We’re going to ease back into things after the long holiday break. As usual when I take an extended break I’m not going to even attempt to run down everything that happened while I was gone. We’ll cover what’s happened the past couple of days with a few scattered looks at things that happened prior to that.
The International Federation of Journalists says that 81 reporters were killed on the job in 2017. That’s down from 93 in 2016, but has to be tempered by the fact that over 250 journalists are in prison around the world. Two-thirds of the latter are in jail in democratic* Turkey.
A US soldier was killed on Monday in fighting in Nangarhar province. At least 15 people were killed the day before in a suicide bombing in Jalalabad for which, as far as I know, nobody has so far claimed credit.
Donald Trump’s first tweet of 2018 was kind of a doozy:
The United States has foolishly given Pakistan more than 33 billion dollars in aid over the last 15 years, and they have given us nothing but lies & deceit, thinking of our leaders as fools. They give safe haven to the terrorists we hunt in Afghanistan, with little help. No more!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 1, 2018
Pakistan’s (alleged, I guess) support for the Taliban has been one of Trump’s big themes for a while now–presumably he got an Afghanistan briefing and that’s the one thing that stuck in his desiccated brain. He’s not wrong, but there are ways to try to get your concerns addressed and ways to just piss everybody off and entrench things. Guess which one this tweet was:
Defense Minister Khurram Dastgir-Khan hit back on Twitter, writing that Pakistan, as an “anti-terror ally” of the United States, had given Washington land and air communication, military bases and intelligence cooperation that “decimated Al-Qaeda over last 16yrs” while America “has given us nothing but invective& mistrust.”
Officials in the country’s capital scrambled to arrange a cabinet meeting to be held Tuesday to adopt a response to the Twitter attack, while Foreign Minister Khawaja Muhammad Asif said in an interview on Geo Television that the country is ready to publicly provide an accounting of “every detail” of U.S. aid it has received.
Come on, guess:
Pakistani leaders, including Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, issued a statement Tuesday that expressed “deep disappointment” in the turn of events, coming at a time when they felt the relationship with the new administration had been on a positive trajectory.
They said that “recent statements and articulation by the American leadership were completely incomprehensible as they contradicted facts manifestly, struck with great insensitivity at the trust between two nations built over generations, and negated the decades of sacrifices made by the Pakistani nation.”
The Pakistani government has gone so far as to summon US ambassador David Hale to make a formal diplomatic protest. Trump’s employees, meanwhile, have had to double-down on his tweet by expressing American unhappiness with Pakistan’s anti-terrorism policies, while Chinese officials–no doubt sensing an opportunity–have been praising Pakistan’s response to terrorism.
Pakistan has been unresponsive to the actual core of Trump’s complaint (and there is a legitimate complaint buried in there). Nobody thinks the Pakistani government has just ignored terrorism. It deals harshly with terrorist groups like the Pakistani Taliban and ISIS, groups that are a threat to Pakistan. It’s just that when it comes to groups that are a threat to Afghanistan, or India, the Pakistanis generally treat them as proxies rather than as hostile entities. They’re able to do this in part because of outbursts like Trump’s, which allow the Pakistanis to complain about how unappreciated they are and conflate their opposition to some terrorist groups with their support of others.
The Diplomat has a look at the guy who appears to be ISIS’s new Southeast Asian star:
In an Islamic State video released in September 2017, Singaporean jihadi Megat Shahdan who goes by the nom de guerre of Abu Uqayl, threatened to launch attacks in Singapore. He also called on Singaporeans and other Muslims to support the Islamic State and its objectives.
On December 30, 2017, pro-ISIS Khayr Wilayah media house released a new 8 minute video titled “Abandon the State,” with Abu Uqayl as its star. While past ISIS videos tended to have Indonesians and Malaysians as spokespeople, in this video, the English-speaking Abu Uqayl was the anchor man. Along the lines of the late Abu Muhammad al-Adnani, the official spokesperson of ISIS, killed in August 2016, the video called on Islamic State’s supporters to go on the offensive. Abu Uqayl talked of the need to “slay the enemies of Allah wherever one can find them.”
I don’t know if Donald Trump’s New Year’s resolution was to be a bigger dipshit on Twitter, but if it was then he’s really off to a fantastic start:
North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un just stated that the “Nuclear Button is on his desk at all times.” Will someone from his depleted and food starved regime please inform him that I too have a Nuclear Button, but it is a much bigger & more powerful one than his, and my Button works!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 3, 2018
I’m pretty sure “button” here refers to his penis, and frankly I have no idea how he knows it’s bigger than Kim’s when there’s no way he’s seen it in at least 20 years. But Trump is responding to Kim’s statement over the weekend that “the button for nuclear weapons is on [his] desk” (SPOILER ALERT: it’s not). Imagine the deranged leader of North Korea saying something like that and still being only the second-most frightening guy in that argument.
While he was talking about his button, Kim also made what sure seems like an offer to open talks with South Korea. Those talks would, at least at first, deal with ensuring the safety of February’s Winter Olympics, which admittedly sounds a bit like a mafia-style threat. But they could serve as a gateway to bigger and better negotiations. Contra President At Real Donald Trump, negotiations with North Korea are far preferable to half of East Asia and at least one major American city being bathed in nuclear fire. Seoul seemed to react favorably to Kim’s offer of talks, but Trump’s UN mouthpiece Nikki Haley then tried to throw cold water on the idea. As if the possibility of holding talks with Pyongyang were something that the government of the sovereign state of South Korea had to run past the Trump administration, like they’re an American franchisee. The only thing Haley’s statement is likely to do is to create tension between South Korea and the US–which may have been Kim’s goal.
The BBC spoke with a number of Nigerian migrants who wound up in Libya’s detention centers/slave markets. Their stories are harrowing:
Gharyan is a prison in the mountains about 100km (60 miles) south of Tripoli. And it is a place where all of the migrants we spoke to were taken before they made it home.
Again and again they tell the same story, of detainees horrifically abused by prison guards, starved, beaten, raped – and traded as slaves.
“They come to our caravans [cells], they pick six persons to do their dirty jobs to do farming, brick-laying work,” says Lucky Akhanene. He returned in the same group as Mr Akhere and was held in Gharyan for four months.
“They give us out to their friends. They don’t pay us. It’s just hard labour, if you’re not fast with your job you get beaten.”
Although the Moroccan government has acknowledged many of the social and economic grievances that fed into the Hirak protests last summer and has even taken steps to address them, there are serious concerns about its repressive response to the protests themselves. Hundreds of protesters remain in custody and there have been reports of torture and other human rights violations. Morocco has been relatively tolerant of public demonstrations going back to the Arab Spring, but the reaction to Hirak suggests a change in that policy.
George Weah, as expected, won the Liberian presidential runoff easily on December 26, taking over 61 percent of the vote against Vice President Joseph Boakai. He’ll be inaugurated later this month in Liberia’s first peaceful transition of power since the 1940s, so that’s something. Weah spoke on Tuesday about his plans, which include an emphasis on infrastructure and on developing Liberia’s exports.
On Tuesday, one day after Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari hilariously tried to argue that Nigeria has “beaten Boko Haram,” the leader of one of the group’s factions, Abubakar Shekau, claimed credit for a series of terrorist attacks in northeastern Nigeria over the Christmas-New Years period. Ah, the sweet smell of success.
Both Boko Haram factions–the one led by Shekau and the ISIS-approved one led by Abu Musab al-Barnawi–as well as the al-Qaeda-affiliated splinter group Ansaru were increasingly active in Nigeria and surrounding countries in 2017, despite the fact that Buhari claimed back in 2015 that the whole Boko Haram thing was done. Nigeria’s current plan is basically to concede the countryside to the various Boko Harams (Bokos Haram?) while moving civilians into major cities and defending them. Definitely the kind of thing that suggests the Nigerian government is winning. On the plus side, the Nigerian army says that some 700 people being held captive by the group in the Lake Chad area (the location suggests this is Barnawi’s branch we’re talking about) have escaped their captivity recently.
REPUBLIC OF THE CONGO
Congo’s government reached a ceasefire agreement with the “Ninja” insurgency in the country’s southeastern Pool province just before Christmas. The predominantly Bakongo “Ninjas” have been in active revolt since 2016, and before that had been active from the 1990s through 2008. Over 100 people have been killed in the latest round of fighting and thousands have been displaced.
On Tuesday, Russian authorities indicted the alleged perpetrator of a bombing last week in St. Petersburg on terrorism charges, even though it doesn’t really seem clear that he was a terrorist or even that he’s competent to stand trial:
The suspect told investigators he had been motivated by “hatred toward the organizers and participants” of mindset training sessions he used to attend, the committee said without providing further detail.
Investigators said the suspect had also hidden two USB drives near the site of the blast containing information about his actions and photographs of the explosive device.
The suspect will undergo psychological testing to assess his sanity. Investigators said has been followed by mental health professionals since the age of 19 for undisclosed issues. The indictment did not say how old he is now.
ISIS claimed credit for the attack last Wednesday, which injured 13 people in a supermarket, but there’s no evidence to support that claim.
Angela Merkel’s conservative coalition and the Social Democratic Party are meeting on Wednesday in the first round of negotiations on forming a coalition government, and already things look like they’re going great:
Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives and Social Democrats (SPD) traded barbs about migration and tax cuts on Tuesday amid mounting questions about whether they can agree to renew the “grand coalition” that ruled Germany for the past four years.
Merkel, under pressure after failing to form a government three months after national elections, hopes to secure a fourth term in office by persuading the center-left SPD to join the government despite punishing losses in September’s election.
SPD leaders and some of the hardliners in Merkel’s coalition are talking about a minority government being preferable to another grand coalition, but Merkel in particular has been very lukewarm on that idea.
We make fun of him enough around here that I suppose I have to give Emmanuel Macron his due when it’s appropriate:
The French have become more optimistic about the future that at any time in the past eight years, a survey showed on Tuesday, belying their reputation as a nation of pessimists.
According to a Harris Interactive survey for RTL radio, 59 percent of the French were optimistic for 2018, the highest level since 2010 and 15 points higher than a trough in 2012.
Wait until the austerity really kicks in, I guess, but there’s nothing wrong with a little optimism for a change. Macron’s political fortunes appear to be the yin to Merkel’s yang–while she’s at a serious nadir, he’s riding higher than he has at any time since he was elected.
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