World update: August 2 2018



Not willing to let a good crisitunity pass, the Tajik government has reportedly already tried, convicted, and sentenced 14 members of the outlawed Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan for their alleged involvement in a hit-and-run attack that killed four bicyclists just earlier this week. Talk about speedy justice. ISIS claimed responsibility for that attack, but Tajik officials insist that the IRPT collaborated with them. Given the level of sophistication required to drive a car into a crowd of cyclists, I can definitely see where they’re coming from and in no way do I think this is a politically motivated railroading.


Gunmen kidnapped and later killed three foreign workers in Kabul on Thursday. It’s unclear who was responsible. Taliban leadership denied involvement but that doesn’t rule out a more violent branch of the group, but obviously ISIS and/or plain old criminals could have been involved.

That’s a terrible story, but at least we can be comforted by the fact that the US effort to stabilize and rebuild Afghanistan is going fantasti-


Pakistani journalist Abrahim Shah argues that Imran Khan is going to have a difficult time improving Pakistan’s relationship with the United States:

Recalibrating relations with the United States will thus be the biggest foreign policy challenge for the PTI. The new government will also have to rethink its approach towards Afghanistan to assuage fears that Pakistan supports the Afghan Taliban. This will pose a significant dilemma for Khan, who has historically voiced support for peaceful negotiations with the Taliban and who opposed the Pakistan military’s operation against the Pakistani Taliban in the country’s northwestern regions. While in power in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, moreover, the PTI funded the Darul Uloom Haqqania, a religious seminary notorious for educating many members of the Taliban. These precedents have led to many of the detractors of the soon-to-be prime minister to dub him “Taliban Khan.”

The PTI will thus have to battle both personal ideological inclinations and strategic interests to improve Pakistan’s relationship with Afghanistan. This will also require making peace overtures to New Delhi, a move that will bring the party into direct conflict with Pakistan’s military. The military, for its part, has historically opposed any peace deal with India, and has traditionally enjoyed a veto on Pakistan’s foreign and security policies.

Pakistan’s second- and third-largest parties, the Pakistan Muslim League and the Pakistan People’s Party, have announced plans to field a joint candidate for prime minister to challenge Khan when the country’s new parliament is seated. It’s unlikely they’ll be able to stop him from becoming PM, but they could unify Khan’s opposition and leave him with a small enough majority to cause him problems.


US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is heading to Malaysia at the start of a four day Asia tour in which he plans to tout a Trump administration plan to encourage private investment in the Indo-Pacific region as a counter to China’s Belt and Road Initiative. He may get a positive reception, in theory, especially among governments like Malaysia’s that have expressed second thoughts about the Belt and Road deals they’ve already struck. But it’s going to be hard for private interests to compete with the $1 trillion-plus that Beijing has already pledged to Belt and Road.


It’s nice to see two best pals getting along so well:

The letter reportedly confirmed Kim’s eagerness to do, well, whatever it was he and Trump agreed to do in Singapore. It’s still not clear exactly what that was.



The BBC reports that two years after ISIS was driven out of Sirte the city is still largely wrecked and its people are increasingly angry about it:


Mali’s presidential election will go to a runoff between incumbent Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta and opposition candidate Soumaïla Cissé. Keïta won 41.4 percent of the vote in Sunday’s election to 17.8 percent for the second-place Cissé. Given the number of candidates in the field 41.4 percent is a pretty high total and should put Keïta in the driver’s seat in the second round, but turnout was low and Cissé has already accused Keïta of tampering with the vote. And Keïta is a known quantity, so maybe that 41.4 percent approximates his ceiling, That said, it’s hard to see Keïta losing in a head-to-head situation.


There’s a new ebola outbreak in DRC, just days after the last one ended. Four cases have been diagnosed in North Kivu province, and the World Health Organization is warning that there’s a high risk of the outbreak spreading, possibly into Uganda. The good news is that this strain has responded well to vaccines in the past, but even so containing it in that part of the country could prove challenging.


Emmerson Mnangagwa has been declared the narrow victor in Zimbabwe’s presidential election, with 50.8 percent of the vote. The losers, apart from challenger Nelson Chamisa, are the six people who have been killed by Mnangagwa’s security forces since Monday’s vote. Chamisa and his Movement for Democratic Change party are so far rejecting this result but Mnangagwa has put police on the streets of Harare in force to tamp down protests, to surround and contain MDC headquarters, and to monitor Chamisa himself for any sign that he plans to do more than just verbally contest the outcome. International observers have cited some irregularities and possible fraud, including voter intimidation and the very fact that it took the electoral commission four days to finally release the results.



The Guardian is reporting that US authorities uncovered what they believe to be a Russian spy at the US embassy in Moscow, a woman who had apparently worked there for more than 10 years before she was fired last year. She was among the 750+ embassy staff the US sacked under Moscow’s orders, but in her case the spat with Russia was used as a cover story. It’s unclear how much access she had to critical information or how much damage she did, in part because apparently the US government hasn’t conducted an investigation for some reason. There are suggestions that this breach could somehow be connected to Russia’s hack of the Democratic National Committee in 2016 but that seems pretty farfetched–there’s no reason to think that anything at the US embassy in Moscow would be connected to the DNC.

In happier news, polling shows that a lot more Russians seem to like the US since Donald Trump’s Helsinki meeting with Vladimir Putin. So we’ve at least got that going for us. Russians’ views of the US are net positive for the first time since before the whole Ukraine/Crimean thing happened back in 2014.


The Polish Supreme Court is asking for guidance from the European Court of Justice as to the legality of Poland’s decision to lower the mandatory retirement age for the court’s justices. That move raised the specter of sanctions from the European Union, so this may be a conciliatory move on the part of the Polish government.


Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán is turning his political sights on making the European Parliament just a touch more fascist:

Backed by a hefty new electoral mandate, Orban has a broader mission in mind. He urged his right-wing comrades across Europe to “concentrate all our strength” on “important and decisive” 2019 elections for the European Parliament. He framed the challenge in grand historic terms, summoning his allies to cast out those in power still motivated by the values of “1968” — shorthand in Europe for liberal politics based on human rights, the rule of law and open, inclusive societies. “Next May we can wave goodbye not only to liberal democracy … but also to the entire elite of ’68,” Orban said.

The Hungarian leader emphatically drew the battle lines. “Let us confidently declare that Christian democracy is not liberal,” he said. “Liberal democracy is liberal, while Christian democracy is, by definition, not liberal: it is, if you like, illiberal.”


Vladimir Putin’s favorite biker gang, the Night Wolves, have moved into Slovakia apparently. And that’s probably not good news for Slovakia:

The Night Wolves biker gang that is now so worrying the country is under U.S. sanctions for its involvement in past Russian annexations and military operations abroad. In 2014, for instance, the gang paraded through the streets of Crimea after the Ukrainian peninsula’s annexation, led by former physician Alexander Zaldostanov — nicknamed “the Surgeon.”

“Zaldostanov is being designated for being a leader of a group, the Night Wolves, that is engaging in, directly or indirectly, actions or policies that threaten the peace, security, stability, sovereignty, or territorial integrity of Ukraine,” the U.S. Department of the Treasury argued in 2014, justifying sanctions against Zaldostanov. According to the U.S. sanctions documents, Zaldostanov was involved in the confiscation of Ukrainian weapons when the Ukrainian Naval Forces headquarters in Crimea were stormed by Russian forces in March 2014.

They’re certainly not just “harmless motorcycle lovers,” Slovak President Andrej Kiska said earlier this week, referring to the 2014 incident. His government is now considering ways to monitor and expel the bikers from the country that is both part of NATO and the European Union.



The Ecuadorean government says it is undertaking a joint “security effort with the United States, including–of course–arms sales. US-Ecuadorean relations haven’t been so hot but President Lenín Moreno and US Vice President Mike Pence seem to get along with one another and that’s become conduit for closer ties. Military ties, of course, because that’s what the United States does.


The Organization of American States announced on Thursday that it’s forming a working group to try to find a peaceful settlement to the political violence in Nicaragua. That should definitely do the trick.


Al-Monitor’s Jack Detsch reports that the new National Defense Authorization Act could undermine Donald Trump’s plans to sell advanced US weapons all over the world:

The commander in chief has consistently advocated for US arms exports, promising a $110 billion weapons package to Saudi Arabia last year. The White House also announced reforms in April that would loosen export rules for fighter jets, drones, warships and artillery, while putting American diplomats in a frontline position to push for new sales.

But a provision in this year’s $717 billion National Defense Authorization Act, which sets Pentagon policy for the fiscal year that starts Oct. 1, could put a damper on those efforts. New language championed by the House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman, Rep. Ed Royce, R-Calif., pushes the administration to more closely regulate “dual-use” civilian technologies or equipment with sensitive US capabilities.

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