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Weekly News Digest for February 16th, 2024

Compiled by Sara Anis Ali, Grey Cohen, Alex Hsu, Hayes Orr, Quinn Phillips, Ryan Simons, and Tobyn Smith

Edited by Sara Anis Ali, Hayes Orr, Quinn Phillips, Meagan McColloch, Niamh Dempsey

Asia and the Pacific

Pakistan To Form New Government

Last week, tens of millions of Pakistani citizens voted in Pakistan’s 12th national general election. Independent candidates under the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) won the most seats with 92, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) came in second with 75 seats, and the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) secured third with 54 seats. Although no party achieved the necessary 134 seats for a simple majority, a six-party coalition appears poised to create Pakistan’s new government, with PML-N leader and former prime minister Shehbaz Sharif returning as prime minister. This coalition includes both the PML-N and the PPP along with four minor parties, making the total number of seats in the coalition 150. The PTI, the party of former Prime Minister Imran Khan, looks to be excluded from the coalition and form the opposition, despite winning the most seats outright.

The contentious election occurred amid allegations of vote tampering, political repression, and voter manipulation. The PTI is at the forefront of making these accusations. PTI Party Chief Gohar Ali Khan claims to have evidence that shows the PTI won at least 180 seats out of the 266 that the public voted on. PTI members and supporters have echoed this sentiment, accusing other parties of rigging the ballots. Jailed ex-PM Imran Khan has even called on the US to speak up on perceived election tampering. 

Ever since Khan’s ousting over corruption scandals in 2022, the PTI and Pakistan have gone through drastic changes. Instead of accepting their spot in the opposition, Khan’s party quit parliament, hoping to force an early election. However, this attempt failed and Khan was later arrested for corruption charges, making him ineligible to run for office for three years. Furthermore, members of the PTI have accused other parties and the Pakistani military of conspiring against them. Thus, the PTI refuses to create or join any coalitions with who they call “mandate thieves,” resulting in the current parliamentary situation.

As political officials continue to challenge election results in courts, the future of Pakistan’s democracy grows ever more dire. PTI leaders have organized country-wide, large-scale protests against the vote in the following days. Meanwhile, the new coalition looks to cement their government for the long term. With an unstable economy and serious questions surrounding the elections, the situation in Pakistan will be one to monitor in the following weeks.

Central America and the Caribbean

Haiti Struggles on Agreement with Kenya to Secure Police Deployment

Haiti's government is currently negotiating with Kenyan officials to confirm an agreement previously made between the two countries that would see the deployment of a police force from Kenya. Haiti has previously called for international assistance to combat gang violence within the country. Haitian and Kenyan officials held multiple meetings in the U.S. to draft a memorandum of understanding and set a deadline for the intervention from Kenyan police units. 

Gang violence in Haiti has rapidly increased, with over 800 casualties reported in January alone. The accelerated rise in violent crime has highlighted the urgent need for international assistance. Haitian Prime Minister Ariel Henry has been calling for international assistance to combat the issue since October 2022. Since then, many legal obstacles have halted the deployment of Kenyan forces as violent crime continues to soar within Haiti.

A recent court ruling in Kenya has challenged the deployment of Kenyan forces in Haiti. The Kenyan Supreme Court has deemed the deployment unconstitutional, raising questions on the legality of the agreement. Despite challenges, discussions also focused on operational logistics, equipment, and human rights issues. At this time, it is unknown if a memorandum could circumvent the Kenyan court ruling. “A final decision on the text should come early next week as well as its signature by both parties,” Haiti’s government reported.


Europe’s Increasing Military-Defense Complex

Former United States President Donald Trump’s latest comments have caused outrage among NATO allies. Last week, Trump suggested that the United States would not defend NATO allies if they failed to meet the alliance’s 2% of GDP spending target  - even going as far as to say he’d encourage Russia to attack NATO member states who didn’t. As a result, European leaders called for more unity on a military front in the event of a Trump administration. Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk quoted Alexandre Dumas’s The Three Musketeers in a speech following Trump’s remarks, “All for one, one for all.” This sentiment echoed the opinions of other European leaders. 

Though many European nations have increased their defense spending since 2021, only 11 of the 31 member states met NATO’s defense spending goals. However, Saab, a leading Swedish defense contractor, reported that orders increased by 23% last year - showing an active effort from EU countries to increase their defense. Despite this, issues arising from the bureaucratic nature of the Union—such as backlogs and flimsy contracts—are slowing the process of European rearmament.  It is a testament to if Europe can create its own military-industrial complex without the help of the United States. The survival of the European Union when the United States removes itself from international military treaties is a topic worth watching.  

Middle East and North Africa

Leaders of Egypt and Türkiye Meet After Nearly 10 Years

Following Israel’s attacks in Rafah, Türkiye’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan visited Al-Ittihadiya Palace to meet Egypt’s president, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. The two nations discussed ongoing ceasefire negotiations with Israel, while also evaluating the impacts of Israel’s ground invasion in Rafah on the displacement of Palestinians. The conversations between Erdoğan and el-Sisi led both nations to call upon Israel to suspend plans for a ground invasion in Rafah. President Erdogan further stated to Egyptian media that Türikye did not find Israel’s “efforts to depopulate Gaza [as] acceptable”.  

Still concerned with the ground invasion in Rafah, the two nations also deliberated on how Egypt would handle an influx of Palestinian refugees across the Sinai Peninsula. Egypt fears that Israel will permanently displace thousands of Palestinians. To help Egypt accommodate the influx of Palestinian refugees, Türkiye promised to provide aid and help rebuild Gaza in the future. Erdoğan also discussed establishing trade deals with Egypt to improve the Egyptian economy through a short-term $15 billion cooperative energy and defense trade deal. 

Negotiations between Türkiye and Egypt came after a long period of tension and strife between the two nations. In 2013, the Egyptian military, under former general el-Sisi, launched a coup to overthrow the elected president, Mohamad Morsi. Morsi was part of the Muslim Brotherhood, a political party that faced much turmoil during Morsi’s one-year reign. While Egypt had classified the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization, Türkiye had long supported the pan-Islamist group. The state even broke off political ties with Egypt when al-Sisi came to power. Finally, after ten years, both nations have focused on overcoming hostilities and making amends. Erdogan’s meeting with al-Sisi shows a stronger commitment to trade negotiations and partnerships between both nations in the future. 

North America

U.S. Strikes Commander Responsible for American Troop Deaths

The U.S. conducted a drone strike in the Iraqi capital, Baghdad, killing a senior Kataib Hezbollah commander and two of his guards on Wednesday. The commander was a leader in the Iraqi-backed militia group directly tied to the deaths of three American troops in Jordan last month. The drone hit comes just after 85 strikes were carried out on the Iraq-Syria border, part of the Biden Administration’s plan to carry out a sustained retaliatory campaign against those responsible for the American deaths. Jake Sullivan, President Biden’s national security advisor, said the U.S. plans to take more action, explaining, “Some of those steps will be seen, some may not be seen.” His comments indicate the use of cyber attacks and other targeted strikes. 

The drone strike in Baghdad was conducted in a crowded area, with the car catching fire in the middle of the road. Journalists from the BBC attempted to get close to the crash, but were pushed back by people shouting “You are foreigners” and “America is the biggest devil.” Shortly after this attack, other Iraqi militias spoke up, promising to respond to the U.S.’s actions. One group, Harakat al Nujaba, announced they would conduct “targeted retaliation” against the United States. Iraqi security service spokesman, Major General Tahsin al-Khafaji, said the strike “violated Iraqi sovereignty and risked dangerous repercussions.” 

The Biden Administration’s strike in Iraq indicates their continued commitment to avoid a direct conflict with Iran. However, the U.S. recently conducted a cyber attack against an Iranian ship suspected of gathering intelligence on commercial ships in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden. The ship was responsible for relaying information to the Houthis, a terrorist group involved in attacks on shipping vessels in the Red Sea. Moving forward, the U.S. plans to continue targeted attacks against those responsible for the deaths of the three U.S. service members, as indicated by a recent statement from USCENTCOM, “We will not hesitate to hold responsible all those who threaten our forces' safety.”

South America

Ecuador Struggles Amidst Increase in Gang Violence 

Once considered to be an island of peace among its historically unstable South American neighbors, Ecuador is now facing new security challenges from organized criminal gangs and a surge in violence related to their crimes. Due to its location on the Pacific coast and its proximity to the two largest cocaine producers in the world, Peru and Colombia, Ecuador is playing a prominent role in the global cocaine trade. As Ecuadorian ports are used to export ever-increasing amounts of cocaine, foreign criminal enterprises including Mexican cartels and Eastern European gangs took advantage of the country’s relative tranquility. Emboldened by an inadequate response from the Ecuadorian government, the gangs have grown more powerful, increasing criminal activity in the nation. 

In January 2024, the nation of 17.8 million people experienced 391 violent deaths, highlighting a growing trend of violence. The year prior was the deadliest in the country's history, with 7,872 murders, or 41.9 per 100,000 people. This was a significant increase from 2020, which had a rate of 7.8 murders per 100,000 inhabitants.

Recently elected President Daniel Noboa promised to contain the violence by introducing the “Phoenix Plan,” which will provide $800 million in funding for new high-security prisons, an anti-crime intelligence unit, and additional weapons for Ecuadorian security forces. In early January, President Noboa declared a 60-day state of emergency following the escape of the country's most-wanted criminal from the jail where he was being held. In a later decree, Noboa said he recognized an "internal armed conflict" in Ecuador and identified 22 criminal gangs as terrorist groups. The decree ordered the armed forces to neutralize the groups.

Though the United States has pledged $200 million worth of new weapons for Ecuadorian security forces, parties in the ruling coalition have said they will not support a tax increase meant to fund the country’s war on crime. As of February 14, more than 3,600 suspected gang members have been arrested as a result of emergency measures. Despite his efforts, Ecuador’s murder rate remains on track to match 2023’s record. Experts have warned that as long as the Ecuadorian cocaine trade remains profitable, crime is unlikely to fall. 

Sub-Saharan Africa

Rebel Attacks in the Democratic Republic of Congo Claim Fourteen  Lives

On Wednesday, rebels initiated two attacks in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), which claimed the lives of twelve civilians and two South African soldiers. The twelve civilians lost their lives while working at a gold mine in the Northeast province of Ituri. The Cooperative for the Development of Congo (CODECO) rebel coalition, a group of several of the more than 100 armed militias operating in the Eastern DRC, has been identified as the perpetrators of the gold mine attack. During this attack, the group also kidnapped sixteen people.

The two South African soldiers died following a mortar blast that wounded three other soldiers. The South African soldiers were in the DRC as part of the Southern African Development Community’s (SADC) mission, deployed in December of last year to fill a security vacuum left after an East African Community mission’s mandate ended in disappointment last year. The attack comes after South Africa announced a further contribution of 2,900 troops to the mission. It remains unknown how the SADC mission will fare in comparison to the multitude of interventions that the DRC has hosted since the approval of the United Nations MONUSCO mission in the DRC in 1999.


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