The World Today for September 14, 2023

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Breaking Through the Sky

INDIA

The Vikram Moon lander recently hopped across the lunar surface, using its thrusters to float up almost 16 inches above the surface, and then moving another 16 inches laterally. It was the latest inspiring turn in India’s new participation in the global race to explore space.

“Importance?: This ‘kick-start’ enthuses future sample return and human missions!” wrote the Indian Space Research Organization, or ISRO, on X, as Twitter is now known. The post includes a video of lunar dust being thrown about above a rocky, pockmarked landscape.

Since setting down on the Moon’s remote south pole on Aug. 23, the lander, part of the Chandrayaan-3 mission that includes a second rover also presently on the Moon, has sparked conversations about geopolitics on Earth.

Indians justifiably celebrated the landing, noted Reuters. Most eyes in the country of more than 1.4 billion people, now the most populous in the world, were glued to their television sets or other screens to watch it. Seven million people, for instance, tuned into a live stream of the landing on YouTube.

As Foreign Policy magazine explained, the event certainly heralded India as a more robust, more powerful country in the coming years. It is the fourth country to make a soft landing on the Moon, joining other countries generally regarded as powers that help shape the planet’s destiny: China, the now-defunct Soviet Union, and the United States.

The country’s economic clout is growing, too: It’s already the world’s fifth-largest economy, the Economist noted. Investors are lining up as many look for an alternative to China. Recently, for example, Apple opened its first store in India while Foxconn, a Taiwanese electronics firm, broke ground on a $500 million factory.

Its political cachet, meanwhile, is on the rise. It recently hosted the G20 and US President Joe Biden in bilateral meetings aimed at countering China’s influence and increasing business and defense ties. That followed a visit by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to the US in June, where the Indian leader was feted by the White House with a rare formal banquet, and was invited to address both houses of Congress, for the second time.

Meanwhile, in terms of scientific advancements, India is already making solid progress in living up to its high-power status. For example, the lander detected a potential moonquake, a small seismic event underneath the satellite’s surface, noted Nature. The Sun, a British tabloid, described the findings as “mysterious.” Other discoveries were more mundane. The Moon’s south pole, ISRO researchers also found, has a thin ionosphere, which is good for radio transmissions.

India plans to leverage space to diversify and boost its economy, the Guardian contended in an analysis. Modi wants to expand his country’s share of the global space market by more than 500 percent in the next 10 years. He especially aims to market India as a low-cost supplier of space launch services.

The success and popularity of the Chandrayaan-3 mission provides an example of how developing countries struggling with poverty and other issues can leverage their human talents to prosper, the New York Times added.

As Modi said at the start of the mission, for India, the sky is not the limit.

THE WORLD, BRIEFLY

Legislating Forgiveness

NORTHERN IRELAND

The United Kingdom’s Parliament voted this week to adopt a law that would grant amnesty to British service members and paramilitaries involved in the decades-long sectarian violence in Northern Ireland, despite criticism from Ireland and other international bodies, Al Jazeera reported Wednesday.

The new Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill calls for the creation of a truth and information recovery commission that will offer amnesty to British forces and paramilitaries if they cooperate with its investigations.

Known as the Troubles, the conflict began in the 1960s over British rule in Northern Ireland. More than 3,500 died in the violence, with around 1,200 deaths still under investigation. The violence was brought to an end in 1998 with the signing of the Good Friday Agreement peace accord.

The governing Conservative party proposed the bill last year, but it garnered fierce condemnation from the families of those who died during the Troubles. Criticism also came from political parties in Northern Ireland and the Irish government, the latter of which threatened legal action against the bill.

Meanwhile, the Council of Europe and the United Nations Human Rights Office also voiced opposition to the legislation, saying it “violates the UK’s international human rights obligations.”

However, veteran groups welcomed the law, saying that many former soldiers involved in the strife have been unfairly targeted in prosecutions.

Last year, former British serviceman David Holden was found guilty of killing 23-year-old Aidan McAnespie during the conflict. He became the first soldier to be convicted of a Troubles-era killing since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement.

He received a three-year suspended sentence for manslaughter for shooting McAnespie.

Offering a Hand

AFGHANISTAN

A new Chinese ambassador presented his credentials to the Taliban’s prime minister Wednesday, the first appointment of a foreign envoy in Afghanistan since the Islamist group took power two years ago, Reuters reported.

Afghan officials confirmed that Prime Minister Mohammad Hassan Akhund accepted the credentials of Ambassador Zhao Sheng during a ceremony in the capital, Kabul.

They said Zhao’s arrival is a signal to other nations to come forward and establish relations with the country, according to the Associated Press.

The Taliban took control of Afghanistan in 2021 after the withdrawal of US-led troops from the country. Since then, no nation has recognized the Taliban as Afghanistan’s legitimate rulers and many of the group’s leaders are under sanctions.

Even so, some nations and international delegations, such as Pakistan and the European Union, have sent senior envoys to lead diplomatic missions in Afghanistan. However, these representatives have taken on a “chargé d’affaires” title, which means they are responsible for ambassadorial duties but do not formally hold the role of ambassador, underscoring the lack of will to offer formal recognition.

Some ambassadors appointed during the previous Afghan government have also stayed in Kabul with the same title.

The Unveiling

EGYPT

The Egyptian government banned the wearing of full-face veils in the country’s schools, a decision that sparked a fierce debate online in the Muslim-majority country, Agence France-Presse reported Tuesday.

Earlier this week, the education ministry issued a decree banning the niqab, a garment that only leaves the eyes exposed and is worn by a small minority of Egyptian women.

Officials said the restrictions will apply to both state and independent schools. They added that they will leave the hijab – or headscarf – optional for students, saying the choice to wear one must be made according to the “wishes of the pupil, without pressure or coercion from any party except her legal guardian, who must be informed of the choice.”

But the move prompted discussions on social media, with some critics calling it “a tyrannical decision that impinges on people’s private lives.”

Others questioned whether the decree was necessary, citing other more pressing issues such as overcrowded classes, and outdated equipment and facilities in Egyptian schools.

Meanwhile, supporters of the bill hailed it as an important step in tackling Islamic extremism in the country. Ahmed Moussa, a pro-government talk show host, said the decree will help free “an education system that had become the haunt of Muslim Brotherhood terrorist groups.”

President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi designated the Muslim Brotherhood group as a “terrorist organization” shortly after his 2013 coup that deposed his democratically elected predecessor, the late Mohamed Morsi, who was a member of that organization.

Since then, hundreds of Muslim Brotherhood members have been killed and tens of thousands have been imprisoned.

DISCOVERIES

Mistaken Identity

In the dense forests of northern Madagascar, a newly discovered leaf-tailed gecko species has amazed scientists with its remarkable camouflage abilities, the New York Times reported.

The Uroplatus garamaso can blend into their surroundings perfectly – even better than chameleons, researchers wrote.

During the day, these geckos rest on tree trunks, nearly invisible, thanks to their fringe-covered flanks, chin beards, and flattened tails. At night, they emerge to hunt for invertebrate prey.

The team noted that the newly found reptile was often mistaken for another leaf-tailed gecko species called U. henkeli. While the two geckos had some subtle differences, it was the tip of the U. garamaso’s tongue that stood out – it’s black while other species have differently colored tongues.

But scientists are still puzzled as to why these geckos have different tongue colors. Some speculate that they could be part of a private communication signal, a means of species differentiation, or even related to mating or combat.

The authors noted that the U. garamaso geckos have a complex evolutionary history that’s not yet fully understood. They’ve expanded into various species in the mountainous regions of Madagascar, suggesting common historical events or environmental factors driving their speciation.

The discovery adds to our understanding of Madagascar’s biodiversity patterns and raises the possibility of more undiscovered leaf-tailed gecko species in this unique habitat.

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