The World Today for April 20, 2017


Neighborly Relations, Hard Lines

A resurgent Taliban has posed problems as the US and Afghanistan discuss how to move forward in their 15-year-long relationship. That resurgence, in turn, has raised issues about the Taliban and Afghanistan’s neighbors – notably Pakistan.

Observers have long said that the Taliban enjoys a far too cozy relationship with Pakistan and its military.

Some analysts have even questioned the wisdom of Washington’s classification of Pakistan as an ally given the support it lends to terrorists working to undermining American objectives, wrote the New York Times.

US National Security Adviser H. R. McMaster recently indicated that the US is prepared to take a tougher line on Pakistan over its use of the Taliban as a proxy force and for providing jihadist leaders with sanctuary.

Pakistan has denied accusations that it shelters Taliban members. Recurring military and police raids against Taliban fighters are proof Pakistan is fighting the jihadist group with vigor, Pakistani leaders contend.

Those leaders are sitting atop an unstable situation, however.

Pakistan’s Supreme Court is slated to decide whether to clear Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif of corruption charges or remove him from office. Sharif faces allegations stemming from the Panama Papers that he misled parliament about his family’s overseas finances, VOA reported.

Meanwhile, although Pakistan says it’s in control of the fight against the Taliban, those claims also appear designed to influence the US to intervene on another sensitive issue: Kashmir.

Sharif recently said he hopes the US would mediate between Pakistan and India over the disputed Himalayan territory, wrote Reuters.

The US is best positioned to defuse the rising tensions over Kashmir due to the good relations Washington enjoys with both Islamabad and New Delhi, said Pakistani officials. However, India has consistently rejected third-party mediation by the US or United Nations for years.

Pakistan’s present calls come as the region has seen a renewed uptick in violence and protests against Indian rule in Kashmir, spurred on by videos leaked on social media depicting alleged human rights abuses.

One particularly inflaming video showed Indian army soldiers parading a young man through villages as he was strapped to a jeep as a human shield against locals throwing rocks at the troops.

Unfortunately, Kashmir is only one of several flashpoints that threaten to plunge India and Pakistan into their worst crisis in nearly a decade.

Pakistan’s impending execution of ex-Indian naval officer Kulbhushan Jadhav has pushed both sides closer to the brink.

A secret military court sentenced Jadhav to death for espionage – a charge India denies.

India has warned there would be “consequences” if Pakistan hangs Jadhav, wrote the Washington Post. His sentencing ultimately serves as an open invitation to escalate tensions further with India, they added.

The US would have more than one hard line to draw when it comes to Pakistan’s relations with its neighbors, it seems.



Who’s the Fairest?

There’s fair trade, then there’s fairer trade. Or that’s what US Vice President Mike Pence argued during his visit to Indonesia on Thursday.

After meeting with Indonesian President Joko Widodo, Pence said Washington was interested in a “win-win relationship” with Southeast Asia’s biggest economy – one of 16 countries under review for having a trade surplus with the United States, Reuters reported.

US-based Freeport-McMoran Inc., which operates the world’s largest copper mine in the Indonesian province of Papua, is involved in a protracted dispute with the Indonesian government, the Associated Press noted.

Analysts say Washington is keen to expand bilateral trade deals across Asia, despite President Donald Trump’s decision to walk away from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). But no concrete agreements came out of Pence’s visit to Tokyo.

With plans to visit Asia’s largest mosque as part of his visit, Pence also praised Indonesia for its moderate version of Islam and reaffirmed the importance of the “strategic partnership” between the United States and the world’s most populous Muslim nation.

Street Fighting Man

Unsurprisingly, embattled Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro defied international calls to allow peaceful protests against his government on Wednesday and instead deployed the National Guard and left-wing militias to beat crowds back with tear gas, rubber bullets and other weapons.

The result was that at least three people were killed, the New York Times cited human rights groups and local media as saying.

Opposition leaders seeking to push Maduro to hold new elections that would likely result in the unpopular president’s ouster had called for “the mother of all protests” on Wednesday, just days after Maduro suggested he would boost the ranks of pro-government militias to 500,000 from 100,000 and arm members with guns.

Amidst the street fighting, Maduro said he welcomed new elections and claimed that his leftist supporters would trounce the opposition, despite severe shortages of food and medicine that critics say resulted from his disastrous economic policies.

The opposition has called for more rallies on Thursday.

Another Front

Nigeria began a month-long military operation to quell fighting between rival ethnic groups in the central part of the country on Wednesday, even as it continues to struggle to defeat the Boko Haram terror group in the northeast and other militants in the oil-rich south.

As those more organized battles rage on, hundreds are believed to have died in clashes between Muslim herders and Christian farmers in central Nigeria, Reuters reported.

It’s not immediately clear what the military operation will entail. But an army statement said it “is aimed at addressing the issue of insecurity in southern Kaduna state and parts of Kano, Plateau and Bauchi states.”

Split about 50-50 between Christians and Muslims and comprising hundreds of tribes, Nigeria frequently faces ethnic and/or religious conflicts, partly due to the weak state’s inability to implement “policies that enhance and benefit a singular Nigerian national identity,” according to Quartz.

A case in point: President Muhammadu Buhari on Wednesday ordered an investigation into allegations against a top bureaucrat in charge of allotting aid contracts in the northeast, where the fight against Boko Haram has resulted in a major humanitarian crisis.


Old-School Jams

Whoever said you can’t start a new career after 40 obviously hasn’t met Japan’s Sumiko Iwamuro.

For six decades, Iwamuro has made “gyoza” dumplings for patrons at the Chinese restaurant she owns and operates in Tokyo.

But in her 70’s, Iwamuro started moonlighting – as a disc jockey spinning records for kids 60 years her junior at Tokyo’s nightclubs. She goes by the moniker DJ Sumirock, Reuters reported.

After a quick stint at a trade school where she sharpened her craft, Iwamuro was offered a residency at the DecaBarZ nightclub in Tokyo’s Shinjuku district.

“She’s got this energy that goes beyond age, and that can equal any young person’s here,” said 25-year-old clubber Fuminari Fujii.

Iwamuro’s age sets her apart from others spinning beats. But her cool fusion of techno, jazz, French chanson and classical music makes her a unique force in Tokyo’s club scene.

“When I spin the tables, I just want to match the beat, choose the right music,” she said. “But the best thing is for my audience to enjoy themselves.”

Click here for a peak at DJ Sumirock in action.

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