World update: January 3 2018

ASIA

AFGHANISTAN

Indiana University’s Nazif Shahrani argues that one of Afghanistan’s problems is that the office of the president, regardless of who holds it, is too powerful:

The 2004 Afghan constitution invests the president with more powers than former Afghan kings had before the republican period. Among them is the power to appoint all government officials, political and professional, from the cabinet to the district levels.

 

At the same time the office of the president, at least in practice, tends to be filled only with ethnic Pashtuns. That is why candidates view the presidency as “the prize” to be won at any cost.

 

Hence, presidential elections have become a massive exercise in fraud. The last electionconducted in 2014 was the worst by far. Following accusations of unprecedented violations, US Secretary of State John Kerry brokered, extra-constitutionally, a national unity government for Ashraf Ghani and Abdulla Abdulla to share power, averting a likely tragedy.

 

The exercise of presidential rights to appoint all government officials, in an ethnically divided and tribal society, is fraught with charges of monopolising power, bias and discrimination.

PAKISTAN

Reuters says that the Trump administration is prepared to announce imminently that it is cutting security aid to Pakistan over (alleged, if you want to be all legalistic about it) Pakistani support for the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani Network. Pakistan doesn’t need the money, which it can recoup from China, so this is likely to be an exercise in futility.

INDIA

Major protests and a general strike gridlocked downtown Delhi on Wednesday, as Dalits (members of the “untouchable” caste) protested violent treatment at the hands of higher-caste Hindus. Dalits are celebrating the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Koregaon, a British East India Company victory over the Marathas during the Third Anglo-Maratha War in which Dalits played an important role on the British side. A group of Dalits gathered to commemorate the anniversary were attacked by Hindu nationalists earlier this week, which led to Wednesday’s Dalit protests.

CHINA

The New Yorker’s Evan Osnos has written a worthwhile piece on China’s response to Donald Trump. While Beijing would never say so publicly, they’re thrilled at the arrival on the scene of an American president who is making America’s presence in the world smaller at a time when China wants to make its presence larger:

Under the banner of “America First,” President Trump is reducing U.S. commitments abroad. On his third day in office, he withdrew from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a twelve-nation trade deal designed by the United States as a counterweight to a rising China. To allies in Asia, the withdrawal damaged America’s credibility. “You won’t be able to see that overnight,” Lee Hsien Loong, the Prime Minister of Singapore, told me, at an event in Washington. “It’s like when you draw a red line and then you don’t take it seriously. Was there pain? You didn’t see it, but I’m quite sure there’s an impact.”

 

In a speech to Communist Party officials last January 20th, Major General Jin Yinan, a strategist at China’s National Defense University, celebrated America’s pullout from the trade deal. “We are quiet about it,” he said. “We repeatedly state that Trump ‘harms China.’ We want to keep it that way. In fact, he has given China a huge gift. That is the American withdrawal from T.P.P.” Jin, whose remarks later circulated, told his audience, “As the U.S. retreats globally, China shows up.”

You can count me among the people who think that a smaller American footprint in the world would be a good thing. But a larger Chinese footprint would not be good. If we’re trading one for the other I’m not sure that’s something to be welcomed.

AFRICA

TUNISIA

While the UAE may be softening on the Muslim Brotherhood in Yemen, that same flexibility hasn’t yet worked its way into Abu Dhabi’s relationships with other countries in the region–like erstwhile ally Tunisia, whose government has altogether too much MB in it for Emirati comfort:

The spat is heightening tension in Tunis-Abu Dhabi relations, which has built up since the 2011 Jasmine Revolution. Although not an economic, cultural, or political center of the Arab world, Tunisia is widely recognized as the catalyst of the Arab Spring revolts that the UAE has seen as highly destabilizing. Moreover, the North African country’s transition since 2011 has alarmed the UAE due to Tunisia’s impact on the greater Arab world’s future. Specifically, the UAE opposes the “Tunisian model” based on inclusion of all non-violent elements of the political spectrum, including Islamists who respect pluralism and democratic practices. Officials in Abu Dhabi are deeply unsettled by the possibility of Libya, where the UAE has high stakes, and other Arab countries embracing the “Tunisian model.”

NIGERIA

A suicide attack on a mosque in the town of Gamburu on Wednesday killed at least 11 people. There’s been no claim of responsibility, but the location–northeastern Nigeria–strongly suggests Boko Haram.

ETHIOPIA

Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn made a surprise announcement on Wednesday: his government is releasing its political prisoners and shutting down its infamous Maekelawi prison. Now, since “political prisoner” isn’t a well-defined term, there’s no telling exactly how many people will be freed because of this decision. But some horrific shit went down at Maekelawi, and replacing it with a new facility that meets “international standards” will definitely be an improvement.

SOMALIA

A US drone strike early Tuesday killed two al-Shabab fighters and destroyed what appears to have been a truck bomb intended for Mogadishu.

KENYA

Speaking of al-Shabab, one of their raids across the border in Kenya late Tuesday killed five Kenyan policemen.

CAMEROON

The Cameroonian government’s crackdown against anglophone dissidents has continued apace and is threatening to screw with plans to hold elections in the fall:

What began as a simple request for English to be used in the courtrooms and public schools of the country’s two anglophone regions has escalated into a crisis in which dozens of people have died, hundreds have been imprisoned and thousands have escaped across the border to Nigeria.

 

If the situation is not defused through dialogue, the entire country could be destabilised ahead of elections in the autumn, according to the International Crisis Group.

 

A number of anglophone activists are calling for secession and the creation of a new country, which they want to call Ambazonia.

EQUATORIAL GUINEA

The government of Equatorial Guinea says that its security forces thwarted an attempted coup last month and arrested more than 30 mercenaries from Chad, Cameroon, and the Central African Republic. President Teodoro Obiang Nguema has been in power here since roughly the end of the last Ice Age (OK, about 40 years), so it’s perhaps unsurprising that some people are looking for creative ways to remove him from office. But there’s been no specific accusation leveled, just a general one against “opposition groups.”

ZAMBIA

Zambian Foreign Minister (and 2021 presidential hopeful) Harry Kalaba resigned on Wednesday, apparently in protest over incumbent President Edgar Lungu’s plans to seek a third term in office despite that sort of thing not being, you know, strictly legal. Lungu says his first term in office doesn’t count because he was only finishing the last two years of his predecessor’s five year term (2014-2016), and while it actually seems like he might have a case on those grounds, his penchant for threatening judges not to block him from running again hasn’t done his image any favors.

EUROPE

HUNGARY

Citing Austria’s recent election, the far-right leaders of Hungary and Poland believe their brand of xenophobia is the next big thing in intra-European politics:

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, making his first bilateral visit since assuming office in December, and his Hungarian counterpart, Viktor Orban, pointed to Austria, where conservative and nationalist parties formed a coalition government last month.

 

“Democracy has been restored in Austria because the Austrians who reject immigration elected a government that also does not want immigration,” Orban said. “This will be the case everywhere in Europe and I believe it is only a matter of time.”

 

Morawiecki said the immigration issue, which he called a matter of national sovereignty, was “getting even hotter” in the EU “and it seems that it is going in our direction.”

NORWAY

However your New Year’s Eve went, I hope it went better than this guy’s:

For most New Year’s Eve revellers, the post-party regrets are limited to a nasty hangover.

 

But one Oslo resident is likely to rue his exploits well into 2018, after racking up a taxi bill of 18,000 Norwegian kroner (£1,640; $2,220) while tipsy.

 

The 40-something passenger’s trip took him through three countries, from Copenhagen in Denmark, through Sweden, and finally to Norway’s capital, Oslo.

 

Once home, he failed to pay the driver.

As you might expect, he got a little visit from police in the morning and, well, he’s paying the bill.

ITALY

Italian voters are souring on the euro, to the extent that withdrawing from the common currency might be a big issue in March’s parliamentary election:

Rising hostility to the euro in Italy is a prominent issue in campaigning for a March national election, and the prospect that anti-establishment parties could try to pull the country out of the single currency has rattled financial markets.

 

A coalition including the League and former premier Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia (Go Italy!) looks set to win the most votes in March, but no group is likely to achieve a clear parliamentary majority.

The probability of Italy–or any other eurozone country not in an immediate crisis–pulling out of the euro is not that high. The short-term pain of withdrawing would be huge, even if the long-term gain would likely be beneficial. But even the suggestion of withdrawals is enough to affect currency markets. Whether it’s enough to make Germany amenable to eurozone reforms is another question.

AMERICAS

PANAMA

The pattern of Chinese-expansion-meets-American-withdrawal even seems to be hitting Latin America, with Panama serving as one test case:

Panama is the most recent example of a Latin American country pivoting toward China at the expense of the United States. Just five months after China and Panama established official diplomatic relations, Panamanian President Juan Carlos Varela Rodriguez visited Beijing in November 2017. During the visit, Varela inaugurated Panama’s embassy in Beijing and consulate office in Shanghai, as well as adopting 19 agreements and a joint declaration with his Chinese counterpart. Perhaps the most important agreement is the inclusion of Panama in the BRI. Going forward, Panama will likely play a key part in China’s efforts in Latin America, with the Panama Canal and the country’s strong financial and logistics platforms giving China key infrastructure capabilities in the region.

UNITED STATES

Donald Trump might have more time to manage US foreign policy if he weren’t busy firing off deeply unhinged rants about his former employees, but frankly I think keeping him occupied with personal feuds is for the best. When he does pay attention to foreign policy, the results are frequently terrifying:

When President Barack Obama paid tribute to the people of Hiroshima in May 2016, he urged the international community to “choose a future when Hiroshima and Nagasaki are not considered the dawn of atomic warfare but as the start of our own moral awakening.”

 

At the time, nobody would have predicted Donald Trump’s victory in the U.S. elections the following year. During his first year in office, Trump has dramatically changed the cautious and history-burdened way we used to discuss nuclear weapons.

 

On Tuesday evening, the president escalated his war of words with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Trump asserted, in response to Kim’s New Year’s Day taunt that his nuclear button was always on his desk, that his “nuclear button” was “much bigger & more powerful” than the North Korean leader’s. He went on to threaten that the U.S. arsenal “works.”

Trump’s fascination with nukes has veered between respect for their destructive potential and this macho dick-swinging need to talk with disturbing frequency about maybe someday using them. If he were Richard Nixon instead of a Swiss cheese-brained reality TV star you might think he was intentionally playing with the idea that he’s just crazy enough to go nuclear. But it’s far more likely that he is just crazy enough to go nuclear than that he’s savvy enough to pull off the madman act on purpose.

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Author: DWD

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