By Prabasi Nepali
Deadly Bomb Blasts in Kabul: Tense Afghan-Pakistan Relations
Last week, a deadly suicide truck bombing in the diplomatic quarter of Kabul lead to over 90 deaths and many hundred injured (including four Nepalese security guards, who have in the meantime been discharged from hospital). These led to hefty demonstrations and questions about how security could have been so lax in a very sensitive area. At the burial of some of the victims, the terrorists again struck – continuous death and destruction seems to be their motto. No terrorist organization has taken responsibility for the blasts, mainly because the heavy civilian toll would tarnish their reputation. However, Afghan experts point to the Taliban (which has categorically denied involvement) and/or their affiliate the Haqqani network.
The immediate fallout has been that the Afghanistan Cricket Board (ACB) has cancelled the proposed home and away cricket fixtures with Pakistan with immediate effect. These would have been an opportunity for the next door neighbours to ease tensions over border skirmishes and alleged proxy warfare. India has also cancelled their joint cricket matches with Pakistan in their respective territories sine die. The ACB further detailed its standpoint: “No agreement of friendly matches and mutual relationship agreement is possible with a country where terrorists are housed and provided safe havens.” Afghanistan’s intelligence agency, the National Directorate of Security has blamed the Taliban-allied Haqqani Network for this and other attacks. The Afghan and Indian intelligence agencies have linked this terrorist outfit with Pakistan’s military intelligence agency ISI in the past, but this has been refuted by the Pakistan army. Pakistan also strongly rejected as “baseless” the Afghan allegations that early findings showed the Taliban-linked Haqqani militants with the help of ISI carried out the attack.
UK Parliamentary Elections: Labour Gaining Ground
British Prime Minister Theresa May’s ability to deliver a landslide majority in the June 8 parliamentary election is now in doubt after opinion polls show her lead over Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party rapidly narrowing day by day. The changeover of the party and its leader has been remarkable. Jeremy Corbyn, the radical socialist, was written off to lead his party to its worst ever election defeat. However, many were pleasantly surprised by a politician who appeared genuine and were impressed by his election manifesto. A new Labour member said of him: “He doesn’t seem like other politicians where it’s full of fluff and nothing, and constant regurgitation of slogans; he seems to actually mean what he says.” (Reuters) He has gone from strength to strength from modestly attended fringe rallies and demonstrations to thousands gathered in the middle of a working day. He resonates with many people because he acts like a normal person.
Corbyn’s drive to align Labour more closely with its socialist roots and eschew the pro-business centrist platform championed by three-time election winner Tony Blair has split the party. By attracting thousands of zealous young supporters and re-engaging hard-left activists who had abandoned the party under Blair, Corbyn created a power base that helped him survive an attempted coup by party moderates in parliament last year. His manifesto for re-nationalization, higher public spending and tax rises for the rich has gone down
well with a wide pool of voters, while May has upset core supporters with a plan to make the elderly pay more toward their old age care.
Conservative PM Theresa May called a snap election this April when she was riding high in opinion polls, hoping for a landslide win on a par with the era-defining victories of Conservative Margaret Thatcher (“the Iron Lady”) in 1983 and Labourite Tony Blair in 1997. She has been accused of “broken promises” for calling an early election after she had repeatedly said she would not, and for a U-turn on a key manifesto pledge on elderly social care. But she defended her decision: “I had the balls to call an election” as her party was “the only party that is going to respect the will of the British people, get on with the job and deliver a successful Brexit”, warning that the opposition parties threatened to derail her plans to take Britain out of the European Union.
A song leading the charts in the UK, chiming with voters ahead of the election, but studiously boycotted by radio stations (including the BBC), best captures the current atmosphere. It hits out at the spending cuts of Britain’s ruling Conservative Party and stitches together samples of May’s speeches with a chorus of “She’s a liar, liar, no you can’t trust her” (resonating with world-wide suspicion of politicians in general): “We all know politicians like telling lies Big ones, little ones, porky pies saying they’re strong and stable, won’t disguise We’re still being taken for a ride.”
Despite her falling ratings, May takes refuge in her mantra: “the only poll that matters is the one that takes place on polling day.”
It is anybody’s guess how the latest terrorist knife attacks in London will affect the outcome of the polls. May said the series of attacks in the UK (and the continent) represented a perversion of Islam and that Britain’s counter-insurgency strategy needed to be reviewed, adding: “It is time to say enough is enough.”
Trump Quits 2015 Paris Climate Deal: World Erupts in Condemnation
Last Thursday, tapping into the ‘America First’ slogan he used on the election trail, US President Donald Trump announced the withdrawal of the US from the 195-nation 2015 Paris climate agreement. He said that participating would undermine the US economy, wipe out US jobs, weaken American national sovereignty and put the country at a permanent disadvantage.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel stood firmly against Trump’s decision to take the US out of the Paris climate change pact. In an unusually emotional tone, she defended the accord which was needed to “preserve our Creation”. Furthermore: “To everyone for whom the future of our planet is important, I say let’s continue going down this path so we’re successful for our Mother Earth,” she said to applause from lawmakers. Merkel has been dubbed the ‘climate chancellor’ for her past efforts to fight global warming.
In Paris, French President Emmanuel Macron turned Trump’s ‘Make America Great Again’ campaign slogan on its head, saying in a rare English-language statement that it was time to “make the planet great again.”
Last Friday, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and top European Union officials in Brussels concluded a meeting with a joint statement pledging full implementation of the Paris deal. It committed China and the EU to cutting back on fossil fuels, developing more green technology and helping raise US Dollar100 billion a year by 2020 to help poorer countries reduce their emissions. China, now the world’s largest polluter (followed by the US), has emerged as Europe’s unlikely partner in this and other areas – underlining Trump’s isolation on many issues. European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said unmistakenly: “There is no reverse gear to energy transition. There is no backsliding on the Paris Agreement.”
Billionaire climate advocate and former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg met French President Macron as the political and grassroots response to Trump’s ditching of the Paris Agreement built up steam. At a joint press conference, Bloomberg pledged that the American people remain committed to the agreement. Mayors, governors, and business leaders from both political parties were “signing into a statement of support that we will submit to the UN – and together we will reach the emission reduction goals the US made in 2015.”
In the US, reasonable and rational public opinion is up in arms against Trump, widely perceived as a boor and a brute by his critics at home and abroad. Maureen Dowd, a prominent columnist of the “New York Times” wrote this week that the president has declared himself “the existential threat to the planet” and “America is living through a fractured fairy tale, in the grip of a lonely and uninformed mad king, an arrogant and naïve princeling [his son-in-law Jared Kushner], a comely and complicit blond princess [his daughter Ivanka] and a dyspeptic, dystopian troll under the bridge [his ‘strategist’ Steve Bannon]. It is American carnage writ large!
World Pledges to Save ‘Mother Earth’
By Prabasi Nepali