The World Today for October 28, 2016

NEED TO KNOW

Snake Charmers

Some years ago, then-US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton issued a rare, candid rebuke to Pakistan, a country that Washington has sought in vain to establish as a reliable democratic ally in South Asia since the 1950s.

“You can’t keep snakes in your backyard and expect them only to bite your neighbors,” Clinton told Pakistani officials on a visit to Islamabad in 2011. “Eventually, those snakes are going to turn on whoever has them in their backyard.”

It was a toothless warning, and went unheeded. Pakistan’s intelligence services did not withdraw support for terrorist networks whose primary focus is India or for the Taliban, according to analysts. Nor did its authorities move to arrest prominent members of such organizations, such as Lashkar-e-Taiba chief Hafiz Saeed, notes the Associated Press.

As a result, some US lawmakers launched a bid in September to get the House of Representatives to declare Pakistan a “state sponsor of terror.” It has little chance of passing.

Meanwhile, the snakes continue to bite Pakistan’s enemies (and frenemies) in India and Afghanistan. And the ever-increasing incidents of terror on targets within Pakistan may now be shaking Islamabad’s snake charmers in a way that US browbeating – which never came with any real financial or military consequences – has failed to do.

In the latest incident, three terrorists wearing suicide vests and armed with military rifles and grenades attacked a police academy in the southwestern city of Quetta Monday night, killing at least 60 people and injuring at least 120 others, the Los Angeles Times reported.

While India is justified in its claims to be the aggrieved party of Pakistani state-sponsored terrorism, it’s also true that Pakistan itself has suffered greater losses.

Between 2003 and 2016, some 60,000 people were killed in terrorist incidents in Pakistan, compared with fewer than 30,000 people killed in India, notes thewire.in, citing the India-based South Asia Terrorism Portal.

That hasn’t been enough to prompt Islamabad to take strong action: While there is a National Action Plan in place aimed at curbing militancy, implementation has been spotty. This is especially frightening given that the Islamic State claimed responsibility for Monday’s attack. And Pakistan’s military sees Indian maneuvering behind the strike, according to the Daily Beast.

There are some signs, however, that the usual demonization of India is no longer enough to shore up popular support for militancy.

Following the September attack on an Indian military outpost in Indian-administered Kashmir, Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper reported that Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s civilian government warned army officials “not to interfere if law enforcement acts against militant groups that are banned or (were once) considered off-limits for (…action against them).”

Of course, the extraordinary warning – and implied admission – came not in a public forum but in a secret meeting. And the journalist who reported it was temporarily banned from traveling outside Pakistan, ostensibly so he could be interrogated about his sources.

Clearly, more anti-venom is still required.

WANT TO KNOW

Differences Aside Now

The leaders of the two main Palestinian factions, Fatah and Hamas, met Thursday for the first time in two years in an attempt to bridge the ongoing divide between the two groups.

Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority, led by Fatah, and Hamas leaders Khaled Meshal and Ismail Haniyeh agreed in Qatar it was time for Fatah and Hamas to overcome their rift, establish a national unity government and prepare for elections, according to a Palestinian new agency.

Tensions between the two organizations have run high since 2007, when Hamas, a US designated terrorist group, seized control of Gaza and forced Fatah to retreat to the West Bank, under Israeli occupation.

It’s unclear whether the meeting will lead to any enduring agreement: Previous deals to put aside these differences were not fulfilled, according to the New York Times.

A Strong Core

China’s Communist Party designated President Xi Jinping as its “core” following a four-day party meeting in Beijing ahead of a planned leadership shuffle next year.

It’s a significant shift in China’s elite politics, reported Bloomberg. In past decades, the party has stressed collective leadership to avoid the Mao Zedong-style personality cult blamed as the cause of social upheaval during the Cultural Revolution.

But the party called on members to unite around the party committee “with Xi Jinping as the core,” in its official communique.

“The new title will pave the way for Xi to install his people ahead of the plenum next year,” Zhang Lifan, a Beijing-based historian, told Bloomberg. “It technically gives him the absolute power inside the party.”

Grassroots Hackers

A relatively new party in Iceland is hoping for an upset in tomorrow’s parliamentary elections.

Riding a perfect storm of grassroots appeal and popular disgust with the current government, Iceland’s Pirate Party is poised to claim the top spot: They’re polling just narrowly behind the ruling center-right Independence Party.

“We want to be the Robin Hood of power,” said the group’s leader, Birgitta Jónsdóttir, 49. “We want to take away power from the powerful and give it to the general public of Iceland.”

The Pirates, whose party flag is a black Viking sail, is made up of a “nerdy crew of mavericks, anarchists, libertarians, futurists and much in between,” POLITICO reports.

They’ve made their name on a platform of government transparency and digital privacy, one that’s resonated with voters who feel betrayed by the status quo.

The Independence Party’s Prime Minister Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsso resigned after the Panama Papers scandal revealed he and his wife owned an offshore company in the British Virgin Islands, and there is still outrage over the handling of the 2008 financial crisis.

DISCOVERIES

Resurrection, of a Sort

According to the Bible, when Jesus revived on the third day after his death, his mortality may have changed, but his looks purportedly didn’t.

Unfortunately, a likeness of the baby Jesus in Sudbury, Ontario hasn’t been so lucky.

A landmark statue of the Virgin Mary with baby Jesus outside Ste Anne des Pins Catholic Church has graced passersby in downtown Sudbury for nearly a decade, the Guardian reports.

Vandals have periodically targeted the statue, knocking off the baby Jesus’ head, which was often found later rolling around nearby.

But a little over a year ago, vandals made off with the head altogether, leaving a solemn scene of Mary with a decapitated Jesus. Efforts to fully restore the statue fell flat as estimates placed repair costs in the five-figure range.

Enter local artist Heather Wise.

Although she hadn’t sculpted since college, she was hurt by the heinous act and made a deal with Ste Anne’s priest to restore the figure herself.

The result, a crowned terracotta baby’s head, has visitors and the community outraged, in what the local press called the “worst restoration in history.”

Ste Anne’s priest Gérard Lajeunesse was taken aback himself when he first saw the artist’s unorthodox interpretation.

“It really is shocking to the eyes,” Lajenuesse told CBC News. “I wasn’t trained for this in seminary.”

The replacement head – which some say resembles Maggie Simpson – is only meant to be temporary, however.

“It’s a first try. It’s a first go,” said Lajeunesse. “And hopefully what is done at the end will please everyone.”

Click here to have your own look at Wise’s creation.

Threats to Press Freedom around the World.

The following selection is part of a new, regular feature on press freedoms brought to you in conjunction with the Committee to Protect Journalists..

Press Freedoms’ Ghouls and Goblins

In many countries, Oct. 31 is a time of ghosts and ghouls. However, in Burundi, the nightmare is real: It has now been more than 100 days since journalist Jean Bigirimana went missing after leaving his house following a telephone call from the country’s intelligence service. A reporter for the independent weekly, Iwacu, Bigirimana has not been seen or heard from since. His disappearance comes during a deteriorating situation for the media in Burundi.

More frightening statistics can be found in CPJ’s Global Impunity Index, which shows murderers of journalists – including those who masterminded the killings – have only been brought to justice in 3 percent of all cases documented. Published annually to mark the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists Nov. 2, the Impunity Index calculates the number of unsolved journalist murders over a 10-year period, as a percentage of each country’s population.  This year, Somalia, Iraq, and Syria top the list.

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