World update: December 15-16 2018


The COP24 climate summit in Poland ended on Saturday with an agreement on implementing the Paris Climate Accord’s carbon emission pledges. But the process was not smooth and the outcome not without its issues:

After fraught and much-delayed talks at the COP24 climate change conference here in Polish coal country, more than 190 countries agreed to the rules. They punted, however, on a critical but complicated issue involving how countries trade and account for certain pollution. Brazil nearly blocked the process amid concerns that its proposals would lead to “double counting” and, essentially, cheating, according to observers and a senior negotiator involved in the discussions.

That issue will have to be taken up at a later date in 2019.

Ministers also did not agree to emphatically embrace the latest climate science, which stunned some attendees. Countries reached a “compromise” statement in which they welcomed the publication of an alarming report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

They stopped short, however, of welcoming its actual findings.



Taliban officials say their representatives will meet with US, Saudi, and Emirati officials on Monday in the United Arab Emirates. More on this, presumably, tomorrow.

At least 20 Afghan civilians were reportedly killed in a NATO airstrike late Friday in Kunar province, according to locals. The strike was part of an operation against a local Taliban unit, in particular a local Taliban boss named Sharif Mawiya, and may be part of a shift on the part of NATO forces toward decapitation strikes targeting Taliban leadership. NATO denies that any civilians were killed and says that over 40 Taliban fighters were killed by airstrikes and Afghan ground forces in the Kunar operation.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s bodyguards brutally assaulted an audience member at a public event on Thursday when he attempted to hand a petition to Ghani. In the aftermath, Ghani was caught on video shouting at and even slapping an aide for mistreating the would-be petitioner, but the man was apparently taken into custody anyway. Probably not a great image for a president who’s hoping to be reelected next year.


The Chinese government says it wants to help the Afghan and Pakistani governments patch up their differences. And it probably does. China’s Belt and Road Initiative would go a heck of a lot smoother if the Afghan war were over and Kabul and Islamabad were on better terms. And China’s concerns about Islamic extremism in, say, Xinjiang would be substantially reduced if Afghanistan weren’t basically boot camp for would-be extremists. Beijing’s outreach comes at a time when the US is trying to engage with Pakistan again because it views Pakistani involvement as essential to finally getting the Taliban to negotiate.

The Pakistani government summoned the Iranian ambassador on Sunday to complain about an ambush that killed six of its paramilitaries near the Iranian border on Friday. No militant group has taken responsibility for the attack and Iran has already said it will cooperate with Pakistan to deal with them, so it’s unclear what the Pakistanis were complaining about.


Indian soldiers killed three Kashmiri separatists on Saturday in a gun battle south of Srinagar, and then killed seven civilians when they opened fire on a crowd that had gathered to protest the original operation. Another 50 protesters were injured.


As expected, would-be Sri Lankan Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa resigned from the job he never actually held on Saturday, and on Sunday former Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe was reappointed to the job he never technically left. Sri Lanka’s long national nightmare is over…except for the part where Wickremesinghe and President Maithripala Sirisena hate each other and it’s hard to imagine how they’ll ever be able to work together again, and any instability in Sri Lanka always threatens to spiral into violence and particularly violence targeting the country’s Muslim and Tamil minorities.


Al-Monitor’s Maxim Suchkov wonders whether Russia and China can maintain their current cooperation in the Middle East. While they approach the region differently and are not on the same page on some regional issues, he argues that both Moscow and Beijing view the Middle East through the same basic set of principles:

Russia and China were both driven to the region by the same two imperatives: security and opportunity. For Russia, the initial driver was security, but monetization of various opportunities is now becoming equally if not more important. For China, investment opportunities, success of its signature Belt and Road mega-plan for strong trade routes between China and Central and Southeast Asia, as well as sources of energy for its growing consumption are what made the region critical in the first place. Yet all of this is seriously threatened unless the region is secure.


The North Korean Foreign Ministry issued a blistering statement on Sunday denouncing US sanctions over Washington’s “human rights racket,” and warning that progress on denuclearization was threatened by the ongoing US “maximum pressure” campaign against Pyongyang. Or, in other words, everything is just great!



Alex Thurston examines the question of why Mali’s political situation has remained stagnant even as the country has descended further into violence:

On another level, there has been astonishing continuity since the early 1990s in terms of who comprises the political class in Mali, both in Bamako and in the far northern city and rebel hub of Kidal. For example, Mali’s current president, Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta, was prime minister from 1994 to 2000. The present-day leading opposition politician, Soumaïla Cissé, was finance minister during roughly the same period.

Other actors have made more dramatic transitions. Iyad Ag Ghali, the leader of a separatist northern rebellion that began in 1990, is now a hardened jihadist. He has gone from negotiating with the Malian government in the early 1990s—and even serving as a Malian diplomat—to heading the formidable jihadist coalition Jama‘at Nusrat al-Islam wal-Muslimin (The Group for Supporting Islam and Muslims). The point here, however, is that he remains central to understanding politics and conflict dynamics in Mali. The forms of conflict have changed, and new actors have entered the arena, but many of the old actors are still present and even, in their own ways, dominant.

But given that ordinary Malians would have so many reasons for resenting and overthrowing these figures, the question is particularly acute there—why has so much of the status quo persisted for so long? In a new report for the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation, I give two main answers.


Nigerian sources say that at least 12 soldiers were killed and dozens more remain missing after a battle against ISIS-West Africa in northeastern Nigeria that began Friday night. ISIS-WA apparently attacked a military base and nearby town. The outcome of the battle is unclear–the Nigerian military says it repelled the attack, but it also says it only lost one soldier in the process.

Meanwhile, Amnesty International is releasing a new report on Monday that estimates that at least 3600 people have been killed since 2016 in fighting between herders and farmers across central Nigeria. Because the herders tend to be Fulani Muslims and the farmers tend to be Christian, this ongoing violence is often ascribed to terrorism and/or ethnic-religious tensions. But its primary cause is climate change, which has forced northern herders and southern farmers into closer contact along Nigeria’s “Middle Belt” and has the two groups competing for the same land.


Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s reforms may be popular in other parts of the country, but they haven’t won him any friends in the predominantly Tigrayan parts of northern Ethiopia. Although a small minority in Ethiopia, the Tigrayan people have been the country’s dominant ethnic group since the 1990s due to their control over the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front. But Abiy, an Oromo, has rebalanced Ethiopian politics to reduce the power of the EPRDF, and that has diminished Tigrayan primacy.


The US Africa Command says it carried out another Somali airstrike on Saturday. This one was near Gandarshe, just south of Mogadishu along the Somali coast, and allegedly killed at least eight al-Shabab fighters and zero civilians.


At least two Rwandan civilians were reportedly killed on Sunday by unspecified attackers near the Burundi border. Rwanda has seen a number of attacks recently by militants crossing into the country from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and there are growing tensions between Rwanda and Burundi, whose president, Pierre Nkurunziza, accuses Kigali of harboring people who were involved in an attempted coup against him in 2015.


Two female suicide bombers were killed by their own bombs in the northern Cameroonian town of Kolofata on Saturday. Two others were wounded in the blasts. The location (close to the Nigerian border) and the use of women as bombers both suggest that Boko Haram was responsible.



Leaders of what is about to be the newly autocephalous Ukrainian Orthodox Church met on Saturday to elect a new head: Metropolitan Epiphanius. He will now go to Istanbul next month to formally receive a grant of autonomy from the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople. That will potentially remove all of Ukraine’s Orthodox churches out from under the control of the Moscow Patriarchate, though many Ukrainian churches are expected to remain in the Russian Orthodox Church and Ukrainian authorities insist, somewhat unconvincingly, that they have no plans to force the Russian Orthodox Church out of Ukraine.


The Kosovar parliament voted on Saturday to send a delegation to Serbia for talks to try to ease the tensions between Belgrade and Pristina. Both countries are pursuing membership in the European Union, but neither will get in unless they settle their longstanding beef. The timing may be ill-advised, since the Serbs are still likely to be seeing red after Kosovo’s legislature voted to turn its national defense force into an army on Friday.


Some 10,000 people protested again in Budapest on Sunday against Hungary’s new so-called “slave labor law” that allows employers to demand up to 400 hours of overtime out of their workers each year and defer paying for it for up to three years. It’s the fourth straight day of protests since the law was passed. The Hungarian government says the protests are being orchestrated by George Soros, because of course it does.


As expected, this week’s iteration of the “yellow vests” protest was smaller and more subdued than in past weeks. The concessions that Emmanuel Macron announced on Monday seem to have placated many protesters, and Tuesday’s terrorist attack in Strasbourg, whose death toll now stands at five, seems to have reduced people’s interest in protesting.


Labour Party leaders say they intend to try to force a vote on Theresa May’s Brexit plan before Christmas. That should be fun.


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