World update: February 28 2018



Ashraf Ghani on Wednesday dangled probably the biggest carrot he has in front of the Taliban:

President Ashraf Ghani of Afghanistan renewed a call on Wednesday for the Taliban to join peace talks, offering to treat the insurgent group as a legitimate political party, though it has repeatedly rejected similar proposals.


In the latest overture, Mr. Ghani said his government would provide the Taliban with an office in the capital, Kabul; passports for its members; help resettling militants’ families; and assistance in scrubbing the names of top commanders from international terrorist blacklists.


“We believe in providing a peaceful and respectful life for all Afghans, including those Taliban who leave violence behind,” Mr. Ghani said. He spoke at a peace conference, called the Kabul Process, attended by more than 20 nations but not the Taliban.

Ghani’s move has generated a lot of attention, but the buried lede here is that it’s not the first time the Afghan government has made this offer to the Taliban, or at least to factions within the Taliban, and there’s no reason to expect that they’d be any more amenable to it this time, when the situation on the battlefield continues to tilt in the Taliban’s favor, than they have been previously.


With talks over repatriating Rohingya refugees breaking down, for the simple fact that the Myanmar government can’t or won’t promise not to try to ethnically cleanse them again if they return, the refugees’ welcome in Bangladesh is starting to wear thin:

“We’ve accommodated them, but for how long?” said Kazi Abdur Rahman, a deputy district administrator in Cox’s Bazar. “Our crop fields are destroyed. Our forests are destroyed…It’s a huge impact for the whole community.”


So far, local people have been remarkably tolerant, with many feeling duty-bound to help fellow Muslims they see as being oppressed because of their religion. There have only been a handful of anti-Rohingya protest, all small and peaceful.


But many also blame the Rohingya for driving up food prices and stealing jobs, and officials worry that the refugees bring with them an increased risk of disease, militant activity and drug trafficking.


Speaking of people dangling carrots, Beijing made quite the outreach to the people of Taiwan on Wednesday, extending several opportunities to them to “promote cross-strait economic and cultural exchanges and cooperation”:

For example, Beijing will allow qualified Taiwanese companies to cooperate with mainland counterparts to provide small payment and credit services for Taiwanese people, participate in government procurement and other infrastructure construction projects, receive subsidies, and take tax deductions. In the entertainment field, restrictions on Taiwanese actors and actresses and on importing Taiwanese films and television dramas to the mainland will be either lifted or relaxed.


Taiwanese people will be allowed to participate in a number of professional or vocational qualification examinations and work in the mainland.


As The Diplomat reported earlier, even Hong Kong and Macao citizens, under the “one country, two systems” principle, do not yet enjoy equal treatment with local mainlanders in some of these areas.



An improvised explosive device killed four United Nations peacekeepers in central Mali on Wednesday. That comes a day after six peacekeepers were killed by an IED in the southern Ségou region.

Speaking of Ségou, the Malian government is reportedly investigating charges that its soldiers detained and executed seven people in that region last week. The Malian military is frequently accused of carrying out summary executions of people it suspects of being involved with Islamist terror groups.


Al Jazeera reports on the violence in Bria, a town in south-central CAR that has become a hub for fighting between Muslim and Christian paramilitaries. What had once been a conflict between the Muslim Séléka coalition and Christian Anti-balaka militias has become more complicated due to the breakup of the Séléka and fighting between its former constituent groups.



New polling suggests that a “slim majority” of Social Democratic Party members are in favor of forming another governing coalition with Angela Merkel’s conservative alliance. If that holds then it’s good news for Merkel, but probably not great news for SPD leadership–they stand to lose big if this grand coalition turns out to be as big a flop as the last one was.

Merkel, meanwhile, stunned everyone earlier this week when she told a German interviewer that there are “no-go areas” in Germany. The mythical “no-go zone” is the xenophobic right’s white whale, the thing that would make all their paranoid hate speech true even though nobody has ever actually found such a thing outside of right-wing rhetoric. And sure enough, nobody can seem to point to an actual no-go area in Germany, despite what the (very right-wing, which I know sometimes gets overlooked) German chancellor has said.


The New York Times looks at the guy who many people seem to believe, despite his insistence otherwise, is the person running Italy’s inscrutable Five Star Movement, the country’s strongest single political party:

He may potentially be the most powerful man in Italy, yet few people know who he is. Foreign ambassadors seek him out, even though he holds no public office. He claims to be but a simple member of a political movement, volunteering free technical assistance, but critics say he and his small Milan company control the votes, the candidates and the policies of the country’s leading party.


As Italy faces critical national elections on Sunday, the media-shy internet entrepreneur, Davide Casaleggio, is the Oz-like figure behind the tightly drawn curtain of the country’s front-running Five Star Movement as it is approaches real political power.

Casaleggio’s father, Gianroberto (who died in 2016), was one of the party’s founders, but Davide seems to have taken things in a weird, David Miscavige-y direction where he’s amassing all kinds of authority–and money, since he requires the party to use his own company’s IT resources–unto himself.


All the Brexit talk has turned once again to Northern Ireland, after a very strange day in which the European Union published a draft “fallback” Brexit agreement that would basically leave the province in the EU and require customs checks within the United Kingdom rather than on the Ireland-Northern Ireland border. Theresa May quickly rejected that arrangement, which is fine, but it will mean a return to a hard Ireland-Northern Ireland border and, potentially, a return to the days of violence in Northern Ireland that the softening of that border did so much to alleviate. May was then forced to assure everybody that she and her Conservative Party have no intention of returning to a hard Irish border, but here’s the thing: what’s the third option?

I ask because we’re pretty well into the whole Brexit process here and absolutely nobody has come up with an idea for northern Ireland that isn’t either maintaining the soft EU border or going back to the pre-EU border. Mostly this is because there probably isn’t another choice. Either there’s a hard border, or there isn’t. Either Northern Ireland is in the EU, or it isn’t. Either Northern Ireland is in the UK, or it isn’t. It’s possible that a very soft Brexit could allow for a soft-but-not-EU-soft Irish border, but May can’t pursue a Brexit like that because she’ll face an intra-party coup from hardline Tories, one that she’d be almost certain to lose. And she can’t propose one kind of Brexit for Northern Ireland but another for the rest of the UK, because that won’t fly with Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party–whose support, you may recall, is essential for May’s minority government to remain in power.

This is a fine mess the British government has gotten itself into.

In other Brexit news, May is apparently caving a bit on her insistence that EU nationals who arrive in the UK during a hypothetical post-Brexit transition period should be subject to fewer rights than EU nationals who were already in the UK before Brexit kicked in. Under a newly leaked proposal from the British Home Office, EU nationals who arrive during the transition will have the same residency rights as earlier arrivals, but will still have fewer rights in terms of bringing family members with them. The exact date of May’s concession on that point is apparently still TBD.



Things are going really well inside the White House:

More than 30 aides to President Donald Trump have been stripped of access to top secret intelligence, two people familiar with the move said.


The officials have been notified that they will be downgraded to lower-level “secret” interim security clearances, said the two people. None of the officials have been asked to leave the administration and their portfolios on top secret matters will be distributed to other staff members, they said.

This would be the point in any other administration where we would collectively say “who the fuck have you guys been employing all this time?” But since this is Donald Trump we’re talking about, this was fairly predictable.

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