World update: October 19 2017

Happy Diwali to those who are celebrating! I confess to knowing little about Hinduism and even less about Diwali, so if somebody wants to educate the rest of the class in the comments please feel free.

(As an aside, though there’s usually not much activity in the comments around here, be aware that I have them set to go through moderation. So if you try to leave a comment and it doesn’t show up right away, don’t worry. I get to them pretty quickly and as long as they’re not offensive or abusive they get approved.)



What had already been a terrible week in Afghanistan got worse overnight, when another series of Taliban strikes killed at least 58 people, mostly police and Afghan military personnel. In the deadliest incident a double car bombing (which seems to be the Taliban’s new favorite tactic) was used against an army camp in Kandahar province, killing at least 43 of the 60 soldiers stationed there.


Omar Khalid Khorasani, the leader of the Pakistani Taliban breakaway group Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, was killed on Wednesday in a probable US drone strike in, uh, Afghanistan. Maybe Pakistan is on to something with that border fence idea.

Former Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, along with his daughter and would-be successor Maryam and her husband Muhammad Safdar, was indicted on Thursday over the same Panama Papers-linked corruption charges that got him removed from office in July. Sharif was not present for the indictment because he’s in the UK, though he is expected to return for the trial. The indictment could do serious damage to his Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz party’s electoral fortunes.


Last night it was being reported that new Marawi terrorist boss–excuse me, “Islamic State Emir of Southeast Asia”–Mahmud Ahmad had been killed in fighting in Marawi. And that’s still being reported, but Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte later announced that Ahmad had been “taken” and nobody seems to know what he means by that. So it’s possible this guy is still alive and in Philippine custody, or maybe/probably the original story was right and he’s no longer among us. Ahmad’s death (capture, whatever) could be a major blow to ISIS’s budding operations in the region–he was apparently one of their main financiers.


Ankit Panda suspects, based in part on a speech Rex Tillerson delivered on Wednesday, that the Trump administration is cooking up a plan to directly challenge China’s One Belt One Road initiative for Asian hegemony:

If Tillerson’s speech can be taken as a teaser of what Trump may say at Da Nang, it is likely that the United States will soon speak of the Belt and Road Initiative in openly adversarial terms. Tillerson noted, for example, during the question-and-answer component of the event, that the United States thinks it is “important that we begin to develop some means of countering that with alternative financing measures, financing structures.” He implied that India, which made its opposition to China’s initiative well known in May with a terse statement, would have an important role to play in this endeavor.


In his prepared remarks, Tillerson also noted that “many Indo-Pacific nations have limited alternatives when it comes to infrastructure investment programs and financing schemes, which often fail to promote jobs or prosperity for the people they claim to help.” His prescription for this limitation was that it was time to “expand transparent, high-standard regional lending mechanisms – tools that will actually help nations instead of saddle them with mounting debt.”


It’s unclear how specifically the United States will go about doing this, but it seems increasingly likely that Washington will list like-minded Asian states — including India, Japan, and possibly Australia — to assist in this endeavor. While the explicitly adversarial intent to “counter” the Belt and Road Initiative is new, a lot of what Tillerson mentions borrows heavily from the Obama administration’s own vision for Asia.



While she’s got a bit more work to do to iron out the details of her governing coalition, New Zealand has a government, and a prime minister: Labour Party leader Jacinda Ardern.

That’s her (Wikimedia | Wiremu Stadtwald Demchick)

Ending almost a month of speculation, New Zealand First party leader Winston Peters announced Thursday evening that he’d be joining Labour in a minority government (with support from the Greens). This is the first left of center government New Zealand has had in a decade and Ardern is the country’s youngest prime minister since Edward Stafford took office in 1856, assuming Wikipedia isn’t lying to me. You can fit everything I know about New Zealand politics into…well, into this actual paragraph, as it turns out, so here too if anybody has more to add the comments section is open.



There’s a bit of a feud brewing in the US Congress over Western Sahara, of all things. The Senate foreign relations appropriations bill includes language that would require the Trump administration to consult with the United Nations before disbursing humanitarian aid money intended for the territory, which is claimed by Morocco despite a substantial independence movement. In other words, the administration would be required not to consult with the Moroccan government on distributing aid intended for a region Morocco considers its territory, to avoid legitimizing Morocco’s disputed claim. But there’s a group in the House, led by Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL), that wants to make the money available to Morocco, thereby legitimizing its claim. This seems like a strange cause for–oh, hi, Lincoln Diaz-Balart, brother of Mario Diaz-Balart, former congressman in your own right, and Moroccan lobbyist. Nice to see you.

Of course, I don’t want to imply that the Senate side is clean and the House side is dirty–Algeria also has a lobbying firm on contract to work DC against Morocco’s claim on Western Sahara. Nobody escapes the muck in DC.


Police in Togo have shut down the country’s capital city, Lomé, in an attempt to quell ongoing protests demanding the implementation of long-promised constitutional reforms and, ultimately, an end to the Eyadéma dynasty’s 50 year rule over the country. At least four protesters have reportedly been killed this week by security forces.


The Pentagon says it’s still investigating what happened two weeks ago when a joint US-Nigerien patrol was ambushed, presumably by Islamist forces, leaving four American special operations soldiers dead. The FBI has even gotten involved in the process, though that’s not as unusual or surprising as it may seem at first glance, and Senate Armed Services Committee Chair John McCain seems like he’s getting irritated at the lack of answers from the DoD and the White House. The only thing upon which everybody seems to be able to agree is that the patrol was caught totally by surprise and had not expected to meet any resistance, which raises more questions than it answers. It’s still believed that the attack was carried out by ISIS in the Greater Sahara, itself a splinter from the former al-Qaeda affiliate al-Mourabitoun and one of ISIS’s key affiliates in the region.


The chairman of Kenya’s election commission, Wafula Chebukati, called for meetings today with President Uhuru Kenyatta and opposition leader Raila Odinga to discuss the October 26 presidential election, which Chebukati no longer believes can be held credibly since Odinga pulled out of the race citing a lack of reform in Chebukati’s commission. Odinga showed up for his meeting, but Kenyatta apparently did not, and he seems dead set on proceeding with the vote no matter what Odinga does or how it may be received. With opposition protesters continually taking to the streets and Kenyatta’s security forces ready to quash their protests at the president’s orders, the potential for things to devolve into mass violence is quite high.



Reuters notes a disturbing trend: one way to get ahead in Serbian politics these days seems to be to have participated in war crimes back in the 1990s:

In 2009, Serbian general Vladimir Lazarevic was convicted by a U.N. court of war crimes over the forced deportation of more than 700,000 ethnic Albanians during the 1989-99 Kosovo war.


The squat, bespectacled Lazarevic was one of the chief executors of a systematic effort to empty the then-Serbian province of ethnic Albanian civilians and raze their homes in the last bloody chapter in the collapse of Yugoslavia.


This week, two years after he was released from jail, the 68-year-old found a new job – lecturer to the next generation of Serbian soldiers at the country’s Military Academy.


Madrid could assume direct control over Catalonia as soon as Saturday, when Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has called for a special cabinet session to discuss the action. Rajoy called the meeting in response to the Catalan government’s announcement that it will push ahead with an unambiguous declaration of independence if Madrid tries to take away the region’s autonomy. Obviously, then, things could get very combustible on Saturday.



How can the discovery of a corpse affect a midterm election? Well, when that midterm election (happening this Sunday) is expected to be a referendum on the government of Argentine President Mauricio Macri, and the body could be that of indigenous rights activist Santiago Maldonado, and there’s good reason to believe that Macri’s security forces are the ones who killed him, then you have a potential electoral situation. Macri’s record on human rights is already weak, and if voters think he’s responsible for Maldonado’s death it will obviously not help his Republican Proposal party.


The opposition has finally produced what it says is hard evidence that at least one of Sunday’s gubernatorial elections was rigged by the Venezuelan government:

The Democratic Unity Roundtable’s claim rests on results from a single race, in industrial Bolivar state, where pro-government candidate Justo Noguera was declared the winner by just 1,471 votes over opposition candidate Andres Velasquez.


The opposition coalition said the results on the National Electoral Council’s website don’t match the tallies from 11 ballot boxes certified by poll workers representing multiple political parties. It said the inconsistencies resulted in 2,199 votes from those polling stations being awarded incorrectly to Noguera, enough to swing the vote in his favor.

That’s only one of 18 governorships (out of 23 total) that were won by the ruling Socialist Party, so even if these allegations prove correct they can’t explain what happened on Sunday.

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