The World Today for September 27, 2018

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With the recent election of former cricket star Imran Khan as prime minister, many believed that Pakistan would change direction.

They would be right.

Khan last week extended an invitation to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi for the two nations’ foreign ministers to meet on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York later this month to discuss ways to “peacefully resolve” their differences, the Associated Press reported.

India initially accepted that invitation, but a day later called off the meeting, blaming “Pakistan-based entities” for the killing of three special police officers in Kashmir, the Hindu reported.

The two nuclear-armed neighbors have been at odds for decades over the disputed Jammu and Kashmir territories, though Khan’s gesture was hardly the first time a political leader on either side had extended a hand in ostensible friendship.

That said, Khan’s invitation came only 24 hours after another big move: Khan’s declaration to legitimize millions of the nation’s Afghan refugees, the Independent reported.

Pakistan has one of the largest refugee populations in the world, with millions of Afghans residing there for decades, according to UN statistics. And even though 60 percent of those people were born on Pakistani soil, they’ve been denied citizenship, rendering them effectively stateless. In fact, last year, the Pakistani government moved to repatriate millions of these people, PRI reported.

Khan’s plans to give citizenship to an estimated 1.5 million Afghans drew ire from political opponents but praise from human-rights activists.

“This move is an important first step in ending the discrimination faced by refugee and migrant communities,” said Saroop Ijaz, a representative for Human Rights Watch.

Even so, there’s a waft of something fishy when it comes to Khan, Walter Russell Mead wrote for the Wall Street Journal.

Pakistan has never had a prime minister finish out a term, largely due to the fact that the country is run by a military apparatus that’s allegedly pitting terror cells against legitimate allies for its own security gains, Mead wrote.

It’s put the US in a difficult position when it comes to Khan: Washington has lashed out, suspending $300 billion in aid because of Pakistan’s failure to rein in terrorism but it needs Islamabad in order to continue its presence in Afghanistan in hopes of eventually ending the conflict there.

The delicate situation led US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to take a more conciliatory approach to his relationship with Khan, the New York Times reported. Even a row over what was said in a phone conversation between Khan and Pompeo in August wasn’t enough to stop them from making amends for the benefit of both nations, Voice of America reported.

Yet such efforts to sway Khan might be for naught, Mead wrote in the Journal: The military seems to have already begun moving Pakistan out of the orbit of US influence as China’s development might grows.

And with Islamabad turning to crowdfunding to pay for much-needed developmental projects, it’s not hard to imagine why Beijing is looking all the more attractive, wrote the Asia Times.

Khan’s ascent to power in Pakistan may seem like a new direction, and it is. But the winds of change blowing Pakistan eastward seem to be the real development.



Hero, Tourist, or Villain

One of the chief suspects in the poisoning of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter is a Russian military officer who was named a “Hero of the Russian Federation” in 2014, an investigative website has claimed.

UK investigators earlier identified the man as Ruslan Boshirov, whom Russian President Vladimir Putin claimed was a civilian. The man himself – who has since returned to Russia – says he visited the UK as a tourist. But the website Bellingcat says Boshirov is actually an intelligence officer named Colonel Anatoliy Chepiga, the BBC reported.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova dismissed the new claims, saying there was no evidence.

British officials have not commented on the report, but the BBC indicated that the UK does not dispute the website’s story.

Chepiga, 39, trained at one of Russia’s elite academies and served with a special forces unit under the command of the GRU – Russia’s military intelligence service.

He earned more than 20 military awards for his service. He is believed to have been working undercover, using the false identity of Ruslan Boshirov, since 2009.


No Tariffs for Now

President Donald Trump is taking a hard line with Canada and a harder one with China. But on Wednesday he agreed to protect Japanese automakers from further tariffs, at least for now.

Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe agreed to begin trade talks that “will respect positions of the other government,” drawing lines on autos and Japan’s agriculture sector, Reuters reported.

That’s despite the fact that Trump is displeased with Japan’s $69 billion trade surplus with the United States – nearly two-thirds of which comes from auto exports.

Addressing reporters, Abe said Japan had invested billions of dollars in the US and created legions of jobs due to the spirit of free trade, and claimed Trump agreed with that view of the relationship. But there will be kinks to iron out.

Abe wants a deal limited to a Trade Agreement on Goods (TAG), while US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer told reporters he’s aiming for a more wide-ranging Free Trade Agreement (FTA) that includes rules on investments and services.


A Judge Across the Water

In America, President Donald Trump is trying to get a judge onto the Supreme Court. But in Poland, he backs the government trying to turf out Malgorzata Gersdorf.

The 65-year-old head of Poland’s Supreme Court reiterated her vow not to relinquish her post Monday, despite a move by Warsaw’s right-wing Law and Justice party (PiS) to lower the retirement age for judges from 70 to 65, CNN reported.

Like the European Commission, which on Monday launched a suit against Warsaw for violating the independence of its judiciary, Gersdorf sees the maneuver and other PiS reforms as a “dangerous” effort to undermine democracy.

“In my mind, I will remain the First President of the Supreme Court until 30th April, 2020. And only changing the constitution can alter that — or my dying,” she told CNN, referring to the end date of her six-year term.

Trump sees Poland’s battle with the EU from the other side, his speech before the UN General Assembly this week confirmed. “In Poland, a great people are standing up for their independence, their security, and their sovereignty,” he said.


CO2: Useful Yet

For the longest time, carbon dioxide has stumped scientists trying to find a useful purpose for the greenhouse gas.

Back in 1869, they used electrochemical reactions to convert carbon dioxide into formic acid, a preservative. But they never quite understood how electrochemical reduction happened.

A new study by researchers at the Columbia University school of engineering, however, has finally solved a piece of the puzzle.

“We started doing this like how other people are doing this, through trial and error, and playing with different materials to see how the efficiency of CO2 conversion depends on material properties,” lead author Irina Chernyshova told Inverse.

The team observed that CO2 can be reduced via electrochemical reduction through the use of a single intermediary instead of two – in this case, carboxylate ions.

The discovery can help scientists around the world to better understand carbon dioxide electroreduction, potentially turning the gas into more useful materials, such as fertilizers.

“With this knowledge and computational power, researchers will be able to predict more accurately the reaction on different catalysts and specify the most promising ones, which can further be synthesized and tested,” co-author Sathish Ponnurangam said.

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