The World Today for October 19, 2018

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NEED TO KNOW

AFGHANISTAN

The Enemy of My Enemy…

President George W. Bush sent American troops into Afghanistan 17 years ago to root out Islamic jihadists.

Today, in a conflict that has come to resemble Vietnam, US diplomats are holding high-level talks with the Taliban to end the fighting, the Wall Street Journal reported.

The US wants to keep two bases in Afghanistan, Voice of America explained. But the Taliban want American and other foreign forces to quit the country.

Fair enough, one might say. As Afghans, they ought to have more say in their country’s affairs than Washington or the Pentagon, after all, right?

But the US argues the bases are needed to ensure the Taliban follow through on whatever deal they reach with the American negotiators. That’s logical, too, considering the militant group claimed responsibility for a deadly attack at the provincial governor’s compound in Kandahar province Thursday that they said targeted not only Kandahar police chief Abdul Raziq, who was killed, but also US Army Gen. Austin “Scott” Miller, the commander of U.S.-led coalition forces in Afghanistan, according to the LA Times. Miller escaped unharmed.

The Taliban also want a new government in Kabul that reflects their harsh, ultraorthodox version of Islam, which sanctions oppressing women and non-Muslims, destroying the country’s ancient artifacts and imposing a host of strict rules on the Afghan people.

Many would hope that the American point man in the talks, Zalmay Khalilzad, a former US ambassador to the United Nations, is working against that outcome.

But it seems as if the two sides are moving closer to peace regardless, if only because both sides are sick and tired of the fighting. The UN recently said that more than 8,000 Afghan civilians had been killed or wounded in fighting through September this year, an increase over prior years in a situation it called “extreme.”

More deaths are expected as Afghans take to the polls in parliamentary elections Oct. 20: Militants have threatened voters and vowed to disrupt polls.

“The determination of the Afghan government, the Afghan people and the security forces is that they will stay and hold,” Australian Air Marshal Mel Hupfeld, who runs his country’s forces in Afghanistan, told the Australian Associated Press. “The Taliban, they have their military objectives, they also have their political objectives. But they’re all getting very tired. There’s opportunities here for reconciliation, that’s one thing that we shouldn’t forget about.”

The US has good reason to talk to fighters who were labeled the baddest of the bad only a decade ago: There are worse groups in Afghanistan. The Islamic State in Khorasan has also set up shop in the war-torn country. “It’s ISIS and al Qaeda we should be going after,” an unnamed American military officer told CNN.

The Islamic State fighters even alienate Afghans, who are used to brutality. “Most Afghans despise the Salafist jihadists, whom they view as barbarous foreigners,” wrote photographer Andrew Quilty in the New York Times.

The saying goes, “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.” It’s hard to say whether the US and the Taliban are lucky to have an excuse to shake hands, or if yet another cycle of violence is in store for Afghanistan.

WANT TO KNOW

SAUDI ARABIA

Jedi Mind Trick

Riyadh’s employment of the Jedi mind trick in response to the killing of dissident Jamal Khashoggi appears to be wearing thin.

A pro-government Turkish newspaper on Thursday published time-stamped photos depicting a frequent companion of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman entering Saudi Arabia’s consulate in Istanbul just hours before Khashoggi disappeared inside, the New York Times reported, calling the photos among “the most striking pieces of evidence” linking the crown prince to the alleged killing.

Writing in The Hill, commentator Elise Carlson-Rainer argued that the fallout from the incident has already prompted US President Donald Trump to begin to rethink America’s historically blinkered attitude toward Saudi human rights violations.

Though it is the subject of much speculation and Turkish authorities claim to have audio and video evidence of the alleged killing, the fate of Khashoggi remains unclear, and Saudi Arabia continues to deny any involvement.

Nevertheless, on Thursday US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and UK International Trade Secretary Liam Fox pulled out of an investment conference slated for Oct. 23-25 in Riyadh, the BBC said.

CHINA

Customers Are Always Right?

One sort of conventional wisdom says US President Donald Trump is flirting with disaster in China. But another truism may also be coming to the fore: The customer is always right.

China’s economic growth slowed to its most tepid pace since the global financial crisis in the second quarter, Reuters reported, noting that this puts more pressure on the government to address debt risks and the mounting trade war with the US.

China’s GDP grew 6.5 percent in the third quarter, compared with 6.7 percent a year earlier, according to China’s National Bureau of Statistics.

The news comes as economists project the yuan will drop further, possibly breaking the psychological threshold of 7 to the dollar, later in the year, even as the US Treasury Department came within a whisker of declaring China a “currency manipulator” in its biannual currency report on Wednesday.

Instead, the Treasury rapped Beijing for “lack of currency transparency and recent weakness in the currency,” CNBC reported.

Notably, a weaker yuan lessens the impact of Trump’s punitive tariffs because it makes exports cheaper.

ETHIOPIA

Walking the Talk

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed continues to walk the talk when it comes to his efforts at reconciling the country’s frustrated ethnic groups.

Ethiopian authorities announced Thursday they would release some 1,100 people detained over violent protests in and around the capital Addis Ababa in September, while 83 of them will have to face court proceedings on suspicion of committing crimes, Rwanda’s New Times newspaper reported.

The detentions, which followed violent protests, marked the first mass arrests since Abiy came to power in April. At least 28 people were killed as a result of the demonstrations, which followed the return of exiled leaders from the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF). Most of the fatalities stemmed from clashes between supporters of the OLF and rival groups.

The Oromo are Ethiopia’s largest ethnic group, but they (along with other ethnic groups) say they have long been marginalized by the much less numerous but powerful Tigrayans. Abiy is the country’s first Oromo prime minister.

DISCOVERIES

The Young Lady of the Lake

The mythical King Arthur received the magical sword Excalibur from the Lady of the Lake early in his reign as king of Britain.

Some versions of the legend say Excalibur is also the sword Arthur pulled out of a stone to become king.

Recently, some Swedes dubbed 8-year-old Swedish-American Saga Vanecek as their queen after she found a 1,000-year-old sword near a lake in Tånnö, Sweden.

“I was outside in the water, throwing sticks and stones and stuff to see how far they skip, and then I found some kind of stick,” she told The Local.se.

She made the startling discovery in July, but her family kept the find secret for a while at the request of officials at the Jönköping County Museum, the New York Times reported.

Mikael Nordström of the museum said that the sword might date back to the 5th or 6th century AD – before the Viking age. Further searches revealed a brooch of the same period.

Nordström added that the lake could have been “a place of sacrifice.”

Saga and her family, who moved from the US to Sweden, were quite enthusiastic about the find. “The cool thing is that I’m a huge Minnesota Vikings fan,” said the girl’s father, “and this looks just like a Viking sword.”

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