World update: October 24 2017



Pardoned warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar recently gave a couple of interviews to the Guardian recently, in which he denied having committed any war crimes during the Afghan civil war (what, you believe your lying eyes?) and argued, seriously, that he could be a unifying force for Afghanistan. Hekmatyar claims to be in regular communication with the Taliban and says that the group is “eager for peace,” and, you know, they could maybe take a week off from killing people if they wanted to prove it.


tillerson abbasi
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson meets Pakistani PM Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, who is apparently pretty tall

Rex Tillerson had one main message for the Pakistani government when he visited Islamabad on Tuesday: stop helping the Afghan Taliban. Pakistani Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi told him that “the U.S. can rest assured that we are strategic partners in the war against terror and that today Pakistan is fighting the largest war in the world against terror,” which isn’t exactly the “OK, you bet” I would imagine Tillerson wanted to hear. Anonymous sources in Pakistan say that they’re betting the US will be forced to walk back its new hardline position toward the Pakistanis before the Pakistanis are forced to actually change anything about their Afghanistan policy.

Pakistani Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif is sad because of the “huge trust deficit” between the US and Pakistan. Pakistan doesn’t have any safe havens for the Taliban or the Haqqani Network, he argues, because…well, the Taliban doesn’t need them:

“They do not need our territory any more. Almost 40% of Afghan territory is now under the direct control of the Taliban.”

This is really an astonishing way to deny that your government has been abetting the Taliban insurgency. Not only does it allow as to how you might still be sheltering the Taliban if they needed it, that “any more” is a pretty dead giveaway that you were sheltering them at one point.


Bangladesh and Myanmar say they’ve reached an agreement on repatriating Rohingya refugees and cooperating on future border security. Bangladeshi officials say the arrangement calls for the formation of a working group to negotiate a way to return the Rohingya “safely,” which seems like a tall order when you’re sending them back to a country that’s been trying to exterminate them for several years now. They plan to work together to “restore normalcy” to Myanmar’s Rakhine state, whatever that means.


Meanwhile, the US state department said Tuesday that American military assistance units are being pulled out of Myanmar. Additionally, the US has suspended travel waivers for Myanmar military officials and is apparently considering economic sanctions. Somebody might need to explain what all the fuss is about to the Myanmar people–the New York Times interviewed many who seem to think the Rohingya have been killing each other, and anyway that Myanmar is better off with them out of the country.


Displaced families beginning to return to Marawi are being trained to spot bombs before they can return, which is just one of the many challenges surrounding the effort to recover from the Islamist insurrection there. The threat from booby traps that have been left behind by the militants is only part of the problem–unexploded government ordinance is a factor as well.

The effort to ensure that another Marawi doesn’t happen would be greatly improved if Rodrigo Duterte could finally complete a peace deal with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, as he’s promised to do. The MILF, which admittedly did some terrible things during the 1969-2014 Moro insurgency and has flirted with al-Qaeda in the past, has consistently opposed ISIS-aligned groups on Mindanao and even helped the Philippine army during the Marawi battle. Bringing them into the fold would go a long way toward securing Mindanao for the long term.


It was already telegraphed in state media last week, but the Chinese Communist Party formally adopted “Xi Jinping Thought” as part of its constitution on Tuesday, enshrining Xi’s name in the document alongside Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping (in fact, Xi’s “Thought” is going to overwrite a fair amount of Deng’s “Theory,” including Deng’s belief that China should maintain a low profile in foreign affairs). Even his pet One Belt One Road initiative was written into the constitution. These are powerful signals that Xi will be allowed to stay on as party leader for another five year term after his current, second, and technically final term ends in 2022.



Moroccan King Mohammed VI sacked his ministers of education, planning, and housing and health on Tuesday over a failure to implement a development plan for the country’s embattled and impoverished Rif region. Mohammed is clearly sensitive toward the possibility of renewed protests there and has consistently blamed his government for failing to take action to improve economic conditions.


With Thursday’s election looking less like a legitimate exercise of democracy and more like the opening act of a major period of unrest, Kenya’s Supreme Court will hear a petition Wednesday morning to delay the vote until challenger Raila Odinga agrees to participate and the Kenyan election commission says that it can conduct a legitimate vote. Since the chairman of the commission has already as much as said that Thursday’s vote won’t be legitimate, the petitioners do have a case.

Much of what happens on Thursday, assuming the election does happen, will depend on whether Odinga’s supporters simply stay home or engage in mass protest. Odinga has given conflicting signals as to what he wants them to do, but smaller local protests have already started and Kenyan police are already doing their best to suppress them.



A new widespread ransomware attack called “BadRabbit” hit primarily Russia but also a number of neighboring countries (including Bulgaria, Japan, Turkey, and Ukraine) on Tuesday. There were no major outages, but the attackers were able to penetrate Russian state media and Ukrainian air traffic systems among other targets, so this was a serious breach even if it wasn’t a critically serious one.


Austrian Prime Minister-designate Sebastian Kurz confirmed Tuesday that he will approach the far right nationalist Freedom Party about forming a governing coalition. Considering that Kurz has been stealing the Freedom Party’s anti-migrant rhetoric and positions for some time now, the union should be pretty easy to put together. But Kurz’s People’s Party is a good deal more pro-European Union than the Freedom Party, so that could be a sticking point, as could the Freedom Party’s demands for its role in the new cabinet.


Catalan separatists may try to beat Madrid to the punch and call snap regional elections before the Spanish government has a chance to take direct rule over the region. Madrid says this move will not change its plans to take over the Catalan government, but while I know nobody’s asked for my opinion, I would suggest that Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy should take this opportunity to find an off ramp in this crisis. Pre-referendum polls showed that a plurality of Catalonians do not want independence from Spain. If Catalan President Carles Puigdemont calls these elections there’s a very reasonable chance that he and his separatist cohorts will lose, in which case the problem has been solved. If they win, Madrid can still reserve the right to take control and hold another round of elections under its auspices.

Now, if Rajoy has some reason to believe that the Catalan separatists would try to rig these snap elections then obviously he wouldn’t want to let them go ahead, but barring that this seems like a potential way out of the mess. It’s a risk, to be sure, but one that could be worth taking to avoid the shitstorm that’s coming down the pike if Madrid goes ahead with the takeover.



Nicaragua has officially joined the Paris Climate Agreement, leaving the United States bravely standing against the tyranny of Big Climate Change alongside its close ally, Syria. Yes, Donald Trump and Bashar al-Assad: comrades in arms. That’s Making America Great Again, folks.


America’s 120 day moratorium on refugee admissions ended Tuesday, and the Trump administration graciously reopened America’s borders to the world’s most vulnerable people came up with a way to extend the ban for 90 days for the countries that are most likely to produce any refugees:

Donald Trump has signed an executive order ending his temporary ban on refugee admissions to the US, while calling for a 90-day review of the program for 11 countries his administration has deemed “high risk”.

The president had previously suspended the processing of all refugees to the US for a period of 120 days as part of a previous executive order, issued in tandem with the his travel ban on several Muslim-majority countries. The 120-day window came to a close on Tuesday, prompting an announcement from the White House that essentially resumed the US refugee program but with enhanced security measures mirroring the “extreme vetting” Trump has called for since taking office.

The White House declined, however, to name the 11 countries that would be subject to a new 90-day review, saying only that applicants from those countries would be considered on a case-by-case basis.

God Bless America.

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