Your Thursday Briefing

We’re covering the Taliban’s plans for an Islamic government and what the outbreaks in India and Britain have taught us about the Delta variant.

Taliban to name a supreme leader

The Taliban are preparing to establish a new Islamic government in Afghanistan, after the U.S. withdrawal. Sheikh Haibatullah Akhundzada, the Taliban’s top religious leader, will be the country’s supreme leader, according to a Taliban official.

Sheikh Haibatullah would be the supreme authority of the new Islamic government, with a role similar to that of Iran’s supreme leader. Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, a co-founder of the Taliban, was expected to be in charge of day-to-day affairs as head of government. An announcement on the appointments could come as early as Thursday.

The new government will face huge challenges, including growing humanitarian and economic crises. It will be strapped for cash as funds are cut off by the U.S. and international lenders, and as foreign governments debate whether to recognize the Taliban.

Refugees: Few options remain for Afghans wishing to flee the Taliban. Pakistan said it would not accept any more refugees.

C.I.A. exit: In the weeks leading up to the U.S. troop withdrawal, a secretive and highly secure compound used by the Central Intelligence Agency on Kabul’s outskirts became a hub for clandestine evacuations before parts of it were destroyed, a Times investigation found.

Related: President Vladimir Putin of Russia said that two decades of U.S. military involvement in the country yielded “zero” results. Pope Francis criticized western intervention in Afghanistan, saying that it showed the flaws of nation-building.

The rise and fall of the Delta variant

The U.S. has entered the fourth wave of the pandemic — or the fifth, depending on which expert you ask. Vaccines are lagging and the Delta variant is surging rapidly in hot spots.

To better understand what lies ahead in the U.S., scientists are looking at Britain and India for clues. In particular, they’re trying to understand why Delta outbreaks in those countries dissipated, even if temporarily.

In Britain, daily cases fell from a peak of 60,000 in mid-July to half that within two weeks, though they have since been climbing again. In India, infections fell drastically in June after averaging at least 400,000 daily cases this spring.

Vaccines and masks: It is important “not to overly extrapolate” from Delta’s course through Britain and India, an epidemiologist in New York said. The three countries vary in the percentage of population vaccinated, the ages of the vaccinated, the embrace of large gatherings and open schools, and the prevalence of mask-wearing and other precautions.

Other factors: Delta’s path across the U.S. has depended heavily upon vaccination rates. India may need to rely on natural immunity, because only 9 percent of its population is fully vaccinated. One expert cautioned that the point at which infections stabilize remained highly dependent on how and where people mixed, as well as the season.

Here are the latest updates and maps of the pandemic.

In other developments:

Italy introduced a quarantine rule for unvaccinated travelers, after the E.U. dropped the U.S. from its list of safe countries.

New Zealand will be in lockdown for another two weeks after one case of the Delta variant spawned an outbreak of nearly 700 infections.

Who will replace Merkel?

Germany is having its most important election in a generation, to choose a successor to Chancellor Angela Merkel after 16 years of her dominating domestic and European politics.

On the campaign trail, the two leading candidates — Armin Laschet, the North-Rhine Westphalia governor from Merkel’s party, and Olaf Scholz, a Social Democrat who is Merkel’s vice chancellor — are emphasizing their similarities with her.

Neither is flashy. Some Germans complain of a boring race — but voters want stability and reliability. The Greens candidate, Annalena Baerbock, is several points behind.

Our Berlin bureau chief writes: “Who can most effectively channel stability and continuity? Or put another way: Who can channel Ms. Merkel?”

Tense moment: Merkel has mostly stayed out of the fray ahead of the Sept. 26 vote, but she has dismissed Scholz’s attempts to portray himself as her natural successor, Politico Europe reports.


Asia News

More than seven months into the Biden administration, U.S. businesses say they are frustrated by the White House’s approach to China and want Trump-era tariffs removed. Biden has offered little clarity.

Alibaba is facing a reckoning over workplace abuses. We talked to nine former employees, who painted a picture of a company where casual sexism is rampant.

Singapore’s prime minister, Lee Hsien Loong, won a defamation suit against two online blog writers who had written about the status of a family home, Reuters reports.

Around the World

President Biden met with Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, and condemned “Russian aggression.” The U.S. committed to a $60 million military aid package for the country to fend off Russia.

The British TV personality Piers Morgan was cleared by Britain’s communications regulator over critical comments he made on air about Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex, after her bombshell interview with Oprah Winfrey.

A Texas law prohibiting most abortions after about six weeks of pregnancy went into effect in the state after the Supreme Court failed to act on a request to block it. Also in Texas, lawmakers passed a bill tightening voting restrictions.

Novak Djokovic won his first match at the U.S. Open. Naomi Osaka spoke to us about her childhood in Queens, N.Y.

A Morning Read

Despite its tech-savvy image and economic heft, Japan is a digital laggard. The pandemic has reinforced the need to modernize tech, but a persistent gender gap is stopping progress. Improving the situation will depend in part on whether Japanese society can be nudged away from the mind-set that tech is a strictly male domain.


The many lives of fake art

What happens to works of art that turn out to be fake? In many cases, they re-enter the market: One art dealer has been offered the same fake Egon Schiele painting 10 times by 10 different collectors.

Since what determines a fake is often nothing more than an expert’s opinion, owners who have paid a lot for a work are not always ready to believe that they have been duped. Many of the works are recycled to unsuspecting buyers, as Milton Esterow reports in The Times. Some universities also have fakes in their collections that they use as study tools.

“We have about 1,000 objects that were donated as fakes by dealers, collectors and auction houses,” Margaret Ellis, a professor at New York University, said, adding, “These help students know what they are looking at and can be extremely educational when you put them side by side with the real work.”

Perhaps the most interesting fate for an art fake is to become set dressing in F.B.I. stings. The agency keeps thousands of fakes in storage — and once used six in a case that involved five bikini-clad undercover agents, a yacht off the coast of Florida and two very real French mobsters.


What to Cook

Ripe figs lend their subtle sweetness to this chunky jam. You can also try these methods to make preserves.

What to Listen to

Five minutes of Louis Armstrong’s sweetness, Miles Davis’s wild squall and more will make you love the trumpet.

Tech Tip

Don’t get slowed down when you’re trying to use your phone’s camera to take a quick, spur-of-the moment picture.

Now Time to Play

Here’s today’s Mini Crossword, and a clue: Many-headed monster of myth (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. Wirecutter, The Times’s product review site, announced digital subscriptions.

The latest episode of “The Daily” is about the lost education during the pandemic.

Sanam Yar wrote the Arts and Ideas section. You can reach Melina and the team at [email protected].

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