🌍 Pakistan on the brink
Plus: the Pope’s influence in Africa
Hi there Intriguer. If you’re playing a game of hide and seek with your friends down at the ol’ container port and find your way onto a cargo ship that then sails 3000km away, as this Bangladeshi boy did, you win. It’s as simple as that. (Thankfully the boy is okay!)
Today’s edition is a 5 min read:
- 🇵🇰 Pakistan’s woes multiply as its security outlook worsens.
- 🇻🇦 Pope Francis visits the DRC and South Sudan.
- ➕ Plus: Corruption on the march, how the papers are covering NATO Chief Stoltenberg in East Asia, and a possible reprieve for the wolf that killed a world leader’s pet pony (seriously!).
– VC & EP
🗺️ AROUND THE WORLD
- 🇨🇳 China: Russia said it expects Chinese President Xi Jinping to visit the Kremlin this Spring (no word yet from Beijing). In announcing Xi’s first visit to Russia since 2019, Russia also claimed the two sides helped “maintain global peace and stability” last year.
- 🇩🇪 Germany: The German economy unexpectedly shrank by 0.2% in the final quarter of 2022. Another quarter of negative growth (now considered likely) will put the EU’s largest economy in recession, though less severe than previously feared.
- 🇰🇮 Kiribati: Kiribati will rejoin the Pacific’s key regional body after Fiji’s new PM flew to the remote island nation (in an Australian air force jet) to apologise over a regional leadership rift. Kiribati has moved closer to China since cutting ties with Taiwan in 2019.
- 🇧🇷 Brazil: Former Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has applied for a six-month US tourist visa. He faces an investigation back home into his role in last month’s storming of key government buildings in Brasilia.
- 🇿🇼 Zimbabwe: Belarusian President Lukashenko is in Zimbabwe to shore up ties with President Mnangagwa. Zimbabwe and Belarus were among the handful of countries not to support last year’s UN resolutions condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
🇵🇰 PAKISTAN | TERRORISM
100 dead after terror attack in Pakistani police mosque
Briefly: At least 100 people (almost all Pakistani police) died in a suicide bombing on Monday (30 January). The attack on a mosque occurred within a security compound near the Afghan border. It’s the deadliest terrorist incident in Pakistan since 2018.
A splinter group within the Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, calling it an act of retaliation for the assassination of a militant leader last year. The broader Pakistani Taliban sought to distance itself and was at pains to note it opposes attacks on mosques.
Regional complications: The Pakistani Taliban (designated a terrorist organisation by many) has been fighting to overthrow the government in Islamabad for some 15 years. While not directly related to the Afghan Taliban, they have close ties: the Pakistani group has bases in Afghanistan that it uses to mount attacks (like the one on Monday).
Meanwhile, US-China competition is playing out in the region too: Pakistan is getting chummy with China, while the US is cosying up with India (which Pakistan sees as an adversary).
Intrigue’s take: Pakistan’s outlook somehow just got grimmer. The economy is on the verge of collapse, political polarisation is boiling over, and Pakistan’s erstwhile friends are turning the cold shoulder.
Even the Afghan Taliban, which returned to power in Kabul last year with significant Pakistani support, has now ditched Pakistan rather than return the favour (as Pakistan had hoped). It’s a sobering reminder that foreign policy decisions can ripple through history in unexpected ways.
Also worth noting:
📰 GLOBAL PERSPECTIVES
How different newspapers covered: NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg’s visit to East Asia.
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🇻🇦 HOLY SEE | DIPLOMACY
Pope Francis’ visit to central Africa is a test of his diplomatic mettle
Briefly: Pope Francis landed yesterday in Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), for the first leg of his six-day tour through the DRC and South Sudan. No pope has visited the DRC since 1985, and no pope has ever visited South Sudan (which achieved independence in 2011).
The Catholic Church plays an important role in central Africa, including providing education and health services to underserved communities. And Pope Francis has used this clout to support peace efforts, dispatching deputies to facilitate peaceful transitions of power in the DRC and welcoming warring Sudanese leaders to the Vatican for retreats.
Intrigue’s take: The Catholic Church is growing more quickly in Africa than anywhere else in the world. And while no single person can resolve all the issues facing central Africa – climate disasters, endemic health challenges, intractable conflicts – Pope Francis’ moral authority and global influence may help draw much-needed attention to the region.
Also worth noting:
💬 REPORT OF THE DAY
Corruption here, there, and everywhere…
… that’s at least according to Transparency International’s 2022 Corruption Perception Index, which ranks countries based on assessments by leading governance and business analysts. More than 85% of countries listed in the index have failed to make significant progress on curbing corruption since 2012.
Here are some ‘highlights’ from the 2022 report:
- Denmark (who else) ranks as the world’s least corrupt country, scoring 90 out of 100.
- Just across the North Sea, the UK fell from 78 points to 73, its lowest score ever.
- Afghanistan actually improved from 16 to 24 points, the biggest jump of any country (the former Western-backed government in Kabul was notoriously corrupt).
- The denim-loving Canadians (74) tied with Uruguay as the least corrupt country in the Americas; the Kiwis (88) again scored best in the Asia-Pacific; Botswana (60) took out the gold medal in Africa; and the UAE (67) topped the charts in the Middle East.
👀 EXTRA INTRIGUE
EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen’s arch-enemy, a grey wolf who killed her well-guarded pet pony last September, may soon be removed from a kill list after the Society for the Protection of Wolves filed an urgent motion with a German court. To mark the occasion, here are some fun facts about wolves (you’re very welcome).
- The population of European wolves is growing after being hunted to near-extinction.
- Wolves don’t howl at the moon (sorry Hollywood).
- They can live up to 13 years (German courts permitting).
- Wolves can hear up to ten kilometres away (hence their ability to evade an angry world leader for five months and counting).
- A wolf with a foul mouth is known as a swear-wolf (sorry).
🗳️ POLL TIME!
How would you rate Pope Francis’ tenure as pontiff?
Yesterday’s poll: Is the Biden Administration going too far too fast in its pressure campaign against China?
🟨⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️ 🔴 Yes, they’re risking a dangerous escalation (19%)
🟩🟩🟩🟩🟩🟩 🟡 Not yet, but they need a clearer long-term strategy (55%)
🟨🟨🟨⬜️⬜️⬜️ 🟢 Not at all, full steam ahead (26%)
Your two cents:
- 🟡 K.J: “Locking chips away from China is the tactic, what’s the strategy? If it is to bring China back into the ‘rules hard order’ we have to show the CCP what they need to do to come back into the fold.”
- 🟢 J.M: “The world seems ready to push against autocracy at the moment. […] The U.S. should ride the wave.”
- 🔴 S.C: “The Biden administration and the general western strategy toward China seems too forceful and blunt, with very little nuance.”