World update: October 13-14 2018



The Taliban killed at least 22 Afghan security forces in multiple attacks over the weekend. They killed 21 in attacks on two checkpoints in Farah province on Sunday and killed the police chief of a district in Zabul province late Saturday night. Also on Saturday, at least 22 people were killed when a campaign rally in Takhar province was hit by a bomb left on a motorcycle, and two people were killed in an attack on a candidate’s office in Herat province. As Afghanistan’s parliamentary election approaches on October 20, you can expect more violence directed at candidates and political events.

US and Taliban representatives, including US envoy for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad, ended their meeting in Doha on Friday with an agreement to keep talking. So that’s something. Khalilzad reportedly asked for a six month ceasefire from the Taliban, who in turn demanded a prisoner release and the withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan. Not a lot of common ground there I guess.


One of Imran Khan’s plans now that he’s Pakistan’s prime minister is something he’s calling the “10 Billion Tree Tsunami.” It is, as the name tells you, a goal to plant 10 billion new trees in Pakistan to try to reverse some of the country’s massive deforestation over the past few decades, and it seems to be generally well-received:

The plan is one of dozens that Khan has proposed in his wide-ranging agenda to fashion a “new” Pakistan. Some have met with skepticism, such as persuading wealthy overseas Pakistanis to finance the construction of dams and vowing to end entrenched official corruption.

But the idea of a green awakening seems to be taking root. The new program is expected to make enemies, especially powerful individuals and groups that have appropriated large tracts of government land for years. But the concept appeals to a new generation of better-educated Pakistanis, and it has sparked excitement on social media.

“This is one of the rare things in our society that is not divisive,” said Malik Alim Aslam, the new federal minister for climate change, who headed the original campaign in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. On Sept. 2, when the government held 200 launch ceremonies across the country, enthusiastic citizens helped plant 2.5 million saplings in one day.

The program is insufficient–Pakistan needs to plant more than a trillion trees to really reverse the effects of deforestation–but at least it’s a start, I guess?


The Trump administration’s decision to quit the United Nations Human Rights Council, was petty, vindictive, short-sighted, and all around stupid. But that doesn’t mean the HRC works properly. It just reelected the Philippines to another three year term on the council in a vote that Rodrigo Duterte is hailing as a “vindication” of his war on drugs in which Philippine police have killed around 4800 people extrajudicially. Way to go everybody.



The Algerian government brought five of the army’s major generals up on corruption charges over the weekend. The Algerian military appears to be undergoing a slow-moving purge ahead of a presidential election next year. Algerian leaders haven’t decided whether President Abdelaziz Bouteflika will stand in that election, but whether he does or not the country is approaching an inflection point wherein the 81 year old president–who’s been impaired, to say the least, since his 2013 stroke–isn’t going to be able to continue as the regime’s front man. It’s entirely possible that factions are already competing behind the scenes for positioning in the post-Bouteflika era.


At least 20 people were killed in a double suicide bombing in the city of Baidoa on Saturday evening. Al-Shabab claimed responsibility.



“Thousands” of Croat nationalists protested in the city of Vukovar to complain that the government hasn’t punished Serb war criminals from the 1990s. There seems to be a growing right-wing movement in Croatia that orients itself in part around the Croatian War of Independence and lingering anti-Serb sentiment.


Welp, it seems that Moderate Party leader Ulf Kristersson’s bid to form a minority government has been scuttled by his center-right Alliance partners, the Centre and Liberal parties. Both refused to support a Moderate-Christian Democrat coalition government that presumably would also have gotten support from the far-right Sweden Democrats. Current Prime Minister Stefan Löfven will likely get the next crack at forming a government but given how divided Swedish politics are now he’s likely to have as difficult a time as Kristersson did.


The Bavarian sister party to Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union, the Christian Social Union, took a drubbing in Sunday’s state election. The CSU remains the largest party in Bavaria, but it came out of the election with 37 percent of the vote, a loss of 10 percent from the last state election four years ago. The Greens came in second with 18 percent. The far-right Alternative for Germany seems to have come in fourth with just over 10 percent. The outcome seemingly repudiates the CSU’s decision to turn hard right in order to try to undercut AfD, but it leaves the party battered at a time when Merkel’s governing coalition is increasingly hanging by a thread.


Luxembourgers went to the polls on Sunday and delivered what looks like a surprising vote for the status quo. The country’s dominant center-right Christian Social People’s Party was expected to win, returning to power after an unusual five year period in the opposition, but it actually seems to have lost seats. The current three-party center-left coalition appears to have barely retained enough seats to stay in power (31 seats in the country’s 60 seat parliament), with the Socialist Workers party losing seats while the Greens gained seats, and Prime Minister Xavier Bettel’s Democratic Party treaded water. This preliminary result is close enough that things could change.

Probably still Luxembourg PM Xavier Bettel (Wikimedia | Annika Haas)


What was supposed to be a triumphant weekend of “final push” negotiations between the UK and the European Union over Brexit seems to have gone, well, about how you’d expect actually:

EU leaders are preparing to hold an extraordinary “no deal” Brexit summit in November to deal with the potential consequences of the UK crashing out of the bloc should Theresa May fail to deliver decisive progress on the Irish border issue this week, the Guardian can reveal.

A special meeting of heads of state and government at which the EU had hoped to sign off on the Brexit negotiations next month may instead be turned into a emergency summit to discuss the bloc’s response to a cliff-edge Brexit.

The plan is likely to pile further pressure on the British prime minister by illustrating the EU’s seriousness about allowing the UK to crash out if the alternative were a deal that would undermine the integrity of the single market or prove unacceptable to the Republic of Ireland.

The Irish border is still the big intractable problem, and it remains a problem that really may not be solvable. The upshot is I wouldn’t expect to hear any grand news of a Brexit deal on Monday, though anything is possible I suppose. The UK is leaving the EU one way or another early next year, but at this point it seems more likely that it will leave without a deal than that it will. London and Brussels may try to negotiate some sort of extension to allow more time to negotiate, but it’s unclear if that will be acceptable to hardliners in the Conservative Party, who could bring May’s government down.



The big takeaway from Donald Trump’s 60 Minutes appearance on Sunday seems to be the unmistakeable sense that Defense Secretary James Mattis is on his way out:

President Trump said that Defense Secretary Jim Mattis could be considering whether to step down from his post and that he sees the Pentagon chief as “sort of a Democrat,” a veiled critique of one of his most popular cabinet secretaries.

“I have a very good relationship with him. I had lunch with him two days ago,” Mr. Trump told “60 Minutes” in an interview being aired Sunday. “It could be that he is” leaving, Mr. Trump said, responding to a question about whether he wants Mr. Mattis to leave.

“I think he’s sort of a Democrat, if you want to know the truth,” the president continued. “But Gen. Mattis is a good guy. We get along very well. He may leave. I mean, at some point, everybody leaves. Everybody. People leave. That’s Washington.”

Mattis has probably been a brake on Trump, but not much of one, and if this is where Trump is at then he’s not listening to Mattis anymore anyway. I can’t wait to see who’s on deck for this gig.

Finally, I wanted to close with an excerpt from Bernie Sanders’ foreign policy speech last week. I don’t find Sanders particularly compelling on foreign policy, but it’s clear that he’s given the issue a good deal of thought since his failed primary run in 2016. I’m highlighting this passage in particular because he’s saying the right thing here about the rise of right-wing authoritarian leaders around the world:

While the leaders who make up this axis may differ in some respects, they share key attributes: intolerance toward ethnic and religious minorities, hostility toward democratic norms, antagonism toward a free press, constant paranoia about foreign plots, and a belief that the leaders of government should be able use their positions of power to serve their own selfish financial interests.

Interestingly, many of these leaders are also deeply connected to a network of multi-billionaire oligarchs who see the world as their economic plaything.

Those of us who believe in democracy, who believe that a government must be accountable to its people and not the other way around, must understand the scope of this challenge if we are to confront it effectively. We need to counter oligarchic authoritarianism with a strong global progressive movement that speaks to the needs of working people, that recognizes that many of the problems we are faced with are the product of a failed status quo. We need a movement that unites people all over the world who don’t just seek to return to a romanticized past, a past that did not work for so many, but who strive for something better.

Much like Islamist extremism, the only way to stop the rise of right-wing populism is by addressing the conditions that allowed it to flourish in the first place. You can’t just try to stuff the genie back in the bottle and hope it stays put.

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