World update: August 25-26 2018

ASIA

TAJIKISTAN

Artillery fire struck Tajikistan’s Khatlon province on Sunday, killing at least two people. Most of the details of the attack remain unclear but it’s thought that the shelling came from across the border in Afghanistan.

AFGHANISTAN

A suicide bomber killed at least seven people outside an electoral commission office in Jalalabad on Saturday. The blast targeted a group of protesters demonstrating on behalf of a candidate who’d been disqualified from running by the commission.

Afghan officials say that an airstrike in Nangarhar province on Saturday killed Abu Sayeed Orakzai, al-Qaeda’s second in command the leader of ISIS’s operations in Afghanistan. He’s the fourth one of those guys to be killed since last July, apparently, which is pretty remarkable but I’m sure definitely true.

Afghanistan’s national security adviser, defense minister, interior minister, and intelligence boss all quit on Saturday, due presumably to disagreements with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani. Ghani rejected the resignations of Defense Minister Tariq Shah Bahrami, Interior Minister Wais Barmak, and National Directorate of Security head Masoom Stanekzai. Hanif Atmar, the national security adviser who was the first of the four to resign, is apparently not being asked to stay.

PAKISTAN

James Dorsey believes that new Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan is about to face a choice between the IMF bailout his economy requires and the military and Islamist support his political future requires:

To secure IMF support, Mr. Khan will have to avoid blacklisting by an international watchdog, the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), and ensure removal from the group’s grey list by not only reinforcing anti-money laundering and terrorism finance measures but also rigorously implementing them.

That would require both the acquiescence of Pakistan’s powerful military and a reversal of Mr. Khan’s publicly espoused positions. In many ways, Mr. Khan’s positions have been more in line with those of the military, including his assertion that militancy in Pakistan was the result of the United States’ ill-conceived war on terror rather than a history of support of militant proxies that goes back to Pakistan’s earliest days, than he has often been willing to acknowledge.

“If terrorism is not indigenous to Pakistan, and merely imported, then it follows that no larger reckoning of the state’s and society’s relationship with religion can or should take place — a convenient conclusion for religious hardliners,” said South Asia scholar Ahsan I. Butt.

Juggling the demands of multi-lateral agencies and Pakistan’s reality is likely to trap Mr. Khan in a Catch-22 of centrifugal forces that include the roots of militancy enhanced by what Spanish sociologist Manuel Castells termed “the rise of the networked society.”

NORTH KOREA

North Korea’s Rodong Sinmun newspaper on Sunday criticized the US for staging military drills in the Philippines intended to prepare for an invasion of North Korea. It’s…unclear what drills they were talking about, or at least the Pentagon isn’t acknowledging any such drills. The paper accused the US of harboring “double-dealing attitudes” in that it’s allegedly planning an invasion while also engaging in negotiations. Presumably the piece is related to Donald Trump’s decision to cancel a planned visit to North Korea by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, but it’s hard to say that for sure.

OCEANIA

AUSTRALIA

The Liberal Party’s decision to change leaders doesn’t seem to have done much to improve its electoral fortunes, at least not immediately. A new Newspoll, the same poll that had the Labor Party ahead of the Liberal Party 51-49 in a head-to-head matchup two weeks ago, has it at 56-44 Labor now, and more importantly Labor leader Bill Shorten, who had consistently run behind Malcolm Turnbull on the “who would you like to see as prime minister” question, polled ahead of new PM Scott Morrison, 39-33.

AFRICA

ETHIOPIA

Part of the recent outbreak of ethnic violence in Ethiopia may be attributable to Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s efforts to open up the country’s political system and a resulting release of pent-up hostility:

The new government’s moves to expand political freedom and curtail the security services have allowed many of the groups’ old grievances to erupt again, said E.J. Hogendoorn, deputy Africa director for the International Crisis Group.

“This is a very familiar phenomenon when it comes to the democratization process from hitherto relatively autocratic regimes,” he said. “There are a lot of pent-up frustrations with how the country has been managed, particularly with land.”

Compounding the problem, Ethiopia’s economy is in a perilous state. There is heavy foreign debt, and a shortage of international currency is hampering the government’s ambitious infrastructure projects, although Abiy announced Saturday that the World Bank has agreed to provide $1 billion in budget support in coming months, the Reuters news service reported.

The main thrust of Abiy’s rhetoric has pivoted from democratization to security in recent weeks, so his reform agenda may be slowing down somewhat.

ZIMBABWE

Emmerson Mnangagwa was sworn in as Zimbabwe’s president on Sunday after the country’s Constitutional Court ruled that his victory in July’s election was legitimate. Despite Mnangagwa’s assurances that the vote was on the up and up, the US government has not yet dropped its sanctions against most top Zimbabwean officials including Mnangagwa himself, which will impede Zimbabwe’s ability to secure international aid. Opposition leader Nelson Chamisa, meanwhile, is refusing to accept the Constitutional Court’s ruling and says his supporters may protest over their conviction that he actually won the July election and that Zimbabwean officials manipulated the vote count.

EUROPE

RUSSIA

The Royal Air Force has for some reason begun intercepting Russian military aircraft over the Black Sea. They did it twice over the last week, prompting Russia’s embassy in London to accuse the British government of trying to provoke a Russian response. There are several NATO members that border the Black Sea but it’s not clear why that gives the RAF the right to intercept Russian patrols there.

FRANCE

Convinced that his approval rating can–nay, must–go lower than its current mid-30s level, French President Emmanuel Macron plans on taking a hatchet to France’s social welfare programs as part of its next round of “reforms.” Macron’s first round of reforms included lots of wonderful pro-growth tax cuts for businesses and rich people that have supercharged the French economy all the way top a whopping 1.7 percent growth rate, necessitating spending cuts to keep the deficit in line.

Unfortunately for the French people, their presidents get five year terms in office, so they won’t be able to vote this clod out until 2022.

AMERICAS

PERU

The Peruvian government has imposed new rules for Venezuelans trying to cross the border:

COLOMBIA

Colombian voters headed to the polls on Sunday to vote in a referendum on a package of anti-corruption measures. Or, well, a few of them did. Though the vote was more than 99 percent in favor for each of the seven reforms in the referendum, less than 12 million people apparently voted, shy of the 1/3 quorum (Colombia has 36.4 million registered voters) required for a valid result.

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