Balance of Power: Pakistan’s Fundamental(ist) Problem Returns

U.S. President Donald Trump has made pressuring Pakistan to rein in fundamentalist groups central to his South Asia policy. Protests that rocked country’s capital are raising new questions about its capacity to respond.

The unrest — and outrage over the government’s attempts to use paramilitary forces to end it — has shaken the fledgling administration of Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, whose predecessor, Nawaz Sharif, quit in July amid a corruption scandal. It won’t help Pakistan’s bid to sell as much as $2 billion of bonds this week to help stave off another international bailout.

Law and Justice Minister Zahid Hamid quit today after right-wing supporters of the little-known Tehreek-e-Labaik demanded his resignation for overseeing changes to a reference to the Prophet Muhammad in a lawmakers’ oath, viewed as blasphemous and an attempt to accommodate the views of a minority Muslim sect.

The turmoil shows the Pakistani government is almost powerless to restrain religious groups that have alleged military backing. And it highlights the difficulty facing Trump’s efforts to shame its leaders into denying a “safe haven to agents of chaos” keeping U.S. troops occupied in neighboring Afghanistan.

Clerics and Tehreek-e-Labaik supporters blocked a main highway for three weeks, effectively cutting off Islamabad. 

Photographer: AAMIR QURESHI/AFP

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Global Headlines

Egypt’s Sinai quandary | President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi has vowed to respond with force to the country’s worst-ever attack by Islamist militants on Friday that killed 305 worshipers at a Sinai mosque and prompted tribesmen to call for unity against Islamic State and its offshoots. But Sisi has largely lost control over the restive north of the peninsula, and activists say he stands little chance of regaining it unless he focuses on economic development.

Germany edges closer to new government | Angela Merkel’s conservative bloc and the Social Democrats are inching towards a “grand coalition” uniting Germany’s two biggest parties, the alliance that underpinned two of Merkel’s three terms. Though the chancellor and SPD leader Martin Schulz are due to hold talks with President Frank-Walter Steinmeier on Thursday, formal coalition negotiations are unlikely to start before the New Year.

Dismissing deficits | U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan is ditching a stance he’s spent much of his political career fighting for: the unacceptability of deficit spending and government debt. The tax overhaul he’s shepherded through the House would add at least $1 trillion to budget shortfalls over the next decade, according to independent tax analysts. But Ryan’s got strong motivation. If Republicans can’t pass the revamp after their failure to repeal Obamacare, they fear they’ll face a wipeout in 2018 mid-term elections.

Qaddafi’s fate haunted Mugabe | The memories of Muammar Qaddafi’s bloody downfall at the hands of a Libyan mob in 2011 convinced Robert Mugabe to resign as Zimbabwe’s president after the military said it wouldn’t prevent protesters from storming his mansion. Often tearful and calling out for his deceased wife, Sally, Mugabe decided to end his 37 years in power and bring an end to a week-long standoff with the military as his ruling party was preparing to impeach him in parliament.

Putin’s liberal neighbors | Russian President Vladimir Putin enjoys 80 percent-plus approval ratings, but liberal activists have taken control of local councils in several districts surrounding the Kremlin. It’s a rare chance for opponents to get their hands on the levers of power — though only on hyperlocal issues like fixing broken elevators. The enthusiasts say they hope to graduate to jobs with more influence, but critics say they’re just being pulled into a Kremlin trap.

And finally... While there’s never a good time for a volcanic eruption, Indonesia’s Mount Agung might have picked the worst. The volcano, which dominates the tourist haven of Bali, spewed ash as high as 4 kilometers (2.4 miles) in what scientists warn could be the prelude to a larger blast. The evacuation of about 100,000 people and closure of the island’s main airport provided a glimpse of the potential costs for Bali, which TripAdvisor in March named the world’s best travel destination, weeks before the year-end tourism peak. 

Indonesian authorities have raised the state of alert to its highest level, and expanded the exclusion zone around the volcano.

Photographer: SONNY TUMBELAKA/AFP

— With assistance by Karl Maier



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