World update: March 2-3 2019



The Taliban launched another attack on Camp Shorab in Helmand province on Friday night, killing at least 23 Afghan soldiers in an engagement that lasted into Saturday evening. At least 22 Taliban fighters were reportedly killed. In a separate attack in Sar-e Pol province on Saturday, the Taliban killed at least nine Afghan security forces after ambushing their convoy.


This is going to sound disingenuous and probably more than a little crude, but an exchange of fire between Indian and Pakistani forces across Kashmir’s Line of Control overnight Friday-Saturday killed at least six civilians and two Pakistani soldiers in what is probably a sign that tensions in South Asia are ebbing. Obviously the violence is bad and the deaths are particularly bad, but periodic border skirmishes are a relatively routine thing in Kashmir, and the fact that this one didn’t immediately escalate into airstrikes or worse suggests that both India and Pakistan have relaxed a bit since this past week’s events. Things were reportedly quiet on Sunday, which is an even better sign that everybody’s backing away from the war they almost started.

That’s not to say that all the ramifications of recent events have gone away. The US government is interested in whether or not Pakistan used American-made F-16s to shoot down that Indian aircraft on Wednesday, because that might violate their end-user agreement. It’s more likely the Pakistanis used JF-17s, which they manufacture based on a Chinese design, but some reports about the shoot down did reference F-16s. Meanwhile, the Indian government is refusing to publicize the bomb damage assessment from its Tuesday airstrike near the Pakistani town of Balakot. Pakistani authorities as well as locals interviewed by reporters say the Indians didn’t really hit anything, while the Indians say they hit several terrorist camps and killed dozens of Kashmiri militants. It’s possible the Indians are worried about revealing operational details, but then again it’s also entirely possible that they’re lying about the camps.


Donald Trump is now blaming the failure of his summit with Kim Jong-un last week on the Michael Cohen hearing in Congress. The only surprise here is that it took him this long to do so.

Actually, Trump only says the hearing “may” have contributed to the failure, with the obvious implication being that the President of the United States isn’t entirely sure why he’s doing whatever he’s doing at any given moment. Which is an extraordinarily comforting thought.



Omar al-Bashir’s recent personnel moves, including his decision to step aside as chair of his party, are all about surrounding himself with trusted pals who also happen to be influential within the Sudanese military. But his calculus in making those moves could backfire on him:

Bashir’s dissolution of the government created a space that he filled with close associates. His former defense minister, Awad ibn Auf, became his vice president, and Ahmad Haroun became deputy chairman of Bashir’s National Congress Party. The three men have something in common: They are all accused of orchestrating atrocities during a protracted conflict between the Sudanese government and rebels in the Darfur region. The International Criminal Court has had an arrest warrent against Bashir for a decade.

His reshuffling of the government may create more enemies than friends, some analysts say. Military leaders were given top positions at the expense of longtime members of his political party who might have been hoping to take power whenever Bashir relinquished it. And while Bashir’s embrace of the military has been seen as a way to “coup-proof” himself, it only gives more power to those capable of carrying out a coup.


Never let it be said that protests can’t work. Amid ongoing demonstrations over his potential fifth term in office, Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika said on Sunday–well, his campaign manager said, since as we keep mentioning around here Bouteflika is non compos mentis–that if he’s reelected in April’s election he’ll promise to only serve one year before retiring and holding a new election. There’s no real reason to believe him–or at least there wouldn’t be if Bouteflika weren’t so obviously impaired. His “decision” to run for another term was made by Algeria’s ruling clique, whose various factions couldn’t agree on a replacement and just punted on the decision. Another year with Bouteflika nominally in charge gives those factions another year to try to work out their differences.


ISIS-West Africa claims that its fighters killed ten Nigerian soldiers in an attack in Borno state on Thursday. The Nigerian military says it has no record of the attack. I would certainly not argue that ISIS is trustworthy, but the Nigerian government doesn’t exactly have a sterling track record in that regard either.



Historian Adam Tooze takes the EU to task for ignoring its human rights rhetoric in order to do business with authoritarians:

If it stands by its principles, the EU cannot in fact accept such a refusal of the universal value of human rights, certainly not from someone of [Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-]Sisi’s dubious legitimacy. What independent polling we have suggests that a large part of Egyptian public opinion in fact objects to the violence of his regime.

The EU’s connivance was, one forthright former senior diplomat acknowledged, an exercise in a new “realism.” As usual, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte was eager to grasp the nettle. It was time, he declared, for Europe to accept that “power” is not a dirty word. And as usual, he was ready with a folksy crack: “Sometimes you have to dance with whoever’s on the dance floor,” he said in a speech in Switzerland prior to the Egypt summit.

But does that in fact make sense? What kind of powers is it that the Europeans are dancing with? Why does Europe need to dance at all?


Estonia’s center-right opposition Reform Party won Sunday’s parliamentary election with almost 29 percent of the vote, ahead of the ruling Centre Party at 23 percent and the far right EKRE party at nearly 18 percent. Which means, as you can probably tell, that the election was inconclusive. Reform and Centre have formed coalitions in the past and that may be one option here, though there are other potential coalitions between Reform and smaller parties. The concern is that EKRE, though it will almost certainly be kept out of government, saw a huge surge from the roughly eight percent it won in 2015.


Thousands of people took to the streets of Podgorica on Saturday to protest against Montenegrin President Milo Đukanović. This is the fourth week in a row demonstrators have turned out to demand Đukanović’s resignation, since a former pal of the president, Duško Knežević, publicly leveled corruption allegations at him and his Democratic Party of Socialists. Knežević is in Britain, having fled corruption charges of his own. The Montenegrin protesters were joined by similar anti-government protesters across the Balkans–in Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Serbia–in what’s becoming a regional movement of sorts.


“Yellow Vest” protesters turned out again on Saturday for the 16th week in a row. Less than 40,000 reportedly took part this week, though, reflecting a steady decline in the movement’s numbers over the past few weeks. Some activists are calling for the movement to begin protesting more spontaneously again, though polling indicates that the French public is losing patience with the movement.



Armed gangs, apparently emboldened by the election of fascist President Jair Bolsonaro and his promises to “open” (or in other words, destroy) the Amazon rainforest in the name of farming and development, have reportedly begun attacking indigenous communities:

Bolsonaro has railed against what he sees as excessive federal protections for these minorities. He compared natives on reservations to animals living in zoos, suggesting they would be better off assimilating and enjoying a cut of profits that could come from opening their holdings to farming, logging and mining. He has dismissed reservations as an impediment to agribusiness, one of his top supporters.

“If I become president, there won’t be one square centimeter of land designated for indigenous reservations,” he said at a 2017 campaign stop in the farm state of Mato Grosso.

Indigenous advocates say such rhetoric has stoked long-simmering resentment, putting native lives at risk.

“His campaign speeches … became a license to invade indigenous lands,” said Ivaneide Bandeira, head of the ethno-environmental defense NGO Kanindé.


Venezuelan opposition leader and self-declared president Juan Guaidó says he will return to Venezuelan on Monday, and he’s asking Venezuelans to protest with him at 11 AM. Guaidó has been out of Venezuela since slipping into Colombia just before his February 23 humanitarian aid stunt, and while it’s very possible he could be arrested upon his return, Nicolás Maduro would probably be making a mistake in doing so since it would escalate the US and European animus against his government.


Donald Trump’s Hanoi summit with Kim Jong-un has collapsed, but I still want to highlight a piece from Ploughshares’ Joe Cirincione and John Carl Baker published prior to the meeting. I think it contains an important message for Democrats not to let their rejection of Trump put them in the position of defending our lousy foreign policy status quo:

Democrats should consider Trump’s heterodox approaches, not shun them. Some early presidential candidates already have found success by endorsing major domestic reforms such as “Medicare for All” and taxing the super-rich. They wisely recognize that the status quo just isn’t cutting it. Their new perspective is encouraging and should be expanded to foreign policy.

Why? Because if a Democrat is elected in 2020, she or he is going to inherit this process. Do they want U.S.-North Korea talks to lead to shattered diplomacy, distrustful allies, and smoldering tensions that could lead to nuclear war? Or do they want negotiations to be an ongoing step-by-step process toward peace and denuclearization? The next U.S. president should hone Trump’s outsider perspective and embrace nuclear talks as a bridge to far-reaching changes. He or she could continue these negotiations with the diplomatic skill and thoughtful strategy the current administration lacks.

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