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World roundup: June 22 2023
Stories from Afghanistan, Sudan, Panama, and elsewhere
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TODAY IN HISTORY
June 22, 1527: A force from the Javanese Demak Sultanate under its commander, Fatahillah, liberates the port of Sunda Kelapa from the Portuguese and renames it “Jayakarta.” I wonder whatever happened to that place.
June 22, 1593: Local Ottoman forces from the Eyalet of Bosnia are routed by a Habsburg army at the Battle of Sisak (which is located in central Croatia today). This was one of the first serious Ottoman defeats in the Balkans, and the Ottomans’ desire for revenge contributed to the 1593-1606 Long War against the Habsburgs (there are some historians who consider Sisak part of that war). That war ended indecisively, which was typical for Ottoman-Habsburg conflicts until the late 17th century.
In today’s global news:
Worldometer is tracking COVID-19 cases and fatalities.
The New York Times is tracking global vaccine distribution.
Yemeni rebels and the Saudi-led coalition that opposes them exchanged 64 bodies of their dead fighters on Wednesday. This is apparently the third such exchange in recent days, at least according to rebel media reports, which if accurate is another small but unmistakable sign that the parties are still making some progress toward a resolution to their conflict.
The Turkish Central Bank on Thursday sharply raised its primary interest rate to 15 percent, a sudden increase of 6.5 percentage points. The move is in keeping with standard central bank operating procedure, given Turkey’s persistently high inflation rate, but it indicates a significant change for newly reelected Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Over his two-plus decades in power, Erdoğan has favored maintaining low interest rates even in periods of high inflation, valuing high growth over low inflation. He suggested during his recent presidential campaign that he might be ready to give economic orthodoxy a try and Thursday’s move would be in keeping with that campaign rhetoric.
Roza Otunbayeva, the head of the United Nations humanitarian mission in Afghanistan, told the UN Security Council on Thursday that the Afghan Taliban’s decision to ban women from virtually all aspects of public life had made it “nearly impossible that their government will be recognized by members of the international community.” Multiple pitches from the UN and from international humanitarian NGOs have apparently not swayed Taliban leadership toward relaxing that ban. Aside from the principle involved, banning women from humanitarian work has made it logistically impossible for the UN and those NGOs to reach female-headed households in need of support.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi kicked off his state visit to the US on Thursday with an address to the US Congress (his second, a true rarity for a foreign leader) in which he sought to “celebrate the bond between world’s two great democracies: India and the United States,” a relationship he characterized as “a defining partnership of this century…because it serves a larger purpose.” Stirring stuff. Meanwhile, in India:
Yet while Modi’s visit has been touted as the blossoming of a friendship between two of the world’s largest democracies, the rosy optics have clouded out a darker story: the increasingly grim fate of Indian political prisoners, including many well known to Western nongovernmental organizations and media establishments, under the right-wing Modi government.
A long list of Indian civil society members are currently languishing in the country’s prisons.
Perhaps the most emblematic example is Khurram Parvez, a Kashmiri human rights activist and chair of the Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances. Parvez, 45, has for years been at the forefront of documenting human rights violations in Kashmir, particularly torture, extrajudicial detention, and mass killings, during a long-running insurgency in the territory. He was arrested in November 2021 amid a broader Indian government crackdown and has been in prison ever since. His arrest has not gone entirely unnoticed: Time magazine in 2022 named Parvez on their list of the 100 most influential people in the world, calling him a “modern-day David who gave a voice to families that lost their children to enforced disappearances, allegedly by the Indian state.”
Despite his prominent status, the fate of Parvez and others like him, has not figured much into the celebratory pronouncements about the U.S.-India relationship. Although the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention recently criticized his detention and called for his release, no major U.S. human rights organization has issued a statement about Parvez timed to Modi’s high-profile U.S. visit. That silence has had a chilling effect with repercussions far beyond his own fate.
Modi spent much of the day being feted at the White House, including a state dinner Thursday evening, where US President Joe Biden spoke glowingly of the bilateral relationship using language similar to Modi’s. Not to discount anybody’s notions of epic partnerships or whatever, but this is very much a transactional relationship rooted in US efforts to isolate both China and Russia. Among the tangible issues Modi is here to talk about are potential US investments in India’s semiconductor industry, the better to compete with China, and the sale of advanced US military hardware, the better to pull India away from its military partnership with Russia.
Asked about his inexplicable decision to insult Chinese President Xi Jinping on Tuesday, one day after Secretary of State Antony Blinken had met with Xi and seemed to get the US-China relationship back on some sort of even keel, Biden didn’t make it any less inexplicable. He told reporters that “the idea of my choosing and avoiding saying what I think is the facts with regard to the relationship with ... China is, is just not something I am going to change very much.” In other words, he’s going to blurt out what he blurts out and that’s that. Biden also said he didn’t believe that his remarks “had any real consequence,” which may be true but a) he doesn’t really know that, and b) then why take the risk? It’s not like sticking that zinger into his fundraiser speech accomplished anything.
After another temporary ceasefire never fully materialized and then ended on Wednesday morning with a flurry of violence between the Sudanese military and the Rapid Support Forces, the US government has decided to pack up its mediation effort. US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Molly Phee told a US House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on Thursday that the State Department “adjourned” the negotiations they’ve been co-hosting with Saudi Arabia for the past few weeks, due mostly to their failure to achieve much of anything. It sounds like the plan now is to sanction the combatants into negotiating in good faith. According to Phee Washington is pressuring European and regional partners to join it in this effort.
The Permanent Strategic Framework for Peace, Security and Development, a coalition of dormant Tuareg rebel groups, has reportedly informed the country’s ruling junta that if the UN agrees to close down its peacekeeping operation that would strike a “fatal blow” to the peace deal that ended the rebels’ 2012-2015 uprising in northern Mali. The junta is demanding an end to the UN presence in Mali, which has failed to prevent metastasizing jihadist militancy but has been defending major northern cities from the militants.
At least 16 people were killed in two more inter-communal attacks in Nigeria’s Plateau state on Tuesday. Both incidents appear to be linked to the spate of farmer-herder violence that’s gripped that province and has left more than 200 people dead over the past six (give or take) weeks.
It appears that Wagner Group boss Yevgeny Prigozhin is still bickering with the Russian military even though his fighters are no longer on the front line in Ukraine. He’s claiming that Russian military officials are lying to President Vladimir Putin about “very serious losses on the front,” a claim that is impossible to verify. Prigozhin may be chafing against a new order from the Russian government obliging private military firms like his to sign contracts with the defense ministry by July 1. So far Prigozhin has not followed that order.
An apparent Ukrainian missile strike on Thursday hit the Chonhar road bridge, one of a handful of bridges connecting the Crimean peninsula to the Ukrainian mainland. Ukrainian officials haven’t commented on this but the Russian-appointed governor of occupied Kherson oblast, Vladimir Saldo, released video purportedly of the aftermath of the incident. The Ukrainians would target bridges to and from Crimea in an effort to disrupt Russian supply lines and thereby weaken Russian defensive positions amid the Ukrainian military’s ongoing counteroffensive.
Panama Canal administrators announced on Wednesday that they’re limiting certain types of container cargo ships to a maximum depth of 43.5 feet. This is the latest in a series of depth limits imposed on Canal traffic this year due to an ongoing drought that’s reducing water levels. Further restrictions may be imposed next month unless that drought starts to break. Reductions in maximum depth force ships intending to transit the Canal to carry less cargo, which in turn can contribute to supply chain delays. Around 3.5 percent of all global trade passes through the Canal each year.
Finally, The Nation’s Jeet Heer doesn’t like what the investigation into the bombing of the Nord Stream gas pipelines says about the US-Ukraine relationship:
The new revised CIA narrative, if one pieces together various newspaper accounts, goes something like this: In June 2022, intelligence agencies in the Netherlands got wind of an alleged Ukrainian plot against the Nord Stream pipeline. The CIA then asked the Ukrainians to stop the bombing. The Ukrainians promised to shut down the operation—but in reality just reorganized it with a new leader. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky was reportedly left out of the loop so he wouldn’t be implicated.
One obvious response to this narrative is skepticism. After all, if Zelensky were given plausible deniability, couldn’t the same protection be given to the CIA? Perhaps the Ukrainian government’s promise not to bomb the pipeline was made with the tacit understanding that both sides knew the promise was a fib or white lie. By this logic, something like Hersh’s original claim would remain true: The Biden administration was party to the bombing—but used the narrative of a rogue Ukrainian operation as a convenient fiction to cover for US complicity.
But if instead we take the new CIA narrative on its own terms as the literal truth, we have a terrifying scenario wherein the United States has an ally who is willing to engage in reckless, escalatory armed aggression. The United States, if the CIA is telling the truth, is underwriting a war with a nuclear rival that can no longer be controlled or contained. If de-escalation ever became a policy that the United States or NATO wanted to pursue, they could easily be thwarted by their ally.
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