September 06, 2021

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NEED TO KNOW

AFGHANISTAN

Sweaty Palms

Indian envoys recently spoke to Taliban officials who now run Afghanistan after the American withdrawal from the Central Asian country last month.

“Discussions focused on safety, security and (the) return of Indian nationals stranded in Afghanistan,” the Indian Ministry of External Affairs wrote in a statement to Firstpost, an Indian news website. “The travel of Afghan nationals, especially minorities, who wish to visit India also came up. Ambassador [Deepak] Mittal raised India’s concern that Afghanistan…should not be used for anti-Indian activities and terrorism in any manner. The Taliban representative assured the ambassador that these issues would be positively addressed.”

On one hand, the statement is diplomatic boilerplate. On the other, it references some thorny subjects that are sure to occupy leaders around the world for months if not years to come as a new reality takes hold in Afghanistan. Either way, it shows how India as well as the other two great powers in the region, Pakistan and China, are struggling to figure out how to adapt.

Writing in the Hill, Washington Institute for Near East Policy fellow Simon Henderson, a former BBC correspondent, noted that Pakistan will take center stage in discussions about the future of the country. It has little choice. Recently, as CNN documented, Afghans fleeing the Taliban and their violent, ultra-orthodox Islamic rule overwhelmed the Pakistani border. And Pakistan already hosts millions of Afghans.

Pakistan fears other developments, too. Pakistani generals are suspicious of their strategic rival, India, and its attempts to establish friendly relations with Afghanistan, the Wall Street Journal reported, for example. But the situation is more complicated than that.

While ostensibly an American ally, as the New York Times wrote, Pakistan notoriously hosted Taliban leaders for years as they fought American, NATO and Afghan government forces. Now Pakistani officials dread the thought of the Afghan Taliban providing support to the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, a terrorist group that has killed tens of thousands of Pakistanis in its campaign to inaugurate a more Islamic state in Pakistan, the Brookings Institution explained.

China also faces blowback. Chinese officials crowed as US forces chaotically quit Afghanistan. But they too fear Afghanistan becoming a rogue state that supports Muslim militants throughout the world, especially in the northwestern Chinese region of Xinjiang where the government has cracked down on the Muslim minority Uyghur population, the Atlantic magazine argued.

Politicians around the world wanted the Western effort in Afghanistan to fail. Now some of them wonder if that is what they wanted after all.

WANT TO KNOW

JAPAN

Annual Leave

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga announced his resignation over the weekend, amid plummeting support due to his handling of rising coronavirus infections and infighting within his party, Bloomberg reported.

Suga told reporters that he was not planning to run for re-election as leader of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party this month ahead of the upcoming general polls in November.

His resignation comes a year after he was appointed prime minister following the resignation of his predecessor, Shinzo Abe – Japan’s longest-serving leader.

Suga’s resignation comes amid a surge in coronavirus cases – coinciding with the Tokyo Olympics – as well as scandals involving his son and close aide. The prime minister also faced challenges within his own party after efforts to reshuffle the LDP’s executive team and the cabinet, according to Kyodo News.

Moreover, public discontent over his administration has resulted in a series of defeats by LDP lawmakers and allies in elections, including a loss in the Yokohama mayoral elections last month, the city where Suga began his political career.

Following his announcement, speculation arose over who will lead the LDP: Current contenders so far include Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida and vaccination czar Taro Kono.

Whoever wins the LDP’s top job will effectively become Japan’s prime minister since the party controls the lower chamber of parliament.

GUINEA

Politics By Force

Guinea’s armed forces took over the country Sunday, detaining President Alpha Conde and dissolving the constitution, marking the third coup in Africa in six months, the New York Times reported.

Colonel Mamady Doumbouya, the head of special forces, told the nation that Conde was in custody. He said he had acted in response to the popular will to end poverty and corruption in the West African country of 11 million.

“If you see the state of our roads, of our hospitals, it’s time for us to wake up,” Doumbouya said on state television. He added that “the trampling of the rights of citizens” and “the disrespect of democratic principles” were the motivations for the overthrow, the Washington Post reported.

Doumbouya said land and air borders will be closed, according to CNN.

Meanwhile, the new military leaders warned local officials that refusing to appear at a Monday meeting would be considered an act of rebellion against the junta, the Associated Press wrote.

The sound of heavy gunfire was heard for hours Sunday in the capital, Conakry. Afterward, images and videos on social media showed Conde under heavy guard. Other posts displayed people celebrating the military takeover.

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres condemned the coup and demanded Conde’s release.

The coup comes nearly a year after Conde secured a controversial third term after changing the constitution to allow him to stay in power beyond the two-term limit, setting off deadly protests.

Guinea became the third country in Africa to experience a coup in the past six months: In April, Chadian President Idriss Déby was killed during fighting between rebels and replaced by his son, in what academics called a “covert coup.”

In May, Mali experienced its second coup within nine months after Vice President Assimi Goïta – now president – arrested President Bah Ndaw and other high-ranking officials.

Guinea is no stranger to coups, however. The West African country experienced two military takeovers, in 1984 and 2008.

Conde became the country’s first democratically elected president in 2010 and turned the mineral-rich nation into a major exporter of bauxite, which is used to produce aluminum.

However, human rights advocates have warned that the booming mining industry has been negatively affecting the country’s rural communities, while very little of the earnings trickled down – more than half the population lives in poverty.

THAILAND

The Survivor

Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha survived another no-confidence vote Saturday following criticism over his administration’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic and ongoing street protests against his ruling coalition, Nikkei Asia reported.

Lawmakers voted 264 to 208 in favor of retaining the prime minister, with three abstentions. In addition to Prayuth, five of his ministers also survived no-confidence votes, including deputy prime minister and public health minister, Anutin Charnvirakul.

The vote marked the third attempt to oust Prayuth since his return as prime minister following the 2019 elections.

The opposition criticized Prayuth for delaying the procurement and distribution of vaccines and also the decision to keep the country out of the World Health Organization’s COVAX program.

The prime minister maintains that Thailand’s infection rate has been 1.8 percent and the fatality rate slightly less than one percent – both lower than the global rates of 2.8 percent and 2.1 percent respectively. About 11 percent of Thais have been fully vaccinated.

Meanwhile, mass anti-government protests have gripped the country since last year. Protesters are demanding Prayuth’s resignation and reform involving the monarchy – a taboo topic in the Southeast Asian country.

Although demonstrations diminished earlier this year amid rising Covid-19 cases and the use of lese-majeste law to arrest protest leaders, rallies have picked up in recent months.

DISCOVERIES

Tentacles Off!

Female octopuses don’t mess around when they want to be left alone – they throw objects at males harassing them, the International Business Times reported.

In 2015, researcher Peter Godfrey-Smith and his colleagues initially observed octopuses throwing objects such as shells and silt at other cephalopods at Australia’s Jarvis Bay. However, they weren’t sure if the animals were doing this deliberately.

They returned to the site and recorded the creatures’ actions. In their analysis, they determined that the octopuses would throw things to move them out of the way or discard the remains of their meals.

However, the team also observed that some females would toss things at males, especially those trying to mate with them.

In one instance, a female threw silt at one of her male harassers 10 times – only hitting him half the time, according to Newsweek.

“That sequence was one of the ones that convinced me (it was intentional),” Godfrey-Smith said.

The findings put octopuses on the shortlist of creatures that can throw stuff but it also provided unique evidence that these “throws” serve a societal purpose at least for the females – to be left alone.

COVID-19 Global Update

Total Cases Worldwide: 220,693,968

Total Deaths Worldwide: 4,567,431

Total Vaccinations Worldwide: 5,450,097,057

Countries with the highest number of confirmed cases worldwide as of 4 a.m. ET*

  1. US: 39,945,105 (+0.10%)
  2. India: 33,027,621 (+0.12%)
  3. Brazil: 20,890,779 (+0.06%)
  4. UK: 7,010,540 (+0.52%)
  5. France: 6,921,275 (+0.15%)
  6. Russia: 6,912,375 (+0.26%)
  7. Turkey: 6,412,247 (+0.00%)**
  8. Argentina: 5,203,802 (+0.03%)
  9. Iran: 5,129,407 (+0.51%)
  10. Colombia: 4,918,649 (+0.03%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours

**Numbers have been adjusted by affected country