The World Today for February 20, 2023

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In Pakistan late last month, a terrorist disguised as a police officer detonated a bomb in a mosque packed with law enforcement officials in Peshawar, a city in the restive northwestern region of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa bordering Afghanistan, killing more than 100 people and injuring hundreds of others. Some members of the Pakistani Taliban, otherwise known as the Tehreek-e-Taliban (TTP), took credit for the carnage, saying it was in retaliation for the death of one of their leaders, Nikkei Asia wrote.

Other members of the group denied it.

Enjoying links with the Afghan Taliban, al Qaeda and other groups, the TTP also recently claimed responsibility for the bombing of a military vehicle that killed at least one soldier and injured 12 others in Quetta, the capital of Balochistan province near the Afghan border, wrote Voice of America.

These attacks and others underscored the rise in violence in the South Asian country involving the TTP, and have precipitated a security crisis.

In recent years, militant violence had declined after repeated military offensives in the rugged tribal regions bordering Afghanistan because the TTP had been weakened. But as Madiha Afzal, a fellow in foreign policy at the Brookings Institution in Washington, told CNN, the 2021 Taliban takeover in Afghanistan has “emboldened” the TTP, and other terror groups.

“This is now a national security crisis for Pakistan once again,” she said. “The solution has to be a concerted military operation (against the TTP) but that is now complicated by the fact that the TTP can go across the border into Taliban-controlled Afghanistan.”

As the Indian news magazine Outlook explained, the TTP wants to upend the secular Pakistani state and rebuff its Western allies. Attempting to expel Pakistani central government forces from their traditional regions along the Afghan border, they want to institute a caliphate and enact harsh Islamic law.

Many are using weapons that the US and other NATO countries left behind when they pulled out of Afghanistan in 2021, Islamabad-based security expert Zahid Hussain told Voice of America. Local law enforcement and counterterrorism forces – underfunded, corrupt, and prone to political meddling – don’t offer them much resistance, either.

Meanwhile, the attack also comes as Pakistan struggles to cope with the aftermath of widespread and devastating floods that killed over 1,500 people and left vast agricultural areas of the country in muddy ruins, a dire economic and financial crisis that has led to spiraling inflation, heavy foreign debts that have brought the government dangerously close to default, and a sharp devaluation of the national currency, the Washington Post reported.

Now, Pakistan’s leaders need to come up with a consensus on a path forward that improves the security situation, argued Tufts University political scientist Fahd Humayun in an Al Jazeera op-ed. They have been battling the TTP for 15 years, have yet to stop them from launching attacks from Afghanistan, and have failed to protect police installations from the militants’ ire, Humayun said.

The late General Pervez Musharraf, who led the country for seven years through 2008, and died just this month, was the architect of many of those policies, the New York Times wrote.

His passing might be a good time to reflect on how the political and security situations are changing, including for the worse.


The Freedom to Avert Crisis


An independent panel found the Canadian government was justified in its decision to invoke emergency measures last year to disperse trucker protests that had gridlocked the country’s capital and blocked US-Canada border crossings, Al Jazeera reported.

The Public Order Emergency Commission submitted a report to Canadian lawmakers over the weekend, following a year-long probe into the government’s handling of the so-called “Freedom Convoy” movement in early 2022.

Commissioner Paul Rouleau said that the government had met “the very high threshold required for the invocation” of the Emergency Act that was used to curb the mass demonstrations.

At the time, “Freedom Convoy” participants were protesting a vaccine mandate for truckers crossing the Canada-US border and were calling for an end to all Covid-19 restrictions. They also wanted Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to step down.

Protesters occupied Ottawa’s downtown area for weeks and disrupted the daily life of its residents. Others erected barricades at border crossings.

In February 2022, Trudeau became the first Canadian leader to invoke the Emergency Act, which gave the government sweeping powers to block the right to public assembly “that may reasonably be expected to lead to a breach of the peace” and restrict access to specific areas, to disperse the protests.

Authorities also arrested dozens of participants.

Civil rights advocates criticized the move and questioned whether the government had met the strict legal criteria required to invoke the act.

Rouleau countered that the government had “reasonable grounds” to believe there was a national emergency during the demonstrations.

Even so, the panel commissioner noted that he came to his conclusion “with reluctance,” adding that the use of act could have been avoided if police and governments at all levels had better prepared for the convoy.

Deflated Relations


Top diplomats from China and the US met Saturday for the first time since Washington shot down a Chinese surveillance balloon off the South Carolina coast, with China failing to offer an apology and instead asking the US to mend the damage to the relationship, the Washington Post reported.

During the meeting, which comes at a low point in relations between the world’s two largest economies, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi discussed a variety of issues, including China’s surveillance activities and its alliance with Russia.

Blinken pressed his Chinese counterpart for more open lines between Beijing and Washington and criticized the lack of communication by China’s military.

Blinken told NBC News that Wang offered “no apology” over the balloon row.

Instead, China’s state media said the foreign minister criticized Washington’s decision to shoot down the balloon and asked the US to “change course, face up to and resolve the damage caused by the indiscriminate use of force to Sino-US relations.”

Earlier in the month, the US downed a Chinese balloon that had entered its airspace, saying that it was used by Beijing for surveillance purposes. But Chinese officials countered that the high-altitude balloon was being used for meteorological purposes and condemned the US for its aggressive approach.

Still, US officials noted that the balloon had “multiple antennas” capable of collecting signals intelligence and the balloon maker has proven ties to the Chinese military.

Meanwhile, the meeting also touched on China’s relationship with Russia: Blinken warned Wang that there would be repercussions if China provided military support to Russia in its war on Ukraine.

The meeting came on the sidelines of the annual Munich Security Conference, where leaders from across the globe have gathered to discuss key geopolitical challenges – including the Ukraine war and China’s contentious engagement with the West.

Wang said Chinese President Xi Jinping plans to deliver a “peace speech” shortly to lay out China’s position in resolving the Ukraine conflict.

Boiling Over


Hundreds of protesters stormed Suriname’s parliament over the weekend to protest the government’s austerity measures, as the South American nation grapples with spiking inflation and rising electricity prices, the Associated Press reported.

Peaceful demonstrations began in the capital, Paramaribo, on Friday, with thousands of people criticizing the government for ending state subsidies on fuel and electricity on the recommendation of the International Monetary Fund.

They also demanded the resignation of President Chandrikapersad Santokhi.

But the situation escalated when protesters overwhelmed police and pushed into the country’s legislature.

The government condemned the incident and said the perpetrators will be brought to justice. At least 20 people were injured during the protests and more than 110 arrested, the AP wrote separately.

Leaders of the Caribbean Community known as CARICOM – which includes Suriname – also condemned the storming, according to the Miami Herald.

Suriname has been struggling with rising food costs and the fallout of the coronavirus pandemic. Last year, it had an inflation rate of more than 54 percent.

The change in its subsidy policy has also caused conflict within the government: Last week, members of the Suriname National Party withdrew from the ruling coalition.


The Mysteries of Comprehension

Polyglots who can speak more than five languages have long fascinated linguists, who want to understand how these individuals use their “language network” – a set of specialized brain areas located in the left frontal and temporal lobes, Science magazine reported.

As a result, a research team in a new study scanned the brains of 25 polyglots, 16 of whom spoke more than 10 languages – known as hyperpolyglots – to understand how their minds work when subjected to different languages.

The team then asked participants to listen to a series of 16-second-long recordings in eight different languages, and monitored their minds using brain imaging techniques.

These recordings included snippets in the volunteers’ native language, snippets in languages they have learned, and four unfamiliar tongues. Two of the unfamiliar languages were closely related to the participants’ native tongue, while the other two were completely alien.

The findings showed that participants used the same networks as monolinguals – people who speak only one language – to figure out the languages.

Brain activity fluctuated based on how well they knew the language: For example, it spiked when participants heard unfamiliar languages closely related to the ones they knew.

However, their language networks became quieter when the individuals listened to their native language.

Researchers hypothesized that this could be because the knowledge gained early in life reduces the amount of brain power required for an activity.

However, they explained that the results are primarily descriptive and that more research is needed.

The authors hope that a better understanding of how the brain learns languages can lead to better tools to help people relearn languages more easily after a stroke or brain damage.

Covid-19 Global Update

Editor’s Note: Exactly three years ago, we began publishing the COVID-19 Global Update with the goal of tracking the impact of the pandemic. Today, we are pausing the Update given that the week-to-week changes in the pandemic are no longer statistically significant. We assure our readers that the Update will return if the coronavirus surges again, something we all hope will not happen.

Your DailyChatter Team

Total Cases Worldwide: 682,546,389 (+0.88%)

Total Deaths Worldwide: 6,819,835 (-0.90%)

Total Vaccinations Worldwide: 13,232,904,667 (-0.79%)*

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

  1. US: 105,972,038 (+2.09%)
  2. India: 44,696,388 (+0.01%)
  3. France: 39,703,279 (-0.41%)***
  4. Germany: 38,297,037 (+0.13%)
  5. Brazil: 37,145,514 (+0.16%)
  6. Japan: 33,374,303 (+0.13%)
  7. South Korea: 30,702,960 (+0.29%)
  8. Italy: 25,651,205 (+0.19%)
  9. UK: 24,423,396 (-0.95%)***
  10. Russia: 22,506,199 (+1.90%)

Source: WorldOMeters.Info**

*Numbers were taken from the World Health Organization as of March 14th, 2023.

**Johns Hopkins University stopped publishing the Covid-19 update on March 10th, 2023.

***Numbers have been adjusted by affected country.

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