World update: February 22 2019

ASIA

PAKISTAN

The Financial Action Task Force warned Pakistan on Friday that if it doesn’t clean up its links to extremist groups by May it will likely land itself on the FATF’s blacklist. Pakistan is currently on the group’s “gray” list, which makes it harder for Islamabad to access international funds, but getting bumped to the blacklist would make it impossible. The FATF specifically cited Pakistan’s relationship with Jaish-e-Muhammad, the group that carried out last week’s major terrorist attack in Kashmir, as part of the problem. The Pakistani government says it seized JEM’s offices in Punjab province, but it’s pretended to crack down on JEM in the past without ever actually doing anything to curb the group’s activities.

INDIA

Washington Post India bureau chief Joanna Slater explains some of the legal and technical obstacles to India implementing its threat to cut off Pakistan’s water supply over the aforementioned Kashmir attack:

The Indus Waters Treaty was signed in 1960 and governs six rivers that start in India but form a crucial lifeline for Pakistan. The agreement is a remnant of a different era, when relations between the two countries were not steeped in rancor. The treaty effectively gives use of three rivers to India and three to Pakistan.

On Thursday, India’s water resources minister wrote on Twitter that the government had decided to choke off any flow to Pakistan from the three rivers India controls. But this was less an announcement than a reiteration of existing policy. India already uses about 94 percent of these waters and is moving ahead with projects to utilize what remains rather than let those waters flow to Pakistan.

Yet there is a clear desire in the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to do more. Three years ago, after a Pakistan-based group killed 19 Indian soldiers, Modi reportedly told government officials that “blood and water can’t flow together.”

On Friday, Nitin Gadkari, India’s water resources minister, said that there were calls for India to prevent even “a single drop of water” from going to Pakistan. But such decisions would have to be taken at “higher levels” of government.

Yes, given that any such decision is likely to trigger a war that could go nuclear, I should think they would have to be made at “higher levels” of government. To say the least. You can’t choke a country off from its water supply and expect that’s somehow not going to be treated as an act of war.

MYANMAR

Aung San Suu Kyi, who has really reached the point of self-parody, complained on Friday that the world has “focused narrowly on negative aspects” in Myanmar’s Rakhine state while calling for international investment in the region. You know, you do one or two ethnic cleansings in a province and suddenly that’s all people can talk about! It’s bullshit!

CHINA

The United Nations Human Rights Council will open its annual session on Monday with a focus on China’s systematic internment of Uyghurs in Xinjiang province. The Turkish government is expected to lead a call for Beijing to close its Uyghur camps. The council is also expected to deal with the Jamal Khashoggi murder as well as the political crisis in Venezuela, though that promises to be more contentious.

NORTH KOREA

A retired CIA officer who helped organize last year’s initial Donald Trump-Kim Jong-un summit believes that Kim is serious about denuclearization:

Andrew Kim traveled repeatedly last year to North Korea with then-CIA director, and current Secretary of State Mike Pompeo; coordinated with top officials in South Korea, where he was born; and delivered personal letters between President Trump and North Korea’s Kim Jong Un. His public remarks on Friday were his first since leaving government.

The former CIA officer recalled that during an April 2018 meeting with Kim Jong Un, Mr. Pompeo pressed the North Korean leader on whether he was willing to abandon his nuclear program.

Andrew Kim said the North Korean leader responded: “‘I’m a father and a husband. And I have children. And I don’t want my children to carry the nuclear weapon on their back their whole life.’ That was his answer.”

Of course Kim Jong-un may have been yanking Andrew Kim’s chain, but I think this reflects a genuine desire on the North Koreans’ part to escape the fear that a squadron of F-16s could appear on the horizon at any moment. It doesn’t mean Pyongyang is prepared to give up its nukes anytime soon, or ever, but there’s no question it must be exhausting to constantly feel threatened by a vastly more powerful country that’s a) starving your citizens to death and b) could destroy your country without breaking a sweat (as long as it didn’t care about all the South Korean and Japanese casualties that would ensue, of course). The desire to end this conflict seems to be there, at least on North Korea’s side. Whether it’s really there on the US side, and if so whether that ever translates into a process for actually getting to a solution, remains to be seen.

AFRICA

SUDAN

Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir on Friday dissolved his cabinet and declared a year-long state of emergency in response to the large, ongoing protests aimed at forcing his resignation. At least 31 people have been killed by government forces trying to suppress those protests, and according to unofficial counts that number is actually over 50. The state of emergency will presumably offer Bashir’s forces more latitude to deal with the protesters and so that death toll could be on the rise soon.

ALGERIA

Thousands of people protested across Algeria on Friday demanding that President Abdelaziz Bouteflika‘s corpse not run for a fifth term in office in April. For the most part the demonstrations seem to have been peaceful, apart from a few minor clashes with police in Algiers.

MALI

French officials say their forces killed Yahya Abou el-Hamame, at one time a senior commander in al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, when they ambushed a convoy carrying him across northern Mali on Thursday. It’s believed that Hamame was transferred to Mali by AQIM to serve as the deputy to JNIM (al-Qaeda’s Mali branch) leader Iyad Ag Ghali. Since Ag Ghali’s relationship with al-Qaeda and Salafi jihadism in general has always had a little “alliance of convenience” flavor to it, Hamame would have been ultimately responsible for maintaining JNIM’s ties to its parent organization.

NIGERIA

Nigerians are once again heading to the polls on Saturday to vote in their country’s presidential election, and this time it appears that Nigerian officials are not going to suddenly postpone the vote at the last minute like they did last week. Predicting the outcome of what already looked to be a close race between incumbent Muhammadu Buhari and his main challenger, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, has now become even more difficult because the delay is likely to dramatically tamp down turnout in ways that are difficult to assess.

Last week’s ISIS-West Africa attack on a convoy in Borno state appears to have been far deadlier than official figures let on. The government still says that three people were killed in the attack, but witnesses are putting the number over 40 and maybe as many as 100. Another 100-200 people were reportedly captured by the group.

CHAD

Ben Taub writes that both Chadian President Idriss Déby and the French government are abusing the definition of “terrorist” to justify suppressing rebels against Déby’s government, and argues that this may not be good for Déby in the long run:

Jihadi groups thrive in the margins of broken states, and, where there are no terrorists, Déby has seen it as politically advantageous to fabricate them. In the aftermath of the French air strikes, his forces arrested some two hundred and fifty rebels and announced that they would be tried as “terrorists,” without the veneer of judicial protections typically afforded to criminals, traitors, or whatever category would normally apply to political opponents and army defectors who have attempted a coup. The designation is convenient for France, too; the legal mandate for Operation Barkhane is counterterrorism, not killing men who have had enough of Déby’s rule. But the facts are being obscured amid staged cries of victory. (Last week, Chad’s education ministry ordered every high-school and college student in one of N’Djamena’s districts to attend a pro-Déby, pro-France rally.) French and American audiences may not notice or remember the silence of their own governments in response to injustices in Chad, but Chadian citizens will.

This isn’t to say that France should necessarily have stood by and allowed the rebels to reach N’Djamena. But what is clear, in France’s decades-long post-colonial experiment of semi-colonial activity, is that protecting an authoritarian leader from his unhappy constituents doesn’t just embolden him to enrich himself and prolong his rule at the expense of his country. It also weakens him, by proving to those who would take up arms against him that he is not a man in control, and by allowing them to portray him—not inaccurately—as serving at the pleasure of the French.

DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF THE CONGO

The US government on Friday slapped travel and visa restrictions on five top Congolese officials, including the heads of the country’s electoral commission, its national assembly, and its constitutional court. The penalties are related to allegations that they helped fix the results of the DRC’s December 30 election in favor of Felix Tshisekedi, and/or that they were involved in efforts to quash protests stemming from the election results.

EUROPE

EUROPEAN UNION

David O’Sullivan, the US ambassador to the European Union, is leaving his gig at the end of the month and doesn’t have many nice things to say about his boss’s approach toward the EU:

“Looking at the trade and economic side of things, I think we share much of the analysis of the challenge posed by Chinese practices,” O’Sullivan said, speaking at a media roundtable. “We had suggested from the very early days to have a collaborative approach, and that is why we set up the trilateral approach with Japan, the E.U. and the U.S. on steel — excess capacity in China on steel and aluminum, which we saw as the origin of the problem.”

But the Trump administration imposed steel and aluminum tariffs on Canada, the E.U. and Mexico in May.

“It has not been particularly helpful,” O’Sullivan said, “that in that context the people who end up getting tariffs imposed, which actually damage their exports, are the E.U. and Mexico and Canada, which we didn’t feel were actually at the origin of the problem.”

AMERICAS

VENEZUELA

The manufactured humanitarian aid crisis on Venezuela’s borders claimed its first victims on Friday, when Venezuelan security forces killed two people in the village of Kumarakapay near the Brazilian border. Village residents apparently tried to stop a military convoy heading to the border to strengthen the blockade against attempts to bring aid into the country on Saturday. Opposition leader Juan Guaidó has pegged Saturday for a major effort to get the aid into the country despite President Nicolás Maduro’s opposition in what’s shaping up to be the most significant test of Maduro’s control over the Venezuelan military so far in this crisis. Guaidó on Friday was able to slip across the border into Colombia, despite restrictions on his ability to travel, where he attended the “Venezuela Aid Live” concert organized by billionaire Richard Branson. This could mean Maduro’s military isn’t really sealing off the border, but we’ll see.

This story is fucked up on so many levels. We’ve managed to weaponize food and get the Virgin guy to do a fucking branded rock concert about it. What a time to be alive.

The US and Venezuelan governments are still apparently negotiating over the status of US diplomats remaining in the country. Maduro has given them until next week to leave but the US shows no signs of pulling them out.

MEXICO

The US military is sending another 1000 soldiers to protect us all from the non-existent migrant threat on the US-Mexico border. I don’t know about you but I think we need to give these folks at least another $2 trillion a year for all they do.

HAITI

Haitian police used rubber bullets to disperse a couple hundred protesters in Port-au-Prince on Friday. The demonstration emerged from a funeral procession for a man killed during anti-government protests last week.

UNITED STATES

Donald Trump will be nominating his Canadian ambassador, Kelly Knight Craft, to be his new United Nations ambassador. Craft is best known for appreciating “both sides of the science” on climate change, an issue where there’s really only one side dealing in science. In other words, she’s the ideal UN representative for this president.

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