to pursue their educations against daunting odds. The calls have also revealed the harsh contours of Taliban rule for the California students, opening their eyes to the repression of fellow high schoolers halfway around the world.

“If I was a 10th as courageous as these girls are, I would be a lion. They are my heroes,” Diana Reid, a Canyon Crest student, wrote after a Zoom call this month in which Afghan girls described navigating bombing threats and Taliban interference.

For the Afghans, the Zoom sessions have been a fun novelty, and a reminder that some Americans still care about Afghans five months after U.S. troops withdrew in chaos and the American-backed government and military collapsed.

“We are so happy we are not alone in this world,” Najibullah Yousefi, Mawoud’s principal, told the San Diego students via Zoom. “There are some beautiful minds on the other side of the world who are concerned about us.”

The Zoom calls were arranged in April by Mr. Stiven and Mr. Yousefi. An early topic of discussion was Fariba’s poetry, translated by Emily Khossravia, a Canyon Crest student, and published in the school magazine. “Why Was I Born a Girl” prompted an in-depth education in Afghan realities for the American students.

The class has learned that Afghan students risk their lives just by walking through the tutoring center’s fortified gates. Mawoud’s previous location was leveled by a suicide bombing that killed 40 students in 2018. The school’s new building, tucked into a tight bend in a narrow alleyway, is protected by armed guards, high walls and concertina wire.

Most of Mawoud’s 300 students are Hazara, a predominately Shiite Muslim minority ruthlessly attacked by the Islamic State in Afghanistan, ISIS-K. Hazara schools, protests, mosques, a New Year’s celebration and even a wrestling club have been bombed by ISIS-K since 2016, killing hundreds.

Two Shiite Muslim mosques attended by Hazaras were bombed a week apart in October, killing more than 90 people. ISIS considers Hazaras apostates.

Since the Taliban takeover, several commuter minibuses used by Hazaras have been bombed in the Hazara district of west Kabul known as Dasht-e-Barchi. At least 11 people have been killed and up to 18 wounded, most of them Hazaras, the Afghan Analysts Network reported.

The Taliban, who persecuted Hazaras in the past, are now responsible for their security. The analysts’ independent research agency described the Taliban government response as tepid, saying it downplayed the strength of ISIS-K, which claimed responsibility for most of the attacks. On Jan. 14, Afghan media reported that a young Hazara woman, Zainab Abdullahi, was shot and killed at a Taliban checkpoint just five minutes from the Mawoud center.

The San Diego students have learned, too, that attending class is a leap of faith for Fariba and her female classmates, who make up 70 percent of Mawoud’s student body.

Mawoud prepares students for Afghanistan’s rigorous university entrance exams. But there is no guarantee that girls will be permitted to take the annual exams — or to return to high school, attend a university, or pursue a career in a country where the Taliban have begun erasing most women from public life.

The Taliban have said they hope older girls will return to schools and universities, under Islamic guidelines, by late March. Except for some schools in northern Afghanistan, most Afghan girls above the sixth grade have not attended school since August.

Mr. Yousefi said that Taliban officials who have visited the tutoring center have not laid down specific rules, as they had at some public schools. He said they have merely stressed adherence to “Islamic values,” interpreted as separating boys and girls and requiring girls to cover their hair and faces.

When Mr. Yousefi told the Talibs that a nationwide teacher shortage made it nearly impossible to segregate classes by gender, “They did not have any logical reply for me,” he said.

For the American students, the Mawoud girls’ accounts of perseverance — delivered in near-fluent English — have been both sobering and inspiring.

“I can hardly imagine how difficult that must be, and the courage the girls must have to be sitting alongside male students after facing suicide bombings,” Selena Xiang, a Canyon Crest student, wrote after this month’s Zoom call. “It’s so different from my life, where education is handed to me on a silver platter.”

Alice Lin, another student, wrote: “They are stronger, more determined, more steadfast in belief than I have ever been, and I cannot help but think: What if the Mawoud girls had been given my life?”

And Ms. Reid said she was struck by something one of the Mawoud students said over Zoom: “Knowledge is powerful — and the Taliban knows it. That’s why they keep it from us.”

Fariba, 16, the poet, said of the San Diego students: “They have motivated us to achieve our goals — and for me, my goals are very big.” She said she wanted to become a famous poet and a cancer researcher.

Zalma Nabizada, another Mawoud student, said, “I lost my motivation and was in darkness after the Taliban came.” But she said that the Zoom sessions had helped nudge her to keep trying to achieve. She wants to become, she said, “a star that shines.”

A sign, in English, hangs in a hallway at Mawoud: “Dreams Don’t Work Unless You Do.”

Before suicide bombs killed students at Mawoud in 2018 and at a nearby tutoring center attended by Hazaras in 2020, Mawoud had 3,000 students. Since the bombings and the Taliban takeover, the size of Mawoud’s student body has dropped by about 90 percent, the principal said.

Some Mawoud students fled with their families to Pakistan or Iran. Others have stayed home, afraid of bombings or Taliban harassment. Fariba said she spent weeks persuading her parents to let her attend the center.

The center’s guards turned to hunting rifles after the Taliban refused to let them carry assault rifles, Mr. Yousefi said. When students walk to and from the center, the principal instructs them to travel in small groups, to avoid presenting a mass target.

On a recent freezing morning, the Zoom session was frequently halted by technical problems, but each re-established connection was greeted with cheers and whoops from both classes.

There was a heartfelt discussion of a question posed by a Mawoud girl: How do you cope with loneliness? There was near silence when a Mawoud student, Sona Amiri, displayed her soccer medals, then said girls had stopped playing soccer after the Taliban takeover.

Another Mawoud student displayed his oil paintings, then told the San Diego students that the Taliban have cracked down on artists, forcing them to paint, draw and perform in secret.

Other Mawoud students described dreams of graduating from high school and university, and of pursuing careers as doctors, journalists, lawyers, poets — and for one girl, as Afghanistan’s ambassador to the United States.

They spoke, too, of never backing down. “This bad situation can make a person more powerful,” Ms. Amiri, the soccer player, told the American students.

Aaron Combs, a Canyon Crest 10th grader, responded moments later, “The fact that every one of you guys are brave enough to speak up for yourselves is incredibly inspiring.”

Afterward, Fariba, the poet, said the sessions with the American students did lift spirits, at least for a while. But for her, a heartwarming Zoom discussion can’t soften the daily indignities and terrors endured by a young Hazara woman in Afghanistan.

“We prepare ourselves mentally for the worst,” Fariba said just after the Zoom screen had gone dark. “It’s terrible to say, but that’s our reality.”

Safiullah Padshah contributed reporting from Kabul, Afghanistan.



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