The World Today for January 26, 2018



On the Other Foot

The most well-known cause of tensions between India and Pakistan is their dispute over territory in Kashmir – where New Delhi accuses Islamabad of helping insurgents sneak across the border to attack the Indian army and carry out terrorist attacks.

This month, a flare-up in cross-border firing has resulted in the deaths of 13 civilians and nine soldiers, as well as dozens of injuries, the Associated Press reported. But as India celebrates its Republic Day on January 26, in a similarly troubled region of Pakistan the shoe is on the other foot.

Former Indian naval officer Kulbhushan Sudhir Jadhav was arrested in the Pakistani province of Balochistan in March 2016. He was convicted of espionage and plotting to sabotage government projects there and sentenced to death – the latest in a long string of alleged spies arrested and used as bargaining chips by Islamabad, Reuters reported.

Shortly after Christmas, a fresh row erupted over Pakistan’s supposed attempt to show a bit of mercy, however. After a rap on the knuckles from the International Court of Justice – which in May temporarily barred Pakistan from executing Jadhav and insisted he be granted consular access – last month Islamabad allowed the accused spy a visit from his wife and mother.

But they were forced to meet from opposite sides of a glass wall. The two women were compelled to remove their jewelry, change into different clothes and give up their shoes before being allowed to see the accused. And India claimed Jadhav’s wife’s shoes were never returned.

“For some inexplicable reason, despite her repeated requests, the shoes of his wife were not returned to her after the meeting,” Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper quoted an Indian Ministry of External Affairs statement as saying. The Pakistan Foreign Office rejected India’s “baseless” allegations and said it does not wish to indulge in a “meaningless battle of words.”

Not long after that, a group of Indian-Americans and Balochs held a protest by the name “Chappal Chor Pakistan” (“Slipper Thief Pakistan”) outside the country’s embassy in Washington.

It would be laughable if the stakes weren’t so high.

The boilerplate fears of the two longtime enemies touching off nuclear Armageddon – invariably mentioned in any article about Kashmir – are exaggerated, local analysts say.

But Jadhav faces the death penalty and the residents of both Kashmir and Balochistan face a military occupation and extrajudicial killings, Malik Siraj Akbar opined in the Huffington Post. And the specter of an Indian tit-for-tat response threatens to undermine the progress New Delhi has made in isolating Islamabad over its alleged support for terrorism. (The Trump administration’s freezing of military aid to Islamabad earlier this month marks a prime example.)

The US and many of its allies now take Pakistan’s apparent support for Hafiz Saeed, founder of the Lashkar-e-Taiba militant group, and other dubious characters as an established fact. But Britain and others also take seriously the allegations that India’s external intelligence agency, the Research and Analysis Wing, is fomenting the insurgency in Balochistan, the WikiLeaks cables suggested.

The spat over shoes makes it harder to argue that New Delhi always takes the high road.



Footing the Bill

Iraq called on investors at Davos to fund a rebuilding effort it said would cost $100 billion following its defeat of the Islamic State.

“It’s a huge amount of money. We know we cannot provide it through our own budget,” Reuters quoted Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi as saying at the World Economic Forum.

Iraq is preparing for a donors conference in Kuwait next month in conjunction with the World Bank.

Abadi met with Kurdish counterpart Nechirvan Barzani in Davos on Wednesday. It marked their second meeting since the Kurdistan Regional Government held an independence vote condemned by Baghdad, reported The National.

The National said the two parties are now close to settling the dispute, even as the conflict between Turkey and Kurdish forces in Syria heats up.

Iran’s foreign minister, who skipped the Davos meeting, tweeted Thursday that “It was Iran who helped the people of Iraq and Syria defeat ISIS (Islamic State), and it was the US and Saudi Arabia who armed it.”


Unfair Conditions

Nigeria will protest the conditions set by the US on its planned $494 million purchase of 12 A-29 Super Tucano fighter planes.

Defense Minister Mansur Dan Ali said Thursday that Nigeria will object to the 2020 transfer date for the aircraft, as well as restrictions on training for Nigerian technicians and maintenance crews, Reuters reported.

Former President Barack Obama delayed the sale over concerns about Nigeria’s human rights record. But President Donald Trump’s administration approved it to support Nigeria’s efforts to fight Boko Haram militants.

Nigeria’s air force said the two parties had agreed on a deal in December. But the final agreement and first payments are slated for Feb. 20. On Thursday, Dan Ali called that into question, saying “payments will be made when the conditions are reduced.”

The sale of the 12 aircraft, with weapons and service, includes thousands of bombs and rockets, Reuters said.


Testing the Limits

The European Union’s top court ruled that member countries cannot use psychological testing to try to verify the truth of claims made by asylum seekers saying they face persecution at home due to their sexual orientation.

Following the administering of such a test to an unidentified man seeking refugee status from Nigeria by Hungarian immigration officials, the court ruled they amount to “a disproportionate interference in the private life of the asylum seeker,” NPR reported.

Following his application for asylum in 2015, the man’s request was rejected after a psychologist determined that it wasn’t possible to confirm his sexual orientation. He appealed the ruling in court in Hungary, which referred the case to the EU.

The court said it is permissible to seek the opinion of experts in assessing “the facts and circumstances relating to the declared sexual orientation of an applicant,” but those opinions cannot be the sole basis for the authorities’ ultimate decision.


Falling Skies

Hawaiians were put on edge for 38 minutes a couple weeks ago by a false alarm suggesting a nuclear strike was imminent.

But last week, it was Michiganders’ turn to fear falling skies when a mysterious flash of light and a sonic boom interrupted the winter night.

Speculation about the phenomenon abounded on social media. Some tried deductive reasoning, nixing the idea of a thunderstorm in the cold Michigan winter. Others posted dashcam footage, complete with expletives, of the unusual sight.

The true explanation was more out of this world.

“After reviewing several observational datasets, the NWS can confirm the flash and boom was NOT thunder or lighting, but instead a likely meteor,” read a tweet from the Detroit branch of the National Weather Service. Detroit’s NWS later confirmed in a separate tweet that indeed a “meteor occurred … causing a magnitude 2.0 earthquake.”

Michael Narlock, head of astronomy at metro Detroit’s Cranbrook Institute of Science, told CBS News that a bolide meteor – a large space rock that often explodes upon hitting Earth’s atmosphere – most likely caused the cracking and popping sounds, as well as the sudden bright flash in the night sky.


Correction: In Thursday’s NEED TO KNOW section, we said in our “One and Done” item that Paraguay is the only country in Latin America to limit presidents to a single term. In fact, Mexico and Guatemala also limit presidents to one term in office. We apologize for the error.

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