Your Thursday Briefing

U.S. allies agree on Afghan withdrawal

Now that the U.S. has decided to leave Afghanistan by Sept. 11, NATO’s foreign and defense ministers agreed on Wednesday to begin withdrawing their 9,600 troops on May 1 and finish “within a few months,” according to a statement. The alliance’s mantra has always been “in together, out together,” so with the U.S. leaving, the pullout does not come as a surprise.

In Washington, President Biden formally announced the withdrawal, but warned the Taliban that if American forces are attacked on the way out of the country, “we’re going to defend ourselves and our partners with all the tools at our disposal.” Here are the crucial questions.

The withdrawal ends the longest war in U.S. history, but it is also likely to be the start of another difficult chapter for Afghanistan’s people. It is unclear what the future holds and if the fighting will ever stop. There is fear that everything will be lost when the Americans leave.

Quotable: “I am so worried about my future. It seems so murky. If the Taliban take over, I lose my identity,” said Wahida Sadeqi, 17, a high school student in Kabul. “It is about my existence. It is not about their withdrawal. I was born in 2004 and I have no idea what the Taliban did to women, but I know women were banned from everything.”

Context: U.S. intelligence officials paint a grim portrait of Afghanistan’s future, but do not expect it to become a terror threat to America right away. Mr. Biden’s decision to withdraw makes clear his belief that contending with a rising China takes precedence.

Vaccine fears undermine global rollout

The safety scares engulfing the AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson vaccines have jeopardized campaigns to inoculate the world, undercutting faith in the two workhorse shots and threatening to prolong the coronavirus pandemic in poor countries.

In Malawi, people are asking doctors how to expunge the AstraZeneca vaccine from their bodies. In South Africa, Johnson & Johnson doses are paused, a repeat blow after the country dropped the AstraZeneca shot. Two million AstraZeneca doses languish in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where no one has been vaccinated.

In countries where colonialism and unethical medical practices have left mistrust, health officials worry about an explosion of anti-vaccine fervor if a perception takes hold that rich countries are dumping second-rate vaccines on the global south.

No choice: While American and European lawmakers reassure people denied the AstraZeneca or Johnson & Johnson shots that they can receive another vaccine, in much of the world, there is no alternative — they are cheaper and easier to store, making them mainstays of global inoculations.

Here are the latest updates and maps of the pandemic.

In other developments:

Urban lockdowns in India are driving thousands back to their hometowns, which has the potential to devastate poorly equipped villages and accelerate the spread of the virus.

With 100 days until the Olympics, Japan is grappling with a new wave of infections.

The E.U. will receive an additional 50 million doses this month of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, as the bloc embarks on a hard pivot away from the AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson doses.

A big moment for cryptocurrency

Shares in Coinbase, the first major cryptocurrency company to list its shares on a U.S. stock exchange, began trading at $381 per share on Wednesday, a 52 percent increase over Nasdaq’s $250 reference price, showing investors are hungry for crypto’s coming-out party. The listing valued Coinbase at $99.6 billion, rivaling the size of Airbnb and Facebook at their public market debuts.

Started in 2012, Coinbase allows people and companies to buy and sell digital currencies like Bitcoin and Ether, which investors have poured money into this year. As a result, Coinbase has made $730 million to $800 million in net profit on $1.8 billion in revenue in the first three months of 2021, after taking in $322 million in profits last year.

The company went public through a direct listing, an unusual transaction where no new shares are issued or sold — they simply start trading. Coinbase is the largest company to go public via direct listing, which is popular among well-funded start-ups that don’t need to raise more cash from public investors.


Other Business News

Bernard Madoff, the one-time senior statesman of Wall Street who ran the largest and possibly most devastating Ponzi scheme in financial history, died in prison on Wednesday. He was 82.

Toshiba announced the resignation of its top executive, Nobuaki Kurumatani, as the Japanese conglomerate faces a potential buyout and a shareholder-initiated investigation into its management practices.

What Else is happening

The Biden administration is nearing agreements with Japan, South Korea and Canada to bolster carbon emission reduction targets in all four countries ahead of a closely watched summit of global leaders on Earth Day, April 22.

Denmark has become the first European Union country to deprive Syrian refugees of their asylum status, even as Syria remains shattered.

The white Minnesota police officer who fatally shot Daunte Wright, a 20-year-old Black man, after appearing to mistake her handgun for her Taser will be charged with second-degree manslaughter on Wednesday, a prosecutor said, following three nights of protests over the killing.

A government worker in China became an internet sensation after a video emerged of her striking back at a boss she accused of harassment. She beat him with a mop.

A Morning Read

Muldrow Glacier, in the shadow of Mount Denali in Alaska, is currently moving at up to 90 feet a day. That might not seem like much, but that makes it a speed demon. The Muldrow is undergoing a rare surge, much to the delight of glaciologists, who have seized on the chance to study it.


On friendship

The superstar Elton John and the rising singer Rina Sawayama. The playwright Jeremy O. Harris and his drama school classmates. The artist Ai Weiwei and his cats.

T Magazine’s annual Culture issue is dedicated to friendship in all of its forms, “how sustaining it is and how elastic it can be,” as Hanya Yanagihara, the editor in chief, writes. “There are no rules about what a friendship can be: It needs only effort, and mutual commitment.”

There is art and photography and essays on life-defining relationships, the kinds that drift apart and the ones that always pick up right where they left off. See the issue here.


What to Cook

Chewy soba noodles, chicken and crisp sugar snap peas are delicious at room temperature or cold.

What to Listen To

For the 15th anniversary of The Times’s Book Review podcast, Pamela Paul, the host, put together a list of her 15 favorite episodes.

What to Do

More exercise means less risk of developing severe Covid, according to a compelling new study.

Now Time to Play

Here’s today’s Mini Crossword, and a clue: Computer screen dot (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. — Whet

P.S. We are relaunching the Chinese Daily Briefing on Thursday to bring all the news of interest to our Chinese readers. Sign up here.

The latest episode of “The Daily” is about the Supreme Court.

Sanam Yar and Carole Landry contributed to this briefing. You can reach Whet and the team at [email protected].

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