World update: February 13 2018



The AP is reporting that Afghan authorities are maintaining two separate tracks of back-channel contacts with the Taliban, one via the country’s intelligence chief Mohammed Masoom Stanekzai and the other via Ashraf Ghani’s national security adviser, Mohammad Hanif Atmar. The existence of these channels leaves open the possibility of a resumption of peace talks, but they aren’t being used for peace talks as such and, after the recent escalation in Taliban attacks, there’s unlikely to be any political will in either Kabul or Washington for real peace talks anytime soon.

Ghani, meanwhile, is fixing to get rid of more than 2200 senior Afghan military officers over the next 18 months. The hope is to reduce and streamline the Afghan military’s officer corps and to open up room for younger and presumably abler junior officers to be promoted.


Reuters is reporting that the US wants Pakistan to be listed as “non-compliant with terrorist financing regulations” with the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), the international organization tasked with fighting money laundering. Pakistan got off of this same list in 2016 after having been on it since 2012, and is apparently working with the US, Britain, France, and Germany to try to have the measure to return it to the list withdrawn. Getting put on the FATF list means considerable extra monitoring of a country’s financial system and can severely depress foreign investment as a result.


Indian officials say that Pakistan will “pay” for a weekend attack on an Indian military base in Jammu. The attack is believed to have been carried out by Jaysh-e-Mohammad, which India has long held, probably correctly, is supported by Pakistan’s national security state. Pakistan denies aiding groups like JeM and notes, also correctly, that India’s mistreatment of the people of Jammu and Kashmir creates the environment in which those terrorist groups thrive.


The Myanmar government’s claims and the coming threat of monsoon season notwithstanding, it’s clear that it’s still not safe for Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh to try to return home:

The U.N. refugee chief warned Tuesday that conditions aren’t right for Rohingya Muslims to voluntarily return to Myanmar because its government hasn’t addressed their exclusion, denial of rights and lack of citizenship.


Filippo Grandi also warned that another “major new emergency looms” with the arrival of the monsoon season in March and more than 100,000 refugees in Bangladesh living in areas prone to flooding or landslides.

Refugees are unwilling to return to Myanmar without guarantees that they’ll be allowed to live as normal Myanmar citizens and not herded into designated camps where to wait helplessly for the next pogrom. Which seems reasonable.


The Bush administration brought us The Decider, and now the Trump administration is proud to bring us Decision Time:

North Korea presents “a potentially existential” threat to the United States and is likely to conduct more weapons tests this year, Dan Coats said at the Senate Intelligence Committee’s annual hearing on “Worldwide Threats.”


“Decision time is becoming ever closer in terms of how we respond to this,” Coats said. “Our goal is a peaceful settlement. We are using maximum pressure on North Korea in various ways.”

This is a load of crap, mostly. North Korea is not now and never could possibly be an “existential threat” to the United States of America. It could be an existential threat to a couple of American cities, but as it would be an act of suicide for North Korea to ever use its nuclear weapons, it’s only going to do so if the United States acts first in a way that threatens the survival of the Kim family’s regime.

The mere idea that North Korea has a deterrence capability may be unpalatable enough for the United States to Do Something about it. But anytime anybody in Washington tries to make you believe that North Korea is capable of destroying the United States they’re lying to you, probably to make you more amenable to going to war. Which makes one wonder if their “goal” actually is “a peaceful settlement.”



Leaving Jacob Zuma’s situation aside, Cape Town’s drought has been declared a national disaster and management will be taken over by the South African government. In a bit of good news, officials have pushed their projections for Day Zero–the day the city runs out of water–back again, this time to June 4.



Cyprus’s small but longstanding Maronite community has been devastated by the island’s split between its Greek and Turkish halves. With most Maronites having been driven out of Turkish Cypriot towns like Kormakitis and into Greek Cyprus, they’re in danger of being fully assimilated into the Greek Cypriot community and their language, Cypriot Maronite Arabic, is practically extinct:

Passed down from generation to generation through everyday conversation, the centuries-old CMA is a variant of Arabic that’s rooted in Aramaic but has taken words from Greek, Turkish and Latin.


It is classified as a “seriously endangered” language by the Council of Europe, while 10 years ago experts created a written alphabet with the aim of codifying and preserving it.


Mysteriously, the ancient dialect is only spoken by Kormakitis natives and not by any others Maronites from the community’s other remaining villages. Until 1974, children in Kormakitis would only begin learning Greek in the first grade.


“Currently, about 1,000 people speak our language, but they’re all aged over 40 and 50,” says Mihalis Hadjiroussos, chairman of the Xki Fi Sanna NGO.


Investigators looking at Sunday’s Saratov Airline plane crash outside of Moscow are focusing on the possibility that ice may have affected the plane’s instruments and caused them to give incorrect speed information to the pilots. So it looks at this point like the crash was probably an accident.


Mikheil Saakashvili, formerly of Georgia, then Ukraine, and now Poland, says he plans to keep fighting Ukrainian corruption from abroad, and to be fair he should be about as effective doing that outside of Ukraine as he was while he was inside Ukraine. In a press conference on Tuesday in Warsaw, Saakashvili said he plans to travel through Europe to gain support for his cause, but then also hinted that he might once again try to force his way past the Ukrainian border again the way he did back in September.


Kosovo President Hashim Thaçi believes that this is the year his country will reach an agreement with Serbia that will allow Kosovo to be admitted to the UN and Serbia to pursue membership in the European Union. Thaçi seems to be looking for a deal that will normalize relations between the two countries without requiring Belgrade to recognize Kosovo’s independence, which strikes me as a difficult needle to thread.


Bosnian authorities are concerned about a recent arms purchase by the Bosnian Serb police force:

A shipment of 2,500 automatic rifles from Serbia is due to arrive in the Serb-run half of Bosnia in March, weeks before the scheduled opening of a new training centre where Russian advisers have been expected to play a role under an agreement signed more than two years ago.


The Bosnian Serb authorities have defended the arms purchase as necessary for self-defence against potential terrorist attacks. In a statement they stressed that their police trained extensively with US forces, and not with Russian police, and denied plans to bring Russian trainers to Bosnia.

The weapons may be meant for police serving as a kind of personal bodyguard for Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik as a way to strengthen his political position.


Martin Schulz resigned on Tuesday as head of the Social Democratic Party, an effort to mollify angry party members so that they might get over their anger and vote next month to allow the SPD to enter a governing coalition with Angela Merkel’s conservatives.


London City Airport was open for business on Tuesday after technicians successfully removed a World War II-era bomb that was found on the premises over the weekend.



The Trump administration wants to almost halve America’s contribution to UN peacekeeping missions around the world. Congress will never let that happen, so there’s not much point dwelling on it, but I think you can tell a lot about an administration’s priorities from its budgets–even the parts that get axed in the legislature. Clearly, peace is not one of this administration’s priorities.

Finally, today is the anniversary of the worst civilian atrocity of the Gulf War, the 1991 bombing of a civilian shelter in Baghdad’s Amiriyah neighborhood:

At 4:30 am on February 13, 1991, two US F-117 flying over Baghdad fired two laser-guided “smart” bombs, each weighing 2000 pounds (900kg). Their destination was a large civilian shelter (number 25) in al-Amiriyya, a residential neighbourhood in western Baghdad.


A thousand civilians were sleeping in the shelter that night. The first bomb pierced the fortified concrete wall through the ventilation opening. The second one followed through and exploded deep inside. The bombing killed408 civilians, including 261 women, and 52 children. The youngest victim was seven days old. Most of the victims were incinerated by the heat of the explosion. The bodies taken out by rescue workers later were charred and unrecognisable. The smell of burned flesh stayed in the neighbourhood for days.

The Bush administration insisted absent evidence that this facility was being used for Iraqi command and control, but even if it had been the strike was still a war crime. Consider this a reminder that we’ve been slaughtering Iraqis for decades now, in one way or another.

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