September 27, 2019

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NEED TO KNOW

AFGHANISTAN

We the People

A Taliban suicide bomber recently killed at least 26 people at a presidential campaign rally in Afghanistan. Less than an hour later, a second suicide bombing claimed at least 22 lives in Kabul, the capital, the Washington Post reported.

The blasts occurred about a week after US President Donald Trump called off peace talks with the Taliban, a move that has been one of many factors stoking continued violence in the Central Asian country, wrote Vox.

With presidential elections slated for Sept. 28, Afghans unfortunately can expect more bloodshed. The Taliban opposes the vote and has threatened to attack campaign events.

“We have conveyed it to all the Afghans to stay away from the polling stations; otherwise, they would be responsible for their losses,” an unnamed Taliban commander told Reuters.

President Ashraf Ghani, who is seeking a second five-year term, is pressing forward with his bid. He might be optimistic because, as the New York Times noted, Trump’s decision to end talks with the Taliban boosted his campaign. He’s pledged to step up measures to stop more civilian deaths, reported Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, arguably an admission that he hasn’t done enough so far.

The threat of more attacks led his main challenger, Afghan Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah, to consider dropping out of the race and calling off the vote to promote peace, Reuters reported in another story last month.

Americans might think that postponing the elections would be a win for the Taliban. But some disagree.

“We need to seriously consider the possibility that elections do not always go hand-in-hand with democratic governance and, in certain instances, may even undermine it,” wrote Harvard Law School fellow Nafay Choudhury in the Hill.

The Afghan economy is in shambles. Devoting time and energy to elections is arguably a waste of time, Choudhury added. More importantly, Afghan voters cast ballots almost exclusively along ethnic lines, further dividing the already fragmented country.

Nobody knows if the election is going to resolve political disputes between the country’s different factions. Voting fraud was rampant in 2014, the last time Abdullah ran against Ghani. International diplomats intervened, and Afghans agreed to create the peculiar position of chief executive rather than prime minister to give Abdullah an advisory role in government. Power struggles between the two leaders also prevented progress on the war-torn country’s pressing needs. Citizens don’t trust the process, the International Business Times reported.

Whoever wins will preside over an Afghan government riddled with corruption. The US recently cut $160 million in aid to the country, saying Ghani, Abdullah and others have failed to seriously address graft, Al Jazeera wrote.

It’s hard not to conclude that some other political system might be best for Afghanistan, some say. It’s tragic that voters might never get a chance to make that choice properly.

WANT TO KNOW

SUDAN

Our Turn

Human-rights groups representing victims of the Darfur genocide filed a criminal complaint Thursday against French banking giant BNP Paribas alleging the lender was providing financial services to the Sudanese government during the genocide and thereby facilitating it, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Plaintiffs say the bank allowed the Sudanese government to pay security forces and make purchases abroad between 2002 and 2008, when country was targeted with economic sanctions.

The bank said that it wasn’t aware of the complaint and that it wouldn’t comment on judicial procedures.

The complaint is expected to reopen a dark chapter in the bank’s history – the largest in Europe by assets – which was the target of a US investigation for violating its economic sanctions against Sudan.

Four years ago, the lender was ordered to pay nearly $9 billion and plead guilty to violating sanctions against Sudan, Iran and Cuba in an unprecedented case.

Part of the fine was used to pay victims of the September 11 attacks and others including the twin 1998 US Embassy bombings in East Africa. The genocide victims in Darfur never received compensation.

“To this day, they have been denied the possibility of justice,” Mossaad M. Ali, a plaintiff in the case, told the Journal.

SAUDI ARABIA

Sand, Snorkeling and Drones

Saudi Arabia said Friday it will offer tourist visas for the first time, a move to open up the ultra-conservative kingdom to holidaymakers that aims to diversify its heavily oil-dependent economy, Agence France-Presse reported.

“Opening Saudi Arabia to international tourists is a historic moment for our country,” tourism chief Ahmed al-Khateeb said in a statement.

The announcement comes two weeks after Saudi oil facilities were hit by drones, causing a decrease in production, which impacted global energy markets and spiked fears of a regional conflict.

Tourism is part of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s Vision 2030 reform program to prepare the economy for a post-oil era.

It aims to generate up to 10 percent of gross domestic product by 2030 and create more than one million tourism jobs.

But the new move might prove a hard sell to tourists in spite of its Red Sea beaches and vast desert landscapes.

Saudi Arabia has faced an uptick in criticism recently for the murder of journalist and regime critic Jamal Khashoggi and its crackdown on women’s rights activists.

Also, the recent attacks – blamed on Iran – has some questioning the country’s security situation.

AUSTRALIA

‘119 Years Overdue’

Lawmakers in New South Wales voted Thursday to decriminalize abortion in Australia’s most populous state, overturning a 119-year-old law that many considered outdated.

The vote means that abortion is now legal in all but South Australia state, where the laws are under review, CNN reported.

The new law will allow women to obtain an abortion up to 22 weeks into their pregnancy without having to prove whether their pregnancy impacts their mental and physical health.

“This is 119 years overdue,” said Labor Party lawmaker Jo Haylen.

Opponents of the law, however, raised concerns that the new bill will lead to more late-term abortions and people using abortions to select the gender of their child.

“The new abortion law is a defeat for humanity,” said Catholic Archbishop of Sydney, Anthony Fisher, according to state broadcaster ABC.

Meanwhile, neighboring New Zealand is also considering decriminalizing abortions.

DISCOVERIES

And Then There Were None

History remembers the Vikings as the fierce warriors from the north who terrorized Europe and elsewhere during the Middle Ages.

They were also likely responsible for the extinction of walruses in Iceland, according to a recent study.

Researchers from the University of Copenhagen analyzed the centuries-old remains of 34 walruses found in western Iceland and discovered the animals belonged to a unique subspecies of the Atlantic walrus, New Scientist reported.

The marine mammals had a distinctive DNA signature, compared to other walruses living in Greenland and elsewhere, which suggests that Iceland’s walruses were hunted to extinction.

Norse settlers arrived in Iceland in 874 AD. The researchers believe the settlers started hunting the large animals then and continued doing so for several centuries – until there were none.

Ivory from walrus tusks was a valuable commodity back then, and many Viking traders thrived by selling it in Europe.

This is not the only case when a marine animal was hunted to extinction centuries ago, said study co-author Morten Tange Olsen. A previous study suggested that the Romans might have wiped out whale populations in the Mediterranean.

“As we analyze more data, I think there will be even more cases like this, I’m sad to say,” Olsen said.