World update: July 28-29 2018



Attackers stormed a midwife training center in the city of Jalalabad on Saturday, killing at least three of its employees and wounding several other people before themselves being killed during a more than six hour battle with police. ISIS later claimed responsibility.

That US meeting with Taliban representatives in Doha a few days ago may have gone better than anticipated. A member of the Taliban negotiating team who spoke to Reuters talked about the meeting’s “friendly atmosphere” and “very positive signals,” but made it clear that these were talks about talks, not actual peace talks themselves. Still, the breakthrough here is that it’s the first direct US-Taliban talks without the Afghan government’s involvement, and they apparently concluded with a commitment to keep talking. The Taliban also expressed some interest in reciprocating the Afghan government’s offer of a ceasefire during next month’s Eid al-Adha celebration.


Well, it doesn’t appear to be taking long for Imran Khan and his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party to secure commitments from enough small parties and independent lawmakers to establish a governing majority. Khan is by all accounts making substantial progress and should have enough votes behind him to take over as Pakistani prime minister whenever parliament returns to session, presumably some time next month.

Although it has said it will not boycott parliament over complaints about election rigging, the now-opposition Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz party called over the weekend for a “judicial investigation” into the campaign and the election. The party insists that the Pakistani military fixed the election for PTI and Khan. Its former leader, Nawaz Sharif, who was imprisoned on a corruption conviction earlier this month, has been taken to hospital due to health concerns.

With Khan’s victory still fresh, analysts are trying to figure out if he’s going to use his international appeal as a former cricket star to strengthen Pakistan’s ties to the West, or if he’s going to continue his more recent indulgence of extremists:

Oxford-educated and once married to a wealthy British woman, Mr. Khan is clearly comfortable in the highest circles of Western power brokers. He was close friends with Princess Diana. (Shortly before she died, Mr. Khan has said, he was trying to help her find a new husband.)

Still, the old Mr. Khan is not necessarily the new Mr. Khan. In recent years, he has undergone a complex metamorphosis, distancing himself from his days as a star athlete and ladies’ man. He now expresses sympathy for the Taliban and for Pakistan’s harsh blasphemy laws, which include the death penalty, positions that play well domestically.


It was a real nail-biter, but Prime Minister Hun Sen’s ruling Cambodian People’s Party won Sunday’s election over…well, whoever they were running against. The CPP should have at least 100 of the 125 seats in the next parliament, and that’s all honestly earned and not at all because Hun Sen dissolved the main opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party last year. Turnout was high at 80.49 percent, at least according to the same government that rigged the outcome in the first place.



Malian voters also turned out on Sunday to elect a new president, or more likely to return incumbent Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta for another term. Mali’s ongoing state of insecurity weighed heavily on the vote, with turnout expected to be low and hundreds of polling sites closed altogether due to the risk of violence. There was at least one report of violence during the voting, as militants fired mortars in the village of Aguelhok in Kidal province. Results likely won’t be released for several days.


The Pentagon says that it has started arming the drones it flies out of its Nigerien air base outside of Niamey. The US and the Nigeriens are building a dedicated drone facility near Agadez but I guess in the meantime the US military doesn’t want to miss any opportunities to blow something up.


The Nigerian military says that its forces killed 16 Boko Haram fighters after the insurgent group attacked a village in Borno state on Friday. Meanwhile, it’s also deploying forces, including air assets, to the northwestern part of the country to try to deal with the increase in bandit activity there.


Thousands of people gathered in Addis Ababa on Sunday for the funeral of Simegnew Bekele, the lead engineer on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam project. Simegnew was found shot to death in the capital on Thursday, and as the man in charge of a major national project like the GERD his death has apparently hit a nerve with the Ethiopian public, who are demanding justice for his killer(s).


Somali President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed visited Eritrea on Saturday in what appears to be a major thaw in Somali-Eritrean relations. Somalia and Eritrea broke off relations since the early 2000s, when Eritrea began helping the Islamic Courts Union, which was the precursor to al-Shabab. He was invited to Eritrea by President Isaias Afwerki in another sign of a Horn of Africa-wide diplomatic realignment kicked off by the recent thaw in Ethiopian-Eritrean relations.


It’s a big few days for elections. Zimbabwean voters will hit the polls on Monday in that country’s first election since the ouster of Robert Mugabe last year. President Emmerson Mnangagwa is promising a free and fair vote that will meet international standards and perhaps lead to a thawing of relations between Zimbabwe and the West…’s money. But speaking of Mugabe, on Sunday he chimed in to let everybody know that he won’t be voting for Mnangagwa, the man who helped oust him from power, saying that he “cannot vote for those who tormented me.” Poor guy. Mugabe’s statement prompted Mnangagwa to accuse opposition leader Nelson Chamisa of cutting a deal with the former dictator, clearly in an effort to discredit Chamisa ahead of the vote.



National support for Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union/Christian Social Union bloc stands at 29 percent in a new poll, down one point from last month and its lowest level of support since 2006. Merkel’s Social Democratic coalition partner also dropped a point over the past month, but the Greens interestingly picked up two points.


Deputy Prime Minister Luigi Di Maio, leader of the Five Star Movement, said over the weekend that Italy’s coalition government has no intention of holding a referendum on remaining in the eurozone. He spoke to assuage market concerns raised by Five Star co-founder Beppe Grillo, a long-standing euro hater who talked a few days ago about the need to plan for a referendum on remaining in the euro just in case. Grillo has no role in the government but still has influence in the party.


Merkel isn’t the only European leader dealing with bad polling news. French President Indra Emmanuel Macron’s support is down to 39 percent in a new Ifop survey, his lowest figure yet in that poll. Video of his bodyguards beating up May Day protesters undoubtedly hasn’t helped, particularly when Macron doesn’t seem to have been in much of a hurry to really punish them until the public found out what happened. In fact, pollsters were able to trace a clear shift in Macron’s popularity to the day that story broke.



Al Jazeera reports on political unrest in Peru, where the public is protesting rampant corruption:


Finally, for a little refresher here’s former New York Times Cairo bureau chief David Kirkpatrick, recounting the Obama administration’s approach to the 2013 coup that ousted elected Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi and connecting Obama’s approach to that event to the Trump administration’s current Middle East policy:

President Trump boasts that he has reversed American policies across the Middle East. Where his predecessor hoped to win hearts and minds, Mr. Trump champions the axiom that brute force is the only response to extremism — whether in Iran, Syria, Yemen or the Palestinian territories. He has embraced the hawks of the region, in Israel and the Persian Gulf, as his chief guides and allies.

But in many ways, this hard-line approach began to take hold under President Barack Obama, when those same regional allies backed the 2013 military ouster of Egypt’s first elected president, Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood.

That coup was a watershed moment for the region, snuffing out dreams of democracy while emboldening both autocrats and jihadists. And American policy pivoted, too, empowering those inside the administration “who say you just have to crush these guys,” said Andrew Miller, who oversaw Egypt for the National Security Council under Mr. Obama, and who is now with the Project on Middle East Democracy. Some of the coup’s most vocal American advocates went on to top roles in the Trump administration, including Secretary of Defense James Mattis and Michael Flynn, Mr. Trump’s first national security adviser.

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