World update: May 24 2018



A mob of people stormed and destroyed a 100 year old Ahmadi mosque in the city of Sialkot overnight. The Ahmadiyah is an Islamic faith that grew out of a 19th century revivalist movement led by Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (d. 1908), who claimed to be the Mahdi. They are a small-ish (anywhere from hundreds of thousands to as many as five million depending on the estimate) minority in Pakistan. But the Pakistani government officially and most (other) Muslims informally do not accept that Ahmadis are actually Muslim because the tradition treats Mirza Ghulam Ahmad as a kind of prophet (Islamic orthodoxy insists that Muhammad was the final prophet). Consequently they are constantly subjected to all manner of mistreatment from the state and private citizens alike–mistreatment like, say, having their mosques torn apart by angry mobs while police apparently don’t do anything to stop it.

The Pakistani National Assembly on Thursday adopted a constitutional amendment that will, assuming it also passes the Senate, incorporate the country’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas into Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province and give equal rights to the predominantly Pashtun people living in those areas. People living in the FATA have been treated quite literally as second class citizens under Pakistani law, a holdover from British colonial law, so this rights a long-standing wrong and, with their incorporation into a province, it should enable the areas to receive desperately overdue infrastructure investment. Pashtun rights activists seem to be cautiously pleased with the amendment, though many preferred that the FATA become a new, separate province.


Following a series of terrorist attacks in Surabaya earlier this month, the Indonesian government is expected on Friday to adopt a sweeping new counterterrorism law that will give authorities vastly increased powers to detain and prosecute people suspected of membership in a terrorist group. President Joko Widodo is also considering the formation of a new elite military until to complement the work of Indonesia’s counterterrorism police unit.


Rodrigo Duterte says that Philippine Communist Party leader Jose Maria Sison has accepted his offer to return to the Philippines for peace talks with a guarantee of safe passage back out of the country at their conclusion. Sison has been in self-imposed exile in Europe since the 1980s. Duterte has given him a two month window in which to take advantage of the offer.


Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen lashed out at China’s “crude…behavior” and “dollar diplomacy” on Thursday, after Beijing enticed yet another country that had previously recognized Taiwan–Burkina Faso in this case–to choose Beijing instead. This leaves Taiwan with only 18 diplomatic partners around the world, most still in Latin America, and leaves eSwatini as its only diplomatic partner in Africa.


The good news is that North Korea on Thursday went ahead with the scheduled destruction of its Punggye-ri nuclear test site. The bad news is…well,

President Trump has notified Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader, that he has canceled their much-anticipated meeting, which was set for June 12.


In a letter dated Thursday to Mr. Kim, the American president said he would not attend the summit due to “tremendous anger and open hostility displayed in your most recent statement.”


He was referring to recent comments from a North Korean official who described Vice President Mike Pence as “ignorant and stupid.”

I’m not sure where the lie is, but OK I get how that could be construed as insulting. Pence kind of earned it though, by continuing the Trump administration’s sloppy talk (well, John Bolton probably knew exactly what he was doing, but it was sloppy from everyone else) about North Korea following the “Libya model,” which as we all know (Kim included) ends with the United States engineering regime change. North Korea has been sounding increasingly agitated for a couple of weeks now over everything from the Trump administration’s rhetoric to US-South Korean military exercises, so the hostility was not unexpected. Neither, it must be said, is the cancellation of the summit–Trump himself began suggesting the possibility earlier in the week–though we were close enough at this point that even serious skeptics had started to believe that Trump and Kim would at least get to their meeting.

The summit’s cancellation is probably a loss for international diplomacy, though I do still think there was a scenario in which Trump and Kim managed to piss each other off so badly that their meeting did more harm than good. Regardless, if Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is to be believed, and I have no idea why he would be but let’s play along, then the North Koreans had already stopped participating in preparatory talks so we may have been headed toward cancellation anyway. Trump’s letter, which reads like either like a job rejection letter or a break up note–I can’t decide which–leaves open the possibility of North Korea changing its mind about the summit, and North Korea has responded by saying it wants to give Trump time to reconsider, but I think US-North Korean diplomacy is probably dead for the foreseeable future.

Bolton’s regime change position will gain currency with Trump, though there’s no real appetite for something like that at the Pentagon and so we’re probably back to where we were before the summit became a possibility earlier this year, with the US pursuing heavy economic penalties against North Korea and with Kim and Trump trading public insults. But without diminishing what Trump achieved here–the release of three US prisoners is no small thing–he’s once again shown the world that he’s a dangerously erratic dolt who needs to be contained rather than engaged. Kim–who I think genuinely wanted a summit but who clearly had a completely different idea about what the “denuclearization” discussion would entail than Trump did–comes out of this situation looking better than he did going in. Trump, not so much. It will be harder for the administration to pressure North Korea now than it was before this whole thing got started.

From Kim’s perspective, I don’t know enough about North Korean internal politics to say whether he was under pressure to assert himself pre-summit but it is possible that he had to risk provoking Trump in order to secure himself domestically. At least I don’t think you can discount that out of hand.

Sadly, I guess Trump’s Nobel Peace Prize will have to wait another year. But you can still get the lovely summit commemorative coin from the White House gift shop, or at least you could earlier in the day before their website crashed.


The real loser here apart from Washington’s credibility is probably South Korean President Moon Jae-in. I don’t think it’s off base to say that this Trump-Kim summit was Moon’s triumph. He’d done the legwork to get Kim to support it and he’d done the sales job to get Trump invested, telling Donald exactly what he wanted to hear in terms of Kim’s willingness to negotiate. And he’d done it, suffering insult after insult from Trump in the process, because South Korea absolutely has the most to lose from a US-North Korean military conflict. He plans to continue pressing for diplomacy, but he might want to focus his efforts on inter-Korean diplomacy and let Trump stew in his own juices.



At least six people were killed by a car bomb in Benghazi on Thursday evening. Little else is known yet about the attack.

Meanwhile, the United Nations says that the situation for civilians in Derna is becoming catastrophic, as Khalifa Haftar’s so-called Libyan National Army continues to besiege the Islamist forces that control the city. Medical supplies have been hard to come by for some time, and shortages of food are starting to be reported.


Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir reportedly told Saudi officials on Wednesday that Sudan remains committed to its role in the Saudi coalition fighting in Yemen. There has been some wavering on this issue of late in the Sudanese parliament, in large part for economic reasons, and Defense Minister Ali Salem told parliament earlier this month that the government was reconsidering its involvement in the war.


Amnesty International released a new report on Wednesday detailing shocking human rights abuses by the Nigerian military in its fight against Boko Haram:

Amnesty’s latest report, “They Betrayed Us,” which is consistent with some accounts from journalists and other advocates, claims that as the Nigerian military cleared Boko Haram strongholds and moved civilians to remote “satellite camps,” it denied them access to food and medical support — in many instances effectively leaving the civilians to die. Men were routinely detained and women then traveled without them to locations far from home.


In one satellite camp, called Bama Hospital Camp, Amnesty said that “at least hundreds, and possibly thousands,” died of hunger and illness between 2015 and 2016. Civilians interviewed for the report suggested that 15 to 30 people were dying each day.


Those who survived had to go to extreme measures to acquire food and water for their families in some instances, and were at times either physically forced or coerced into having sex with soldiers and militia members. A pregnant 25-year-old said two soldiers raped her, one after she ignored his advances and one who cornered her when he found her collecting water. A married woman said a soldier raped her after he offered her food in exchange for sex and she refused. A 20-year-old woman said a member of a militia force aligned with the army raped her, saying he was entitled to sex because he gave her food and water.


Burundi’s constitutional court may hear a case alleging fraud in Monday’s referendum and asking for its results to be tossed out. The referendum approved changed to the constitution that lengthen presidential term limits to seven years and will allow incumbent Pierre Nkurunziza, already in this third of two legal terms, to run for reelection in 2020 and again in 2027.


At least five people were killed on Thursday when militia fighters attacked a gold mine in the eastern DRC.



Dutch investigators say they can prove that the missile that shot down flight MH-17 over Ukraine in 2014 was brought into Ukraine from Russia and fired from a field controlled by Ukrainian rebels.


Greece is the latest country to welcome US drones. MQ-9 Reapers are now being stationed at Larissa air base in response to what the US Air Force says are “threats emanating from the south” (i.e., Libya). The USAF says these drones are unarmed and intended for recon and surveillance missions only, though Reapers are capable of carrying weaponry.



Now that he’s been safely reelected, as far as we can tell, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro says he plans on releasing some political prisoners and increasing oil production. His ability to turn Venezuela’s economy around will continue to be handcuffed by US sanctions. In a potentially ominous development, the Venezuelan human rights organization Foro Penal says that Maduro’s people arrested 15 military officers in the days before and after Sunday’s election. They were charged with, among other things, “military rebellion,” “treason,” and “mutiny.”

It’s no secret that the Trump administration is rooting for a military coup to remove Maduro from power, just saying.


With Donald Trump threatening to cut aid to countries he insists are doing nothing to stop MS-13, Washington’s current existential threat to life as we know it (we always need to have one of these), Honduran Security Minister Julian Pacheco struck a defiant tone on Thursday, saying that Honduras is already incessantly fighting gangs with little international help, and that aid cuts won’t deter its efforts. The US has provided Honduras with tens of millions of dollars to help fight MS-13–which, when you consider that MS-13 is almost entirely a US creation and that it’s done vastly more harm in Central America than it has in the US, is not nearly as much money as we should be providing.

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