World update: April 9 2018

ASIA

AZERBAIJAN

Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev should win another seven year term on Wednesday, particularly given that his opposition is boycotting the election. Aliyev, who is amazingly only 56 even though it seems like he’s been in power in Azerbaijan since the late Middle Ages (it’s been 15 years) is running against seven other candidates but none are serious threats–if they were, Aliyev probably would’ve taken care of them by now.

AFGHANISTAN

At least six people were killed by a motorcycle bomb in Herat province on Monday.

Freelance journalist Franz J. Marty has been investigating Pakistan’s claims that there are Pakistani Taliban fighters based in Afghanistan, and it seems the Pakistanis aren’t just blowing smoke:

The presence of a TTP group led by Fateh in Kunar was also separately confirmed by two other sources. One – a local, who until recently served in the Afghan Border Police in Kunar – indicated there are about 200 to 300 TTP fighters in Chawgam. In the whole province of Kunar, there are about 2,000 TTP militants, he alleged. Given that locals often inflate numbers, though, these figures should be taken with a salt of grain.

 

The second very knowledgeable source, who requested anonymity because of the delicacy of the matter, identified Fateh (which is an alias) as Umer Rehman, the TTP’s military commander for the Malakand Division (a now-abolished administrative division of Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, including Swat district) – the exact same position that Saifullah attributed to Fateh, who hails from Swat. The source also confirmed Fateh’s whereabouts in Kunar. The fact that Fateh is a rather obscure mid-level commander lends all the more weight to the detailed identifications and localizations of Fateh by two separate sources.

PAKISTAN

Five Pakistani soldiers were wounded, at least some critically, on Monday when a suicide bomber struck their vehicle in Quetta.

The Diplomat’s Kunwar Khuldune Shahid argues that Pashtun nationalism could be the key to “saving Pakistan” from its own nationalist excesses:

The rigid, paranoid, India-centric, Islam-mongering foundations of the state, which indeed owe a lot to the circumstances of its creation, can forever be trashed and replaced with a pluralistic idea of a Pakistani nation that embraces its multiethnic and multireligious existence without coercing a “true Pakistani” prototype that requires shunning of racial or ideological differences.

 

This prototype has been welded together by the imposition of Urdu and Islam – neither of which is indigenous – as an “inalienable” part of Pakistani nationalism, prompting the forcible purge of all other identities, including linguistic and cultural – as wholeheartedly embraced and propounded by the Punjabi majority.

PHILIPPINES

Manila is hoping to negotiate an agreement with China in the next few months for joint offshore oil and gas exploration projects in the South China Sea. This is going to be a tricky negotiation, since China claims most of the SCS as its territorial waters, but if it’s successful it could ease some international tension over the disputed region.

NORTH KOREA

It seems increasingly clear that next month’s (or now possibly June’s) Donald Trump-Kim Jong-un summit is going to collapse over the fact that “denuclearization of the Korean peninsula means one thing to Trump and quite another to Kim:

The White House is gearing up for President Trump to discuss denuclearization with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un at their much anticipated summit next month. But what does “denuclearization” mean?

 

It depends on whom you are asking. To some in Washington, “the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” as Trump tweeted late last month, means Kim handing over his nuclear weapons and missile systems and allowing international inspectors to check that the regime is keeping its word.

 

To Pyongyang, it means something very, very different. It means mutual steps to get rid of nuclear weapons, including requiring the United States to take down the nuclear umbrella it has put up over South Korea and Japan.

Kim could probably be talked down from his ideal outcome, but it’s anybody’s guess as to how much and to what degree he’ll expect similar flexibility in Trump’s demands.

AFRICA

NIGERIA

After “months of speculation”, at least according to the BBC, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has bowed to the will of the people (?) and announced that he will run for reelection next year. It’s the answer to a prayer I’m not sure anybody made. Buhari is 74, spent big chunks of last year overseas for some serious mystery medical ailment, and has completely failed on what you would think would be his top priority, ending the Boko Haram insurgency. But other than that this is great news for Nigeria.

SOMALIA

Somali authorities say they seized almost $10 million from a flight that arrived in Mogadishu on Sunday from Abu Dhabi. At this point there’s no indication whose money it is or what its destination was, but given the UAE’s ongoing involvement with separatists in Somaliland the whole thing looks a little suspicious.

EUROPE

UKRAINE

Though it’s fallen largely out of public consciousness here in the West, a group of researchers at the Monkey Cage would like to remind you that the war in Ukraine is still ongoing and its effects continue to devastate the people of the Donbas:

The fighting in eastern Ukraine’s Donbas region is entering its fifth year. More than 10,000 people have been killed in this persistent conflict; 2,800 were civilians. Nearly two million people have been internally displaced or put at risk if they remain in their homes.

 

Today, the Donbas war is among the worst humanitarian crises in the world, with frequent attacks occurring from both sides across the oblasts (provinces) of Donetsk and Luhansk. Before the war, this compact, heavily urbanized and industrialized region held nearly 15 percent of Ukraine’s population (6.6 million) and generated 16 percent of its gross domestic product.

 

Now it’s a war zone. And our research has documented that, as its hospitals and medical facilities are destroyed — perhaps even targeted — its citizens are being deprived of basic health-care services, echoing Syria’s similar if larger crisis.

HUNGARY

The result in Sunday’s Hungarian election looks to be pretty much as bad as it possibly could have been from a non-fascist perspective:

With most of the votes counted, a two-thirds majority looks likely for Orbán’s Fidesz party, which will allow the government to pass constitutional changes. The party won 49% of the vote in the national list and took the majority of constituency mandates, a far better performance than even Fidesz insiders were expecting.

 

For Hungary’s beleaguered liberals, who were unable to overcome internal divisions to unite against Fidesz and were trounced at the polls, a torrid four years are in store. Orbán is likely to brush off outside criticism that the vote was unfair and double down on his campaign against civil society and independent media.

 

“This is the absolute worst-case scenario,” said Zsuzsanna Szelényi, a former independent MP. “This new majority coupled with the high turnout will mean Fidesz feels more legitimate, and Orbán will be able to use this new strength in its dealings with Brussels.”

Orbán has already made it clear that he’ll be going full steam ahead by making it his first priority to go after nefarious international Jews NGOs such as those run by George Soros, who is particularly bad because he is a Jew undermining Hungarian values, or something. I’m sure demonizing immigrants, or continuing to do so, is priority number two. Hey, speaking of Jews, from one reactionary asshole to another:

But remember, it’s Netanyahu’s critics who are the real antisemites, not the demonstrable antisemites with whom Netanyahu happily pals around.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which monitored the election, reported on Monday that the vote was free, but definitely not fair:

“Voters had a wide range of political options but intimidating and xenophobic rhetoric, media bias, and opaque campaign financing constricted the space for genuine political debate,” said Douglas Wake, the head of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, or O.S.C.E., mission in Hungary.

 

“The ubiquitous overlap between government information and ruling coalition campaigns, and other abuses of administrative resources blurred the line between state and party,” he said.

Not that there’s anything that can be done about it. If there is a silver lining to this result it’s that Fidesz lost the youth vote. But that’s a pretty thin lining.

CZECH REPUBLIC

“Thousands” of people reportedly turned out across the Czech Republic on Monday to demand the resignation of would-be/acting Prime Minister Andrej Babiš. Presumably they’re tired of the stalemate in Czech politics. An investigation into Babiš’s alleged corruption, and his toxicity in general, has prevented his ANO party from forming a governing coalition since October’s election. President Miloš Zeman, who is personal friends with Babiš, has reportedly given his buddy until June to cobble something together, which is nuts. Babiš told a Czech newspaper on Monday that he would be willing to stand aside and let another ANO figure serve as PM if Zeman were to request it. That’s a significant softening of his position.

AMERICAS

BRAZIL

“Hundreds” of supporters are apparently camping outside of former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s jail cell. Probably somebody should be keeping an eye on that.

PANAMA

Here’s an exciting development: the Trump Organization, the network of businesses/front groups/whatever owned by the current president of the United States, Donald Trump, is now shaking down the president of Panama, Juan Carlos Varela, for help in a legal and business dispute with the majority owner of the formerly Trump-branded hotel in Panama City. Varela says he won’t get involved. Let’s see if he winds up regretting that.

UNITED STATES

Foreign Policy is tracking the 38 (!) ambassadorships the Trump administration has yet to even attempt to fill. That’s an astonishing number for an administration well into its second year, particularly when some of them–South Korea, Turkey, Mexico, ASEAN–are of critical importance right now.

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