World update: November 3-4 2018

ASIA

AFGHANISTAN

A US soldier was killed on Saturday in what appears to have been another “insider attack” in Afghanistan. Brent Taylor, the mayor of North Ogden, Utah, was killed by a member of the Afghan security forces, who was also killed. It’s not clear what the motive was–these kinds of attacks can be arranged by insurgents like the Taliban, but they can also occur over arguments or personal resentments.

A week of fighting in Uruzgan province between the Taliban and forced led by a prominent Hazara commander has left at least 21 dead and is raising concerns that a new ethno-religious front may be opening up in the Afghan war. The predominantly Shiʿa Hazara, partially descended from Mongolian forces who settled in modern Afghanistan back in the 13th-14th centuries, are a frequent target of ISIS but haven’t been especially singled out by the Taliban. This clash apparently started when the Taliban attacked several Hazara villages in Uruzgan that had refused to pay protection money to the militants. Afghan Hazara have frequently expressed frustration that Kabul isn’t doing more to protect them, and if this latest violence spurs the community to arm itself en masse then it would bring an unwelcome complication to the conflict.

Russia’s attempt to arrange peace talks with the Taliban got a boost over the weekend when Ashraf Ghani’s government agreed to send a delegation to the talks, which are now scheduled for Friday. Ghani had been reluctant to participate in Moscow’s effort, which led the Russians to reach out to other Afghan leaders outside of his administration. Ghani understandably took offense at that, but he seems to have been able to put it behind him so as not to risk being cut out of the loop.

PAKISTAN

Asia Bibi’s husband is appealing to the US, Britain, and Canada for asylum, saying that he and his wife are in great danger in Pakistan. Bibi had her 2009 blasphemy conviction and death sentence thrown out in court last week, but she’s barred from leaving Pakistan under a deal that Imran Khan’s government reached with the Tehreek-e-Labbaik extremist group in order to end days of protests across the country. If she’s forced to remain in Pakistan the chances that she’ll be murdered are high. Bibi’s lawyer has already fled the country in fear of his life.

The Chinese government says it needs more negotiations with Islamabad before it will be ready to unveil the specifics of an aid package for Pakistan. Khan was in Beijing over the weekend, and was expected to discuss the contours of a deal with Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang on Saturday. Beijing seems committed to providing some aid but clearly those talks didn’t nail down all the outstanding details. Pakistan’s economy is weak enough that it needs an International Monetary Fund bailout, but Khan is appealing for aid from his biggest boosters–Saudi Arabia and China–first so as to minimize the IMF loan and lessen the pain of the austerity that will accompany it.

SRI LANKA

Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena will reconvene parliament on November 14 to decide whether the country’s rightful prime minister is Ranil Wickremesinghe, whom Sirisena sacked last month, or Mahinda Rajapaksa, Wickremesinghe’s would-be replacement. Wickremesinghe insists that his dismissal was unconstitutional and that he still has majority support in parliament. He and his supporters are also alleging that Rajapaksa is bribing legislators to support him in a confidence vote when parliament comes back into session, a charge Rajapaksa denies. The Tamil National Alliance party said on Saturday that it will vote no confidence in Rajapaksa, who was president at the end of the Sri Lankan civil war and is notorious for the (alleged) atrocities his government committed against Sri Lanka’s Tamil minority.

According to Wickremesinghe, the US and Japan have frozen development aid to Sri Lanka out of concern over his dismissal, so Sirisena may be under some pressure to bring parliament back and hold a vote. Or maybe he’s just confident that Rajapaksa has enough votes to pass a confidence measure.

AFRICA

MAURITANIA

The Trump administration intends to cut off Mauritania’s trade benefits under the African Growth and Opportunity Act on January 1, due to a lack of progress in ending slavery. Mauritania only abolished slavery in 1981 and only criminalized it in 2007, and the practice remains relatively widespread.

CAMEROON

Cameroonian authorities have reportedly arrested 20 people for protesting President Paul Biya’s contested October 7 election victory. They claim that Cameroon Renaissance Movement party candidate Maurice Kamto was the actual victor. Biya’s inauguration is scheduled for Tuesday and there could be more unrest that day.

EUROPE

UKRAINE

It may not be on the level of the US-China beef, but Ukraine and Uzbekistan are apparently having a trade war of their own:

Talk is afoot in Uzbekistan about the adoption of tit-for-tat protective measures against goods imported from Ukraine — the latest salvo in a row over alleged anti-competitive practices.

Officials in Tashkent say this would be a response to Kiev’s threat to limit the number of low-cost Uzbek-made cars being brought into the country, but there is also murmuring of possible Russian involvement in fanning the trade dispute.

Lawmakers in Uzbekistan’s parliament — a largely token institution in which positions are as a rule aligned with those of the government — have suggested that a ban on Ukrainian sugar and pharmaceuticals, among other products, should be put on the table.

The row began in early October, when Ukraine’s government initiated an investigation into whether Uzbekistan was giving its carmakers an unfair advantage by providing them with subsidies and other forms of support. The investigation is being pursued at the request of Ukrainian auto manufacturers.

FRANCE

As predicted, voters in the French territory of New Caledonia voted on Sunday against declaring independence. The vote was a bit closer than expected, with “no” taking just shy of 57 percent of the vote. That may not be enough to put the issue of New Caledonian independence completely to bed, as the French unionist side had hoped.

UNITED KINGDOM

Hey, remember a couple of days ago when it looked like a Brexit agreement was on the verge of happening? It sounds like the next few days might determine whether London and Brussels can get over the final hump, which of course is the Irish border. The European Union is still insisting on a backstop that uniquely leaves Northern Ireland in the EU customs union to avoid reimposing a hard Irish border. The UK wants a short-term backstop that would leave the entire UK in the customs union to avoid singling out Northern Ireland. While the EU is open to negotiating that, it still wants a separate backstop just for Northern Ireland in case something goes sideways with the all-UK backstop or in case the two sides fail to reach a solution before the UK leaves the customs union.

For Brussels to consider replacing the Northern Ireland backstop with an all-UK backstop would require Theresa May’s government to agree to an open ended customs union, not a temporary one. And if May were to agree to that she would probably be ousted by Brexit hardliners in her Conservative Party. Basically, despite some public backslapping and optimism, there’s no real indication that the two sides are any closer to solving this issue than they’ve been at any other time in this process. But they’re entering a few days of intensive negotiations that should make it clear where things stand.

AMERICAS

UNITED STATES

Finally, at Jacobin, here’s Miles Culpepper on how the United States is and has been creating the conditions in Central America that cause thousands of desperate migrants to come north looking to escape their circumstances:

When Honduras’s center-left president, Manuel Zelaya, was overthrown in 2009, Barack Obama’s State Department extended diplomatic recognition to the coup government, long before most European or Latin American nations. That decision lent much-needed legitimacy to the new regime, which proceeded to persecute progressive social movements and severely damage the country’s democratic institutions. The exodus of migrants from Honduras is a direct product of the violent environment the US-backed regime created.

Obama’s second great failure in Central America occurred in 2014, when the arrival of unaccompanied minors into the US spiked. The Obama administration ought to have dealt with asylum applications fairly. Instead, it deported migrants by the thousands. Many ended up dead.

As troubling as Obama’s Central America record is, the Trump administration’s may well end up being worse. While the modest economic development assistance provided by the Obama administration in the aftermath of the 2014 unaccompanied minors crisis was unlikely to alter the structural forces driving migration, Trump’s decision to dramatically reduce such funding (and perhaps outright end it) in exchange for even greater emphasis on counter-narcotics operations could exacerbate the violence.

Author: DWD

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