World update: February 5 2018



Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev has decided to move October’s presidential election up to April even though the chances of him losing, regardless of the date, are only slightly greater than the chances of me signing a long-term deal to play in the NBA. Aliyev may be looking to hold the vote before any kind of economic downturn kicks in, or before he’s likely sanctioned by the Council of Europe over human rights issues later this year. He may also be hoping that holding the election so close to Russia’s election will limit any meddling from Moscow.


One person was killed on Monday by a roadside bomb in southwestern Pakistan. There’s been no claim of responsibility, but the usual suspects in that part of the country would include both Islamists and Baluch separatists.


Violence between Hindus and Muslims in the Indian city of Kasganj last month illustrates the degree to which Indian interreligious relations have become frayed in recent years due in large part to the rise of right-wing Hindu nationalism:

Kasganj was not always like this. For much of its history, Muslims and Hindus coexisted peacefully in this dusty city about 100 miles east of New Delhi. As the price of land shot up in the area, the city prospered. Now, rows of mustard-colored crops, markers of the region’s agrarian roots, frame Honda dealerships catering to a population eager to trade bicycles for motorbikes.


In the years since Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party rose to power in 2014, violent outbreaks between Hindus and Muslims have become more common in some pockets of India.


But locals said the energy did not change in Kasganj until last year, when Yogi Adityanath, a firebrand politician with ties to far-right Hindu nationalist groups, was chosen as chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, home to over 200 million people.


The situation here continues to deteriorate quickly. President Abdulla Yameen’s government imposed a state of emergency over the island nation, because you can’t have a coup without a state of emergency and this is a coup. Soldiers then stormed into the Supreme Court building in Malé and arrested two of the court’s four judges, while former Maldivian president/dictator Maumoon Abdul Gayoom was also reportedly arrested. Gayoom and Yameen are actually half-brothers, but the elderly (80 years old) Gayoom has gravitated into the opposition (a stunning position for a guy who ran the country as an unchecked dictator from 1978 until 2008).


Last November’s-December’s Nepalese legislative election left the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist-Leninist (not to be confused with the Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist Centre) in the driver’s seat in terms of forming a new government, which immediately strained ties between Nepal and the right-wing government of Narendra Modi in India. Indian officials had reason to fear that the new Nepalese government might favor China over India. But The Diplomat reports that there are already signs that the two countries are trying to maintain close relations:

With Indian Minister for External Affair Sushma Swaraj’s sudden visit to Kathmandu on Februray 1-2, there are signs of a rapprochement between Nepal’s newly elected Left Alliance and New Delhi.


For the Communist Party of Nepal (Unifed Marxist-Leninist) (CPN-UML) leader (and presumptive prime minister in the new coalition government) K.P. Oli, a friendly relationship with India is must. Two-thirds of Nepal’s trade is with India; the country is heavily dependent on its larger neighbor to meet its everyday needs. For India, it is necessary to build cordial relation with the new government in Nepal to minimize growing Chinese influence in Nepal and protect its interest.


Swaraj’s visit was first step toward rapprochement. As the first high-level foreign guest to visit Nepal after the successful conclusion of three levels of elections — local, provincial, and federal — Swaraj traveled to Kathmandu to formally congratulate the Left Alliance for its impressive victory in the national parliament polls.


Public calls are growing for the resignation of Deputy Prime Minister/military junta leader Prawit Wongsuwan. He was caught in a photograph wearing a diamond ring and a pricey watch to a cabinet meeting in December, both of which seemed to contravene Thailand’s strict anti-corruption laws that require public servants to disclose their assets. Prawit says he just borrowed the nice things from his pals, but that doesn’t seem to be convincing anybody.



Thousands of former residents of the now-empty town of Tawergha, just south of Misrata, are supposed to be returning home this month under an agreement negotiated with Misratan militias and announced by the Government of National Accord in December. Instead, they’re languishing in camps in the town of Bani Waled, just to the west, still blocked from returning by those same Misratan militias. During the first Libyan civil war, the one against Muammar Gaddafi, government forces used Tawergha as a staging ground for attacks on Misratan rebels, and after Gaddafi lost the rebels blamed the Tawerghan people for siding with him.


New South Sudanese peace talks began in Ethiopia on Monday. Obviously I hope I’m wrong, but I wouldn’t get my hopes up, despite US pressure on the South Sudanese government to bring the war to an end.


Two of the three TV stations shut down by the Kenyan government last week for attempting to broadcast opposition leader Raila Odinga’s “inauguration” were partially returned to the airwaves on Monday. The third, Citizens TV, remains off the air but there may be technical reasons for that. Kenyan police tear gassed protesters demanding the restoration of the channels earlier on Monday. It appears that however much the Kenyan opposition may have splintered over Odinga’s stunt, the TV censorship has been ham-handed enough to draw them mostly back together.


Two days of fighting between the Hema and Lendu peoples in the DRC’s Ituri province have left at least 30 people dead and observers wondering how many more unique conflicts can spring up in the DRC before Joseph Kabila graciously gives way to a president who might actually have some interest in trying to govern the country. The predominantly herding Hema and predominantly farming Lendu traditionally don’t get along, but the open violence is a clear sign of DRC’s descent into failed state-land, owing to Kabila’s general dysfunction.

The US Treasury Department on Monday announced sanctions against a DRC army general and three rebel leaders in response to the nationwide escalation of violence.


In a bit of good news, the Cape Town government says it can push “day zero,” when the city’s water reserves will be wiped out and water service will be shut off to at least one million homes, back from April 16 to May 11. Seasonal rainfall is supposed to kick in starting in May, so that should help even though this year it’s expected to be light.



Having lost his appeal for protection from extradition, former Georgian president and Ukrainian governor Mikheil Saakashvili may be getting deported back to Georgia soon. Saakashvili is wanted there on abuse of power charges stemming from his time as president, and perhaps more importantly he’s wanted out of Ukraine by Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko.


Polling suggests that Spain’s ruling People’s Party would win a narrow victory, with a bit over 26 percent of the vote, over the opposition Socialists if the parliamentary election was held today. Their support has dropped almost two points since a similar poll in December.


European Union Brexit negotiator Michael Barnier told Theresa May on Monday that the “time has come to make a choice” about what kind of relationship the EU and Britain will have post-Brexit. May has ruled out remaining in the customs union or the single market, either of which would entail adhering to some EU regulations. May in fact can’t do either of those things or else she’ll be booted out of the PM’s office by Brexit hardliners in her own party. On the other hand, it’s not clear there’s an appetite for a total break with the EU in parliament, outside of the hardcore pro-Brexit rump within the Conservative Party.

This is why May wants, and apparently still thinks she can get, a deal that gives the UK a comprehensive free trade arrangement with the EU, including services like banking, without obliging the UK to follow any EU rules and allowing the UK to negotiate its own trade deals with other international partners. This is also known as the “heads I kick you in the nuts, tails you let me kick you in the nuts” scenario, and it’s probably not going to go the way May thinks.



I’ve finally figured out why the Pentagon constantly says it’s falling behind every other military on the planet even though its budget is higher than the next seven or eight countries combined depending on the year. It’s because they apparently keep losing all the money:

One of the Pentagon’s largest agencies can’t account for hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of spending, a leading accounting firm says in an internal auditobtained by POLITICO that arrives just as President Donald Trump is proposing a boost in the military budget.


Ernst & Young found that the Defense Logistics Agency failed to properly document more than $800 million in construction projects, just one of a series of examples where it lacks a paper trail for millions of dollars in property and equipment. Across the board, its financial management is so weak that its leaders and oversight bodies have no reliable way to track the huge sums it’s responsible for, the firm warned in its initial audit of the massive Pentagon purchasing agent.


The audit raises new questions about whether the Defense Department can responsibly manage its $700 billion annual budget — let alone the additional billions that Trump plans to propose this month. The department has never undergone a full audit despite a congressional mandate — and to some lawmakers, the messy state of the Defense Logistics Agency’s books indicates one may never even be possible.

Raises new questions? Ya think? Personally I think it helps answer a bunch of questions, but that might just be me. I’m sure that, contrary to all reason, this will be used as a justification for higher defense spending somehow. “Hey, if we gave these guys an even trillion each year, then even when they lose two-thirds of it they’ll still be in decent shape!”

Bear in mind also that the word “lose” as I’m using it here is entirely subjective. I’m sure somebody know where that money went. They’d just prefer the rest of us didn’t.

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