World update: December 14 2017



Afghan authorities have apparently started arresting teachers working for the Afghan Turk CAG Educational NGO (ATCE), which has been running schools in the country for a couple of decades now. Why, you ask? Well, because the Afghan government and (apparently) the Turkish government believe that ATCE is a branch of the Gülen network. ATCE representatives say they’re an independent organization, but Turkey has been pressuring Central and South Asian countries pretty hard to close down schools its says are part of Gülen’s charter school movement and to sometimes detain personnel from those schools. What a teacher in Afghanistan could possibly have to do with an attempted coup in Turkey is beyond me, but I guess that’s why I’m writing on a blog and not running the Republic of Turkey.


Surveys suggest that Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party did quite well in this week’s regional elections in Gujarat (Thursday was the last day of voting). Several major opposition parties had banded together to try to hand BJP an embarrassing setback in Modi’s home state, but at this point it appears the ruling party took over 100 seats in the 182 seat regional assembly.


Japanese Prime Minister Shinzō Abe very much wants to amend the country’s constitution to legitimize the “self-defense forces” it currently operates in lieu of a standing military (which is banned under the post-WWII constitution). But he’s running into difficulties within his own Liberal Democratic Party over how to word the issue. A substantial number of his own party members believe that formally legalizing the self-defense forces would contradict the constitution’s restrictions on Japan’s “war potential.” Needless to say, if Abe can’t get his own house in order behind this measure, he’s unlikely to be successful trying to sell it to other parties. A plurality of Japanese voters support the proposed change, but notice I used the word “plurality.” Abe doesn’t exactly have the crushing weight of public opinion behind him here either.



How well is the war against Boko Haram going? So well that the Nigerian government is about to release $1 billion out of its $2.3 billion foreign reserves account to finance the conflict. The move is already raising questions about where the money will go, which is inevitable in a country with as big a corruption problem as Nigeria’s.


Reuters reported on Thursday that the United States is cutting off “food and fuel aid” to most of the Somali military over corruption. Apparently the military has been repeatedly unable to account for past food and fuel aid. Inspections of Somali military facilities over the summer found no evidence that American food aid had reached the soldiers, and in fact found far fewer soldiers than were supposed to be stationed at those facilities. Essentially, it sounds like the Somali military is a hollow shell, which is pretty unfortunate considering that al-Shabab is still hanging around and the African Union’s peacekeeping mission in Somalia is beginning to wind down.


Nigeria is facing a new challenge, the arrival of refugees fleeing the anglophone parts of Cameroon in fear of attacks by the francophone government’s military:

Government repression – including ordering thousands of villagers in the Anglophone southwest to leave their homes – has driven support for a once-fringe secessionist movement, stoking a lethal cycle of violence.


The secessionists declared an independent state called Ambazonia on Oct. 1. Since then, 7,500 people have fled to Nigeria, including 2,300 who fled in a single day on Dec. 4 fearing government reprisals after raids by separatists militants killed at least six soldiers and police officers.


President Emmerson Mnangagwa told a ZANU-PF party conference on Thursday that he may move the election up (right now it’s scheduled for July) in an effort to end Western sanctions against Zimbabwe. The lifting of those sanctions is ostensibly tied to political reform, so moving the election up won’t help if the international community doesn’t consider it to be a fair contest.



When Vladimir Putin runs for reelection next year it will be as an independent, in an apparent effort to garner support from all over the Russian political spectrum, such as it is. I hope he’s thought this through–it can be tough to run for national office without the infrastructure of a political party behind you. Luckily, Putin will be running virtually unopposed–though, apparently, the thought of that is currently making him sad. Poor guy. He’s all set to starve some otherwise legitimate rival of any airtime or other public attention and then throw that rival in prison just before the election, and–doesn’t it always go like this–no rival has emerged.

BuzzFeed has reported a bombshell related to Putin’s shady financial dealings:

A network of secret slush funds inside a corrupt Cyprus bank has exposed Kremlin connections to frontmen for Syria’s chemical weapons programme and the terrorist group ISIS.


The web of accounts at FBME Bank, revealed in an explosive cache of leaked documents, also moved hundreds of millions of dollars from suspect Moscow-based figures including associates of the Russian president Vladimir Putin, mafia figures, and Kremlin officials.


In recent years, a series of offshore banking leaks have revealed how the super-rich can avoid paying taxes by hiding their wealth behind complex structures that – while morally dubious – are largely legal. But the FBME files paint a darker picture, revealing evidence that some of the world’s worst criminals have been allowed to move their money.


FBME, the focus of an ongoing BuzzFeed News investigation, was shut out of the US financial system this year after the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, known as FinCEN, declared it a “primary money laundering concern” that had attracted “illicit finance from the darkest corners of the criminal underworld”. FinCEN kept much of its evidence against FBME secret – but the files obtained by BuzzFeed News show a host of alarming transactions that ran through the bank for years and that point to one place: Russia.

People who have helped supply the Assad government with chemical weapons, people who have commercial relationships with ISIS, people who have laundered money for organized crime–Russia is apparently doing business with all of them.


Austrian Chancellor-designate Sebastian Kurz says talks between his right-wing People’s Party and the insanely right-wing Freedom Party on forming a coalition government are proceeding smoothly toward a conclusion. In an effort to ensure that the Freedom Party wouldn’t yank things too far to the right-wing fringe, Kurz has gotten assurances from them that the new government will treat Muslims as human beings exhibit basic compassion for migrants remain pro-Europe. Hooray?



Protesters waved sticks and threw rocks in front of Argentina’s congress building on Thursday, angry over a proposal to curtail pensions. The demonstrations grew heated enough that police responded with tear gas and rubber bullets, and congress decided to table the pension measure, at least for the day. Argentine President President Mauricio Macri is bound and determined to austerity the country out of debt. Either it hasn’t occurred to Macri that it’s difficult if not impossible to contract your way out of a debt crisis, or the debt thing is just his cover for looting the place. You decide.


While the Trump administration is busy accusing Iran of arming the Houthis, it might want to spend a few minutes to figure out why the United States apparently keeps arming ISIS:

Some weapons bought by the U.S. military in 2015 ended up in the hands of Islamic State fighters within two months, according to a report released Thursday.


The findings, by Conflict Armament Research (CAR), an independent arms-tracking organization, are based on three years of meticulous documentation of weapons recovered from ISIS on the battlefields of Iraq and Syria.


CAR used serial numbers or key markings on the weapons to trace them back to their origin and try to piece together how they were obtained by the militants.


Some of the weapons found on the front lines after ISIS was driven out also include Chinese-manufactured machine guns laced with amphetamines, drones modified in sophisticated terrorist factories and even a rifle made in Nazi Germany.


CAR found that one anti-tank missile sold to the U.S. Army made its way to ISIS in just 59 days.

Fifty-nine days! Talk about inventory management! To be fair, relatively few of ISIS’s weapons have come to them courtesy of Uncle Sam. But with all the goodies America has been passing out to various Syrian militias over the years, is it really a surprise this kind of thing has resulted? Moreover, does anybody want to see how many American weapons have made their way to al-Qaeda, which has maintained much closer relationships with those US-“vetted” rebel groups than ISIS has?

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