World update: May 12-13 2018



ISIS fighters attacked a government building in Jalalabad on Sunday, killing at least 15 people in the process before Afghan police were able to kill the attackers and end the fighting. The attackers used a car bomb and then rushed the building armed with machine guns and RPGs. It was the exclamation point on an extremely violent week in which more than 100 Afghan police and soldiers were killed by the Taliban alone. That includes several Afghan special forces troops who were killed in Helmand province on Sunday when the Taliban apparently shot down their helicopter.

Though he finally deigned to accept Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s decision to sack him as Balkh governor in March (Ghani actually fired him in December), it appears that Atta Muhammad Nur is acting like–and being treated as though–he still runs the province:

But here in the provincial capital, Noor’s imposing image is everywhere, and many people say he is still in charge. His appointed replacement, Gov. Mohammad Ishaq Rahgozar, refers to Noor as “Excellency,” and the local government TV channel gives Noor’s activities and pronouncements much greater prominence.


“The real governor is Ustad Atta. Rahgozar has a symbolic role,” said Hedayat Najafi, 22, a grocery owner in a run-down neighborhood. “I have not seen the new governor’s posters so far.” Ustad, which means teacher, is used as a term of respect.

Nur wants to run against Ghani in next year’s presidential election, but it remains to be seen what his Jamiat-i-Islami party has in mind.


US-Pakistani relations are as warm as ever. Both governments on Friday restricted the travel of each other’s diplomats, with the US forcing employees of the Pakistani embassy to stay within 25 miles of Washington and Pakistan responding in kind. At issue are US complaints over the alleged harassment of its diplomats in Pakistan. Which brings us to the case of the US military attache who hit and killed a Pakistani motorcyclist in April and has now, diplomatic immunity be damned I guess, been barred from leaving Pakistan. Technically the Pakistani court system has yet to decide whether diplomatic immunity applies in this case. Which seems reasonable–someone did die, after all. But this isn’t going to help warm any feelings between Washington and Islamabad.

The Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement, the group fighting for Pashtun rights in Pakistan, staged its first rally in the city of Karachi on Sunday. It was the killing of Pashtun man by Pakistani police in Karachi in January that spurred the PTM’s formation, but they’re motivated by the thousands of Pashtuns who have been killed and disappeared by Pakistani authorities over the course of its decade-long war against the Pakistani Taliban.


Fighting between the Myanmar military and rebels from the Ta’ang National Liberation Army in Shan state on Saturday killed at least 19 people.

Also on Saturday, some 300 people attempted to stage a protest in the city of Yangon in opposition to the government’s war against rebels in Kachin state. Police responded with violence, beating several protesters until they dispersed.


The leaders of Malaysia’s new governing coalition, Mahathir Mohamad and Anwar Ibrahim, are already fighting over the apportionment of cabinet jobs. Anwar’s party is now the largest in parliament, but Mahathir is the one who led their coalition to an unlikely victory in Wednesday’s election. Mahathir, who is now prime minister, is only supposed to be keeping the seat warm while Anwar awaits a pardon over a politically-motivated conviction, but it can’t be a good sign that they’re already having a spat just days after the election.

Former Malaysian PM Najib Razak, meanwhile, has been barred from leaving the country and is about to be investigated over his role in the 1MDB corruption scandal.


Indonesian authorities say that one family of six was responsible for a series of suicide bombings on Sunday that struck three churches in the city of Surabaya, killing at least 13 people. The family members were reportedly members of Jemaah Ansharut Daulah, an Indonesian group related to ISIS, and had spent time in Syria. Another bombing hit an “apartment complex” just outside of Surabaya later on Sunday, killing at least three, but it’s not clear if that bombing was related to the church attacks. Then early Monday morning, a car bomb exploded outside a police station in Surabaya. There at least seven people were killed in that blast along with several injuries. Again, it’s unclear if that bombing was related to any of the Sunday bombings.

All of these strikes came just days after a conference in the city of Bogor that gathered Islamic scholars from Indonesia, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. The conference issued a joint fatwa saying that violence and terrorism, especially suicide bombings, are contrary to Islamic principles. The goal was to help nudge Afghanistan toward peace and so the main target of their criticism was the Taliban and ISIS.


Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says that the US will lift sanctions against North Korea if North Korea agrees to dismantle its nuclear weapons program. The entire nation of Iran was overheard to remark “oh really?”



Al Jazeera reports on the herder-farmer conflict causing so much turmoil across central Nigeria:


An attack on a village in Burundi’s Cibitoke province that began late Friday night killed at least 26 people. The attackers are believed to have crossed into Burundi from the Democratic Republic of the Congo and then crossed back into the DRC after the attack. It’s not known who they were, but they may have been related to Burundian opposition groups looking to disrupt a May 17 referendum that could extend President Pierre Nkurunziza’s time in office through 2034. Nkurunziza’s allotted two terms in office ended in 2015, but he’s still hanging around anyway.


A “suspected explosive device” was discovered in a mosque near the city of Durban on Sunday. Durban is where attackers killed an imam at another mosque last week.



The Five Star Movement and the League say they have reached agreement on a “program” for their coalition government. They have yet to agree on a prime minister, but this is obviously a major step forward.


A knife-wielding attacker killed one person and injured at least four more in central Paris on Sunday night. The suspect was arrested and is apparently a French national born in Chechnya. The attack is, as you might expect, being treated as a terrorist incident, and ISIS has already claimed responsibility.



Donald Trump’s decision to breach the Iran nuclear deal reflects, per the New York Times, a new balance of power in the Trump administration, and I don’t want to say anything but Defense Secretary James Mattis might want to start updating his LinkedIn page:

Mr. Bolton is emerging as an influential figure, with a clear channel to the president and an ability to control the voices he hears. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, who opposed leaving the deal but did not push the case as vocally toward the end, appears more isolated. And Mr. Pompeo may play a swing role, a hard-line former congressman and C.I.A. director who, in his new job, seems determined to give diplomacy a fair shot.


Beyond the bureaucratic maneuvering, analysts said, the Iran debate lays bare a deeper split on Mr. Trump’s team — between those, like Mr. Mattis, who want to change the behavior of hostile governments and those, like Mr. Bolton, who want to change the governments themselves.

It was probably inevitable that the least qualified, dumbest president in US history would eventually fall prey to the worst elements of the US foreign policy establishment. But if the regime changers are back in the saddle (and frankly, they hadn’t been out of it for that long) then it promises to be a fantastic two to six more years for everybody.

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