World update: October 24 2018

ASIA

AFGHANISTAN

Residents of the Rodat district of Nangarhar province are saying that Afghan forces killed at least 14 civilians in an operation there on Wednesday. It’s unclear whether the Afghans were targeting the Taliban or ISIS, both of which are operating in that province. Afghan authorities say they’re investigating the reports.

The early reviews of Afghanistan’s parliamentary election over the weekend are starting to come in and they’re not great. Former warlord and Hizb-i Islami party leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar described the election as “the height of disgrace” due to major logistical problems and many charges of voting irregularities. Granted Hekmatyar may not be the best judge of democratic legitimacy, but he is still an influential figure so his complaints will carry weight.

The US military has taken steps to reduce or eliminate any face-to-face contact between its forces and Afghan forces after a series of so-called “insider attacks,” including two just in the past week.

PAKISTAN

According to the Afghan Taliban, the Pakistani government on Wednesday released one of its founding members, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, from prison. It’s unclear why, but the Pakistanis may be releasing him so that he can participate in peace talks, possibly even at US reques.

KASHMIR

Indian forces on Wednesday killed two Kashmiri rebels in a battle in Srinagar, which then turned into a public protest against Indian rule when civilians attempted to come to the rebels’ aid. At least six protesters were wounded as Indian soldiers used tear gas and other weapons to try to fend off the demonstrators.

MYANMAR

The UN’s lead investigator in Myanmar, Marzuki Darusman, told reporters on Wednesday that the Rohingya genocide is not over:

Darusman said the requirements for genocide, except perhaps for killings, “continue to hold” for Rohingya still in Myanmar’s northern Rakhine state. These include causing serious bodily harm, inflicting conditions designed to destroy the Rohingya, and imposing measures to prevent births, he said.

Myanmar’s U.N. ambassador, Hau Do Suan, called the fact-finding mission “flawed, biased and politically motivated” and said the government “categorically rejects” its inference of “genocidal intent.”

Yanghee Lee, the U.N. special investigator on human rights in Myanmar, said she and many others in the international community hoped the situation under Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi “would be vastly different from the past — but it is really not that much different from the past.”

CHINA

AFP’s investigation into China’s “vocational centers” for its Uyghur population are in fact, contrary to Beijing’s dissembling, concentration camps:

Government propaganda insisted the centres were aimed at countering the spread of separatism, terrorism and religious extremism through “free” education and job training.

However, an AFP examination of more than 1,500 publicly available government documents –- ranging from tenders and budgets to official work reports — shows the centres are run more like jails than schools.

Thousands of guards equipped with tear gas, Tasers, stun guns and spiked clubs keep tight control over “students” in facilities ringed with razor wire and infrared cameras, according to the documents.

The centres should “teach like a school, be managed like the military, and be defended like a prison”, said one document, quoting Xinjiang’s party secretary Chen Quanguo.

JAPAN

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzō Abe is heading to Beijing on Thursday as both countries look to boost their trade ties in response to fraying commercial links with the United States. Abe needs to walk a delicate line to avoid pissing Donald Trump off, and he’s also going to have to work around his own skepticism about China’s Belt and Road Initiative.

AFRICA

SUDAN

Sudanese Prime Minister Moataz Moussa on Wednesday unveiled an emergency 15 month austerity plan to try to stabilize the pound and reduce inflation. Sudan’s economy has been hurting since South Sudan and all of its oil departed in 2011.

ETHIOPIA

Sudanese Irrigation Minister Khader Mohamed said on Wednesday that the governments of Sudan, Egypt, and Ethiopia have made “progress” on a timeframe for filling the reservoir behind the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam. The process of filling the GERD’s reservoir is the most sensitive part of the regional dispute over its construction, because it’s the part of the process wherein Ethiopia, if it wanted, could really impinge on the water flow on the downstream Nile. So some agreement on the speed with which the Ethiopians fill the reservoir is essential to fending off a crisis.

SOMALIA

More than 40 people have reportedly been killed over the past two days in fighting between rival sub-clans in northern Somalia. It’s unclear what exactly caused the conflict but northern Somalia is a contested space that for the most part lies outside Mogadishu’s control.

CAMEROON

At least 10 people were killed in fighting between the Cameroonian army and anglophone rebels near the town of Ndu in northwestern Cameroon on Wednesday. The Cameroonian military says its forces killed 30 rebels.

Meanwhile, the man who heads Cameroon’s constitutional council is getting a new mansion, just a couple of days after his council declared incumbent Paul Biya the winner of the country’s October 7 presidential election. How nice for him.

AMERICAS

ARGENTINA

Thousands of protesters in Buenos Aires on Wednesday were met with rubber bullets and metal barriers as they demonstrated against–you guessed it–austerity. President Mauricio Macri’s package of spending cuts and tax increases is shrinking Argentina’s economy in an effort to reduce its deficit, at the behest of course of the International Monetary Fund.

BRAZIL

With Jair Bolsonaro’s lead in the polls just days ahead of Brazil’s presidential runoff so large that he’s already picking out cabinet ministers, there were a number of pieces today trying to make sense of the fact that a fascist is about to be elected president of the second-largest country in the Western Hemisphere (after we already elected one in the largest). Corruption is a part of the story, but only part. There’s also the role that the Brazilian center-right has played in crashing the country’s democracy to protect oligarchs:

In 1994, the Brazilian party system hit upon a formula. While the bulk of it remained an amorphous mass of less than public interests, low on ideological commitment but with very expensive habits, two parties had the cadre, ideas and prestige to marshal this gelatinous blob into opposing blocs: the Workers’ Party on the centre left and the Social Democrats (PSDB) on the centre right. Elections were fought between the armies regimented by the two; whoever won took most of the other’s side as spoil.

The seeds of the far right’s rise started to be sown in the early 2000s, when PT rode the global commodity boom to promote an economic bonanza that raised the standards of living for the poorest while also benefiting the rich. Lula’s success made it impossible for opponents to claim that PT wasn’t working; the country was unequivocally better off than it had been under PSDB. The only available route of attack lay in exploiting moral concerns around elements of PT’s agenda, like women’s and LGBT rights, and reheated Cold War “red scares”. In this, the centre right had support from major media groups and political leaders from the growing Brazilian Pentecostal community, whose electoral profile is essentially tied to moral issues. The more immoderate elements of this tacit alliance were increasingly brought into an echo chamber in which paranoid claims and bogus accusations would be dignified with comments by opposition politicians and media pundits, and thus fed back into a few news cycles until everyone moved on to the next fabricated outrage. An editorial market for anachronistic anti-communist propaganda boomed. Inevitably, this opened the door of mainstream debate, and of centre right parties themselves, to the far right.

At Foreign Policy in Focus, meanwhile, Luísa Abbott Galvão looks at the role inequality has played in the campaign:

Recent surveys have found that 55 percent of Brazilians wouldn’t mind a non-democratic form of government if it “solved problems.” And Brazilians have legitimate problems, among which healthcare, citizen security, corruption, unemployment, and education have ranked as highly important in recent polls.

Bolsonaro’s campaign recipe has not only been to promote — through no shortage of lies and misinformation — shortcuts to democratic and civic processes. He’s also aligned himself with corporate and financial interests, attracting support from moderates willing to overlook, understate, and ultimately mask his fascist nature by leaning into his recently-adopted free-market agenda.

While support for Bolsonaro was initially highest among rich white men and Evangelical Christians, it’s impossible to win the 49 million votes he received in the first round without support from a larger swathe of the population. Bolsonaro gained that support because this election has been driven to a significant degree by what Brazilians are against rather than by what they are for.

“The core of Bolsonarism,” a Jacobin article says, “is hatred of the organized working class, of trade unions, which today…is incarnated in PT and, above all, in the image of Lula,” Brazil’s former president, for whom Haddad is filling in as candidate. Lula, who is in jail on flimsy bribery charges, has not been allowed to run.

MEXICO

The Central American migrant caravan is continuing to progress slowly through Mexico on its way to the US border. It’s unclear at this point how long it will take the caravan to reach the US–if Mexican authorities use their delaying tactics, it could take months for the caravan to pass through that country.

UNITED STATES

Finally, Donald Trump continues to use his personal iPhones despite the fact that US officials are certain that Chinese and Russian spies are listening to his calls. This sounds bad until you remember that we’re talking about Donald Trump, who is literally too stupid to provide any real intelligence to any foreign countries:

Administration officials said Mr. Trump’s longtime paranoia about surveillance — well before coming to the White House he believed that his phone conversations were often being recorded — gave them some comfort that he was not disclosing classified information on the calls. They said they had further confidence he was not spilling secrets because he rarely digs into the details of the intelligence he is shown and is not well versed in the operational specifics of military or covert activities.

It’s likely the Russians and Chinese are eavesdropping mostly to get a sense of what Trump is…oh, let’s go with “thinking” (loosely defined) rather than for juicy information.

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