Pakistan helps persuade Taliban to meet Americans
Pakistan plays part in Taliban talks, Syria’s Islamists govern desert city, and the Panama Canal could get a run for its money. Today is Thursday, June 20, a somber World Refugee Day as forced displacement hits an 18-year high. Here’s the World Wrap, brought to you by @dwbronner and @clarerrrr.
Muhammad Naeem (L), a spokesman for the Office of the Taliban of Afghanistan, speaks during the opening of the Taliban Afghanistan Political Office in Doha, June 18, 2013. REUTERS/Mohammed Dabbous
On our side after all. Despite skepticism in Washington that Pakistan was obstructing regional peace, it turns out Islamabad played a key role in bringing Afghanistan’s Taliban to the table for talks with the U.S.:
Neighboring Pakistan’s role in the war has been ambiguous – it is a U.S. ally but has a long history of supporting the Taliban as its proxy in Afghanistan, part of its wider jockeying with regional rival India. Western officials believe Pakistan may now calculate that its interest is better served by helping to broker peace that would lead to the emergence of a friendly government in Kabul capable of stabilizing Afghanistan and preventing chaos spilling over the border.
Talks in Doha, Qatar were slated to start today, but were postponed after President Hamid Karzai fumed over the opening of the Taliban’s new office in Qatar. Two symbols in particular proved a point of contention: a Taliban flag hoisted outside the office and a plaque bearing the name the Taliban used during its rule, “Political Office of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.” The spat bodes poorly for the tone of the talks to negotiate peace between the U.S. and Islamist insurgents after 12 years of war. AP reported the Taliban were ready to release a U.S. solider in exchange for five prisoners at Guantanamo Bay.
Life under Sharia. Part two of a Reuters special report series on Syria explores how Islamist groups govern in rebel-held parts of the country:
Using a mix of intimidation and organization, alliances of Islamist brigades are filling the vacuum in areas where Assad’s army has withdrawn and more secular rebels have failed to provide order, a 10-day visit to rebel-held Syria by Reuters journalists showed. The Islamist groups include al Qaeda affiliates and more moderate partners, so the nature of their rule is complex. They administer utilities, run bakeries and, in a town near Raqqa, operate a hydroelectric dam. They are also setting up courts and imposing punishments on those judged transgressors.
Check out the first installment in the series, which details how radical Islamist units have sidelined moderate rebel groups.
Nicaragua’s President Daniel Ortega (L) shakes hands with Wang Jing, chairman of the Hong Kong international company Nicaragua Canal Development Investment Co. (HKND Group), after signing a concession agreement for the construction of an inter-oceanic canal in Nicaragua at the Casa de los Pueblos in Managua, June 14, 2013. REUTERS/Jairo Cajina/Presidential Palace Nicaragua/Handout via Reuters
Long odds on the Nicaragua Canal. A little-known, Hong-Kong based company is the latest in a line of dreamers hoping to build a canal through Nicaragua:
There is still no firm route for the proposed canal, which would cost about four years’ worth of Nicaragua’s annual gross domestic product, and would likely be three times longer than the 48-mile Panama Canal, which took a decade to build. Engineers also note that the geography poses some major challenges – not least a 20 foot tide differential between the two coasts. For all those reasons, investors and infrastructure experts are highly dubious that a canal will ever be built…
A company spokesperson said a U.S. energy boom would likely increase oil exports from Washington, overwhelming the Panama Canal and making the Nicaraguan version a useful alternative. Environmentalists, meanwhile, say the project could contaminate Central America’s largest fresh water reserve, Lake Nicaragua.
Nota Bene: A man drags his bike through deep water and people fish for watermelons as monsoon flooding sweeps India.
Rohani reset - Reuters columnist Ian Bremmer argues that Iran’s new president could bring meaningful change despite his restrained power. (Reuters)
Foreign Accent Syndrome - An Australian woman who suffered a blow to the head now speaks with a French accent. (CNN)
Universal education - A Chinese astronaut delivers the first-ever lecture from space. (BBC)
Arab Idol - A popular singing competition contestant offers Palestinians a rare glimmer of hope. (The Atlantic)
Saint’s sins - An Italian man long praised for saving Jews during the Holocaust was likely a Nazi collaborator. (The New York Times)
Cyber clues - Police arrest an Indonesian terror suspect with the help of sloppy Facebook posts. (The Associated Press)
From the File:
- U.N. says Palestinian children tortured, used as shields by Israel.
- Russian ally Kyrgyzstan kicks out a U.S. air base.
- Chavez successor gets no honeymoon as Venezuela’s president.
- Libya’s lawless desert south plagued by chaos.
- Syrian rebels do business with the government they’re trying to topple.