World update: October 20-21 2018



At least 11 people were killed on Sunday by a roadside bomb in Nangarhar province. There’s been no claim of responsibility. The attack came a day after at least 36 people were killed in over 120 attacks across the country that were intended to impede the parliamentary election. The bloodiest single attack killed 15 people at a polling station in Kabul.

It’s impossible to talk about the outcome of Saturday’s election yet because, for one thing, the voting isn’t over. Long lines observed at multiple polling places suggests that turnout might be surprisingly high given the threat of violence. But new biometric machines intended to tamp down on voter fraud appear to have frequently malfunctioned and there were already accusations that the government was manipulating the election even before the voting started. Voting was extended through Sunday for 401 polling stations that failed to open on Saturday because no staff showed up. And of course voting in Kandahar province was postponed for a week after Thursday’s terrorist attack killed the provincial police chief. Voting in Ghazni province hasn’t even been scheduled due to disagreements between that province’s ethnic communities.


A total of five Kashmiri rebels, three Indian soldiers, and six civilians were killed on Sunday in two incidents in Kashmir. The soldiers and two militants were killed in a clash near the line of control after the militants allegedly crossed from Pakistani Kashmir into Indian Kashmir. Three more rebels were killed when Indian forces raided an apparent safe house in southern Kashmir, after which those six civilians died in a fire and explosion at the same house, possibly/probably caused by the earlier battle. The fighting kicked off violent demonstrations by Kashmiri civilians, some 35 of whom were wounded attacking Indian forces. More may have been wounded in protests in Srinagar but there’s been no report of casualties from there as yet.


The Maldivian Supreme Court on Sunday unanimously rejected President Abdulla Yameen’s challenge to the results of the country’s September 23 election. Presumably this clears any hurdle to Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, the winner of that election, taking power next month as scheduled.


Gunmen killed nine farmers in Negros Occidental province on Sunday. It’s not clear who carried out the attack but the region is embroiled in a land redistribution controversy whereby large landowners have resisted giving parts of their lands to small farmers.



The by-election for former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s seat in parliament was held on Saturday, and independent candidate Kerryn Phelps won an improbable victory in what had been a solidly Liberal district. Big deal, I know, except that this vote officially makes Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s government a minority government. Morrison only controls 75 seats in the 150 seat Australian House of Representatives, and one of those belongs to the speaker, who only votes in case of ties. Morrison says he has no plans to call for an early election, probably because all available polling suggests he’d lose. But he is apparently in talks with independents to shore up his parliamentary support, though so far all of them seem to be demanding policy changes from his government in exchange for their help.



An argument in a market in the town of Kasuwan Magani in Kaduna state on Friday escalated to violence that eventually left at least 55 people dead. Nigerian authorities imposed a curfew in the town, which was expanded to the entire province after violent incidents in Kaduna city on Sunday, and the country’s special police force has been deployed to the province to prevent further clashes. It’s unclear what specifically kicked off Friday’s violence, but Kaduna sits along the fault line between the country’s predominantly Muslim/herding north and its predominantly Christian/farming south, so it is no stranger to violence.


The Ethiopian government reached a peace deal with the secessionist Ogaden National Liberation Front in the country’s Somali Region on Sunday. The deal stipulates and end to violence on both sides and for the ONLF, which has been fighting an insurgency since the 1980s, to transition to a purely political movement. The agreement could unlock the Somali Region’s considerable oil and gas reserves for exploitation.


In what sounds like a sign of some really good times to come, the Cameroonian government put heavily armed riot police in the streets of the country’s two largest cities, Douala and Yaoundé, on Sunday ahead of an announcement about the results of the country’s presidential election earlier this month. Which means Paul Biya won, or that the vote count was manipulated to make him win, or something. However it happened he’ll presently begin serving his seventh term as president.


Gunmen killed 12 people, including one DRC soldier, on Saturday in the city of Beni, which is at or very near the epicenter of the ongoing DRC ebola outbreak. Another two people, both health workers, were killed in the city of Butembo, just south of Beni. It’s unclear which of the multitude of armed groups active in the eastern DRC was responsible, but it is clear that these attacks are hindering the effort to keep the outbreak under control.


The Comoran government arrested the governor of restive Anjouan island on Sunday and charged him with “instigating unrest” on the island following a week of violent protests.



The Russian government wants “an explanation” as to why the Trump administration is pulling the US out of the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty. They could start with a look in the mirror, since Russian violations of the treaty are what gave Washington the cover to withdraw from it.


There are serious concerns that the formation of an independent Ukrainian Orthodox Church–which could happen anytime now as far as I understand it–will lead to violence:

In recent years, about 50 churches in Ukraine that were under the Moscow Patriarchate have been forcibly seized and transferred to the Kiev Patriarchate, according to Metropolitan Antony Pakanich of the Moscow-loyal Ukrainian Church.

“People have been forcibly dragged out of our temples, the locks have been sawed off,” he told The Associated Press. “People in camouflage and balaclavas, with insignia of radical organizations, have come and beat our believers and priests.”

Some believers say they will forcefully defend their right to stay.

“The creation of a local church will push for a new round of confrontation … we, who are supporters of canonical Orthodoxy, will defend our interests here,” said Ilya Bogoslovsky, a 28-year-old who came with his wife and daughter for a service at the chapel of the Tithes Monastery, where the guards had been deployed.


The Italian government is expecting the European Commission to request that it revise its 2019 budget this week. Italy is aiming for a deficit that is 2.4 percent of GDP next year, which is high for European Union budge rules and particularly so given Italy’s high public debt level. A request from the European Commission would trigger negotiations between Rome and Brussels, but Italy’s ruling coalition seems intent on proving that it’s possible to reduce debt without going into the international community’s preferred austerity contraction death trap so it’s hard to imagine it reducing that deficit target significantly. It will instead try to convince Brussels that the target, while high, is still safe.



The Central American migrant caravan is now around 7200 persons strong and continuing its journey through southern Mexico’s Chiapas state toward the US border. That’s a marked increase from the 4000 or so people who were believed to be in the caravan last week. Mexican police have been harassing the migrants but have not made an effort to stop their progress. Mexican authorities may be trying to route the caravan to a holding area, where they’ve promised–though the migrants seem skeptical–that they’ll issue permits to remain in Mexico.


Finally, Paul Pillar puts the Trump administration’s credulous behavior toward Saudi Arabia in the context of its general tribalism:

Trump’s approach has been part of his administration’s tribalist approach to policy in the Middle East, in which Saudi Arabia serves as one of the supposed good guys on the U.S. side of the line and, on the other side of the line, its cross-gulf rival Iran is depicted as the source of all evil in the region. The approach involves the shameless application of double standards. Imagine how the administration would have reacted if Iran had done anything like what occurred in that Saudi consulate in Istanbul. Those itching for a fight with Iran, such as National Security Advisor John Bolton, would have considered such an event to be more than enough of a casus belli. The United States probably would have gone to war against Iran a week ago.

The shameless application of double standards has become familiar to observers of domestic U.S. politics. Hardly a day goes by anymore without Trump’s partisans providing cover or excuses for the president’s latest outrageous exclamation or act, which would deservedly torpedo most political careers. (This week, for example, Trump praised a Republican congressional candidate—who was found guilty of assault for physically attacking a reporter—by saying, “Any guy that can do a body slam… he’s my guy.”)


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