Prabir’s Political Diary: ASIA

Corruption in the News


AFGHANISTAN

In a deadly attack, a suicide bomber first blew himself up at a restaurant in Kabul mostly frequented by the westerners, paving the way for two gunmen to enter the

Taverna du Liban

to open fire that had killed 

21 people

on

January 17, 2014

. The U.N Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said that four UN personnel were killed, while the

International Monetary Fund

said that its representative to Afghanistan,

Wabel Abdallah

, was among the dead. (Source: The Dallas Morning News) Taliban took responsibility for the most gruesome attack against westerners in Afghanistan, saying that the January 17, 2014, attack on the Lebanese restaurant

Taverna du Liban

was in response to a coalition airstrike on

January 15, 2014

in the

Ghorband

District of Parwan province that had killed dozen civilians. In January 17, 2014, attack on

Taverna du Liban

, 13 foreigners were among 21 dead.

On January 19, 2014, upon receiving an investigation report from Afghan officials on January 15, 2014, coalition airstrike in Parwan, President Hamid Karzai precipitated an already fragile relationship with Washington to a new level of brinkmanship by telling the US to end airstrikes and start negotiation with Taliban to jump-start the peace process before he would sign a joint bi-lateral security agreement, under which a handful of US military personnel would stay back in Afghanistan after December 2014 to train Afghan security personnel and carry out counterterrorism operations. The background and broader context of January 15, 2014, coalition airstrike in Parwan was clouded as a separate coalition investigation pointed out that it was actually an Afghan commander who called for air support, thus leading the airstrike that had killed four Taliban and 12 civilians.

In an eerie similarity of the January 17, 2014, attack on an upscale Kabul restaurant, Taverna du Liban, frequented by foreigners, a truck bomb, creating a follow-up opening by attackers, on January 20, 2014 targeted a joint U.S.-Afghan base, Forward Operating Base Pasab, in Southern Kandahar’s Zhari district, setting off a firefight that killed a U.S. soldier, 2 civilian bystanders and all eight attackers wearing military fatigue who had had followed the truck bomb in another vehicle.

In another escalation of tension between U.S. and Afghan regime of Hamid Karzai, Afghan government on January 27, 2014 issued formal order to release 37 jailed insurgents deemed by U.S. as dangerous.

Afghan Election Season Opens
Campaigning for April 5, 2014, Afghan Presidential began in a low key on February 2, 2014. The upcoming presidential poll is both historic and unprecedented as the polls will be held under minimum supervision of international observers and months before the final U.S. and other international troops leave the country barring okay of a bilateral security agreement. Hamid Karzai’s refusal to sign off the security agreement with the that would allow a small, remnant U.S. force to stay back in the country after December 31, 2014, deadline forced the issue right at the front and center of the campaign which none of the 11 presidential contenders will be able to avoid. Among the presidential contenders are some familiar faces such as former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah; former Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani; Zalmai Rassoul, another former foreign minister; Qayyum Karzai, a businessman and president’s brother; Abdul Rab Rasool Sayyaf, the most controversial so far in the election season with checkered past of being tied to Jihadist groups and Arab militants.

Karzai-Taliban Secret Talks Speculated
According to February 4, 2014, edition of The Dallas Morning News, Afghan President Hamid Karzai has engaged in secret talks with Taliban in recent months, undermining the confidence and trust of U.S. and western government. This explains the recent shrill of Karzai’s anti-U.S. rhetoric and his refusal to sign a bilateral security agreement his own government had signed with the U.S. negotiators.

Karzai Administration Frees Dozens of Insurgents
As the Obama administration dropped hints in recent days that it would wait until a new president to sign a bilateral security agreement, President Hamid Karzai’s administration put another nail to the coffin of any chance, however slim it may be, of a better relationship by releasing 65 insurgents on February 13, 2014. U.S. criticized the release, dubbing them very serious. The move confirmed U.S. uneasiness over transfer of Parwan Detention Facility, a center that was home to dozens of dangerous insurgents, last March (March 2013) to Afghan authorities.

Women March in Kabul
More than 100 Afghan women marched on the streets of Kabul on February 13, 2014 decrying violence against women and condemning a draft law awaiting presidential signature that would worsen the rights of women in the country. Under the draft law passed by the parliament, relatives can’t testify against the defendants, thus making it very difficult for, say, persuading a sister to testify against the father accused of honor killing of one of his daughters.

Karzai Orders Changes to Parts of Draft Law Biased against Woman
After a historic march by about 100 or so women on February 13, 2014 in Kabul and continuous uproar in the west, Afghan President Hamid Karzai asked Afghan Justice Ministry on February 17, 2014 to look into and change parts of the draft law that put burdensome requirements on woman victim such as prohibiting relatives to take witness stand.

Audacious Taliban Attack Killed 21 Afghan Soldiers
In the bloodiest attack on Afghan National Army since 2010, Taliban insurgents raided at an army base in Ghaziabad district of eastern Kunar province in the wee hours of February 23, 2014, and killed 21 ANA soldiers in their sleep. Afghan President Hamid Karzai, upon hearing the attacks, later in the day put on hold an official visit to . Kunar Governor Shuja al-Mulk Jalala said later in the day (February 23) that the early morning Taliban attack was possible because of inside support from some of the guards at the base.

A helicopter flew the bodies of 21 soldiers to Kabul on

February 24, 2014

amid outpouring of support and sympathy from across the nation. Many Afghans blamed President Karzai for taking a softer line towards Taliban, repeatedly calling them as “brothers”, while doing little to protect his own soldiers.

Obama Orders Plan for Troops Withdrawal; Dempsey Sees Grim Future
President Barack Obama on February 25, 2014 ordered Pentagon to prepare for complete troops withdrawal from Afghanistan after December 2014 as it became clear that Afghan President Hamid Karzai won’t sign a bilateral security agreement (BSA) before the presidential polls. However, Obama also kept the option of residual troops presence in the country after December 2014 if the successor of Karzai would sign the deal. On February 26, 2014, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey huddling with his generals at the Bagram Air Force Base was reported to have said that without U.S. troops presence in post-2014 Afghanistan, country’s security situation would be grim and Afghan security forces would “hedge their bets” in parts of the country by accommodating Taliban. To buttress the seriousness of security vacuum and the importance of BSA to avert such vacuum, NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said on February 26, 2014 that NATO would also withdraw its 19,000 troops from other nations after December 2014 barring the signing of the U.S.-Afghan BSA. (Source: The Dallas Morning News)

President’s Brother Quits Presidential Race, Endorses Former Royal Loyalist
On March 5, 2014, President Hamid Karzai’s brother Qayyum Karzai quit the race for upcoming April 5, 2014, presidential polls, and endorsed former Foreign Minister Zalmai Rassoul, a staunch loyalist of former Afghan King Zahir Shah.

Violence Strikes Prior to Afghan Vote
In the run-up to the April 5, 2014, presidential polls, militants on March 18, 2014 inflicted casualties at Maymana, capital of the northern Faryab province, with a suicide bomber blowing up his rickshaw at a market 200 yards from the governor’s mansion, killing 17 people, including three children, and wounding more than 26. Usually northern Afghanistan is not prone to Taliban attacks as frequently as the southern and eastern parts of the country, and it was only the second time a deadly attack took place in Maymana. A suicide bomber targeted a mosque full of regional officials last time back in October 2012, killing 41 people.

Another Deadly Strike by Taliban Prior to Polls
Taliban bent on disrupting the April 5, 2014, provincial and presidential polls carried out two deadly attacks on March 20, 2014. A suicide car bomber assisted by six attackers launched assault on a police station at Jalalabad near the palatial compound of the Nangarhar Governor Attaullah Ludin in the wee hours of March 20, killing 11 people, including 10 police personnel, before being killed in a fierce fighting that had lasted for more than four hours and filled the blue sky with billowing smoke of fire-fight. Hours later, four young gunmen entered a posh Kabul hotel, Serena Hotel, and opened fire, killing nine people, including four foreigners. All the assailants in the hotel attack were also killed. Taliban claimed responsibility for both police station and hotel attacks. (Source: The Dallas Morning News)

Afghan Government Blames Foreign Intel for Attack on a Posh Kabul Hotel
On March 23, 2014, Afghan Presidential Office issued a statement that linked March 20, 2014, attack on Kabul’s Serena Hotel to a foreign intelligence agency, not the Taliban, although the militant organization had already claimed responsibility for the attack. The attack startled the Afghan government as well as foreign governments, who had deployed troops in the country, because the ease with which four attackers had breached the tight security, went to the dining hall of the hotel during evening peak hours and opened fire, killing 9, including two children and four foreigners–An American, two Canadians and a national from Paraguay. However, the most heart-wrenching was the killing of four people from the family of Sardar Ahmad, a reporter for Agence France-Presse, who was dining with his wife and three children. All of them barring his infant son, who is fighting for his life at a Kabul hospital, have been killed.

Attack on Election Commission Office
In a brazen day-light attack on March 25, 2014, a suicide bomber blew his car outside an election office in Kabul while two gunmen attacked the election personnel inside, killing four people, including a candidate contesting in provincial polls, before the assailants were killed. Since the campaign began in January 2014, scores of election officials and campaign workers were killed by insurgent attacks. However, in the face of Taliban threat to disrupt polls, Chief Electoral Officer Zia-ul Haq Amerkhiel was determined to hold the presidential and provincial polls on April 5, 2014.

Presidential Field Narrows Down to Eight
With the withdrawal of the grandson of the country’s last King Zahir Shah, who had passed away in 2007, the presidential field on March 26, 2014 winnowed down to eight. Mohammed Nadir Naim, late king’s grandson, while withdrawing from the race on March 26, backed the candidacy of former Foreign Minister Zalmai Rassoul, whose bold choice of choosing a female, Habiba Sarabi, as running mate drew worldwide applause from progressives and women rights groups.

A Deadly Strike by Taliban Raises Fear Three Days Before Polls
A suicide bomber on April 2, 2014 managed to sneak past the security to reach the front entrance of the Interior Ministry Building in Kabul, and blew up, killing six police officers as all 34 provinces were gearing up for the presidential and provincial elections that would mark the first civilian-to-civilian handover of presidential powers. Taliban claimed the responsibility for bombing.

Famous AP Photographer Killed in Afghanistan
A famous Associated Photographer, who had covered the war in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and Balkans and was a part of a team that won the Pulitzer Prize in 2005, was killed as Anja Niedrinhaus was travelling as part of an election convoy in the eastern Khost province on April 4, 2014. The reason was not clear why an Afghan police commander had opened fire on the western reporters that had also wounded AP Special Correspondent Kathy Gannon.

Afghans Defy Taliban Threat, Vote in Record Numbers
At the end of the election day (April 5, 2014), Mohammad Yusuf Nuristani, chief of the country’s Independent Election Commission, was basking in the glory of holding by and large peaceful elections with impressive participation of an enthusiastic populace despite threats and violent campaigns launched by Taliban in the run-up to the polls. According to many observers, the total number of voters who cast their votes might have exceeded last time’s figure of 4.6 million and reach as high as 7 million. The participation would have been higher if the government was not forced to shut down as many as 1,000 polling places out of a total of 7,500.

Partial Results Indicate a Presidential Runoff
Partial results based on 10 percent of ballots counted as of April 13, 2014 showed the possibility of runoff between the top two vote-getters in the presidential polls: Abdullah Abdullah, a former Foreign Minister and primary opposition candidate in 2009 presidential polls, and Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, a former Finance Minister and a former World Bank official. Zalmai Rassoul, a third prominent candidate and a former foreign minister, is in the distant third position.

Attack at a Hospital Kills Three American Doctor
An Afghan police officer opened fire at Kabul’s Cure International Hospital on April 24, 2014, killing three American doctors.

Afghan Runoff to be Held On June 14, 2014
Afghanistan’s Independent Election Commission on May 15, 2014 issued the official results of the country’s presidential polls held on April 5, 2014. None of the candidates received 50 percent of the vote, pitting top two vote-getters, Abdullah Abdullah (45 percent) and Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzi (31.6 percent), in the June 14, 2014, runoff. A former foreign minister, Zalmai Rassoul, received 11.4 percent, earning him the third place. Commission Chairman Mohammad Yusuf Nuristani asked Afghan voters to brave against all odds again on June 14 and go to polling booths to exercise their franchise.

Surprise Memorial Day-Eve Visit to Afghanistan by Obama
President Barack Obama made a surprise visit to Bagram Airfield Base in Afghanistan on the eve of Memorial Day and paid rich tribute to the soldiers serving there. However, one notable absentee in the May 25, 2014, presidential visit to Bagram was Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who rejected the US invitation to meet with Obama at the US airbase.

******************************* Bowe Bergdahl POW Saga **************************Lone American POW Released in Prisoner Swap
In a delicately arranged deal, the only American prisoner of war, Private Bowe Bergdahl,  was released by Taliban-linked Haqqani group on May 31, 2014 in eastern Afghanistan after almost five years of captivity. About 18 militants handed over Bergdahl to a team of Special Operations Force which had immediately whisked away the private to Bagram airbase en route to Germany’s Landstuhl medical facility. Under the deal, five Taliban fighters were freed from Guantanamo Bay Prison to the authorities in Qatar. Apparently the negotiation began in 2011 as part of a larger goal of bringing Taliban into a diplomatic process that would help bring peace and democracy in Afghanistan. However, after the broader goal was abandoned, the deal narrowed down into seeking freedom of Private Bowe Bergdahl, who many in his platoon believed had deserted his base on the night of June 30, 2009. On June 1, 2014, President Barack Obama, standing beside Bergdahl’s parents, Jani and Bob, defended the delicate deal that helped free the 28-year-old American Army Private in exchange for release of five Taliban prisoners. In the hours after the prisoner swap was publicly announced, there were questions from various quarters, including Republicans, over whether the White House had violated a law under which any prisoner release from Guantanamo Bay must be notified to Congress 30 days beforehand.

Bergdahl Charged with DesertionArmy Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, whose release as a prisoner swap deal last may caused furor and frustration among lawmakers and military ranks, was on March 25, 2015 charged on desertion of his unit and misbehavior before enemy. After an arduous investigation, Gen. Mark Milley announced his verdict. Now, he will be tried under Article 32, similar to a civilian grand jury proceeding.

Bergdahl Ordered to be Court-Martialed

A commander,

Gen. Robert Adams, head of Army Forces Command at Fort Bragg, N.C.,

 on

December 14, 2015

ordered

Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl

to be put on court martial on charges of desertion of his post and misbehavior before the enemy that might send the sergeant to life in prison. Gen. Adams’ order came in the wake of a

September 2015

hearing of the

Berghahl

case in which the investigative officer had testified that a jail sentence would be “inappropriate”, creating a furor that Bergdahl might even walk out free without facing even iota of consequence for his action.

Bergdahl Court Martial Judge Rejects Defense Plea to Dismiss the Case
As Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl’s court martial proceeded at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, whole nation was pivoted on the outcome of this case and how President Donald Trump’s comment might sway the outcome. The defense asked the Presiding Judge Army Col. Jeffrey Nance to dismiss the case on the ground that President Trump had inserted bias into it by calling Bergdahl “a dirty rotten traitor” in the campaign trail and suggested that he should be executed. However, the judge rejected the defense motion, and hours later, on October 30, 2017, Bergdahl took the witness stand and described in graphic detail the treatment he was meted out by the Taliban during his five-year captivity.

Bergdahl not to Spend any Jail Time
After days of testimonies from both sides, Presiding Judge Army Col. Jeffrey Nance on November 3, 2017 issued a verdict that had angered a lot in the military as Bowe Bergdahl was spared from any jail time. However, the judge ordered him to be dishonorably discharged from military, his rank to be reduced and $1,000 a month pay to be withheld for the next 10 months.

******************************* Bowe Bergdahl POW Saga **************************Attack on Presidential Frontrunner’s Convoy Kills 6
Two explosions rocked the convoy of Abdullah Abdullah, who was traveling from one campaign stop in the capital to a second one, on June 6, 2014, killing six people. However, Abdullah escaped unhurt.

Voter Enthusiasm Palpable at Presidential Runoff
Braving a scorching heat and sense of fear, hundreds of thousands of Afghan voters went to polling booths on June 14, 2014 to choose a new president during runoff. At the end of the day, Independent Election Commission Chairman Mohammad Yusuf Nuristani reported about 60 percent turnout. The preliminary results will be announced on July 2, 2014, and the final winner between Abdullah Abdullah (45 percent) and Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzi will be declared on July 22, 2014.

US Special Representative Leaves amid Vote Fraud Allegation
As Abdullah Abdullah, one of the presidential candidate in June 14, 2014, runoff alleged vote fraud and irregularities and threatened to withdraw from the poll counting process, James Dobbins, head of the office of Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan (SRAP) announced on July 1, 2014 that he would soon leave after serving at the office since April 2013. Dobbins, a trusted hand of John Kerry, will be succeeded by another Washington insider Daniel Feldman.

Taliban Bombing Kills 11 in Kabul amid Delay in Poll Results
As the country’s election commission delayed publishing the preliminary results by July 2 because of its desire to carry out audit of select number of precincts, a suicide bomber exploded at a bus carrying soldiers on a Kabul street on July 2, 2014, killing 8 military personnel and 3 civilians.

EU Demands a More Thorough Audit
EU’s election monitoring team head Thijs Berman on July 3, 2014 called for a more detailed audit than declared by Afghanistan’s Independent Electoral Commission a day earlier. On July 2, the commission said that it would audit polling stations that had registered at least 599 votes.

Preliminary Results Show Ahmadzi Leading
Afghanistan’s Independent Electoral Commission said on July 7, 2014 that Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzi had taken early lead, results disputed by the other candidate Abdullah Abdullah, who had accused Election Commission of colluding with his opponent and Afghan government to deny him the victory. Meanwhile, calls are mounting from Abdullah’s supporters to unilaterally form a parallel government, raising the specter of political brinkmanship and brusqueness.

Kerry Hammers Deals between Rivals
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry made a hastily arranged trip to Kabul on July 11, 2014 amid widening fissure in the country’s political process, shrill talks of forming parallel government, escalating tension among multitude of ethnic groups and an opening window of opportunity for Taliban to take advantage of political gridlock to strike against government targets. After holding back-to-back sessions with candidates Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzi as well as President Hamid Karzai and UN chief in Afghanistan Jan Kubis over the next 24 hours, Kerry was able to craft a deal on July 12, 2014 that was palatable to both candidates. Under the deal announced on July 12, 2014, there would be a full recount of ballots, implying weeks of delay for final results as the Independent Election Commission would take a herculean task to tabulate all the 8 million votes cast during June 14, 2014, runoff. The official inauguration slated for August 2, 2014 would be delayed and President Karzai, under the deal, would continue as acting president. The deal also calls for a “national unity government” to be formed by the eventual winner. One of the key components of the deal is to change the country’s governing structure from an all-encompassing, all-powerful presidency to a bipolar distribution of authority between presidency and premiership. However, only the outline was obtained in the deal, the detail work would need to wait for future.

Deadliest Suicide Attack on Afghan Civilians

In a low-value target, a suicide car bomb exploded at a rural marketplace close to Pak borders on

July 15, 2014

, killing

89 people

. The civilian death toll exceeded that of hitherto most fatal killing of 80 people on

December 6, 2011

, when twin bombings targeted Shiites in

Kabul

and

Mazar-i-Sharif

.

Recount Begins amid Rocket Attack on the International Airport
A predawn rocket attack on the Kabul International Airport from a nearby empty high-rise under construction sent the Afghan security forces reeling and flight operation suspended for hours on July 17, 2014. All four attackers were pursued and killed, and rocket attack didn’t kill or injure anyone in the airport. The flight services resumed later in the day. Also, during the day (July 17, 2014), a full recount of almost 8 million ballots began under the supervision of national and international monitors. The arduous and assiduous process will take weeks.

Afghanistan Aflame amid Slow Recount of Presidential Votes
Amid an ongoing recount of all 8 million votes cast in the presidential runoff, Taliban and its allies upped the ante on the country’s political and security establishment by attacking civilian places such as marketplaces, security convoys, checkpoints and police posts with complete disregard to the Holy month of Ramadan and lives of innocent civilians. On July 21, 2014, violence peaked to a new height across the country from Helmand to Faryab provinces that had killed at least 58 militants, 13 security personnel and 1 civilian.

American General Shot Dead at a Kabul Training Facility
In the highest-ranking U.S. military casualty in Afghan theater, the deputy commanding general of the Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan was killed by a rouge Afghan military personnel on August 5, 2014 at a Kabul military training facility, Marshal Fahim National Defense University, as Maj. Gen. Harold Greene was visiting the facility.

Kerry Backs a Deal between Warring Candidates
At a news conference in Kabul standing beside U.N. representative to Afghanistan, Jan Kubis, on August 8, 2014, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said that a new deal had been reached between two Afghan presidential candidates Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzi  that would supersede the earlier one announced on July 12, 2014. The new agreement, like the previous one, calls for respect for the outcome of vote recount process and formation of an inclusive, national unity government. The new deal, unlike the previous one, is to be signed by both candidates.

Afghanistan Expels An American Journalist
Afghan Attorney General Mohammad Ishaq Aloko took a very unusaul step on August 20, 2014 to punish a jounalist for exposing a behind-the-scene plan being hatched by the Karzai administration to form an interim government as a full vote recount was in the process and bickering between the two candidates–Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzi–deteriorated sharply in recent days. The New York Times reporter Mathew Rosenberg was expelled from Afghanistan and banned from re-entering for his piece to this effect in the August 19, 2014, publication.

Candidate Boycotts Poll Audit Process
One of the presidential candidates, Abdullah Abdullah, on August 27, 2014 decided to boycott the remainder of the audit process of the presidential votes, citing fraud and vote stuffing. However, U.N. continued the process of vote audit and asked the other party, officials representing Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzi, to refrain from the audit process too to ensure impartiality. The Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzi side obliged the UN request and decided to stay away from the audit process. Later in the day, US Ambassador to Afghanistan, James Cunningham, and U.S. Special Envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, Daniel Feldman, met with Abdullah and requested him to continue discussion with his rival on forming a unity government.

Woman Journalist Killed in Afghanistan
On September 16, 2014, assassination of Palwasha Tokhi marked the killing of the seventh journalist in Afghanistan this year (2014), a gruesome reminder of perilous security in the country just few months before the scheduled withdrawal of NATO troops. Tokhi worked for Bayan Radio in the northern Afghan city of Mazar-i-Sharif. On September 16 night, Ms. Tokhi came out of her home purportedly to accept a wedding invitation, only to be stabbed several times by a man who had fled the scene afterward.

New President Named without the Release of Final Vote Result, Power-Sharing Deal Signed
Afghanistan’s political establishment experienced two significant developments on September 21, 2014, and both of them were without precedent and might carry political and security risk going forward. The first development signified a new chapter of cooperation and collaboration between country’s warring factions as the President-elect Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai and his one-time challenger, Abdullah Abdullah, signed a power-sharing agreement under which Ahmadzai would assume the presidency and Abdullah would take the newly created post of Chief Executive alike to the position of premiership. The second development was related to Election Commission’s announcement of Ahmadzai as the president of the country without releasing the election results.

Karzai’s Lashes out USA in Farewell Speech
Afghanistan’s outgoing President Hamid Karzai took parting shots at the USA and the west on September 23, 2014 in his farewell speech, and blamed the USA for division in his country. Karzai accused Washington of pursuing its narrow agenda at the expense of Afghan security. Karzai also took Pakistan to task, and went out of his way to praise for its contribution to help Afghanistan out. US Ambassador to Afghanistan James Cunningham issued a statement, calling the comments made by Karzai as “ungracious”.

Ahmadzai’s Official Certificate of Victory Posted on Facebook Page
As Afghanistan’s Election Commission had refused to release the official results of the June 14, 2014, presidential run-off elections and, instead, had announced Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai as country’s president-in-waiting, the official certificate of victory could be found posted on Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai’s Facebook page on September 28, 2014. According to the official certificate, Ahmadzai received 3,935,567 (55.27%) of total 7,120,858 votes cast.

New President Sworn in
Afghanistan’s new president Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai was sworn in on September 29, 2014 at a festive diplomatic ceremony at Kabul in a remarkably peaceful transition of presidency from one civilian to another. Ahmadzai quickly appointed his one-time bitter rival Abdullah Abdullah, who shared the stage with Ahmadzai all along, as the first ever Chief Executive of the country. One  notable exception during the swearing-in ceremony was the high-profile presence of Ahmadzai’s wife Rula, whom Ahmadzai had met at the American University in Beirut when both of them were students. Rula is likely to play an important role in the administration. John Podesta, counselor to President Barack Obama, attended the swearing-in ceremony, and called the event a “momentous day” for Afghanistan.

Historic Security Agreement Signed
A day after becoming the president of the country, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai-led administration signed a bilateral security agreement on September 30, 2014 that would allow 9,800 US troops and 2,000 additional soldiers from other NATO nations to stay behind after the NATO troops withdrawal at the end of the year. Most of these western troops will train Afghan security forces. The deal was signed by the US Ambassador to Afghanistan, James Cunningham, and Afghanistan’s new National Security Adviser Hanif Atmar while Ahmadzai and his vanquished rival Abdullah Abdullah looked on.

NATO Combat Operation Comes to an End in Afghanistan
On October 26, 2014, the Afghan-west relationship achieved a key milestone as US and British troops withdrew from Helmand’s Camp Bastion-Leatherneck complex during the day, thus ending more than a decade of combat role in Afghanistan. While US Marines used Camp Leatherneck as their base, British troops were stationed in Camp Bastion since 2006. British troops lost 453 service personnel in the conflict.

Visit by Afghan President May Open a New Chapter of Co-operation with Neighbour
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai made a historic state visit to Pakistan, its eastern neighbor with which Kabul had frosty relations under Ahmadzai’s predecessor, Hamid Karzai, on November 14, 2014. His two-day visit (November 14-15, 2014) includes high-level talks with Pak officials, including premier Nawaz Sharif, and watching a cricket match between Pakistan and Afghanistan.

President Obama Reported to Have Signed Expanded Combat Operation
President Barack Obama was reported to have signed a secret order in the recent weeks to expand the US combat role in Afghanistan after the withdrawal of US troops in December 2014. Under the order, US troops not only will pursue al-Qaeda militants, they will also engage with the Taliban and other domestic militants.

Suicide Attack at Tournament Kills 45
A suicide bomber, mingling among the spectators, blew himself up on November 23, 2014 at a volleyball tourament in Yahyakhail District of Paktika Province, killing at least 61 people. The attack came on the same day as the country’s parliament okayed a bilateral security agreement between the US and the new administration of Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai. Also during the day, Afghan President lifted a ban imposed by his predecessor on the night-time raid by Special Operation Forces. Afghan Special Operation Forces will lead the operation while the US SOF will play the advisory role.

Attacks Kill 5 in Kabul
In a grim reminder of the scale of lawlessness and failure of Afghan security forces to check the Taliban violence, a suicide attacker on November 27, 2014 rammed an explosives-laden vehicle against a British embassy convoy in Kabul, killing a British security guard and at least four others. Meanwhile, during the day in a separate incident, gunmen laid siege on a building used by the International Relief and development at the posh Wazir Akbar Khan District in the capital. Fortunately no civilian was harmed, and all three attackers were killed by the guards.

US to Delay Withdrawal of 1,000 Troops
Outgoing Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said on December 6, 2014 during a visit to Afghanistan that Pentagon would delay the rate of withdrawal of U.S. troops, resulting in about 1,000 additional soldiers to stay in Afghan war theater for the first few months of 2015. As a result, there will be 10,800 U.S. troops, instead of 9,800 troops, in Afghanistan by the end of 2014. However, the troops level will drastically drop to 5,500 by 2016 and 1,000 by 2017.

US and NATO Ends Combat
On December 8, 2014, U.S. and NATO forces announced the end of combat role in Afghanistan. The U.S. and NATO mission in Afghanistan will transform from the “Operation Enduring Freedom” to “Operation Resolute Support”. The transition to the new phase of US and NATO forces to assist and aid, to a large degree, has been facilitated by Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s signing of bilateral security agreement with the USA and the status of the force agreement with NATO right after assuming the presidency.

EU Report Shows Massive Poll Irregularities
A report issued on December 16, 2014 by European Union poll observers said that almost 2 million votes, a quarter of votes cast, came from polling stations where alleged irregularities and fraud were to have been reported from during June 2014 presidential runoff.

Four Detainees Released and Returned to Afghanistan
Heeding the request from Afghan President Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, the US military on December 20, 2014 released four low-risk detainees held at the Guantanamo Bay Prison and returned to Afghanistan. The latest prisoner release left eight Afghans among 132 prisoners still held at Guantanamo Bay.

U.S. Formally Ends War in Afghanistan
U.S. on December 28, 2014 formally ended the longest war in America’s history. The flag for the mission “Operation Enduring Freedom” was lowered at a ceremony at Kabul, and a new flag symbolizing the new phase of US and International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) role, known as “Operation Resolute Support”, was hoisted. Commander of the ISAF Gen. John Campbell eulogized the sacrifices of about 3,500 international soldiers in effort to fight against al-Qaeda and Taliban and stabilize the security in the vast swath of the country. Come January 1, 2015, the new mission, dubbed as “Operation Resolute Support”, will involve 13,500 international troops, including 11,000, US troops mainly for advising, assisting and training Afghan security forces.

U.S. to Slow Troops Drawdown
Facing a stubborn militancy, White House seems to back-pedaling on the troops draw-down rate. As Afghan President Ashraf Ghani is to make his debut official trip to the USA in the week of March 23, 2015, reports are going round in Washington that Obama may be leaning toward reducing the pace of troops reduction by an additional 5,000 by the end of December 2015. However, his timetable of withdrawing all but about 1,000 U.S. troops from Afghanistan by the time he leaves the White House remains intact. This is not the first time that Obama administration has not followed through its advice on troops withdrawal since it has announced in May 2014 to bring America’s longest war “to a responsible end”. Last fall, Obama has expanded some authorities for the U.S. troops. On December 6, 2014, the then-Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel delayed the troops reduction to the strength of 9,800 further.

Afghan President Thanks US Troops and Taxpayers

Afghanistan’s new President

Ashraf Ghani

and Chief Executive

Abdullah Abdullah

 began their debut U.S. tour with an acknowledgement of gratitude for the sacrifices made by the U.S. troops and taxpayers. On 

March 23, 2015

, both of them were accorded an official reception at the Pentagon by the Defense Secretary Ash Carter. Later, both headed to Camp David for closed-door meetings with Carter and Secretary of State John Kerry.

Obama Puts His Seal of Approval on Keeping More Troops in Afghanistan
Meeting Afghan President Ashraf Ghani at the White House on March 24, 2015, US President Barack Obama assured what was known all along: reducing the U.S. troops drawdown rate to provide breathing room to Afghan security forces. Under the amended drawdown plan, US will have about 9,800 troops stationed in Afghanistan through the end of 2015 instead of initially planned level of 5,000, reducing the drawdown rate by approximately 5,000 troops. Obama’s move earned instant bipartisan praise, including Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tennessee, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Afghan President Addresses Joint Session of Congress, Thanks American Tax Payers
Addressing a joint session of Congress on March 25, 2015, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani played the role of a trusted U.S. ally and grateful partner. His assurance that his country won’t be a lazy Uncle Joe showed his humorous side too. Continuing his show of gratitude as he had done numerous time during his first official visit to Washington this week, Ghani reiterated one more time on March 25, 2015 to laud American Congress and citizens to open their wallet and pour more than $107 billion to help his country out.

ISIL Footprint in Afghanistan Arrives
Afghanistan’s top Shiite leader Mohammad Mohaqiq on April 4, 2015 said that two former Taliban leaders–Mullah Mansur Dadullah and Mullah Abdullah Kakar–who had switched sides to join Islamic State had led a group of militants to kidnap dozens of Shiite boys and men on February 24, 2015 in southern Zabul province.

First ISIL Suicide Bombing in Afghan Theater Sets Alarm in the Region
In a significant expansion of ISIL footprint in Afghanistan, the Islamic militant group carried out its first suicide bombing on April 18, 2015 at a Kabul Bank branch at Jalalabad in Nangarhar province, killing at least 35 people and wounding 125. Taliban denied responsibility for the suicide bombing, and condemned it. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani later in the day severely condemned Daesh, Arabic name of Islamic State, for the suicide bombing at Jalalabad.

********** Burning Alive of an Afghan Woman Brings Shame to Afghan Society ***********Four Handed out Death Sentences in Woman’s Death
An Afghan judge, Judge Safiullah, on May 6, 2015 ordered four men to be hanged to death for killing of an Afghan’s woman’s gory death on March 19, 2015 on false charges of desecrating Quran. The barbaric killing of 27-year-old Farkhunda brought urgent attention to the plight and rights of Afghan women. Farkhunda was beaten up by a mob in broad day light, her dead body was car-dragged, set ablaze and thrown away in Kabul River. Beside these four men, there were 45 other defendants, including 19 policemen, who had remained mute spectators on March 19, 2015 as the mob was hacking the woman to death. On May 6, 2015, verdicts were given for 30 civilian defendants, and their verdict ranged from

(1) Death penalty for

four

(2) 16 years of prison terms for

eight

(3) Acquittal for

18

others

Death Sentences Voided
In a travesty of justice and slap to country’s woman’s rights, an Afghan court on July 2, 2015 voided the death sentences of four defendants accused of participating in gruesome murder of a woman, Farkhunda, on March 19, 2015.

********** Burning Alive of an Afghan Woman Brings Shame to Afghan Society ***********Attack on a Kabul Hotel Kills 14
Whether it’s a so-called lone wolf adventurism or organized Taliban attack, the attack carried out by a lone gunman on May 13, 2015 night inside a fortified hotel, Park Palace Hotel, brought to the surface the enormous security challenges being faced by Afghanistan’s security forces in absence of NATO troops. There was a concert preparation going on in the front yard of the hotel that night to entertain the foreign dignitaries when the gunman entered the security perimeter of the hotel, and opened fire on the guests. Of at least 14 people killed, were one American woman, four Indians, two Pak nationals and an Italian. The May 13, 2015, attack in the Park Palace Hotel in Kabul was the worst attack on any westerner-frequented hotel in the country since the terrorist attack on the Taverna du Liban on January 17, 2014 that had killed 21 people.

Attack on Afghan Parliament Shakes Confidence in Afghan Security
A coordinated attack, involving a suicide car bomber first wreaking havoc at the entrance of the country’s parliament and then seven attackers taking positions at a building across the road to engage with Afghan security forces in a hours-long firefight, on June 22, 2015 shook the nerve of Afghan political establishment and underscored the vulnerability of national security even in one of the most fortified areas of the capital, Kabul. The attack took place in the backdrop of the nominee for Defense Minister, Masoom Stanekzai, being introduced in parliament for confirmation. Immediately, the parliament’s proceeding was put on hold and lawmakers were evacuated. After hours of fighting, all seven attackers were killed. As a collateral damage, two civilians–one woman and a child–were killed too.

****************************** TALKS WITH TALIBAN *************************Afghan Government Holds Talks with Taliban
Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani’s official twitter message said on July 7, 2015 that representatives of Afghan High Peace Council, created in 2010 by his predecessor Hamid Karzai to push efforts aimed at ending violence and conflict through negotiation, had met during the day with representatives of Taliban at Murree, on the outskirt of Islamabad. Pakistan’s influence to sway Taliban was proven one more time as Afghanistan’s President Ghani, upon coming to the power, cultivated successfully the Pak officials to improve the bilateral relations and talks with Taliban were the outcome of Ghani’s effective outreach to officials in Islamabad. The Islamabad talks were not the first of their kind. Prior to that, Afghan officials and Taliban held talks at Qatar, China and Norway.

Talks Concluded on High Note
What Pakistan could do in terms of exerting its influence on Taliban was displayed one more time with an optimistic note of conclusion drawn from the talks. After talks concluded on July 8, 2015 at Murree, just outside the capital, the Pakistan Foreign Ministry put out a statement, calling the talks as conducive to creating “an environment” to facilitate “peace and reconciliation” and the would again meet after the holy month of Ramadan. On behalf of Taliban, a statement attributed to the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan said that its political office had the sole “authority to start or stop negotiations”, an assertion many political analysts thought as an effort to show the world that the militant group was not controlled by Pakistan. However, the reality was much different as, without Pak pressure, Taliban would not acquiesce to participate in the talks and, definitely, not send Mullah Abbas, a close aide of Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar, as head of the delegation. US and Chinese officials also participated as observers.

Second Round of Talks Scheduled
Pakistani officials said on July 28, 2015 that, encouraged by the tone and tenor of the first round of talks three weeks ago at Murree, near Islamabad, they would host a second round of talks–and this time, the talks are expected to be more substantive–between Taliban and Afghan negotiators on July 31, 2015.

Second Round of Talks Called off
After the news of reclusive Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar’s death, hidden from public for more than two years, was made public on July 29, 2015, a shadow of uncertainty descended on the political process, resulting in postponing the talks scheduled to begin on July 31, 2015.

Afghan Government Commits to Peace Talks with Taliban
On December 9, 2015, Afghan government officials made a commitment at Islamabad to continue the path of peace process with the Taliban. Hours later during the day, Pakistan, the USA and China lauded Kabul’s stand to hold face-to-face negotiation.

Afghan, Pak Officials to Meet with the US, Chinese Officials to Resume Stalled Talks with Taliban
Pakistan’s military chief Raheel Sharif visited Kabul and held talks with high-ranking Afghan officials, including Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and chief executive Abdullah Abdullah, and announced on December 27, 2015 that officials from neighboring nations would meet at the beginning of the new year with officials from the USA and China to jumpstart the stalled talks with Taliban.

Officials from Four Nations to Meet to Revive Talks with Taliban
Officials from Afghanistan, Pakistan, China and the USA are to meet at Islamabad on January 11, 2016 to discuss on formulating a “roadmap” aimed at resuscitating the reconciliation talks with Afghan Taliban.

Afghans Want Pak Military Assistance to Jumpstart the Talks with Taliban
The one-day, four-nation meet at Islamabad was held on January 11, 2016 in the search of a “roadmap” for jumpstarting the talks with Taliban. Afghan and Pak foreign ministry officials joined the U.S. Special Envoy for Afghanistan, Richard Olson, as well as Olson’s Chinese counterpart to emphasize “the immediate need for direct talks”. On that point, Afghanistan needs–has asked for–Pakistani military help to nudge the Taliban to come to negotiation table.

Four Nations Meet to Restart Talks with Taliban
Representatives from Afghanistan, Pakistan, China and the USA on February 23, 2016 met at Kabul, and after a long deliberation, decided to hold talks with Taliban next week at Islamabad. Later four nations issued a press statement, calling “all Taliban and other groups” to travel to Islamabad for talks.

Taliban will not Participate in Talks
Taliban issued a statement on March 5, 2016 in response to February 23, 2016, announcement by China, USA, Pakistan and Afghanistan for talks, saying that its leaders would not participate in any talks and its leader Akhtar Mohammad Mansour had not authorized participation either.

General Sees U.S. Role in Future Taliban-Government Talks
U.S. top commander Gen. John Nicholson on March 22, 2018 said at the Kandahar Airfield that U.S. would play a constructive role with Afghan government to pave the way for talks with Taliban.

Trump Administration Reported to Favor Direct Talks with Taliban

In a strategic shift in Afghan policy, Trump administration is now favoring, according to a July 15, 2018, article in The New York Times, to hold direct talks with Taliban to jumpstart a stalled negotiation process. However, the talks will still be Afghan-owned, Afghan-led. Taliban has long demanded that U.S hold talks with them, dismissing Afghan government as a mere stooge.

U.S. Officials Meet with Taliban’s Foreign Office Reps in DohaThe Wall Street Journal first reported, followed by a July 28, 2018, news report carried by The New York Times, that U.S. diplomats had met with Taliban officials at Doha. This will be a major departure in Trump administration’s Afghan policy and reflects a growing willingness among the Trump administration officials to engage with Taliban, a major demand by the group to directly talk to the U.S. Apparently, Alice Wells, State Department’s senior official on South Asia, and a second unknown diplomat had participated in talks. The New York Times first reported on July 15, 2018 that such talks were possibility.

Khalilzad Meets Taliban Representative
US’ special envoy for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, met Taliban representatives on October 12, 2018 at Doha, Qatar, almost three months after first meeting between a U.S. diplomat, Alice Wells, and Taliban officials had been held in Doha. Although Trump administration sees any future peace deal as Afghan owned and governed, a direct negotiation with Taliban underscores the hard reality that Taliban views Afghan government mere a stooge and much more productive outcome will be possible if Taliban holds talks with the U.S. On October 13, 2018, Zalmay Khalilzad flew to Kabul to meet with President Ashraf Ghani.

US Envoy Holds Talks with Taliban
In as many months, the U.S. special envoy for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, held second round talks at Doha with Taliban. Taliban maintains a political office at Doha. Addressing reporters at Kabul on November 18, 2018, Khalilazad said that he had talked to Taliban negotiators for three days at Doha, and expressed hope that “there is an opportunity for reconciliation and peace”.

U.S., Taliban Talk, This Time in the UAE in Presence of Saudi, Pak OfficialsThe Associated Press reported on December 17, 2018 that Taliban representatives and U.S. officials had met earlier in the day in the United Arab Emirates in presence of officials from Islamabad and Riyadh.

“Agreements in Principles” Reached
U.S. envoy for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad said on January 28, 2019 at Kabul that “agreements in principles” for a peace deal framework to end 17-year civil war in Afghanistan had been reached after six days talks between U.S. and Taliban officials at Doha, Qatar. The talks (January 22-27, 2019) yielded a rough patchwork of “agreements of principles”, according to the statement by Khalilzad, that needed to be “fleshed out”.

Taliban Reassures Afghans on Co-existence
After U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad said earlier in the week that there was a set of “agreements in principle” toward a framework for peace with the Taliban, Taliban has made it clear on January 30, 2019 that the militant movement, which now controls half of Afghan territory, has no intention to unilaterally rule Afghanistan. Instead, a Taliban spokesman, Suhail Shaheen, said, it would share and co-exist politically with Afghan political groups. Meanwhile, Afghan High Peace Council Deputy Head Atta-ul Rahman said that there was no alternative to directly talking to Afghan government, taking a jibe at the Taliban that there “is a big difference of what you say and what you do”. Taliban is not interested in holding talks with the Afghan government, and another round of talks with U.S. envoy is scheduled for February 25, 2019 at Doha, Qatar.

************************ RUSSIA-HOSTED TALKSRussia Hosts Two-day Talks between Taliban and Former President Karzai
The pivot of diplomacy shifted, although temporarily, from Doha to Moscow for a two-day (February 5-6, 2019) negotiation between Taliban representatives, led by Taliban political chief Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai, and Afghan political opposition, including former President Hamid Karzai. A prominent Taliban negotiator, Abdul Salam Hanafi, said on the sidelines of the talks in Moscow that Washington had promised that half of its troops would be withdrawn by the end of April 2019 and the withdrawal process would begin in February 2019. However, a Pentagon spokesman, Army Col. Rob Manning, said that he didn’t have any knowledge about any such directive.

Russia Seizes Opportunity, Holds Talks with Taliban
Six days after U.S. President Donald Trump called off Camp David meeting with Taliban, Russia seized the opportunity to host a Taliban delegation on September 13, 2019 at Moscow. The official Tass reported that Vladimir Putin’s Afghanistan envoy, Zamir Kabulov, held talks with the Taliban delegation.

************************ RUSSIA-HOSTED TALKSU.S.-Taliban Talks Implode over U.S. Withdrawal Timeline
As U.S. and Taliban negotiators resumed their latest talks on March 2, 2019 after a two-day break for internal deliberation, they hit a quick snag at Doha on March 5, 2019 over recalcitrant stand by both sides. While U.S. saw its stand in compliance with its 2014 Bilateral Security Agreement with Afghan government that called for U.S. withdrawal by 2024, implying that U.S. would withdraw all its troops in the next five years, and Taliban insisting that Washington complete its withdrawal in one year.

Talks between Afghan Officials and Taliban Collapse
A scheduled meeting between Afghan officials and Taliban slated for April 19, 2019 at the Qatari capital of Doha collapsed in the last minute over the composition of the official team that had ballooned to at least 250 and internal bickering among the officials. The collapse underlines the lack of credibility of Afghan officials even to come to terms amongst themselves on the composition and agenda of the delegation for the first ever official meeting with Taliban. Taliban makes it very clear that any Afghan official it meets is on individual basis to avoid giving any credence to government in Kabul.

Afghan Émigrés Meet with Taliban
Apparently the collapsed April 19, 2019, talks between Afghan officials and Taliban at Doha might not all have gone in vain as a smaller team of Afghan émigré delegation of about 20, including three women, met during the weekend (April 19-21, 2019) with the Qatar-based Taliban officials.

Taliban-U.S. Talks Making Slow Progress, Taliban Claims
A Taliban spokesman told The Associated Press on May 4, 2019 that this week’s talks between Taliban and U.S. negotiator Zalmay Khalilzad had made some dent in vexing issues of troops withdrawal, without getting into details.

Afghan Officials Attend Islamabad Conference
Several dozens of Afghan officials on June 22, 2019 attended a conference at Islamabad in the run-up of next week’s official visit by Afghan President Ashraf Ghani to Pakistan and as part of an effort to pave the way for talks with Taliban. Taliban is not attending the conference, which over the next two days will break out with sessions and workshops geared toward achieving peace in Afghanistan. Attending the conference, former militant leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who had been recently removed from the U.S. terrorist watch list, urged for complete withdrawal of U.S. forces as soon as possible.

Taliban Attacks Security Compound in Kabul as Seventh Round of Talks Underway at Doha
As the seventh round of talks between U.S. and Taliban representatives since the process had begun in September 2018 was underway at Doha, Taliban militants on July 1, 2019 attacked a security compound at Kabul, leading to an eight-hour military offensive that had ended after all the militants had been killed and the deaths of up to 40 people and injuries of about 105. Taliban later claimed the responsibility for the attack. The July 1, 2019, Taliban attack at the heart of Kabul happened six days after U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo expressed hope on June 25, 2019 that a deal with Taliban might be reached by September 1, 2019.

Substantive Progress Made, Khalilzad Says
Coming off the recent talks in Doha, during which Taliban launched audacious attack July 1, 2019 on a Kabul security compound, nearly torpedoing the talks, U.S. envoy for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad dashed off to Kabul and gave update to Afghan government officials. On July 6, 2019, facing journalists at Kabul, Mr. Zalmay Khalilzad expressed hope as he briefed substantial progress in the just-concluded seventh round of talks. Khalilzad said that progress had been made on all four points:

* U.S. troops withdrawal timeline

* Anti-terrorism guarantees

* Intra-Afghan negotiation process

* A potential cease-fire.

Earlier talks were focused on the first two points, but this time, the domain of talks expanded to the latter two points.

American Soldier Killed in Car Bomb Near Embassy

Putting cold water into a rapidly evolving principle of agreement between the U.S. and Taliban, a car bomb on September 5, 2019 exploded near the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, killing a U.S. service personnel and a Romanian soldier–both members of the NATO Resolute Support Mission–along with 10 civilians and wounding dozens.

Trump Calls off Camp David Talks with Taliban, Peace Deal Suspended

Two days after a vehicle bomb killed an American soldier and 11 others, including a Romanian military personnel, near the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, President Donald Trump on September 7, 2019 called off the hitherto unknown Camp David meeting with Taliban, forcing a yet-to-be finalized, but pretty close to be completed, peace agreement in limbo.

Peace Talks Dead, Trump says

Two days after calling off Camp David meeting with the Taliban, President Donald Trump slammed the militant group on September 9, 2019, saying that the peace talks with the U.S. was dead. 

U.N. Envoy Calls for Resumption of Peace Talks

Three days after President Donald Trump called off the Camp David meeting with Taliban, U.N. envoy to Afghanistan, Tadamichi Yamamoto, on September 10, 2019 called for resumption of talks with Taliban during a speech at the U.N Security Council in the New York City.

****************************** TALKS WITH TALIBAN *************************

****************************** U.N. ON AFGHANISTAN *************************U.N. Security Council Extends Sanctions on Taliban
Given the security scenario in Afghan theater, the U.N. Security Council on December 21, 2015 extended the sanctions on Taliban for 18 more months. After briefing the U.N.S.C., the U.N. envoy for Afghanistan, Nicholas Haysom, said on December 21, 2015 that the situation in Afghanistan was “extremely challenging”. Not only Taliban and al-Qaeda were resurging in the Afghan hinterland, ISIL was also gaining some foothold in the country, especially in the eastern Nangahar province. Afghanistan’s U.N. Ambassador Mahmoud Saikal said during the day that the 18-month extension of the sanctions on Taliban would, hopefully, tighten the noose around Taliban, al-Qaeda and ISIL. The U.N. Security Council extended its support for Afghanistan’s commitment to peace process expressed at Islamabad on December 9, 2015.

U.N. Report Cites Spike in Civilian Deaths in 2018
A U.N. report issued on February 24, 2019 estimated that at least 3,804 civilians had been killed in 2018 in growing battle between U.S.-backed Afghan security forces on one side and Taliban and Islamic State fighters on another side. United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, or UNAMA, said that the civilian death toll last year was the maximum since it began tallying in 2009. The report attributed 37 percent of the deaths to Taliban, who now controlled about half of Afghanistan, 20 percent to IS and other 6 percent to a range of anti-government fighters. 24 percent of the deaths took place due to U.S.-led coalition aerial bombing and other government-initiated action.

****************************** U.N. ON AFGHANISTAN *************************

Two Islamic State Leaders Killed in Drone Strike
Two Pakistani Taliban leaders who were neo-convert to the Islamic State in Khorasan, ISIL franchise in Afghanistan and Pakistan, were killed in a July 6, 2015, drone strike in Afghanistan’s eastern Nangarhar province. Islamic State in Khorasan’s Deputy leader Gul Zaman, and another senior commander, Sahidullah Shahid, were in a meeting when the drone strike occurred. It was not known whether the group’s leader Hafiz Muhammad Saeed was also present in the meeting. The drone strike was reported by The New York Times on July 9, 2015.

Islamic State’s Regional Head Killed in Drone Strike
Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security chief Rahmatullah Nabil on July 11, 2015 took to twitter to announce that the head of Islamic State in Khorasan, Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, was killed on July 10, 2015 in the eastern Nangarhar province in a drone strike.

Suicide Bombing Near a U.S. Base in Eastern Afghanistan Kills 17
A suicide car bomb targeted a checkpoint in Khost province in the country’s east on July 12, 2015, killing 17 people, most of them were women and children who were waiting in other cars to be cleared at the checkpoint. The checkpoint manned by the Khost Provincial Force was near a U.S. military base Camp Chapman, named after Sgt. Nathan Chapman, the first U.S. soldier killed in Afghanistan in 2002. Camp Chapman was also the site where seven CIA employees and a Jordanian intelligence official were killed in 2009 in a Pakistani Taliban bombing, worst toll of CIA employees since 1981 US embassy bombing in Beirut.

Friendly Fire Kills 7 Afghan Soldiers
U.S. helicopters opened fire on an outpost in Baraki Barak District of Logar province on July 20, 2015, killing 7 Afghan Army personnel. A similar U.S. airstrike last March (March 2014) killed five Afghan security personnel dead in the same province of Logar. U.S. military headquarters later on July 20, 2015 expressed “deep regret” for accidental killing of 7 Afghan soldiers. In a further twist, more than three dozens Taliban militants on motorcycle tried to seize the same outpost after the US attack, but Afghan security forces were able to repel the Taliban.

Taliban Leader Reported to be Long Dead
Afghan intelligence agency spokesman Abdul Haseeb Sediqi said in a telephone interview on July 29, 2015 that the reclusive Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar had been dead for a long time. According to Sediqi, Omar had died in Pakistani port city of Karachi in April 2013, although he didn’t say how he had died. The news of Omar’s death two days before the second round of Afghan-Taliban talks in Pakistan has thrown water on the negotiation process itself and created an air of uncertainty over the scheduled talks.

Taliban Acknowledges Omar’s Death, Chooses New Leader
The so-called “Shura” council of Taliban met on July 30, 2015 at the southwestern Pakistani city of Quetta to choose a successor of deceased figurehead Mullah Mohammed Omar. The council chose Omar’s deputy, Mullah Akhtar Mansoor, as the new Taliban leader. Separately, Taliban admitted that Omar had passed away without divulging the cause and time of death.

Deep Fracture Emerges over Choosing of New Taliban Leader
A day after Mullah Akhtar Mansoor was chosen as successor of Mullah Mohammed Omar, the reclusive leader’s oldest son, Mullah Yacoob, panned the choice on July 31, 2015, reflecting a significant fissure and fragility in the Taliban movement for the first time. Mullah Yacoob said that he and three other senior leaders had walked out of the Shura council at Quetta in protest against the choice. Now it is to be seen how Mullah Yacoob’s revolt affects, or at all even affects, the Taliban movement. Meanwhile, the biggest casualty were the talks between Afghan government and Taliban officials scheduled to resume on July 31, 2015. The talks were called off without specifying any timeline for resumption.

New Taliban Leader Nixes Possibility of Talks, Vows to Continue Fighting
On a Taliban-linked website, the new Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mansoor on August 1, 2015 urged the group’s followers to continue fighting. This was the first time that world had heard from the new Taliban leader on the direction and destiny of the militant movement since he was elected by a secretive, 7-member Shura Council at Quetta on July 30, 2015 to succeed Mullah Mohammed Omar.

U.N. Report Puts Civilian Death Toll at a Record High Level
The United Nations Human Rights Office issued a report on August 5, 2015 that portrayed a grim picture on civilian casualty this year. Between January and June this year, first such six-month period with the helms of security shouldered exclusively by the Afghan security forces, 1,592 civilians were killed and 3,329 were wounded. The report stated that insurgents were responsible for 70 percent of the casualties.

Barrage of Attacks Shake Afghan Capital
Ending a two-month lull in violence in the capital, a string of suicide attacks shook Kabul on August 7, 2015, with fear of renewed violence with more fatal and frequent occurrences after naming of a new Taliban leader, Mullah Akhtar Mansoor, on July 30, 2015, who on August 1, 2015 urged his followers not to let up in fighting. First of a barrage of the suicide attacks on August 7, 2015 occurred right after the midnight at 1 A.M. when a massive truck bomb exploded at the Shah Shaheed Neighborhood, near the heart of Kabul, killing 15 people and injuring more than 100. Almost all of the victims were civilians. Later in the evening on August 7, 2015, a suicide bomber, mingling among the recruit prospects, blew himself up just outside a police academy, killing at least 25 and injuring more than 24. Later, insurgents attacked a NATO camp, Camp Integrity, near Kabul’s international airport, Killing one American soldier and eight military contractors.

Death Toll Rises to a Record in a Single Day Violence in Afghan Capital
The trio of bombings at Kabul made August 7, 2015 the most fatal day in many years, with death toll mounting to 65 as of August 8. Afghan officials on August 8, 2015 blamed the intelligence agencies of “neighboring countries”, obliquely referring to Pakistan’s involvement, in the August 7, 2015, trio of bombings in Kabul that had killed 65 people.

Afghan President Asks Pakistan to Get Tough against Taliban
In response to a suicide car bombing near Kabul’s international airport earlier in the day that had killed at least 5 people, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on August 10, 2015 urged Islamabad to get tough against insurgents. In a televised address, Ghani accused Pakistan of being complicit with Taliban and other insurgents who were bent on unleashing a reign of terror in Afghanistan.

Three American Contractors Killed in Kabul Bombing
Underscoring the fragility in security situation in Kabul, a massive car bomb exploded near a NATO convoy in Kabul on August 22, 2015, killing at least 12 people, including three American contractors with McLean, VA-based DynCorp International. Later in the day, Taliban said that it was not behind the attack, reflecting a scattering, localizing and broadening of anti-government attacks with many other players beside Taliban contributing to instability and insecurity of the country.

More than a Dozen Killed as Afghan President Opens a Major Donor Conference
As Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on September 5, 2015 opened a major donor conference at Kabul and sang praise of the security scenario, all by the country’s security forces, further in the north in the Balkh Province, gunmen stopped cars, pulled in their passengers and killed 13 of them, undermining the confidence expressed by the president at the donor conference in the capital.

********* FIGHT OVER KUNDUZ AND ILL-FATED BOMBING OF A HOSPITAL *******Taliban Captures Northern City
Taliban militants scored a major victory on September 28, 2015 after they overran government forces in the northern city of Kunduz, marking for the first time the capture of a major city since ousted from power in 2001 and underscoring the vulnerability of the Afghan security apparatus. The launch of Taliban offensive was sudden and swift as they coordinated simultaneous attacks on the city from 10 different points at 3AM local time. After almost 12 hours of intense gun battle, Taliban militants moved in the heart of city in late afternoon, brought down the Afghan national flag, tore apart President Ashraf Ghani’s photographs and flew white flag of the Taliban movement. At least 600 prisoners, including 140 Taliban fighters, were set free from the city’s jail. Many residents were fleeing the city as the new Taliban leader, Mullah Akhtar Mansoor, self-styled Islamic Emir of Afghanistan, assured the citizens of Kunduz that their lives and properties would be safeguarded.

Afghan Security Forces Struggle in Fight to Take Back Northern City
A day after Taliban insurgents took the complete control over Kunduz, Afghan military had yet to come up with a military strategy to take back the city. On September 29, 2015, Taliban militants expanded their operation to zero on the city’s airport.

Taliban Expands Its Dominance in Kunduz
Amidst U.S. bombing on Taliban targets in Kunduz overnight, the militant group on September 30, 2015 seemed to be not only consolidating its recent gains, but also expanding into new areas. Taliban fighters during the day carried out house-to-house search at Kunduz, the sixth-largest Afghan city and the primary gateway to Central Asia, to flush out government informants. In addition, people were fleeing the Pul-i-Kumri, the capital of the neighboring province of Baghlan to avoid a Kunduz-like disaster in which more than 100 people were killed or injured.

Afghan Security Forces Reported to Have Re-taken Kunduz
After being on the run over the past 72 hours, Afghan troops assisted by the U.S. special forces and airstrikes at last turned the corner on battle in Kunduz on October 1, 2015, re-taking parts of the city. Street fighting at various parts of the city continued as night fell.

Afghan Forces Carry Searches for Taliban Holdouts

A day after seizing the northern city of

Kunduz

from Taliban control, Afghan security forces on

October 2, 2015

conducted house searches in various neighborhoods to flush out remnants of Taliban resistance. Afghan national flag was seen flying again at the city center. Meanwhile, Afghan Health Ministry reported during the day that at least

60 people

were killed and

466 injured

during fighting that had erupted with a dramatic launch of attack on

Kunduz

on

September 28, 2015

. More than 6,000 people had fled the fighting, according to the U.N.

U.S. Airstrike on a Hospital Kills 19
U.S. aircraft carried out an airstrike at 2:15AM local time on October 3, 2015 that had hit a trauma hospital at the recently liberated city of Kunduz, killing at least 19 and injuring more than 37. The Doctors Without Borders that ran the hospital said that 12 of its staff were killed along with 7 patients, including three children. Although the U.S. military issued a statement later in the day saying that it had to defend itself against individuals “who were threatening the force” and there might be “collateral damage to a nearby medical facility”. However, the doctors’ group’s president Meinie Nicolai took issue with the U.S. military statement, and called the attack “abhorrent” and “grave violation of the “International Humanitarian Law”. Stepping in, the top U.N. human rights official Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein said on October 3, 2015 that U.S. attack on the hospital was “tragic, inexcusable, and possibly even criminal”.

Hospital Strike Toll Rises, Doctors’ Group Withdraws from the City
The toll from a U.S. airstrike against the MSF Hospital in Kunduz, a hospital run and operated by Doctors Without Borders, rose to 22 on October 4, 2015, including 12 staff members and 10 patients. The group’s General Director Christopher Stokes on October 4, 2015 repeated the charity’s demand for independent investigation. The doctors’ group also said that it had to withdraw from the city.

American General Admits that Kunduz Hospital “Mistakenly Struck”
Appearing at a hearing held on October 6, 2015 at the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee, the top American military commander in Afghanistan said that the hospital at Kunduz run by the Doctors Without Borders was mistakenly struck by a US warplane on October 3, 2015. Gen. John Campbell also said at the hearing that he had recommended President Barack Obama, who had promised to end U.S. war in Afghanistan and withdraw all the U.S. troops barring 1,000 at the U.S. embassy before leaving office, to have more U.S. troops stationed in Afghanistan as the situation on ground had drastically changed since Obama’s announcement in 2014.

Obama Apologizes for Hospital Strike
In a fence-mending action with Doctors Without Borders, U.S. President Barack Obama on October 7, 2015 called the group’s president, Joanne Liu, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, and assured them “a transparent, thorough and objective accounting” of the incident to be conducted by the Defense Department. Obama also apologized to Liu for October 3, 2015, incident in which a U.S. airstrike on a hospital at Kunduz had killed 22. However, Ms. Liu, appearing at a press conference at Geneva on October 7, 2015, demanded that an independent investigation by the 15-person International Humanitarian Fact-Finding Mission should be conducted. The fact-finding mission established in 1991 to investigate into violation of international humanitarian law was never activated.

Taliban Withdraws Completely from Kunduz
Taliban announced on October 13, 2015 that they were completely withdrawing from Kunduz for strategic reasons, 15 days after they had startled the world by whirlwind attack to take over the city from the government control. During the past 15 days of fighting and conflict, 57 people were killed and 630 wounded, according to government figures.

Death Toll from Hospital Airstrike Rises
One more wounded succumbed to injuries on October 23, 2015, raising the death toll from the October 3, 2015, airstrike to 23. Among those killed were 13 staff of the Doctors Without Borders and 10 patients.

Trio of Investigators to Inquire into Airstrike
The commander of the NATO’s Resolute Support Mission, Gen. John Campbell,  on October 24, 2015 announced a three-member panel to take over the inquiry into October 3, 2015, airstrike on a Kunduz hospital run by Doctors Without Borders that had killed 23. The inquiry was begun by Brig. Gen. Richard Kim. The three-member panel will be headed by U.S. Army Maj. Gen. William Hickman, and include two brigadier generals.

Group’s Investigation Points to Deliberate Attack by US Aircraft
An investigation conducted by the Doctors Without Borders into October 3, 2015, airstrike against a hospital at Kunduz run by the group stated that there were wounded Taliban fighters being treated in the hospital during the time of attack, but there was no armed group within the hospital compound. The charity’s General Director Christopher Stokes released the report, based on interviews of about 60 staff members, on November 5, 2015. The report said that the air assault lasted for more than an hour. As of November 5, 2015, the death toll from the airstrike rose to 30.

Doctors Without Borders Revises the Death Toll Upward in Hospital StrikesDoctors Without Borders issued a statement on December 12, 2015, saying that “MSF today announces with great sadness that the death toll has been confirmed to be at least 42 people”, referring to the French acronym of the group. Among the 42 people dead, 14 were staff members, 24 patients and four relatives of patients. U.S. military has conducted separate inquiries into October 3, 2015, airstrike against the hospital, and concluded that it had made mistake, pledging to take measures against unspecified number of personnel. U.S. military never made public the inquiry reports.

U.N. Gives Estimate of Civilian Death Toll in Kunduz FightingU.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) on December 12, 2015 issued an up to date report on civilian casualty during the two-week Taliban occupation of Kunduz, leading a fierce fight between Taliban fighters and Afghan security forces, who were aided by the US air support and US Special Operations Forces troops. According to UNAMA, 289 civilians were killed and an additional 559 were wounded between September 28, 2015 and October 13, 2015.

General Expresses “Deepest Condolences” over Kunduz Hospital Strikes16 military personnel, including a two-star general, were admonished, or disciplined, after a months-long Pentagon investigation into October 3, 2015, airstrikes on a Doctors Without Borders-run hospital at Kunduz that had killed 42 people, according to the inquiry report released on April 29, 2016. Releasing the report at Pentagon, Gen. Joseph Votel expressed “deepest condolences” to the families of victims and injured for a “disproportional response to a threat that did not exist”. An AC-130 gunship helicopter pummeled the hospital for 30 minutes before the error was detected. It was a fatal combination of human error, violation of combat rules and equipment failure, according to Votel, who said that families of the injured received $3,000 lump sum payment and that of dead received $6,000. However, none of the disciplined officers will be court-martialed. Doctors Without Borders, reacting to the investigation results, stood firm in its demand for an “independent and international investigation”.

********* FIGHT OVER KUNDUZ AND ILL-FATED BOMBING OF A HOSPITAL *******Five NATO Soldiers Killed in Copter Crash at NATO Base
Five NATO soldiers were killed in a Puma Mk 2 helicopter crash on October 11, 2015 afternoon at a base near Afghan capital, according to a statement issued by the Resolute Support Mission. Although the mission statement didn’t identify the nationality of the deceased, British Defense Ministry said that two of them were Royal Air Force members.

Obama to Leave Office without Complete Withdrawal of Troops from Afghanistan
President Barack Obama is all set to leave office without fulfilling one of his signature campaign promises as the conditions on ground have deteriorated significantly with Afghan troops finding it hard to defend territories without help from the NATO forces. On October 15, 2015, Obama ordered to significantly slow troops drawdown from the Afghan battlefield, leaving the fate of a remnant U.S. troop level to the next President.  Under the changed plan, announced by President Barack Obama on October 15, 2015 at the White House, the current troop level of 9,800 will stay more or less unchanged until the end of 2016 and then it will drop to 5,500 at the end of 2016, or at the beginning of 2017. The post-2016 troops in Afghanistan will be focused on training, assisting and advising Afghan security forces. According to the revised plan announced on October 15, 2015, U.S. will maintain the main base at Bagram Air Field as well as bases outside Kandahar in the south and Jalalabad in the east.

*********** Massive Earthquake in Pakistan-Afghanistan Borders Kills Hundreds *********Hundreds Killed in a Devastating Earthquake
A 7.5-scale earthquake centered 132 miles beneath the Hindu Kush Mountain range and 160 miles northeast of Kabul on October 26, 2015 jolted buildings, high rises, bridges and structures, creating panic and chaos in much of the region. The tremor was felt as far as New Delhi. According to preliminary reports, 103 districts in 14 Afghan provinces were seriously affected, with at least 4,000 collapsed, destroyed or damaged. At least 208 were reported killed.

Rescue Operations Begin

A day after a 7.5-scale earthquake struck the

Badakhshan

province, a sparsely populated region bordering Pakistan, China and Tajikistan, search-and-rescue operation began with workers digging the rubble, relief supplies being supplied to remote areas and aid organizations mobilizing relief operations in one of the world’s most violent regions. As of

October 27, 2015

, the death toll rose to 376, including 258 in Pakistan, 115 in Afghanistan and 3 in Indian side of Kashmir.

*********** Massive Earthquake in Pakistan-Afghanistan Borders Kills Hundreds *********Hazara Deaths Galvanize Anti-Taliban, Anti-Government Demonstration
After the discovery of beheaded bodies of seven Hazaras in Afghanistan’s southeastern Zabul province on November 7, 2015, anger and frustration were rising among Afghanistan’s sizable minority communities, especially among Shiites, over the lack of security and resurgence of Taliban. On November 11, 2015, about 10,000 people demonstrated in front of presidential palace in Kabul, chanting anti-Taliban, anti-government slogans. Demonstrators brought seven bodies–four men, two women and a 9-year-old girl–to the capital. Several demonstrators tried to scale the perimeter of the presidential palace, leading to presidential guards to resort to fire that had injured 10 people. Soon after demonstration, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani went to national TV, and condemned the brutal murder of seven Hazaras. President Ghani also vowed to mete out justice against the perpetrators.

US Issues Warning of an “Imminent Attack”
On November 30, 2015, the U.S. embassy at Kabul said that it had information that some groups were planning attacks on the capital.

Taliban Attack on an Airbase Kills Nine
Taliban suicide attackers armed with rocket-propelled grenades, small arms and hand grenades breached the security cordon at a Kandahar airbase on December 8, 2015, leading to hours-long fight with the security forces. The fighting lasted for nearly 20 hours and a hostage-like situation took place. The situation was brought under control only on December 9, 2015, but not before at least 50 people, including many women and children, were killed along with 14 attackers. The airbase is thought to host CIA and US military personnel.

Suicide Attack on a Motorcycle Kills Six U.S. Soldiers
A suicide bomber on a pillion targeted U.S. soldiers close to Bagram Air Base on December 21, 2015, killing six of them. The pillion rider blew himself up after ramming into a joint patrol that was passing through a nearby village, Qalanderkhail. Afterward Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack and death of six American soldiers. Prior to December 21, 2015, deaths, 21 members of the coalition troops, including 15 Americans, were killed this year, according to the website iCasualties.

Taliban on the Comeback Trail; Takes a Key District in Helmand
In absence of U.S.-led coalition troops in combat, Taliban made headways on several front this year, including a brief takeover of Kunduz in the fall of this year (2015). Taliban on December 20, 2015 seized Sangin District of Helmand province after days of intense fighting. In addition to holding on to Sangin, Taliban fighters were locked in severe fights with the government troops on December 21, 2015 in several other districts of Helmand province such as Khan Neshin, Marja, Gereshk and Washir.

ISIL; Rival Group Behead Eight Captives
A new frontier of battle-line is being drawn in Afghanistan’s hinterland of Nangarhar province in the east between so-called ISIL newcomers and militia loyal to Deputy Speaker of Afghan parliament, Zahir Qadir. As a brutal show of force, both groups beheaded four captives each on December 27, 2015, a day after they were seized during battles in the province’s Achin district.

Islamic State Gunmen Attack Pak Consulate in Afghanistan
Islamic State on January 13, 2016 claimed to have attacked the Pakistani consulate at Jalalabad in Nangarhar province, only three days after Afghan President Ashraf Ghani visited the Jalalabad and said that Islamic State had no room in his country. All three attackers, alleged to be members of the so-called Islamic State of Khorosan, were killed by the Afghan security forces, but not before seven of their comrades were killed. Islamic State, hitherto known to have only a meager presence, has found some footing in the Nangarhar province with the help of Taliban deserters.

Afghan Parliamentary, Local Polls Announced
Afghanistan’s Independent Election Commission head Ahmad Yousuf Nuristani on January 18, 2016 announced that elections to parliament and local bodies would be held on October 15, 2016. However, minutes within the announcement open discord erupted as a spokesman for the Afghan Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah blamed the electoral body for not consulting and coordinating with them and other political groups.

Pentagon IG Report an Eye-opener

A report authored by Pentagon’s

Inspector-General

was released on

January 30, 2016

, and the report immediately drew attention from the military planners, politicians and policy analysts. According to the report, Taliban controls more Afghan areas than any time in the past since 2001.

Bomber Kills at Least 20 as U.S. Military Reports a Significant Increase in Afghan Deaths
A suicide bomber on February 1, 2016 blew up near a police complex in Kabul, killing at least 20 police personnel and wounding 29. Also, on February 1, 2016, a U.S. military report underscored the difficulty being faced by Afghan security forces in fighting against a resurgent Taliban campaign of attacks. Last year (2015), the casualty among Afghan security personnel, according to the report, was a third higher than that of 2014, previous record.

Top NATO Commander Expresses His Lack of Confidence in Afghan Security
Outgoing top U.S. commander for NATO in Afghanistan, Gen. John Campbell, said on February 2, 2016 at a U.S. House Armed Services Committee hearing that Afghan security forces were not up to the task and they won’t be until the 2020s. Gen. Campbell also favored keeping the current strength of the U.S. troops of 9,800. Last week, the incoming U.S. commander, Army Lt. Gen. John Nicholson Jr., gave a similar overview to a Senate committee, and promised to provide a comprehensive assessment within 90 days of taking over his new role.

U.S. to Send Hundreds of Troops to Helmand
In the most expansive move beyond its major military bases in the country since the end of Operation Enduring Freedom, U.S. military in Afghanistan announced on February 9, 2016 that it would send hundreds of troops to Helmand soon to protect Special Operations Troops already operating there and provide additional training to 215th Corps of the Afghan National Army. In the backdrop of a fast deterioration in security situation, it’s likely that the incoming U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Army Lt. Gen. John Nicholson Jr., will recommend, after a thorough review of the security scenario, keeping all of 9,800 troops in the country instead of reducing the troop level to proposed 5,500 by the end of 2016.

Afghan Troops Withdraw from a Key District
Afghan troops on February 20, 2016 totally withdrew from the Musa Qala District of Helmand province, underscoring the volatile situation in the province and a fragile security environment due to an assertive Taliban. With the withdrawal by Afghan security forces from Musa Qala, there are now only 4 out of 14 districts in Helmand where government authority writs large fully.

Swedish Aid Group Demands Explanation for Hospital Raid
Swedish aid group Swedish Committee for Afghanistan on February 24, 2016 demanded a “detailed explanation” of a joint raid by the U.S. and Afghan troops at one of its hospitals in a Taliban-held area in Wardak province, southwest of Kabul. According to the director of the group, Jorgen Holmstrom, Afghan troops along with the U.S. troops had arrived at the 10-bed hospital in the Daimirdad district at the middle of the night on February 17, 2016, detained staff and beaten them up.

Twin Suicide Bombings Kill More than Two Dozens
Two separate suicide bombings in Afghanistan on February 27, 2016 killed at least 26 people and injured more than 50. A pillion rider blew himself up near a tribal elderly, Hajji Khan Jan, who had led an uprising against Taliban in Kunar province, near governor’s mansion in Assadabad, killing at least 14 people, including Jan, and wounding 41 others. In Kabul, a suicide bomber walked toward the entrance of the Defense Ministry headquarters, and blew up, killing at least 12 people and wounding 8. Although Taliban claimed responsibility for Kabul suicide bombing, no one so far claimed for Assadabad attack.

Handover of U.S. Military Command Greeted by Violence
In an ornate ceremony at Kabul on March 2, 2016, Army Gen. John Nicholson, Jr., took command of about 13,000 NATO troops in Afghanistan from Gen. John Campbell who led the NATO troops in the country for the past 18 months. The handover has taken place in the backdrop of a resurgent Taliban insurgency that now controls maximum amount of areas ever in Afghanistan since 2001. Just after the handover ceremony concluded in Kabul, five suicide attackers tried to breach security at the Indian consulate in Jalalabad, but repelled by the Afghan security forces, leading to exchange in gunfire that killed at least eight, including five suicide attackers, and wounded more than 19.

American Commander Asks Apology for Hospital Bombing
The new American commander in Afghanistan, Gen. John Nicholson, Jr.,  on March 22, 2016 issued a statement apologizing for the October 3, 2015, accidental airstrikes on a Kunduz hospital operated by the Doctors Without Borders. During the day, Nicholson and his wife, Norine MacDonald, a security analyst, visited Kunduz, and met officials and families of victims. However, the apology of Gen. John Nicholson, Jr. did very little to dissuade the Doctors Without Borders from seeking an international independent investigation into the airstrikes.

Taliban Announces Resumption of Offensives
Taliban on April 12, 2016 announced that it would begin anti-government, anti-occupation offensives effective immediately although attacks had never lulled in the Afghan hinterland during harsh winter season.

Suicide Attack Targets Security Agency
A coordinated suicide attack on April 19, 2016 killed at least 28 people at the headquarters of a security agency responsible for providing security details to VIPs and government officials like the US Security Services. The suicide attack at the Kabul headquarters involved two insurgents. The first one drove a small truck full of explosives to the agency headquarters, and blew up at the entrance. The second attacker followed through by opening fire on befuddled security personnel who had come forward to lend helping hands to the victims of the truck explosion.

Suicide Attack Toll Rises

A day after a coordinated truck bomb and a suicide attacker wreaked havoc at a security training complex designed for security details for country’s VIPs, the authorities on

April 20, 2016

raised the death toll to

64

and number of injured to

347

.

************************* GULBUDDIN HEKMATYAR ****************************A Key Rebel Leader to Reconcile with Afghan Government
The leader of an emaciated rebel group, Hezb-e-Islami, apparently reached out to Afghan government for a potential political reconciliation and rehabilitation that might help Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, a former , to return to Kabul after a gap of more than 20 years since he along with the erstwhile administration was ousted by Taliban in 1996, according to a May 11, 2016, report published by The New York Times.

Agreement Signed between Afghan Government and a Former Warlord
Overshadowed by the rise and dominance of Taliban movement, former CIA-supported warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar didn’t have much choice in recent years as his Hezb-e-Islami group was being depleted in fighter ranks and lack of substantial support from its primary benefactor, Pakistan, in recent years. Meanwhile, the government of Ashraf Ghani was also looking for an opportunity to show the far mightier Taliban on a reconciliation model that would bring former foes under the same umbrella in order for building a stable and prosperous–still a wishful thinking–Afghnistan. A draft agreement was signed on September 22, 2016 by representatives of High Peace Council, Hekmatyar’s representatives and Afghan National Security Adviser Mohammad Hanif. If the agreement goes into effect, Hekmatyar and his fighters will renounce violence against Afghan regime and be part of Afghan rebuilding effort in exchange for dropping all past crime charges.

************************* GULBUDDIN HEKMATYAR ****************************

Taliban Leader Reported to have been Killed in Drone Strike
Afghan intelligence agency, National Directorate of Security, issued a statement on May 22, 2016 that a drone strike had killed Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour around 3:45PM local time on May 21, 2016 in “Dalbandin area of Baluchistan Province in Pakistan”. The May 21, 2016, killing of Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour signifies a strategic shift in the Obama administration’s response to a growing Taliban offensive in Afghanistan as the talks with Taliban had ground to a complete halt, partly due to a vociferous stance against them by the Taliban leader himself. Responding to the assassination of Afghan Taliban leader on its soil, Pakistan’s foreign ministry issued a statement on May 22, 2016, condemning the drone strike as flagrant violation of the country’s sovereignty.

Obama Justifies Taliban Leader’s KillingPresident Barack Obama, in the midst of his Asian trip, told reporters at Hanoi, Vietnam on May 23, 2016 that he had authorized the May 21, 2016, drone strike to kill Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour in Pakistan as the Afghan Taliban leader had been increasingly targeting American troops and other personnel in Afghanistan.

Taliban Names New Leader
Four days after Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour was killed in a drone strike, Taliban’s core leadership on May 25, 2016 chose a hitherto unknown leader as their new head at a meeting at Quetta, Pakistan. The choice of Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada was surprising as his rise eclipsed the profile of other two senior leaders deemed for this job: Sirajjuddin Haqqani and Mullah Mohammed Yaqoub, son of the founding leader of Taliban, Mullah Mohammad Omar. Taliban core leadership during the day issued a statement that named Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada as their choice as well as Sirajjuddin Haqqani and Mullah Mohammed Yaqoub asdeputy leaders and vowed to continue fighting against the Afghan government.

Amnesty Report Portrays a Grim Picture on Refugee Crisis
An Amnesty International report issued on May 31, 2016 at Kabul painted a grim outlook on the state of people who had been displaced due to insurgency, now in its 15th year. The report, issued by Champa Patel, South Asia Director of the organization, said that everyday 1,000 people were being displaced from their primary residences. At the end of 2012, there were 500,000 internally displaced people, and now it had swelled to more than 1.2 million people. Meanwhile, the aid from the U.N. was lowest since 2009 totaling $292 million in 2015. While world’s attention had been moving away from Afghanistan, according to Patel, “we risk forgetting the plight” of those who were being displaced every single day.

Attack Kills Newly Sworn Provincial Attorney-General
Barely an hour into his job and before even the swearing-in ceremony was even wrapped up, the Attorney-General of Logar province, Akram Nejat, was killed by gunmen on June 5, 2016 at an apparently secure appeals court building in the provincial capital, Pul-e-Alam. Beside Akram Nejat, four government employees and two civilians were also killed in the attack, later claimed by Taliban as a revenge for hanging deaths of six of their insurgents last month. At least 23 people were injured in the attack, and the gunmen were killed by security forces after a 90-minute gunbattle. This marked the third court-related attack in the past three weeks. Last week, Taliban insurgents disguised as burqa-clad women attacked a courthouse in Gazni province, and killed 6 people, most of them were civilians. On May 25, 2016, Taliban militants attacked a bus in Kabul, carrying court employees, killing 10.

Veteran NPR Journalist Killed in Ambush
A veteran National Public Radio journalist David Gilkey and another Afghan journalist, Zabihullah Tamanna, were killed in ambush on June 5, 2016 as they were traveling with the Afghan army units through the hinterlands of Helmand province, where Taliban militants had mounted a ferocious campaign of insurgency against the government. Gilkey had covered Afghan theater since September 11, 2001, attacks, and he had “brought out the humanity of all those around him”, according to a statement issued on June 6, 2016 by NPR’s Senior Vice President of News and Editorial Director Michael Oreskes, and “he let us see the world and each other through his eyes”. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani condemned the killings of Gilkey and Tamanna, 37, a freelancer who had often worked as a translator for NPR. The U.S. Embassy and the commander of the U.S.-NATO Resolute Support Mission, Army General John W. Nicholson, on June 6, 2016 offered condolences to the families of David Gilkey and Zabihullah Tamanna. The other two NPR journalists, Tom Bowman and Monika Evstatieva, who were also in the convoy, were unhurt.

Suicide Bombing Kills Foreign Security Guards
A suicide bomber blew up near a bus carrying Nepalese and Indian guards for the Canadian embassy in Kabul on June 20, 2016, killing 14 people in one of the deadliest attacks in the capital in recent days. Both Taliban and Islamic State made competing claims, taking responsibility for the attack that had wounded eight people. Taliban also claimed responsibility for a separate bombing near the house of an elected member of Kabul’s local body that had injured Attaullah Faizani, the local body member, and two other civilians. Meanwhile, the day’s third incident of violence was first denied by Taliban as a bomb killed 10 people, including several children, in the northeastern province of Badakhsshan, an opportunistic practice wielded by the militants of disowning any attack that had taken toll of a large number of civilians, but later the local Taliban leaders had accepted the responsibility.

At least 33 Killed in Bus Bombings
Ten days after a suicide bomber killed 14 Indian and Nepalese security guards for Canadian Embassy, a pair of bombs targeted newly graduated police cadets on June 30, 2016 in the province of Wardak, near Kabul, killing at least 33 people, including four civilians, and injuring about 60. According to Wardak Governor Mohamad Musa Rahmati, the day’s incident unfolded with a car bomb exploding near two of a five-bus convoy that was carrying about 215 cadets. As the passengers from the other buses came to rescue to the passengers of the two buses hit by the first bomb, a suicide bomber blew himself up. The cadets were on their way to Kabul to receive their first assignments.

Hundreds of Additional U.S. Troops to Deploy from Outside if Called
After taking the helm of the U.S. mission in Afghanistan, Army Gen. John Nicholson reviewed the security situation on the ground and recommended to reduce the withdrawal of U.S. troops from its current level of 9,800 to 8,400 by the end of 2016 instead of original target of 5,500. A week after President Barack Obama accepted his recommendation and announced to keep 8,400 U.S. troops in Afghanistan after 2016, Gen. John Nicholson on July 12, 2016 gave a breakdown, at a press conference where the visiting U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter was also present, of how those 8,400 troops who remained in Afghanistan after 2016 would be used: about 3000 as advisers, 2150 working in the sphere of counterterrorism, and 3300 in supporting role. Gen. Nicholson also said that, if the situation warranted, an additional 400 U.S. troops would be called upon from outside and deployed.

Several Dozens Killed by Attacker against a Protest Rally
A protest rally organized mostly by Hazara community in Bamiyan province demanding that the Afghan government scrap its plan to build a power transmission line bypassing the region turned into a killing field on July 23, 2016 as suicide bombers detonated explosives targeting the procession in Kabul, killing at least 80 people and wounding more than 230. The attack was the deadliest in Kabul, and more fatal than the previous one in December 2011 when a suicide bombing against a Shiite crowd observing the Ashura, a religious rite of the sect that marked the killing of Mohammed’s grandson Hussain in 680 A.D., had killed about 70. Taliban condemned the attack on Hazara rally as “an ominous plot aimed at creating discord” among people. No one claimed responsibility for the bombing. Speculation ran wild that the Islamic State, which was so far limited to parts of eastern Nangarhar province, brought its orgy of violence straight to the heart of the capital.

Afghan President Bans Rally at Capital
In a somewhat surprising decision that sent just the wrong message to the outside world, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on July 24, 2016 imposed a 10-day ban on rallies in the capital, Kabul, a day after suicide bombings killed at least 80 people. The natural question that arose in people’s mind is whether Afghan government is more interested in quashing the demand of Hazara community for bringing a power line though their community in Bamiyan province instead of taking on a recalcitrant insurgency.

Kunduz, on the Verge of Fall, Safely in Government Fold in Hours
A tense 24-hour dramatic topsy-turvy walloped the fate of northern city of Kunduz on August 20, 2016 as in the early hours of the day, under darkness, Taliban insurgents surprised government troops by attacking a neighboring district, Khanabad, capturing and controlling it for hours. As hundreds of Taliban mounted attacks from several directions on Kunduz, the city appeared to fall to Taliban hands. Residents began to flee to international airport that was under the government control when rest of the city fell to Taliban last September to seek shelter. Surprised and befuddled by the suddenness and intensity of the Taliban attacks, Afghan troops rushed to provide help to local security apparatus and by the nightfall, not only Afghan troops and local security personnel were able to beat back Taliban aggression of Kunduz, but also recapture the district of Khanabad. At least 75 Taliban insurgents were killed.

Helmand Provincial Capital Teeters under Taliban Attack
Afghan authorities on August 10, 2016 rang alarm bell as Taliban insurgents mounted on Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helmand province, on several fronts. Helmand Provincial Council chief Kareem Atal said on August 10, 2016 that security forces had withdrawn from all checkpoints to buttress the defense of the city center and central government was requested to send further reinforcements.

Tension between Two Top Afghan Leaders Threatens Political Stability
As a tenuous pact between Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah that was crafted in 2014 by the U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to put together at the Afghan helm of affairs a coalition of unwilling partners is nearing its expiry next month, the frequency and sharpness of political infighting between the camps have escalated to a point where political instability is threatening to overshadow the fight against Taliban. The situation came to a pass on August 11, 2016 when Abdullah Abdullah alleged that President Ghani didn’t have even few hours time for months at a stretch to discuss with him many important things. A day later, one of Abdullah Abdullah’s parliamentary surrogates, Amrullah Saleh, doubled down on the allegation, saying that chief executive’s supporters would be forced to withdraw support from the government until reforms were introduced as called for by the agreement. Responding to the allegations, Afghan President’s Office issued a statement on August 12, 2016 that the unity government had made “remarkable achievement” and the allegations ran counter to “spirit of governance”.

IS Leader of Afghanistan and Pakistan Reportedly Killed
Pentagon on August 12, 2016 announced that a July 26, 2016, airstrike in eastern Afghanistan had killed the leader of Taliban movement in Pakistan and Afghanistan, Hafiz Saeed Khan.

American Soldier Killed in Helmand
An American soldier was killed in a roadside bomb near Helmand capital of Lashkar Gah, according to the U.S. military on August 23, 2016. The death of the U.S. soldier occurred days after 100 American soldiers had arrived as part of mission to bolster the defense of Helmand capital which had been going through relentless attacks by Taliban in recent months and near total security lapses. Lashkar Gah’s precarious security situation is a reminder of a resurgent Taliban and weakening strength of Afghanistan’s defense forces two years after the last of British soldiers has left the province. The death of the American soldier marked the second this year as Staff Sgt. Matthew McClintock was killed in January 2016 at Marjah in the same province of Helmand.

Hostage Crisis Hits American University at Kabul
Three gunmen muscled their way into the American University at Kabul in the early evening of August 24, 2016 by easily overpowering the lightly armed security guards and creating an hours-long siege by taking hostage of dozens of students. Many students used their mobile device to take to social media to give live update of the unfolding crisis. Afghan security forces rushed to the campus, an apparent safe space for wealthy Afghans to send their kids to get western education, but the rescue operation moved slowly given the focus on saving as many lives of students as possible. Gunshots were heard throughout the night, and The siege was brought to an end at around 5:00AM on August 25, 2016. All three assailants were killed in security operation. At least 13 people were killed: 7 students, three policemen, two University guards and another guard at a school for the blind across the street. The attack began at the school for the blind where a security guard was first killed. Then a car bomb blasted through the walls of American University. Two other gunmen then sneaked into the campus, and led to a 10-hour siege. More than 30 people were reported to be wounded. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on August 25, 2016 condemned the attack as barbaric. By the end of August 25, 2016, no militant group claimed responsibility for the attack.

A Key District of an Afghan Border Province Falls to Insurgent Hands
After nine days of a stubborn siege and lack of wholehearted support from the federal authorities in Kabul, the local police and security forces gave up on putting resistance against Haqqani network insurgents on late August 26, 2016 and fled their positions in the Jani Khel district of border province of Paktia.

Twin Bombings in Kabul Kill Two Dozens
In coordinated attacks of first using a car bomb and then sending a suicide bomber to double down on inflicting more destruction as people had arrived at the scene of the first bombing to help out the victims, twin bombings near the Afghan defense ministry on September 5, 2016 killed at least 24 people and wounded close to 100. Later in the day, Taliban claimed the responsibility.

Taliban Fighters Storm A Key Provincial Capital
After days of fierce fighting, Taliban insurgents were able to penetrate the defense of a vulnerable police force at the provincial capital of Uruzgan province in southern Afghanistan on September 8, 2016. According to the provincial police chief, Mohammad Wais Samimi, who briefed reporters from the besieged capital of Tirin Kot that his police force was “trying to push back the Taliban as fighting is going on in three parts of the city”. To reinforce the defense of Tirin Kot, the powerful police chief of the neighboring Kandahar province, Gen. Abdul Razaq, was reported to be on his way along with hundreds of troops.

Blast Kills Nine
On the same day the capital of southern Uruzgan province was on the verge of falling to Taliban control, a bomb explosion on September 8, 2016 rocked a busy market in the faraway northeastern province of Baghlan, killing at least 9 people and wounding 15.

SEALs Narrowly Missed to Free American HostageThe New York Times reported on September 8, 2016 that Navy SEALS, backed by Army Rangers, raided a remote mountainous hideout in eastern Afghanistan last month (August 2016) in a mission to free two hostages–an American professor, Kevin King, and his Australian colleague, Timothy Weeks–seized from near the American University of Afghanistan on August 7, 2016. SEALs narrowly missed the professors as they had been taken to a different hideout by their captors hours earlier.

Fighting Across Afghanistan Ensues amidst Opening of an International Conference

Fierce fighting are roiling various parts of Afghanistan as diplomats have arrived at Brussels on

October 4, 2016

to attend an international conference for raising about

$15 billion

in aid for Afghanistan. The biggest hot-spot was the city of Kunduz as Afghan forces backed by U.S. airstrikes were able to oust Taliban fighters on

October 4, 2016

, a day after rebel had seized the city center. Ferocious fighting were going on in various districts of southern Helmand province as well as parts of

Uruzgan

province.

International Conference Pledges $15.2 billion
A two-day international conference at Brussels by more than 70 nations concluded on October 5, 2016, pledging a 4-year aid pipeline of $15.2 billion. However, there is palpable reluctance on behalf of participating nations to pour more money amid swirling corruption and mismanagement in Afghan administration.

At Least 14 Killed in Attack on Shiite Shrine
A lone gunman on October 11, 2016 carried out a gruesome sectarian attack on people gathered at Kabul’s Sakhi Shrine to observe the revered Shiite event of Ashoura, killing a policeman and at least 13 congregants before being shot dead.

One More Attack of “Green on Blue” Leaves Two Americans Dead
A lone Afghan soldier opened fire at a military depot near Kabul on October 19, 2016, killing a U.S. service member and an American civilian. The attacker was killed too.

Two U.S. Soldiers Killed in Kunduz
Two U.S. soldiers were killed on November 3, 2016 in Kunduz as Afghan forces fought their way to recover grounds in Kunduz from insurgents. The circumstances under which the U.S. soldiers had been killed were not known as the U.S. forces in Afghanistan, totaling around 10,000, were on a mission to “train, advise and assist” the Afghan forces. Meanwhile, the governor of Afghanistan’s Kunduz province, Asadullah Omarkhel, said on November 3, 2016 that about 30 civilians had been killed in airstrikes, without divulging details.

Civilians Killed in U.S. Airstrikes in Kunduz
As additional information over the circumstances that had led to the November 3, 2016, killing of two U.S. soldiers came in, the chronology of the day’s events shed a light on what had unfolded on that fateful Thursday at the village of Bozi Kandahari in Kunduz. According to The Washington Post report published on November 5, 2016, Afghan Special Forces along with U.S. troops were on their way to Bozi Kandahari village on a tip that senior Taliban leaders were meeting at a house in the village. As they approached their destination, ground troops faced a hail of fire from enemy positions, leading to call for an aerial intervention. A subsequent U.S. aerial attack killed at least 30 civilians, including an unknown number of women and children, according to village elders. Two U.S. soldiers and three Afghan special ops soldiers were killed in the ground fight. Referring to the Bozi Kandahari civilian deaths, the U.S. commander in Afghanistan Gen. John Nicholson issued a statement: “I deeply regret the loss of innocent lives, regardless of circumstances..”.

Car Bomber Hits Mazar-i-Sharif, Suicide Bomber the Bagram Airbase
In a span of 24 hours, two suicide attacks reminded the world and Afghans that the violence that was part of much of the last 15 years was not going away anytime soon. First, on November 11, 2016, a suicide car bomber attacked the German Consulate in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif, killing six people. Next day, November 12, 2016, a suicide bomber in the guise of a day laborer, blew up at the Bagram Airbase, killing four Americans–including two service personnel and two contractors–and wounding 16.

Suicide Attack at a Shiite Mosque Kills 30
In another alarming outcome of Islamic State’s growing footprint in Afghanistan, how insignificant that might be, a suicide bomber on November 21, 2016 blew himself up at a Shiite mosque in western Kabul, Baqir-ul Ulum Mosque and Cultural Center, killing at least 30 and wounding about 80. During the time of the attack, the mosque was full of people observing the end of 40-day mourning period, and in the aftermath, women and children were taken to upstairs for their safety. At the beginning of Ashura too, a lone gunman killed at least 13 Shiites at another Kabul mosque, Sakhi Mosque, on October 11, 2016.

Marines to Replace Army Units in Dangerous Province
About 300 Marines are poised to be deployed in Helmand province to assist, advise and train the 215th Corps of Afghanistan’s Army and 505th Zone of Afghan National Police. According to Brigadier General Roger Turner, who will lead the operation, Marines are “capable of countering a full-spectrum threat” and will be based out of former military base, Camp Leatherneck. Marines left Camp Leatherneck in October 2014. The deployment, formally known as Task Force Southwest, is going to relieve a similarly sized Army’s Task Force Forge as part of rotational deployment program. The Washington Post reported on January 6, 2017 reported about the potential Marine deployment recommended by the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Gen. John Nicholson.

9 Hazara Coal Miners Shot Dead
Gunmen on January 6, 2017 ambushed and killed nine Hazara coal miners aboard a bus at a town in Northern Afghanistan’s Tala Wa Barfak District as they were returning home from work.

American Pleads for Life in Video
A video released on January 11, 2017 included an American professor, Kevin King, who along with fellow Australian professor Timothy Weeks were kidnapped during August 2016 attack on American University, pleading for his life.

Civilians Killed in November 2016 Kunduz Fighting
After a two-month investigation, U.S. military issued a statement on January 12, 2017 that 33 civilians had been killed and 27 wounded in the November 2-3, 2016, fighting in the village of Boz Qandahari in Kunduz province. During that firefight, two U.S. soldiers, three Afghan soldiers and 26 Taliban fighters were also killed. Acknowledging the civilian casualties, NATO’s top general in Afghanistan Gen. John Nicholson said on January 12, 2017 that irrespective of circumstances, death of civilians was always regrettable.

Attack near Supreme Court Kills 19
A suicide bomber on foot blew up near a side entrance to Afghan Supreme Court in Kabul on February 7, 2017 as employees were leaving the building, killing at least 19 people and wounding over 40.

Red Cross Aides Ambushed
A day after a suicide bombing outside the country’s Supreme Court killed 22, a convoy carrying Red Cross personnel in northern Afghanistan was ambushed on February 8, 2017 that had killed six Red Cross staff. Two more Red Cross staff were missing. The February 8, 2017, ambush was blamed on Islamic State as well the suicide bombing outside the Supreme Court a day earlier. Reacting to the ambush, ICRC’s Afghan delegation head, Monica Zanarelli, called it a “despicable act”.

NATO to Verify Civilian Deaths
As the news from locales poured in on February 11, 2017 that civilians were among the casualties in the airstrikes launched by coalition warplanes hours ago on February 10, 2017, night, NATO-led Afghan mission was on defensive and said that it would investigate into any possible civilian deaths in the Sangin District of Helmand province. Local reports pegged at least 22 civilian deaths.

ISIL Gunmen Target Military Hospital, Kill 30
A group of four gunmen attacked the Sardar Mohammad Dawood Khan military hospital in Kabul on March 8, 2017, and wreaked havoc in a hell of gunfire and explosions that had killed at least 30 people. A suicide bomber first blew up his vest at the entrance, and three gunmen burst into the hospital and went to the second and third floors. Then, they began firing randomly in the patients’ wards. The fierce firefight between the gunmen and security forces lasted for seven hours before they were killed. ISIL claimed the responsibility for the attack. Afghanistan’s ambassador to the USA, Hamidullah Mohib, called the attack “an abhorrent new low”.

Afghan-Pak Border Clashes Kill Dozens
The past weekend (May 5-7, 2017) was bloody and battered in relationship between Afghanistan and Pakistan as soldiers of the both nations fired each other near the Durand Line at Spin Boldak in southern Kandahar. Pakistan accused the Afghan soldiers of opening fire on census workers who went to border villages, but Kabul denied the allegation and said that Pakistanis were the ones who had crossed the borders. Pakistani authorities on May 7, 2017 said that at least 50 Afghan soldiers had been killed in border melee, a figure that Kabul called inflated.

Taliban Recaptures a Key Southern District
Underscoring the fragile security situation in Afghanistan, Taliban was reported to have recaptured the Sangin District of southern Helmand province on March 23, 2017.

U.S. Airstrike Kills the Terrorist Mastermind behind Pakistan AttacksThe Associated Press reported on March 25, 2017 that a U.S. airstrike on March 19, 2017 at the eastern Paktika Province killed Qari Yasin, an al-Qaeda leader, accused of masterminding the September 2008 truck bombing at Marriott Hotel in Islamabad that had killed dozens, including two U.S. service personnel, U.S. Air Force Major Rodolfo Rodriguez and Mathew J. O’Bryant, a Navy cryptologic technician and 3rd Class Petty Officer, and  a second, 2009 attack in Islamabad on a bus that was ferrying Sri Lankan cricket teams, killing six Pak policemen and two civilians in addition to wounding half a dozen cricketers.

Massive Bomb Dropped amid First Reported U.S. Military Death in Afghanistan This Year
U.S. dropped the so-called the mother of all bombs on April 13, 2017 at a cave-and-tunnel-filled rugged mountainous area in eastern Afghanistan. The bomb, known as the GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast, or MOAB, is the most powerful non-nuclear bomb in the U.S. arsenal, 30 feet long and weighs 11 tons and creates above-ground explosions, generating mushroom clouds over vast expanse of miles around the target. The MOAB is part of the U.S. arsenal since 2003, and designed to be dropped from C-130 plane and guided by the plane’s GPS. Apparently, the U.S. used MOAB to target Islamic State stronghold in the Achin District in the Nangarhar Province. Islamic State militants have been embroiled in a grueling battle with the Afghan security forces in the Achin Distric, and the U.S. Special Operation Forces are supporting the Afghan forces. Meanwhile, the first U.S. military personnel to fall in combat this year in Afghanistan was reported, and the fallen soldier was a 37-year-old Green Beret, Army Staff Sgt. Mark DeAlencar, who had been killed in a firefight in eastern Nangarhar province on April 8, 2017, marking the 1,833rd death of the U.S. service personnel since the USA’s longest war had begun in 2001. The MOAB was dropped at the local time 7:32 PM on a target just outside the town of Shogal in Anchin District.

History of MOAB
* Developed in 2002 to “put pressure the then-Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein to cease and desist”, according to an Air Force news release in 2008.

* Tested in Florida’s Eglin Air Force Base. A test on March 11, 2003 created a mushroom cloud visible from 20 miles away.

*

MOP

, or Massive Ordnance Penetrator, designed to penetrate bunkers, is the heaviest bomb at 30,000, but has less explosive power than MOAB.

MOAB Kills at least 36 Militants, Former Afghan President Protests Its Use
An Afghan Defense Ministry spokesman, Dawlat Waziri, on April 14, 2017 said that at least 36 Islamic State militants had been killed in the MOAB dropped a day earlier by a C-130 plane in the Achin District in Nangarhar Province. Defending the use of the most lethal non-nuclear bomb in the U.S. arsenal, top U.S. commander in the Afghan Theater, Gen. John Nicholson, said on April 14, 2017 that “this was the right weapon against the right target”. In posts on Twitter, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani also justified the use of MOAB as the Afghan and U.S. forces had come under attack from Islamic State militants. However, there were also murmur of protests that had emerged. Former Afghan President Hamid Karzai on April 14, 2017 took to Twitter to vent his anger, saying that “this is not the war on terror but the inhuman and most brutal misuse of our country”. Afghan Ambassador to Pakistan Omar Zakhilwal on April 14, 2017 broke ranks with Ashraf Ghani government to condemn the MOAB attack.

Political Uproar over Most Lethal Conventional Bomb Continues
The political repercussion over the April 13, 2017, dropping of the most powerful conventional bomb on a series of cave complex near the town of Shogal in the Anchin District of the Nangarhar province continued for the third straight day on April 15, 2017. Former President Hamid Karzai even went to as far as calling his successor Ashraf Ghani as “traitor”, and accused Americans, in an interview with The New York Times, of using his country as a test lab for experiment of new weapons. To address the brewing trouble awaiting Ashraf Ghani administration, the U.S. National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster rushed to Kabul on April 15, 2017 to hold emergency discussions. However, not all the reactions to April 13, 2017, attack on a series of cave complex near the town of Shogal in the Anchin District of the Nangarhar province by dropping GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast, or MOAB were anti-regime. In fact, one of the governors, northern Balkh Province Governor Atta Muhammad Noor, from the largest Islamist party, Jamait-e-Islami, on April 15, 2017 supported the use of so-called “mother of all bombs” and justified crackdown on militants.

Taliban Mounts the Most Devastating Attack in Years
In the single most fatal attack since Taliban had been uprooted from Kabul in 2001, Taliban attackers dressed in army uniform befooled the Afghan Army security guards, drove in a military vehicle into an army base near Mazar-i-Sharif in the Balkh Province on April 21, 2017, and carried out an hours-long brutal carnage, gunning down an unprepared horde of military personnel inside the base. Before about 10 attackers were annihilated, at least 140 soldiers and officers were killed in April 21, 2017, carnage.

Defense Reshuffle after the Worst Attack in Years; U.S. Alleges Russia of Arming Taliban
Three days after the worst attack on the base of 209th Afghan Army Corps in the Balkh Province, Afghan administration on April 24, 2017 underwent through a revamp with the Defense Minister Gen. Abdullah Habibi and the Chief of Staff Gen. Qadam Shah Shahim shown the door along with a revamp of regional leadership of Afghan army command. Meanwhile, the U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis during the day arrived at Kabul for his first official visit to talk to Afghan and U.S. military officials in the backdrop of U.S. military’s request for infusion of about 5,000 additional troops in Afghan theater. Meanwhile, at a joint press briefing with Secretary Mattis, top American commander in Afghanistan, Gen. John Nicholson, said on April 24, 2017 that there were reports of Taliban receiving arms from Russia, an allegation first lobbed by the U.S. Central Command head, Army Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, at a Congressional hearing in March 2017, but dismissed by the Russian Foreign Ministry as “a lie”.

Two U.S. Service Members Killed in the Battle with ISIL
U.S. military said on April 27, 2017 that two U.S. military service personnel had been killed during a battle in the Achin District in the eastern Nangahar Province in the battle with ISIL militants near the site where U.S. dropped the mother of all conventional bombs, or GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast, or MOAB, on April 13, 2017.

Marines Back in Helmand Province
Three years after U.S. Marines withdrew from Helmand Province, a smaller contingent of 300 returned to Camp Shorab, where the then-Brigadier General Daniel Yoo had lowered the American flag in 2014, saying that Marines had done their job, to help support the beleaguered Afghan Army’s 215th Maiwand Corps. At the peak of the war, about 20,000 Marines were stationed in the southern heartland of Taliban. The present situation was no different: at least seven of the province’s 14 districts were under Taliban control.

Taliban Attack Kills 20 in Southern Province
About 1,000 Taliban fighters on May 20, 2017 launched a two-pronged attack on a southern provincial capital and district police outposts, killing at least 20 police personnel and wounding dozens others. Barrage of shells struck buildings around the administrative rows in the Zabul provincial capital of Qalat, but fortunately no one was injured. About thousand Taliban gunmen attacked and ran over a number of police outpost in the Shajoy District of Zabul Province.

90 Killed in Suicide Bombing that Taliban Denied any Role in
A massive suicide bombing at the posh diplomatic neighborhood of Wazir Akbar Khan District of Kabul on May 31, 2017 killed at least 90 people and wounded more than 400. The entire blocks of neighborhood were reduced to rubble. Taliban denied that it was behind the blast.

P.S.: The death toll later was estimated about

150

and number of injured more than

400

.

Anti-Government Protest Turns Violent, Two Protesters Die
Irate and angry over the massive suicide truck bombing at the diplomatic neighborhood of Wazir Akbar Khan District in Kabul two days ago that had killed at least 90 people, students, citizens and teachers, employees and professionals from all walks of life organized an anti-government rally at the same place of explosion on June 2, 2017 to vent their frustration over the security situation and overall state of affairs under Ashraf Ghani regime. The protest remained peaceful until few of the youths surged ahead to break cordon around the presidential palace, leading to live fire by security forces. At least two protesters, including the son of a prominent legislator, were killed.

Trio of Blasts Kill at least 15
At the funeral of one of the six people killed during June 2, 2017, anti-government demonstration in Kabul, three suicide bombers on June 3, 2017 blew up in a spate of minutes, leaving scores of people dead and dozens more wounded. Country’s chief executive Abdullah Abdullah attended the funeral of the son of a prominent lawmaker, but he escaped unhurt. At least 15 attendees were killed and more than 80 injured when three suicide bombers blew up. On June 3, 2017, President Ashraf Ghani issued a statement calling the orchestrators of May 31, 2017, deadly bombing as “savage terrorists”.

Tensions Continue over Deadly Bombing in Capital
For the third straight day on June 4, 2017, hundreds of protesters assembled at the same place in Kabul where a May 31, 2017, massive bombing had killed nearly 100 people and shook the confidence of the citizens as the bombing had targeted nowhere other than Wazir Akbar Khan District, a redoubt of diplomatic corps. Protesters held a sit-in under the cover of a tent in a blazing summer heat in the midst of Ramadan. The protesters demanded that President Ashraf Ghani resign over deteriorating security conditions. Meanwhile, the death toll from June 3, 2017, trio of suicide bombing at a funeral held for the son of a lawmaker, who had been killed in violence during the first day of protest on June 2, 2017, rose to 20.

Troops Level Decision upon Me, Mattis Informs Lawmakers
Appearing before a Senate Appropriations subcommittee on June 14, 2017, Defense Secretary James Mattis said that President Donald Trump had delegated him the authority to decide on troops level in Afghanistan. U.S. generals on the ground asked for an additional 4,000 troops to augment the current level of 8,400 already stationed there to aid and train Afghan security forces battle a resurgent Taliban and recently emerged Islamic State group.

IS Captures former Bin Laden Redoubt
After pushed out of Anchin District of the Nangarhar province after the most powerful conventional bomb was dropped by U.S. forces, Islamic State fighters set their sight on former Al-Qaeda stronghold of Tora Bora, a maze of caves and rugged terrain that would provide an isolated refuge to the militants. After days of fierce fighting, Islamic State fighters drove away Taliban militants in the early hours of June 14, 2017.

Afghan Soldier Wounds 7 U.S. Soldier
An Afghan soldier on June 17, 2017 opened fire inside an Afghan garrison, Afghan National Army 209th Corps Headquarters at Mazar-e-Sharif, wounding seven U.S. soldiers before shot to death.

American Soldier Killed
A U.S. soldier was killed and two wounded in the Nawa district in Helmand province on July 3, 2017, according to the U.S. military statement on July 5, 2017. As per iCasualties website, the death marked the eighth U.S. military fatality this year. At present, about 8,800 U.S. troops are positioned in Afghanistan.

Taliban Attack Kills 39
Taliban fighters on July 25, 2017 night launched a surprise attack on an Afghan Army outpost in Kandahar’s Khakrez District, killing at least 39.

Taliban Attack Kills 12 at a Remote Police Outpost
Taliban militants on July 29, 2017 in the wee hours launched an attack on a police outpost at Nawa District in southern Helmand province, killing 12 police personnel.

Two U.S. Soldiers Killed
A Taliban suicide bomber on August 2, 2017 rammed an explosives-filled vehicle onto a NATO convoy at Kandahar, killing 2 U.S. soldiers and raising the death toll of U.S. military personnel this year to 8.

Suicide Bomber Kills a NATO Soldier
A suicide bomber disguising as a woman rammed his motorcycle on a NATO convoy north of Kabul on August 4, 2017, killing a NATO soldier and two Afghan civilians.

Errant Airstrike Kills 16 Civilians
Afghan officials on August 11, 2017 said that a U.S. airstrike a day earlier hit a car carrying a family in the southern Haska Meena District of Nangarhar province, killing 16 people, including children and women. U.S. is targeting Islamic State fighters and positions in the restive province.

********************* Trump Administration’s Afghan Policy Unveiled *****************President Trump Outlines Afghan PolicyPresident Donald Trump’s Afghan policy, unveiled during a nationally televised address to soldiers at Fort Myer, Virginia on August 21, 2017, was much more tailored to his domestic audience than a comprehensive strategic plan as the policy would commit a deepening involvement in Afghan war theater, but fell short of outlining any clear milestone or success criteria.

Trump’s Afghan Strategy Calls for Withdrawing Troops to Urban CentersThe New York Times on July 28, 2018 reported that one part of until now unknown strategy that had been included in Trump administration’s Afghan policy unveiled on August 21, 2017 was to withdraw western-backed Afghan forces from rural and far-flung areas to cities and urban areas as part of minimizing the risk to U.S. forces. U.S. has ended combat role in 2014, and is now playing the assist and advice role to help a struggling Afghan security forces. However, Trump administration’s strategy of withdrawing security to urban centers carries its own risk as it will leave a large swath and three-fourth of the population of the country at the mercy of Taliban and other insurgent groups. Of Afghanistan’s 407 districts, government exerts control, or significant sway, over 229 districts and Taliban in 59 districts, with the remaining 119 districts contested, according to the Office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, Office of the SIGAR.

********************* Trump Administration’s Afghan Policy Unveiled *****************

Suicide Attack Kills 20 at a Shiite Mosque
Underlining the danger of sectarian flare-up, suicide attackers lobbed first grenades and then attacked randomly on worshippers at a Shiite mosque in the north of Kabul on August 25, 2017, killing at least 20 people and wounding more than 40. Islamic State claimed responsibility for August 25, 2017, Shiite mosque attack.

Pentagon’s Troop Level Disclosure Shows More Troops than Known Stationed in Afghanistan
Pentagon on August 30, 2017 disclosed publicly that there were 11,000 American troops now in Afghanistan as part of NATO’s Resolute Support Mission. Before this official estimate, knowledge of about 8,400 U.S. troops’ presence in Afghan theater was known to public.

Troop Build-up to Cost an Additional $1 billion
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said at a Capitol hearing on October 3, 2017 that the troops build-up as ordered by President Trump in Afghanistan would cost the U.S. taxpayers an additional $1 billion a year to a total of $12.5 billion a year.

First Suicide Attack inside Green Zone in Months Kills 7
A young suicide bomber on October 31, 2017 bamboozled security and entered the highly protected and secured Green Zone, and blew up, killing at least 7 and wounding more than 20. The attack, claimed by ISIL, was the first such attack in the highly protected enclave since a May 31, 2017, truck bombing had killed about 150 and wounded several hundreds.

11 Police Officials Killed December 17, 2017 turned out to be a particularly violent day as attacks on police checkpoints attributed to Taliban during the day at Lashkar Gah, capital of Helmand Province, killed at least 11 police personnel. During the day, a suicide bomber blew up near a NATO convoy at Kandahar, killing a civilian.

Afghan President Fires Powerful Northern GovernorAfghan President Ashraf Ghani on December 18, 2017 stirred the hornet’s nest by ousting the powerful governor–Atta Muhammad Noor who had ruled with unquestionable authority for the past 13 years–of northern Balkh Province and, possibly, leading to a confrontation with a northern strongman.

Suicide Bombing Targets Shiites; Kills at least 41
A suicide bomber blew up at Tebyan Cultural Center, a Shiite cultural center at the heart of Kabul, on December 28, 2017, killing at least 41 people, marking it the worst sectarian attack since suicide bombers had killed at least 57 worshippers at a Shiite mosque in Kabul in October 2017. Islamic State claimed the responsibility for the December 28, 2017, suicide bombing at the Tebyan Cultural Center that had wounded dozens. Toby Lanzer, the acting head of the U.N. mission in Afghanistan, accused the Islamic State of targeting civilians “deliberately”.

Suicide Bomber Kills at least 17 People at a Funeral
The year ended on a bloody note as a suicide bomber on December 31, 2017, mingling among the mourners at a cemetery–Maqam Khan Cemetery in the Bishud District–near the provincial capital of Jalalabad for funeral of a local official, former Haskah Menah District chief Gul Wali, blew up, killing at least 17 people and wounding more than a dozen.

Gunmen Seize a Prestigious Kabul Hotel Leading to Hours-long Standoff
Gunmen on January 20, 2018 stormed Intercontinental Hotel in the heart of Kabul, and began shooting guests inside, leading to pandemonium and panic. The standoff began around 9PM on January 20, 2018, and continued until 8AM next morning (January 21, 2018) when all the four gunmen were killed. At least five civilians were killed and more than six were injured, and the security forces rescued more than 100 patrons, including 16 foreign nationals. The overnight ordeal at the Intercontinental Hotel was nightmare to many hotel guests, some of whom tried to flee by jumping from the windows.

Death Toll Raised Higher as Full Details on Hotel Siege Emerge
Additional information emerged on January 21, 2018 after a 13-hour standoff at Kabul’s Intercontinental Hotel ended and all six gunmen were killed by the security forces. The gunmen stormed the hotel on January 20, 2018 night, and began a shooting spree, leading to an hours-long standoff. At least 18 people were reported killed, including 14 foreign nationals. Out of these fourteen, 11 were employees of KamAir, a private Afghan airline. Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin said on January 21, 2018 that six of the killed were Ukrainians. Meanwhile, Taliban claimed responsibility for the January 20, 2018, attack on Intercontinental Hotel. Security forces rescued about 150 hotel guests.

Afghan Authorities Up the Death Toll
As Afghan authorities began review of security lapse in the January 20, 2018, Taliban attack on Intercontinental Hotel, the death toll was raised January 22, 2018 to 22 as two dead bodies had been recovered. Out of 22 dead, 14 were foreigners, including four Americans.

Islamic State Attacks Charity Office at Eastern Afghan City
In the second attack in four days, gunmen on January 24, 2018 attacked an office of Save the Children, a Britain-based charity focused on serving the needy children, in Jalalabad killing four people. The Afghan branch of Islamic State claimed the responsibility for the attack.

Ambulance Bomb Creates Havoc in KabulIn the third attack in a week, a suicide bomber on January 27, 2018 blew up an ambulance outside a Kabul hospital, government-run Jamhuriat Hospital, killing at least 95 people and wounding 158. The three successive attacks in a week–January 20, 2018, 14-hour siege of a Kabul hilltop luxury hotel, Intercontinental Hotel, and resulting firefight that had killed 22 people, including four Americans and 10 other foreigners, January 24, 2018, attack on the Jalalabad office of Save the Children and finally the ambulance bombing on January 27, 2018–underscored the vulnerability and volatility of the country’s security situation. Taliban claimed responsibility for January 27, 2018, attack as well as January 20, 2018, attack while Islamic State staked claim in carrying out the January 24, 2018, Jalalabad attack.

Open Letter from Taliban Calls for War’s End
An open letter, written in English and four other languages, sent to media under the name of “The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan”, Taliban on February 14, 2018 called out the “American people” to seek the end of 17-year war that had brought protracted U.S. occupation, death, destruction and corruption. The 17,000-word letter also emphasized on not to be kowtowed by military offensive.

Ghani Offers Olive Branch to Taliban
Two weeks after Taliban’s open letter calling for end to the longest war in America’s history, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on February 28, 2018 offered “amnesty” to Taliban for war crimes and an  opportunity for the insurgent group to convert itself into a political entity. Ghani made these comments at a peace conference, called the Kabul Process, attended by 20 nations, but not the Taliban.

At least 30 Killed in a Spate of Violence
Eleven days after the February 28, 2018, amnesty offer by President Ashraf Ghani to Taliban, bloods spilled across Afghanistan on March 9, 2018. A lone suicide bomber struck at a Shiite mosque in southwest Kabul, where congregants were observing the 1995 killing of Hazara leader Abdul Ali Mazari by Taliban, killing at least 10 people. Islamic State claimed the responsibility for attack on the mosque. Separately, Taliban fighters clashed with security forces during the day in the northern Thakar province, killing at least 18 security personnel.

At Least 13 Killed in Car Bomb near Stadium
A car bomb exploded near a sports stadium in Helmand province that was hosting a wrestling match on March 23, 2018, killing at least 13 people and wounding 40 others.

General Sees U.S. Role in Future Taliban-Government Talks

U.S. top commander

Gen. John Nicholson

on

March 22, 2018

said at the

Kandahar Airfield

that U.S. would play a constructive role with Afghan government to pave the way for talks with Taliban.

**************************** Mosque Attack by Government About 70 Killed in Airstrike at a Mosque
An Afghan military helicopter bombed a mosque and an adjacent madrassa in the district of Dasht-e-Archi in Kunduz Province on April 2, 2018, killing some 70 people. There are two versions about the attack. Local people said that there were large number of people assembled at the mosque and adjoining fields to recognize the recently graduated madrassa students, promote mullahs and conduct other official works. However, Afghan authorities said that Taliban leaders and gunmen were also present there, and they had been using the mosque and madrassa as a front of their activities.

U.N. Issues a Blistering Report on Mosque Bombing
Issuing a damning report on May 8, 2018, the U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan condemned the Afghan government for disregarding the “rules of precaution and proportionality under international humanitarian law”, reporting that of the at least 36 deaths and 71 injuries in the April 2, 2018, bombing of a mosque in the district of Dasht-e-Archi in Kunduz Province, at least 30 of the dead and 51 of the wounded were children, denting further the government argument that it had targeted Taliban during the operation.

**************************** Mosque Attack by Government 

Four Separate Attacks Blamed on Taliban
Four separate attacks were reported on April 15, 2018, including at attack on a girls’ school, that had killed at least 26 people. The first attack was staged on April 11, 2018 when attackers burned down a girls’ high school in Logar Province in the dark of the night, and another attack on a school in the village of Momandara, Nangarhar on April 14, 2018 night razed the archives and laboratory of the school to ground. In both these attacks on schools, precious lives were spared as they took place in the middle of night. The other two attacks took place on April 15, 2018 that targeted security checkpoints in the northern provinces of Sar-i-Pul and Faryab. Authorities blamed Taliban fighters for all four attacks.

Suicide Bombing, Attack Target Voter Registration Drive; kill Several Dozens
In the week since voter registration process had begun in Afghanistan, it was an open season of violence and intimidation that had stalked the democratic process as Afghanistan headed for a fall presidential election. The list of incidents included, but not limited to, kidnapping of staff members in the western province of Ghor, rocket attack on a registration center in the province of Badghis and shooting death of two security personnel guarding a registration station in Jalalabad. However, the audacity of voter intimidation had reached its pinnacle on April 22, 2018 as a suicide bomber blew up at Kabul registration center in the midst of a large crowd, killing at least 57 people, including 22 women and eight children. The attack, which had left a trail of identity cards littered in blood and body parts, also wounded about 119 people. Taliban denied that the attack was carried out by them. Soon after Islamic State that was vying to find a foothold in Afghanistan claimed the responsibility for the suicide bombing. A separate explosion in the northern province of Baghlan targeting a voter registration center killed at least six people.

Unprecedented Attack on Journalists; Four Attacks Underscore the Security Vulnerability

The twin, coordinated bombings in the heart of Kabul on April 30, 2018 killed nine journalists and sixteen others, marking the day one of the bloodiest for the Fourth Estate in recent memory. Chiming in, Committee to Protect Journalists called the day one of most lethal in the world of journalism. The attacks took place in a span of minutes, with the first explosion rocking the Shah Darak District, close to upscale shopping plaza and office towers in Kabul, as a pillion rider blew himself up in the Monday morning rush hours around 8AM. As emergency crew and journalists flocked to the scene of the first attack, about 40 minutes later a suicide bomber, posing as a photographer, blew himself up, inflicting the heaviest damage. By the end of the day, at least 25 people were killed in the twin bombings later claimed by the local franchise of the Islamic State. Among the dead in the second bombing at the Shah Darak District was a renowned Agence France-Presse’s veteran photographer Shah Marai, whose numerous photo shoots over the past 20 years provided for the word to take a rare glimpse of the brutality and bloodshed of Afghanistan in a more personal term. Among the other journalists killed in the April 30, 2018, twin attacks in Shah Darak District included four broadcasters with Afghan news agencies and three from the Radio Free Europe. BBC announced later in the day that a 10th journalist–29-year-old Ahmad Shah of BBC Afghan Service–was killed during the day in a separate attack in Khost Province.

In the third attack of the day, an explosives-laden vehicle rammed into a Romanian security convoy near a mosque in Kandahar, enflaming a large parts of the neighborhood and killing 11 children. The fourth attack took place in eastern part of Afghanistan in which a U.S. soldier was killed during the day, according to the U.S. Army. 

SIGAR Report on Declining Afghan Security Forces Bad News for Military Planners

A key report released on

May 1, 2018

by the

Special Inspector-General for Afghanistan Reconstruction

(

SIGAR

) highlighted on a key area of shortage and deficiency in Afghan military ranks. As of January this year, about 296,000 soldiers were in the Afghan military payroll compared to about 331,700 in January 2017, according to the

SIGAR Report

, as the goal was to scale up the total to 334,000. As the Afghan military forces have dropped, effort was on plate to increase the U.S. troops strength to 15,000 to assist, advise and train the struggling Afghan forces.

Blast Targets a Mosque for Voter Registration Drive
An explosion at a mosque in Khost Province that was being used for voter registration site killed at least 14 people on May 6, 2018.

Taliban Staying Power Tested in Farah
Taliban fighters surprised local authorities early May 15, 2018 and overpowered local security forces at Farah, capital of the western province of the same name where Taliban did have no presence before. Within hours reinforcements were sent to Farah as U.S. warplanes and Afghan aircraft zoomed in to support local authorities, and by the day’s end, Taliban fighters were reported to have begun pulling out of the city of 50,000 people.

Taliban, Hit with Heavy Loss, Retreats from Farah
Probably for the first time in recent memory, Afghan security forces displayed their resilience and rigor as they had pushed out hundreds of Taliban militants out of Farah. Afghan officials sounded confident and looked ebullient on May 16, 2018 as Taliban had experienced heavy loss–some government estimates pegged the death toll on the Taliban side in hundreds–and completed withdrawal from the capital city of Farah Province by dawn on May 16, 2018. Afghan Interior Ministry said during the day that 25 security personnel and five civilians had been killed in the day-long operation on May 15, 2018.

16 Killed as Bomb Explodes in a Failed Defuse Operation16 people were killed and more than three dozens wounded as a car bomb parked at a garage in the city center of Kandahar exploded on May 22, 2018 as a bomb disposal squad failed to defuse the bomb. Among the dead were four members of the disposal squad.

*********** Eid TruceGhani Regime Offers Unilateral Truce to Taliban
Afghan government on June 7, 2018 announced a unilateral truce for Taliban beginning on June 12, 2018 to promote peace in the run-up to Eid ul-Fitr, but deliberately excluded Islamic State and other militant groups.

Taliban Announces Its Own Eid Cease-fire
To potential relief of Afghan civilians, Taliban on June 9, 2018 announced that its fighters would observe truce for three days of Eid. The Taliban announcement was also categorical that its offer of truce during Islam’s holiest event, first such gesture during 17-year Afghan conflict, was not in response to government’s identical decision two days ago and not applicable to foreign forces. Meanwhile, government said on June 9, 2018 that at least 50 soldiers and pro-government fighters were killed overnight in three provinces.

Bombings Kill at least 18 amid Truce Declarations on the Eve of Eid
Three separate suicide bombings on June 11, 2018 killed at least 18 people, including 17 in Afghan capital Kabul as a suicide bomber struck in the heart of administrative district. A second bombing in Jalalabad in Nangarhar province spared people from death, but a third bombing killed one. Trio of bombings rocked the country and undermined the competing truce declarations in recent days.

Eid Truce Largely Holds other than Nangarhar Attack
In a sweet surprise to Afghan people, both soldiers and Taliban fighters observed Eid side by side peacefully. There was largely no violence on June 15, 2018 (Friday) and June 16, 2018 (Saturday), first two of Taliban-called three-day truce (June 15-17, 2018) that coincided with the government-called eight-day unilateral truce (June 12-19, 2018), and Afghan people received a much needed respite from the daily mayhem that had recently made an upward jump. The only violence that occurred during the festive season was a bombing at Jalalabad in Nangarhar province, killing at least 26 people , including civilians, Afghan soldiers and Taliban fighters, and wounding more than 50 on June 16, 2018. Addressing the Afghan people, President Ashraf Ghani on June 16, 2018 offered to extend the government’s unilateral truce, which was set to end on June 20, 2018.

Second Bombing in Jalalabad in as many Days Shatter the Eid Truce
As the Taliban and Afghan government are observing a historic three-day Eid truce (June 15-17, 2018) and eight-day (June 12-19, 2018) truce, respectively, local franchisee of Islamic State and other militant groups have engaged themselves with mayhem and destruction, often targeting the Taliban fighters themselves. As the death toll from the June 16, 2018, suicide bombing at Jalalabad  rose to 36 and injuries were reported around 65, Islamic State’s local branch took responsibility for this mayhem that had struck both the Taliban and government soldiers who could be seen celebrating Eid across the nation side by side.

On 

June 17, 2018

, another suicide bombing struck a festive crowd that included Taliban fighters, security personnel and civilians, in the same city, 

Jalalabad

, killing at least 19 people. More than five dozen people were wounded. Later in the day, Taliban rejected the government offer to extend the cease-fire despite an ardent appeal from the chairman of 

High Peace Council, Mohammad Karim Khalili

, to the “leadership of the Taliban” to match the government offer for cease-fire extension.

Taliban Ends Cease-fire, Kills 30 Soldiers 
After ending a three-day Eid cease-fire (June 15-17, 2018), Taliban fighters on June 20, 2018 attacked government positions in Bala Murghab district in the northwestern Badghis province, killing 30 Afghan military personnel.

Government Ends Cease-fire
After Taliban ended its own Eid cease-fire and resumed attacking government targets, killing dozens last week alone, the government of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on June 30, 2018 ended its own cease-fire.

*********** Eid Truce

Trump Administration Reported to Favor Direct Talks with Taliban

In a strategic shift in Afghan policy, Trump administration is now favoring, according to a

July 15, 2018

, article in

The New York Times

, to hold direct talks with Taliban to jumpstart a stalled negotiation process. However, the talks will still be Afghan-owned, Afghan-led. Taliban has long demanded that U.S hold talks with them, dismissing Afghan government as a mere stooge.

Two Days of Bloodbath by Suicide Attackers Stun Jalalabad
Even in the Afghan standard of mayhem, this back-to-back, pair of attacks in as many days targeting a single city set their own bloody records and shocked the people of Jalalabad and beyond. It all began on July 10, 2018 as a suicide attack on a security checkpoint at Khales Family area of Jalalabad killed at least 10 people, including two security officials. At least eight civilians were killed too. The gruesome attacks continued for a second day on July 11, 2018 in Jalalabad, provincial capital of Nangarhar. Apparently, three assailants were reported to have attacked the Education Ministry building on July 11, 2018, and killed at least 12 people, including two security personnel. All three assailants were killed later. Although no groups claimed responsibility for the attacks on July 10 and July 11, suspicion immediately fell on Islamic State’s local franchise who had gained a foothold in recent months in the province.

Two U.S. Soldiers Killed in Five Days
Two U.S. soldiers were killed five days apart in what could be indicative of fierce fighting between a resurgent Taliban and brutal Islamic State on one hand and Afghan forces backed by U.S.-led western coalition partners on the other. U.S. Army Cpl. Joseph Maciel was killed on July 7, 2018 in an insider attack. Then came July 12, 2018 as U.S. Special Ops forces swooped into Zurmat and Ahmad Aba districts of eastern Paktia Province and firefighting ensued in which one U.S. Special Operations Forces soldier was killed.

Mayhem Averted in Suicide Attack on a Midwifery School
Two suicide attackers launched hours-long assault on the Midwifery Training Center at Jalalabad around 11AM on July 28, 2018 when the school was full of nearly 70 young girls attending the class and 12 young children at a nearby daycare center. Two male employees of the school were killed and five injured while most of the young women attending the midwifery class were either evacuated or sheltered in protected areas.

**************************** TALIBAN ASSAULT ON GHAZNI *********************

Taliban Launches All out Attack on Ghazni
Hundreds of Taliban militants in the early morning hours of August 10, 2018 launched surprise attacks from various sides of Ghazni. For hours, Taliban militants seized the city center. Government reinforcements were sent in to fight against the battle-hardened militants while U.S.-led coalition airstrikes were being called in.

Taliban Continues to Control Parts of Ghazni
On the second day of Taliban siege of Ghazni, government soldiers backed by coalition aircraft were able to evict Taliban militants from most parts of the city, but a hardened group of militants continued to tether themselves to a small part of the city and put up a valiant resistance. As of August 11, 2018, at least four dozen government security personnel and an untold numbers of Taliban militants were killed in the fierce fighting.

Taliban Continues to Control Parts of Ghazni as Three Other Battle Fronts Open
As Taliban militants continued their fighting and control over the parts of Ghazni for the third day on August 12, 2018, Ghazni’s police chief, Col. Farid Ahmad Mashal, gave insight into early morning August 10, 2018, sudden attack on Ghazni by Taliban, thus forcing an unprepared Afghan security forces to act helpless and retreat. According to Mashal, about 1,000 fighters were involved in the initial assault that had unnerved the security apparatus of the city, but with coalition airstrikes, regime forces were able to recapture a significant part of city within hours. At least 500 Taliban fighters had been killed in the three-day (August 10-12, 2018) fighting, according to Ghazni police chief, but was mum of a reported toll of more than 100 on the government sides.

On

August 12, 2018

, three other battle fronts were opened. About 90 miles west of Ghazni city, Taliban attacked a district,

Ajristan

, in the same province,

Ghazni Province

, and seized it within hours as an elite military unit melted away under ferocious Taliban attack.  The toll of security personnel ranged from 40 to 100 in

Ajristan

attack.

In

Faryab Province

, about 250 miles northwest of

Ghazni

, an early morning

August 12, 2018

, attack by Taliban on an isolated

Afghan National Army

post killed at least

50

.

About 275 miles east of Ghazni, in the north

Baghlan

province, Taliban fighters on

August 11, 2018

attacked a strategic base of Afghan soldiers on a pass connecting

Pul-e-Khumri and Kunduz at Jangal Bagh

, killing seven police personnel and nine soldiers. Three additional soldiers were kidnapped too.

Fighting Continues for the Fourth Day; More than 100 Soldiers Reported to be Killed
The scale of Taliban assault on the city of Ghazni, a historic city of 270,000 people, could be gauged by the sheer fact that after four days (August 10-13, 2018) of fierce fighting and U.S.-led coalition’s airstrikes to buttress the Afghan troops on the ground, Taliban fighters were still defending some of the areas and neighborhoods in Ghazni by the end of the fourth day on August 13, 2018. Afghan Defense Minister Gen. tariq Shah Bahrami during the day gave the first official estimate of government casualty in the four-day Ghazni fighting. At least 100 Afghan police and army personnel were killed along with more than 20 civilians. Afghan Defense Minister Gen. tariq Shah Bahrami also said that an additional reinforcement of at least 1,000 Afghan troops were being sent to Ghazni to oust remainder of Taliban fighters. According to Bahrami, 194 insurgents, including 12 Taliban leaders, were killed along with unknown numbers of fighters from Pakistan, Chechnya and various Arab nations.

Ghazni under Government Control after Five Days of Fighting
After five days (August 10-14, 2018) of intense fighting, Afghan government forces, backed by U.S.-led coalition airstrikes and military advice, took full, but fragile, control over Ghazni by the end of August 14, 2018. The five-day fighting left a large part of the city absolutely razed and at least 120 security personnel were killed.

**************************** TALIBAN ASSAULT ON GHAZNI *********************

48 Killed in School Bombing in Kabul; 44 Security Personnel Killed in Baghlan
As the class began for 500 or so students at a college preparatory school, Mowud Education Center, in Kabul’s Shiite-dominated western neighborhood of Dasht-i-Barchi on August 15, 2018, a suicide bomber blew up himself, killing at least 48 people and wounding 76. Taliban denied that it was behind the school attack, and no other groups claimed it.

However, Taliban fighters on early

August 15, 2018

carried out attack in the northern

Baghlan

province, killing at least

44

security personnel.

Islamic State Claims School Attack as Death Toll Lowered
A day after a suicide bomber blew up at college prep school in the western part of Kabul, Islamic State on August 16, 2018 claimed responsibility for the attack. Meanwhile, government officials lowered the estimate of casualty from initially reported 48 to revised figure of 34.

********** Change of U.S. Commander in Afghanistan ******Nicholson Gets Emotional
As the outgoing top commander of coalition troops in Afghanistan, Gen. John Nicholson, on September 2, 2018 handed over the baton to a top U.S. military officer in the Special Operations ranks, Lt. Gen. Austin “Scott” Miller, in a modest change in command event, Nicholson got emotional and expressed his sincere hope for the quick end to the longest war in the American history. Miller’s mission will be as much diplomatic as military amidst U.S. effort to open a communication channel with the Taliban.

********** Change of U.S. Commander in Afghanistan ******

Suicide Bombings Kill at least 20
A suicide bomber first blew up on September 5, 2018 during a wrestling match in western Kabul, and when emergency crew and journalists converged there, a second bomb struck, killing at least 20 people. Islamic State took the responsibilities for the bombing. Two journalists were dead too.

Mattis Makes a Surprise Afghanistan Visit
Pentagon chief on September 7, 2018 touched upon Afghan soil in a surprise visit and he was apprised of the ground situation there by U.S. top general, Gen. Austin Scott Miller, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford. Later in the day, Jim Mattis met with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani amid the recent U.S. push for talks with Taliban. Mattis’ second visit after his March 2018 visit to Afghanistan came as there was push in the U.S. to withdraw 14,000 American soldiers from the battlefield of America’s longest war. Mattis was able to persuade President Donald Trump to keep the troops stationed in Afghan theater against populist section of the GOP.

Kandahar Police Chief Killed in Insider Attack
As the top American commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Austin “Scott” Miller, emerged from a meeting with security officials at the governor’s compound in Kandahar, a security personnel attached to Kandahar Governor Zalmai Wessa’s security details opened fire on October 18, 2018, killing Kandahar police chief Abdul Raziq, who was seen as a bulwark against Taliban aggression. Taliban claimed the responsibility for the attack and said that the target was Gen. Miller, who escaped unscathed. There was ambiguity about the death of Governor Wessa who had been injured and was taken to a hospital. The attack took place two days before the parliamentary polls were to be held and exposed the vulnerability of security situation in the country where a top ranking security official was not even safe. President Ashraf Ghani lauded Abdul Raziq, calling him a martyr. Three other Americans, including a brigadier general, were wounded in the attack that had also led to shooting death of the lone gunman.

Assassinated Chief Buried as Polls in Kandahar Postponed
As the provincial police chief of Kandahar, Abdul Raziq, was given a hero’s good-bye in a state funeral in Kandahar, the authorities in Kabul on October 19, 2018 postponed the parliamentary polls, scheduled for October 20, 2018, in the province given the security scenario stemming form October 18, 2018, attack that had either killed or wounded most of the senior security and administrative officials of Kandahar.

Parliamentary Polls Held amid Violence and Intimidation
Afghans braved Taliban call for boycott, intimidation and violence to cast their ballots in October 20, 2018, parliamentary elections. Authorities excluded Kandahar and Gazni provinces as well as one-third of the polling stations in the rest of country from the democratic process as security there was deemed too fragile. By the end of the day, at least 70 people were killed and close to 400 injured. Parliamentary election is all the more important as it acts as a precursor to pursuing the democracy in advance to April 2019 presidential polls.

Utah Mayor Reported to have been Killed in Insider AttackNorth Ogden Mayor Brent Taylor, a major in the Utah National Guard, was reported to have been shot dead on November 3, 2018 in Afghanistan by one of the Afghan security personnel that he was training.

Dozens of Afghan Soldiers Killed or Captured in Nine Attacks
In a 24-hour span November 5-6, 2018, involving nine attacks, Taliban fighters wreaked havoc in different parts of Afghanistan, killing or wounding dozens of security personnel and underscoring the degree and depth of vulnerability in the country’s security apparatus. The most severe blow was inflicted in the Western Farah province, where the entire battalion headquarters of Afghan Border Force had been overrun by the militants, resulting in killing of at least 20 soldiers and capture of an additional 25 or more. By the end of the day November 6, 2018, mounting death toll of Afghan soldiers from nine attacks across the nation reached near 60. On diplomatic front, a sullen Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on November 6, 2018 sat alongside NATO Secretary-General Jen Stoltenberg as the NATO chief appealed to Taliban at a Kabul press conference not to kill their fellow Afghans.

Afghan President Gives an Alarming Casualty Figures
Addressing an audience at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies in Washington on November 15, 2018, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said via video link that at least 28,000 Afghan troops had been killed fighting Taliban and other insurgent groups since 2015, first time pegging a number of casualties suffered by Afghanistan’s security forces. Afghan president’s acknowledgement came in the midst of heavy loss of Afghan security forces in a fatal week (November 9-15, 2018) when 242 Afghan security personnel were killed, including a full battalion of an elite Afghan corps that had been deployed in the Jaghori District in Ghazni province. None of the around 50 people dropped in the district returned safely.

At least 50 Killed in Suicide Attack at a Religious Gathering
As hundreds of Muslim clerics assembled at a hotel near the Interior Ministry in Kabul to mark the birth anniversary of Prophet Muhammad, a lone suicide bomber blew up, killing at least 50 people and injuring more than 80 on November 20, 2018. Underscoring the scale of targets that now had expanded even to non-military targets such as unarmed religious gatherings, the November 20, 2018, suicide bombing was the second such major attack in five months, with the first attack having staged in June 2018 that had killed at least 14 people after the attendees had emerged from a government-sponsored conference of Ulema Council. Earlier that day, Shiite and Sunni clerics who were participants in the June 2018 Kabul conference issued a statement on behalf of Afghan Ulema Council, condemning the suicide attacks as “haram”, or forbidden. Islamic State claimed responsibility for the June 2018 suicide bombing that had targeted the government-sponsored Afghan Ulema Council conference.

Attack at a Mosque in Army Base Kills 27
A suicide bomber blew up within a mosque inside an army base in the eastern Khost province on November 23, 2018 as soldiers had begun to wrap up their Friday prayer, killing at least 27 soldiers and wounding 57. President Ashraf Ghani called the attack at the mosque “anti-Islamic and inhumane”.

ISIL Claims Responsibility for Mosque Attack; A U.S. Soldier Killed
ISIL on November 24, 2018 claimed responsibility for mosque attack within an army base in the eastern Khost province a day earlier that had killed at least 27. Meanwhile, Pentagon during the day announced death of one service personnel.

Three U.S. Soldiers Killed in IED Blast in Ghazni
Three days after a U.S. soldier was killed in the southwestern Nimroz province, three additional U.S. military personnel were killed as their convoy was targeted by an improvised explosive device on November 27, 2018 at the Ghazni City, raising the death toll of the U.S. service personnel this year in Afghanistan to13, many of them were results of internal attacks. Later in the day, Taliban claimed responsibility for the IED blast in Ghazni City that had killed three U.S. soldiers. On November 24, 2018, an Army Ranger, Sgt. Leandro A.S. Jasso, 25, was killed during firefight with al-Qaeda militants in Nimroz, but Jasso’s death occurred because of accidental fire from the “partner force”.

Two-Day U.N.-backed Conference: EU Pledges 474 million euros
A two-day international conference backed by the U.N. opened on November 27, 2018 at Kabul for bringing lasting development, peace and security to the country. Dozens of nations, including Germany, Russia and Iran, sent their high-ranking diplomats to the Kabul conference opened by Afghan President Ashraf Ghani. European Union officials on November 27, 2018 pledged 474 million euros, or $535 million, to this effort.

At least 30 Civilians Killed in Coalition Airstrikes; Truck Bomb Explodes in Kabul
As Afghan security forces were conducting raids overnight November 27-28, 2018 in the southern Helmand province, they came under fire, Helmand provincial council chief Attahullah Afghan reported on November 28, 2018, resulting in U.S. aircover to be called in and the resulting airstrikes killed at least 30 civilians and more than 16 Taliban fighters. Separately, a truck bomb exploded outside a British security compound at Kabul, leading to a firefight between gunmen and Afghan security forces that had lasted for hours and killed at least 10 people.

Trump Orders a Significant Pullout of Troops from AfghanistanU.S. President Donald Trump ordered Pentagon to withdraw as many as 7,000 U.S. troops, almost half of present U.S. military presence in Afghanistan. The Washington Post first reported the U.S. troops pullout from Afghanistan on December 20, 2018, a day after Trump ordered immediate pullout of about 2,000 U.S. troops from Syria. Outgoing defense secretary, Jim Mattis, was instrumental in persuading Trump to send an additional 4,000 troops to Afghanistan in 2017 to augment total U.S. troop strength in the country to 14,000 from 10,000 in an effort to assist-and-train mission.

Taliban Welcomes Trump’s Decision amid Concerns that It will Hurt the Peace Process
Taliban on December 21, 2018 welcomed U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw 7,000 troops from Afghanistan amid security experts community’s almost unanimous belief that it would work as a disincentive to Taliban and other insurgent groups as they would now prefer to wait out the U.S. withdrawal instead of agreeing to lay down arms and join the peace process.

Hours-long Attacks on Two Government Buildings Stir Fear in Kabul
Days after U.S. President Donald Trump announced half of U.S. troops–numbering about 7,000 of total 14,000–withdrawal from Afghanistan, suicide attackers on December 24, 2018 used car bombs and assault weapons to attack two government buildings–Afghan Ministry of Public Works and the department that oversees aid to families of martyrs, deceased and disabled in the long Afghanistan war– in Kabul, setting off an hours-long battle that had killed at least 29 people. All three identified attackers were killed too although authorities were not sure on how many assailants had carried out the attacks.

Death Toll on Twin Ministry Buildings Attacks Climb to 43
The 10-hour firefight that had taken place in the aftermath of attacks by gunmen on buildings of two ministries–Public Works and the one related to martyrs, diseased and disabled–ended in the early morning of December 25, 2018 when the last of the assailants was killed. According to authorities, at least 43 people, including 11 women who worked in those facilities, were reported killed. The hours-long fight overnight forced at least 350 employees to hide inside two buildings in a nerve-wracking minute-by-minute unfolding scenario of carnage. The December 24, 2018, attack came a day after President Ashraf Ghani shook up his security cabinet. Although Taliban denied any responsibility for the attack, Afghanistan’s chief executive Abdullah Abdullah on December 25, 2018 held Taliban responsible.

Trump’s Comment during Cabinet Meeting Evokes Surprise, Condemnation
During his January 2, 2019, cabinet meeting at the White House, President Donald Trump’s comment on why Soviets had invaded Afghanistan shocked his members of the cabinet, but they remained silent as they had been for the past two years on various issues. Trump apparently made the comment that the “reason Russia was in Afghanistan was because terrorists were going into Russia” and “they were right to be there”. The following day, January 3, 2019, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s office issued a statement, criticizing Trump’s role as a cheerleader of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 and calling the resistance against the Soviets a “national uprising for gaining freedom”.

Taliban Continues Attacking Government Targets amid Ongoing Talks with U.S.
Amidst continuing talks with U.S. negotiators at Doha, Taliban didn’t pause on launching spectacular attacks on Ashraf Ghani regime. In fact, in recent months, Taliban increased the intensity and area of attacks to gain mileage in talks. On March 2, 2019, at least 30 Taliban suicide attackers launched an audacious attack on a government military base, killing at least 20 soldiers.

A Year Later, IS attacks the Same Hazara Leader’s Memorial
Almost a year after a suicide attack killed 10 people and wounded 22 at a memorial held at a southwest Kabul mosque, the same event was attacked this year too on March 7, 2019 in the same place outside the mosque as Afghan Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah and former Afghan President Hamid Karzai addressed the crowd to mark the death anniversary of Hazara leader Abdul Ali Mazari, killed by Taliban in 1995. Just like last year, this year’s attack was claimed by Islamic State. They used mortar this year to hit the gathering, forcing people to run helter-skelter. Both Abdullah and Karzai escaped unscathed, but three people were killed in mortar attack. Islamic State claimed the responsibility.

Two U.S. Soldiers Killed
Two U.S. soldiers were killed in the northern Kunduz province under adversarial attack on March 22, 2019. Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack. While Taliban has mounted a concerted campaign of attacks, suicide bombings and mayhem across Afghanistan, targeting both U.S.-led coalition forces and Afghan security forces, it continues to hold talks at Doha with representatives of the U.S. government in efforts to find solution to end the longest war in the U.S. history.

Taliban Opens Spring Offensive
Taliban on April 12, 2019 launched the Spring Offensive by attacking a police convoy in western Ghor Province that had killed seven and northern Baghlan Province that had killed an additional seven police personnel. The announcement of Spring Offensive has little implication as Taliban has never paused in its offensive to begin with. On April 13, 2019, Taliban militants followed up their attack spree by mounting assault on Kunduz City. The attack on Kunduz was ultimately repelled by Afghan security forces.

Loya Jirga to Set the Afghan Talks AgendaAfghan President Ashraf Ghani opened the 4-day “Loya Jirga”, or the Grand Tribal Council Conference, at Kabul on April 29, 2019, with hundreds of delegates comprising various political factions, tribal groups and social organizations. Over the course of the next four days, “Loya Jirga” will strive toward arriving at basic framework for the negotiating agenda with Taliban. However, that the conference is rife with factionalism is evident with the glaring absence of the government’s number two official, Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah. The chairmanship of “Loya Jirga” was given to a former warlord, Abdul Rasool Sayyaf.

Afghan Government Seeks Clarification of Trump’s Comments

U.S. President Donald Trump’s July 22, 2019, comments at an Oval Office press conference alongside Imran Khan that “I could win that war in a week…I just don’t want to kill 10 million people..if I want to win that war, Afghanistan would be wiped off the face of the earth” rankled Afghanistan so much that even a more compliant president took strong note of the U.S. president’s comment a day later. On July 23, 2019, the Office of Afghan President issued a press statement, stressing that no body other than Afghan people would “determine its fate” and seeking clarification from the president of the U.S.

First Day of Fall Election Campaign Turns Fatal as VP Candidate Attacked

The first campaign day for the September 28, 2019, presidential election turned bloody as half-a-dozen gunmen attacked the headquarters of Green Trend Party at the heart of Kabul on July 28, 2019, leading to hours-long siege and ferocious shootout with security forces that had ended after all the gunmen had been killed. Their apparent target, Amrullah Saleh, a vice presidential candidate and a former intelligence chief escaped unhurt.

Suicide Bomb Kills Dozens at a Wedding Party

A wedding function at the Dubai Hall in West Kabul on August 17, 2019 turned bloody as a suicide bomber blew up among guests, killing at least 38 and wounding dozens. The wedding has been attended by a large number of Hazara community members, who are predominant in the area where suicide bombing has happened. Although no groups claimed responsibility for the devastating attack, the immediate doubt fell on Islamic State. Earlier in the year, Taliban promised not to launch indiscriminate attacks on Afghan civilians.

Death Toll Rises over 60 amid Uncertainty of a Peace Deal

As the latest round of talks between the U.S. and Taliban ended last week at Doha, the prospect of a peace deal might have dimmed, at least by a bit, after the August 17, 2019, Dubai Hall suicide blast that had killed at least 63 people and wounded more than 180 as of August 18.

Taliban Launches Attack on Kunduz as Taliban-U.S. Negotiation Raises Hope

As the negotiation between U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad and Taliban negotiators at Doha held much promise, with the U.S. envoy slated to visit Kabul on September 1, 2019 to brief the Afghan leaders on the Doha Talks, Taliban fighters on August 31, 2019 launched a ferocious attack on the city of Kunduz, killing at least 15 people and wounding 75, before they were repelled after hours-long fight with Afghan security forces. Khalilzad wrote on Twitter in frustration that attacks “like this must stop” if negotiation had to bear fruit.

Taliban Attacks a Second City in as Many Days

A day after a large-scale attack on Kunduz that had killed more than 25 people and wounded at least 85, another large-scale attack was carried out by Taliban militants on September 1, 2019 on the city of Puli Khumri, about 140 miles north of Kabul, and killed dozens of civilians and security personnel as the U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad had arrived at Kabul to hold talks with Afghan government leaders and give them update on his just-concluded talks with Taliban negotiators at Doha, Qatar. The back-to-back Kunduz and Puli Khumri attacks by Taliban follows the template of the militant group, which currently controls half of Afghanistan, to seize as much of the country as possible to consolidate its stand as a negotiated deal with the U.S. brightens.

Bomb Explosion outside a Foreigners’ Compound Stokes Protest

A huge truck bomb exploded around 10PM local time on September 2, 2019 just outside the Green Village in Kabul, an area that hosts compounds and complexes used by foreign organizations, killing at least 16 civilians and wounding dozens. Hours later on September 3, 2019, a large crowd assembled just outside the Green Village, demanding the shuttering of the compound. The attack came amid U.S. envoy for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, had been in Kabul touting a peace accord that U.S. and Taliban negotiators had almost finalized at talks in Doha that, among others, would lead to withdrawal of 5,400 U.S. troops in five months.

American Soldier Killed in Car Bomb Near Embassy

Putting cold water into a rapidly evolving principle of agreement between the U.S. and Taliban, a car bomb on September 5, 2019 exploded near the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, killing a U.S. service personnel and a Romanian soldier–both members of the NATO Resolute Support Mission–along with 10 civilians and wounding dozens.

Trump Calls off Camp David Talks with Taliban, Peace Deal Suspended

Two days after a vehicle bomb killed an American soldier and 11 others, including a Romanian military personnel, near the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, President Donald Trump on September 7, 2019 called off the hitherto unknown Camp David meeting with Taliban, forcing a yet-to-be finalized, but pretty close to be completed, peace agreement in limbo.

Peace Talks Dead, Trump says

Two days after calling off Camp David meeting with the Taliban, President Donald Trump slammed the militant group on September 9, 2019, saying that the peace talks with the U.S. was dead. 

U.N. Envoy Calls for Resumption of Peace Talks

Three days after

President Donald Trump called off the Camp David

meeting with Taliban, U.N. envoy to Afghanistan,

Tadamichi Yamamoto, on September 10, 2019

called for resumption of talks with Taliban during a speech at the U.N Security Council in the New York City.

Less than one-third Votes in Presidential Election

Fewer than 2.5 million out of 9.6 million voters had cast their votes in September 28, 2019, presidential election. The government deployed 70,000 security personnel to guard polling stations, but to underline the lack of security in many parts of the country, 2,400 out of 7,400 polling stations were shuttered. Incumbent Ashraf Ghani and his Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah are primary contestants in the presidential election. The results are to be officially published weeks away. 

APEC (ASIA-PACIFIC ECONOMIC COOPERATION)

2014 APEC Conference Begins at Beijing
On November 5, 2014, APEC conference began at Beijing, and it would culminate with a summit of 21 nations on November 10 and November 11.

2015 APEC Conference at Manila
This year’s Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit (November 18-19, 2015) at Manila, Philippines is being overshadowed by a string of terrorist attacks, including downing of a Russian airliner in Sinai Peninsula, Egypt, suicide bombing at Beirut and terrorist attacks in Paris. So, the 21-nation group that includes USA and China will end up spending more time on a common approach to fight terrorism and less time on issues relevant to this group: trade, tariff, commerce, economy and environment. President Barack Obama flew to Manila straight from Turkey on November 17, 2015 where he had attended a G-20 summit. Upon arrival, Obama paid a visit to Philippine harbor and boarded a Filipino Navy ship BRP Gregorio del Pilar to show his symbolic support for free navigation and rights to international water. From the 378-foot ship, president said that it was the right of all nations in the region to have access to navigation free from intimidation, a swipe at China’s recent activities in South China Sea. Obama also announced a $250 million package for the nations in this region which were feeling intimidated by China’s new aggressiveness over numerous islands, islets and reefs in the international water of South China Sea. As part of that package, Philippines, already the largest recipient of the U.S. maritime assistance, will get a Coast Guard cutter and a research vessel.

APEC Summit Opens as President Obama Call for China to Halt Construction
The two-day APEC summit opened on November 18, 2015 at Manila amidst a massive protest by Leftists and opposition parties against the group’s anti-labor bias. The U.S. President Barack Obama called for China to halt construction activities in Spratly Islands claimed by China, but rejected by rest of the international community. At the end of the summit, the bloc that accounts for roughly 60 percent of the global economy issued a joint statement, condemning “all acts, methods, and practices of terrorism”.

APEC SUMMIT AT DANANG, VIETNAM (NOVEMBER 10-11, 2017)The APEC summit 2017 began at Danang, Vietnam on November 10, 2017. A huge dinner gala was also hosted in the honor of the leaders. Among the luminaries present were Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin. Although Trump had opposed the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement, the remaining 11 countries said on November 11, 2017 that they had reached an agreement on “core elements” of the deal, the largest trade deal in history. Under the terms of the deal, U.S. may re-enter the TPP in future. Two contrasting messages emerged on the first day of the APEC summit. One was a narrow-minded, inner-looking and isolated viewpoint put forth by Donald Trump who emphasized on “America First” policy. The other was Xi Jinping who took the podium just after Donald Trump and favored a multilateral trade and commerce engagement. 

APEC SUMMIT AT PAPUA NEW GUINEA (NOVEMBER 17-18, 2018)China, US Duel at APEC SummitU.S. Vice President Mike Pence and Chinese President Xi Jinping brought their sharp tone and testiness from ASEAN summit in Singapore to Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Papua New Guinea. Taking the podium after Xi gave a bullish speech, Pence on November 17, 2018 assailed Chinese investment drive, dubbed as Belt and Road Initiative, also known as One Belt, One Road Initiative, an infrastructure plan funded by China for about 70 nations in the world, in the region and beyond, calling it an entrapment of debt for most of the nations. Instead, Pence argued, nations in the Pacific rim should embrace the U.S. investment of $60 billion earmarked for the region. The summit was overshadowed by trade war between China and the USA, Chinese initiative to dominate South China Sea and other regional theaters.

U.S.-China Tussle: Joint Statement not Issued for the First Time in the Summit’s History
The trade conflict between China and the USA turned the 2018 APEC Summit into a battlefield of two largest economies in the world. For the first time since the APEC was founded in 1989, a joint press statement was not issued as negotiators struggled to find a reconciling language between the positions taken by Beijing and Washington. Reflecting the general mood of the 21-nation summit, Papua New Guinea Prime Minister Peter O’Neill said on November 18, 2018 that the “entire world is worried” over increasing U.S.-China rift and the summit would issue a summary of discussion, not a joint statement. U.S. negotiators wanted to include trade practices often employed by China in the statement which Chinese negotiators objected.

ASEAN (ASSOCIATION OF SOUTH-EAST ASIAN NATIONS)U.S. Hosts Summit of Southeast Asian Nations
As part of continuing effort to deepen the diplomatic and political bonds in a region that had been long neglected by the U.S., Obama administration played the host of a two-day summit of ASEAN leaders February 15-16, 2016. at scenic mountainous town of Rancho Mirage in California. Although the U.S. is not a member of this influential group, it has increasing stake in the region, especially to thwart an ever-aggressive China in exerting its influence in the resource-rich South China Sea.

ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting at a Stalemate over China
That four of the member states–the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei–of the 10-nation Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) are embroiled in dispute with China over the maritime rights in South China Sea and other nations such as Cambodia wants to strengthen their bilateral relationship with Beijing for economic benefit has cast a big shadow over the foreign ministers’ conference at Vientiane, Laos. After three successive sessions on July 24, 2016, foreign ministers failed to come up on a unifying message over China and South China Sea. They will try to come up with common ground at another session on July 25, 2016 before meeting with their Chinese counterpart Wang Yi.

U.S., Two Other Allies Condemn China on Behalf of ASEAN Allies
That China was able to drive a wedge through the 10-nation Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) was amply evident on July 25, 2016 as the consensus had eluded all along among the foreign ministers with Cambodia and, to some extent, Laos working as spoilers. As a result, the responsibility for voicing the concerns of four western allies and fellow member nations–the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei–fell on the U.S., Australia and Japan. Although USA, Japan and Australia were not the participants of the meeting, but a joint statement was issued by their foreign ministers, John Kerry, Fumio Kishida and Julie Bishop, respectively, from the sidelines of the meeting at Vientiane, calling for cessation of “coercive unilateral action” in the South China Sea.

President Obama Arrives at Laos for ASEAN SummitPresident Barack Obama arrived at Vientiane on September 5, 2016 to attend ASEAN Summit from Hangzhou, China where G-20 Summit was concluded earlier in the day.

ASEAN Summit: A Mixed Bag of Success for Obama
The two-day (September 7-8, 2016) summit of 10-nation ASEAN that had the U.S. President Barack Obama as a special guest concluded at Vientiane, Laos on September 8, 2016 with a joint statement emphasizing the potential of the bloc as a future economic and trade powerhouse, but barely mentioning the dispute related to South China Sea. The omission of any strong language over the South China Sea dispute is a clear outcome of Beijing’s successful lobbying and, in some way, a minor strategic setback to Obama administration’s Asia policy. However, at a press conference on the Air Force One, President Barack Obama defended his policy of focusing on Asia as “pivot”, saying it was working as expected.

ASEAN SECURITY FORUM (August 6-7, 2017)
The August 6-7, 2017, ASEAN security forum in Philippines was overshadowed by two ICBM tests conducted by North Korea in a span of 24 days (July 4, 2017 and July 28, 2017) and a punitive sanctions by an August 5, 2017, U.N. resolution targeting North Korean exports of $1 billion.

China Delivers Stern Message to North Korea
China on August 6, 2017 made sure that North Korea heard it loud and clear from its much bigger neighbor that Pyongyang had to put a halt to its missile and nuclear testing. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi issued a statement during the day after meeting with his North Korean counterpart, Ri Yong Ho, on the sidelines of the ASEAN security forum in Philippines. The statement urged the North Korea not to “violate the U.N.’s decision or provoke international society’s goodwill my conducting missile launching or nuclear tests”. The statement added: “Of course, we would like to urge other parties like the U.S. and South Korea to stop increasing tensions”. Although the U.S. tried hard to suspend North Korea’s membership from 28-nation ASEAN, other 27 nations respectfully declined to oblige.

ASEAN SUMMIT 2018Pence to Headline the SummitU.S. Vice President Mike Pence is in Singapore on November 15, 2018 to attend this year’s ASEAN summit, and will deliver a message to Chinese President Xi Jinping on report that Beijing has been complicit in North Korea’s effort to skirt U.N. sanctions.

BANGLADESH
Violence, fear-psychosis and raw political powers vitiated the electoral atmosphere of the 10th parliamentary elections held on January 5, 2014. Opposition political parties boycotted the polls as their demand that premier Hasina resign and a neutral caretaker administration oversee the polls was rejected by Awami League government. Even western governments expressed their skepticism in the integrity of the polls, and the US, EU and British Commonwealth refrained from sending representatives to the Southeast Asian nation to watch polls. Opposition activists disrupted polls at several places, torching hundreds of schools, usually polling places, and attacking polling personnel and security forces. The violence claimed at least 18 lives on January 5, 2014. The voter turnout was an abysmal 22 percent compared to 87 percent in the previous elections. In the background of Awami League’s win in 127 seats without contest, it was evident from the outset that Awami League and its Jatiya Party ally would sweep the polls in 147 seats where the polls took place. As counting began, Awami League was on its way to garner 105 seats. Awami League’s haul of 232 seats is more than enough to form government on its own as it needs only 151 seats in 300-seat parliament.

Arrest Warrant Issued against Former Premier
An anti-corruption court on February 25, 2015 issued an arrest warrant against former Bangladeshi Prime Minister Ms. Khaleda Zia on charges of corruption during her tenure. In addition to Zia, the court also ordered two others–a former lawmaker, Kazi Saleemul Haque, and a businessman, Sharfuddin Ahmed–to be arrested too. All three had failed to appear before the court to face charges filed in 2008 and 2011 by the Anti-Corruption Commission of Bangladesh. The charges had been pending since then.

Prominent Blogger Hacked to Death
A prominent Bangladeshi-American blogger, Avijit Roy, who penned against religious bigotry and obscurantism, was hacked to death in Dhaka, and his wife, Rafida Ahmed, seriously wounded on February 27, 2015. They were at a book fair at Dhaka University when the unknown attackers appeared, and quickly disappeared. A hitherto unknown Islamic group, Ansar Bangla 7, subsequently claimed responsibility for the attack.

Islamist Hanged for War Crimes
A Jamaat-e-Islami leader, Mohammad Qamaruzzaman was hanged on April 11, 2015 for the crimes he had committed during the liberation struggle in 1971. During the liberation movement of Bangladesh, 3 million people were killed, 200,000 women raped and 10 million were displaced.

Al-Qaeda Claims Credit for Blogger’s Death
The top leader of Southeast Asian franchise of al-Qaeda, Asim Umar, claimed in a 9-minute video released on May 3, 2015 that his group had killed the prominent Bangladeshi blogger Avijit Roy in February 2015. The video also quoted Umar to have taken the responsibility for the assassination of other prominent progressives such as Mohammad Shakil Auj, an Islamic scholar shot dead at Karachi in 2014; Aniqa Naz, a Pakistani blogger; and Rajib Haider, a blogger killed in machete attack in 2013. Asim Umar called them out as “blasphemers”.

Another Blogger Hacked to Death in Broad Daylight
A secular blogger who took his pen and applied his mind to write in secular minded blog Free Mind, once moderated by Bangladeshi-American Avijit Roy before his February 27, 2015, murder, was killed by a group of four machete-wielding youths at Sylhet on May 12, 2015. The death of Ananta Bijoy Dash was another blow–hopefully to be overcome, as secularists expect, in near future with more determination and resoluteness from the country’s youth–to a strong, sustained secular movement that had often taken to the alternative media to promote secularism and religious tolerance.

Fourth Bangladeshi Blogger Hacked to Death
In the continuity of barbarity unleashed by the evil force of religious obscurantism, a fourth Bangladeshi blogger, Niloy Chattopadhay, was hacked to death on August 7, 2015. Four people came to his apartment posing as possible tenant, and attacked him. Since Avijit Roy’s February 27, 2015, killing, two other bloggers were hacked to death, one in March 2015 in Dhaka, the capital, and the other in Sylhet on May 12, 2015. Hours after the attack, the al-Qaeda-linked Ansar-al-Islam took responsibility for killing Niloy Chattopadhay, dubbing him as the enemy of Allah.

Italian Aid Worker Killed
As an Italian aid worker, Cesare Tavella, 50, was jogging on late September 28, 2015 at Dhaka, assailants shot him dead. Later Islamic State claimed for his killing, marking the first time that it had set foot in Bangladesh with its campaign of terror tactic.

A Second Foreigner Assassinated within a Week
A Japanese citizen, Kunio Hoshi, 66, was shot by masked assailants on October 3, 2015 as he was on a rickshaw in the northern district of Rangpur. As he was being rushed to the hospital, he succumbed to his wound. Later in the day, Islamic State claimed that the “soldiers of the caliphate of Bangladesh” had followed a crusader foreigner and killed him. Six days ago, similar claim was made on behalf of the Islamic State, hitherto unknown to be existent in Bangladesh, in the September 28, 2015, murder of another foreigner, a 50-year-old Italian, Cesare Tavella.

An Italian Missionary Attacked
Two days after an Italian missionary, the Rev. Piero Arolari, 57, was shot in the head, Islamic State on November 20, 2015 claimed responsibility in a twitter posting. Arolari, who shot in northern Dinajpur, was recovering at a hospital.

Sectarian Attack Kills One
Gunmen on November 26, 2015 attacked a Shiite mosque in Bangladesh’s Bogra district, killing one and wounding three others, underscoring the recent trend of rising fundamentalism in this Southeast Asian country.

Two Sentenced to Die in the Blogger Assassination Case
In the first of trials, involving killing of several progressive bloggers in recent years, a Dhaka court on December 31, 2015 issued death penalty against two defendants in the February 2013 killing of a prominent Bangladeshi blogger, Rajib Haider. Mohammad Faisal bin Nayem and Redwanul Azad Rana were sentenced to death and six others were handed down lesser sentences. However, Rana remains a fugitive.

Hindu Priest Beheaded in Bangladesh
In one more incident of fundamentalist attack on minorities or seculars, a 50-year-old Hindu priest, Jogeshwar Das, was beheaded on February 21, 2016 in northern Bangladesh. Islamic State later claimed responsibility for beheading Das. Two unknown assailants attacked Das around 7AM as he was praying on his verandah at a village in the Panchagarh District.

Secular Blogger Killed
As part of a spree of violence directed at secular bloggers, writers and activists, a law student, Nazimuddin Samad, 27, who had openly proclaimed to have “no religion”, was hacked to death on April 7, 2017 by unknown assailants using machetes and gun. Samad became the ire of Islamic fundamentalist groups for his caustic writings against Islamic State.

English Professor Hacked to Death
As a growing trend of targeting secular-minded bloggers, intelligentsia and academia, the latest attack was gruesome and appalling. A professor of English Department of Rajshahi University, Rezaul Karim Siddique, was hacked to death near his home on April 23, 2016. He was nearly beheaded. The usual suspicion fell on the so-called Islamic State group, and later in the day, the group claimed the responsibility.

Bangladeshi Gay Rights Activist Killed
Unidentified assailants on April 25, 2016 night fatally stabbed two people in Dhaka, including a U.S. Agency for International Development (AID) employee, Xulhaz Mannan, an open gay-rights activist who had also worked in the past as a U.S. embassy protocol officer. Mannan’s friend Tanay Majumder was stabbed to death too.

Parade of Killing Continues, This Time a Buddhist Monk
The grotesque campaign of killings continued unabated in Bangladesh with Islamic extremists hell-bent on turning this Southeast Asian nation into a killing field. The latest incident took place on May 14, 2016 in the southeastern part of Bangladesh where a Buddhist monk, Mong Shwe U Chak, 75, was found hacked to death.

Police Official’s Wife, a Christian Shop-owner Killed
In continuation of heightened militant activity in Bangladesh, a tough-on-crime police officer’s wife, Mahmuda Khanum Mithu, 30, was on June 5, 2016 stabbed and shot to death by three assailants on her way with her son to a nearby school bus stop at Chittagong. Separately, a Christian shopkeeper, Sunil Gomes, 60, was hacked to death on June 5, 2016 at Natore. ISIL claimed responsibility for the Christian shopkeeper’s killing.

Hindu Priest Hacked to Death
A Hindu priest, Anando Gopal Ganguly, 68, was hacked to death on June 7, 2016 in southwestern Bangladesh, an attack later claimed by the Islamic State, as he was riding a cycle near his home.

Terrorists Strike an Upscale Café in the Capital
A group of terrorists struck Dhaka by seizing an upscale café, Holey Artisan Bakery, at the heart of the capital in the busy evening hours of July 1, 2016, leading to an hours-long hostage crisis that had ended with highly trained Rapid Action Battalion forces storming the restaurant and bringing the crisis to an end. The attack on the café began around 7:40PM local time, hours after day-long fast had ended for Ramadan and people were out on the streets in drove. In the initial hours of fighting, two police officers were killed and at least 26 people were wounded. As the operation by Rapid Action Battalion continued early in the morning hours of July 2, 2016, authorities were careful to minimize the number of casualties among the hostages. As the siege was unfolding, Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack.

Bangladesh Feels the Sharp Claws of Islamic State
People in Bangladesh woke up in the morning of July 2, 2016 with a new realization that their secular entity was at stake. As more and more information on the attackers came to light, what startled the nation was that they had gone to private schools for their education and hailed from mostly well-to-do families. The 11-hour standoff was brought to an end after troops stormed the café, and killed all six attackers. The death toll among hostages stood 20 inside the café, including 9 Italians, 7 Japanese, 2 Bangladeshis, an Indian and an American. 13 hostages were rescued by army commandos. In the early hours of the attack, two police officers were killed. At least 30 people were wounded. The attackers systematically butchered the hostages in a chilling disregard of life.

Two Arrested in Bangladesh Café Attack
Two people who had gone missing since the July 1, 2016, terrorist attack and subsequent hours-long standoff at the Holey Artisan Bakery were arrested on August 4, 2016 from different areas of Dhaka. Both Hasnat Karim, a British citizen, and Tahmid Hasib Khan, a fellow University of Toronto student, were suspected to be accomplices of five gunmen who had carried out the gruesome killings at the upscale Dhaka café.

Attack Mastermind Killed by Police
Almost two months after the notorious July 1, 2016, attacks in Dhaka, including the one against the Holy Artisan Bakery, that had killed 22 people, police on August 27, 2016 raided a three-story house in Narayanganj, resulting in an exchange of fire and killing three extremists, including the suspected leader of a new terrorist outfit, Jama’atul Mujahedeen Bangladesh (JMB). Tamim Ahmed Chowdhury, 30, a Canadian citizen of Bangladeshi descent has been suspected to have masterminded the attack on the Holy Artisan Bakery, and JMB came under suspicion almost after the attack.

Bangladesh Hangs an Islamist anti-Independence War Criminal
Bangladeshi authorities on September 3, 2016 hanged an Islamist leader, Mir Quaseem Ali, who was convicted of committing war crimes and genocide. The political party, Jamaat-e-Islami, Ali led called a general nationwide strike for September 5, 2016.

One of the Café Attack Planners Shot Dead
Bangladeshi security forces on January 6, 2017 killed two Jama’atul Mujahedeen Bangladesh (JMB) militants in a shootout in Dhaka. One of them was Nurul Islam Marzan, a key planner of the July 1, 2016, Holy Artisan Bakery attack. The other was Saddam Hossein, wanted on several terror charges.

*********************** PAPAL VISIT TO MYANMAR AND BANGLADESH***********

Pope Plays Delicate Act of Politics

Pope Francis’ high-profile visit to Myanmar and Bangladesh was anything but a dexterous handling of political and ethnic sensibilities in the wake of the large-scale crackdown, in the parlance of U.N. language a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing”, of Rohingya Muslims by Myanmar’s military and militant Buddhist groups that had led to influx of more than 600,000 refugees to neighboring Bangladesh and created the one of the worst humanitarian crisis in recent memory. Pope Francis met with country’s military head Gen. Min Aung Hlaing at the residence of Yangon Archbishop on November 27, 2017. During the visit, Pope is referring the Rohingya crisis in a more general term, avoiding the word “Rohingya”, partly due to suggestion from the small Catholic community in Myanmar.

Pope Meets Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi; Avoids Taking the Name of “Rohingya”

Pope Francis on November 28, 2017 met with the most powerful political figure of Myanmar, Aung San Suu Kyi, at Naypyitaw, and stressed on the need of a future Myanmar that would have a “peace based on respect for the dignity and rights of each member of society, respect for each ethnic group and its identity”. However, Pope continued to avoid using the word “Rohingya”, raising concern among the rights group over papal avoidance of the root cause persecution.

Pope Pivots away from Rohingya Issue

During his last full day of trip in Myanmar, Pope Francis avoided one more time referring the “wounds of conflict that through the years have divided the people of different cultures, ethnicities and religious convictions” to the word “Rohingya” and, instead focused on healing this deep division. On November 29, 2017, Pope Francis addressed tens of thousands of Catholics at Yangon’s Kyaikkasan Ground

Pope Arrives at Bangladesh; Sharpens Rhetoric

Pope Francis, upon arrival at Dhaka on November 30, 2017 from Myanmar, harped his focus with sharper tongue on the plight of Rohingya refugees, and praised Bangladesh government for its generosity in helping the “refugees from the Rakhine State”, a sharp departure in tone he had used in Myanmar. Addressing at the reception hosted by Bangladesh’s president, Abdul Hamid, and attended by officials and foreign dignitaries, Pope called for international community to lend hands to Bangladesh in helping out hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslim refugees. 

Pope Francis Asks Forgiveness from Rohingyas

At an all-religion gathering in Dhaka on December 1, 2017, Pope Francis sought forgiveness from 16 Rohingya refugees–12 men, two women and two girls–brought to Pope specifically for the occasion. Pope pronounced that the “presence of God today is also called the ‘Rohingya'”.

************************ PAPAL VISIT TO MYANMAR AND BANGLADESH**********

CAMBODIA

Nearly three-decade unchallenged rule by Hun Sen was severely tested in recent days as country’s garment workers vented their anger against the government for lack of wage hike and improvement in living standard. The frustration of workers employed in the industry that employs about half-a-million people and brings home $4 billion through exports to US and Europe was evident on December 29, 2013 as tens of thousands of demonstrators demanded the resignation of the premier. On January 3, 2014, the situation turned ugly as workers fought a pitched battle against the security forces in the heart of Phnom Penh, resulting in the death of three protesters.

Life-Terms for Two Former Khmer Rouge Leaders
In a historic verdict, a U.N.-backed war crimes tribunal on August 7, 2014 sentenced Khieu Samphan, 83, former head of state under Khmer Rouge rule, and movement’s chief ideologue, Nuon Chea, 88, to life in prison, accusing them of genocide, crimes against humanity, religious persecution, homicide and torture during the movement’s 1975-79 rule of Cambodia in which about 1.7 million people had died from hard labor, hunger, overwork and execution in pursuit of the movement’s agrarian utopia. The tribunal, formally known as the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, consisted of both Cambodian and international jurists, and spent nearly $200 million in prosecuting cases of human rights abuses since it had launched in 2005, but handed out verdict against only one defendant until August 7: a low-level prison director, Kaing Guek Eav, to life in prison in 2011. The current round of trial began in November 2011, and involved four defendants, including former Foreign Minister Ieng Sary and his wife, former Social Affairs Minister, Ieng Thirith, in addition to Chea and Samphan. Sary died in 2013, and Thirith was pronounced unfit for trial in September 2012 due to dementia. Khmer Rouge’s supreme leader Pol Pot died in 1998.

Highest-Ranking Khmer Rouge Official Dies
A sister-in-law of notorious Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot who was put on trial, but in September 2012 found unfit for trial by an international tribunal died on August 22, 2015 at the age of 83. Ieng Thirith was married to the former Foreign Minister Ieng Sary, who had died in 2013. Ieng Thirith was the rogue government’s social affairs minister, and was the highest-ranking Khmer Rouge official.

Main Opposition Party Ordered Dissolved
Cambodian Supreme Court on November 16, 2017 dissolved the main opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party, or CNRP, led by Kem Sokha under the Article 38 of the Law on Political Parties. Reading out the verdict, Chief Judge Dith Munty called the allegation against the CNRP that it had tried to overthrow the premier Hun Sen and his Cambodian People’s Party from power with the U.S. help very “serious”.

Cambodia’s Ruling Party Extends Its Hegemony in Parliamentary Polls
Ten months after the country’s main opposition party had been dissolved, elections were held to elect 125-seat National Assembly of Cambodia, or lower house of parliament, on July 29, 2018 amid allegation of intimidation, voter suppression and massive vote fraud. Most of the international voting monitoring groups stayed away from Cambodia, and Phil Robertson, deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Asia division called the vote “a farce and a mockery”. Hun Sen, country’s ruler, though a political pariah to most of the western nations, has been consistently buttressed by China. Although 20 political parties vied in July 29, 2018, polls, Cambodian People’s Party led by Hun Sen topped by several points, and won all the 125 seats of the parliament. Exiled opposition leader Sam Rainsy, leader of the banned Cambodian National Rescue Party, or CNRP, called for peaceful protests against “a sham election with a foregone conclusion”.

Cambodia Pardons Australian Filmmaker
Australian filmmaker James Ricketson, 69, was pardoned by Cambodian government on September 21, 2018, a month after he had been sentenced to six years of imprisonment on spying charges. Ricketson has been in jail since June 2017 after caught by security forces of filming an opposition rally in Phnom Penh. The pardon by Hun Sen regime was an effort to earn good will, even scantily, with the international community after his party’s massive win in July 29, 2018, parliamentary polls.

Two Khmer Rouge Leaders Convicted of Genocide
Two former Khmer Rouge leaders, after the collapse of the rebels’ movement in 1998, melted along the rural population and lived a quiet life in the remote border town of Pailin. Both Khieu Samphan, 87, and Nuon Chea, 92, led a life of grand fathers and retirees until they had been arrested in 2007. For the past 11 years, their trial had become a rallying cry for justice and accountability for the victims of murderous regime of Khmer Rouge that had led to 1.7 million deaths from 1975 to 1979. Khieu Samphan was a firebrand Communist who had fled the country in 1960s, only to become the international face of Khmer Rouge movement. Nuon Chea was an ideologue who had justified the campaign to transform Cambodia into an agrarian utopia. At the end, both of them remained defiant.

CHINA********************************* EAST CHINA SEA TENSION *********************China-Japan Political Tension over Contested Islands in East China Sea  In an assertive stance, China on November 23, 2013 declared sky over parts of East China Sea as “Air Defense Identification Zone”, thus requiring commercial flights to seek flight permission prior to flying through the area. The zone, claimed too by Japan, includes the uninhabited island chain—known as Senkaku in Japanese and Diayou in Chinese—at the heart of recent Sino-Japanese tension.

o       On November 24, 2013, Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida criticized the Chinese declaration as well as US Secretary of State John Kerry called out the action “as a destabilizing attempt”.

o       On November 29, 2013, US asked its civilian airlines to seek flight permission to fly through the air defense identification zone declared by Beijing on November 23 although publicly it continued criticizing the Chinese action.

o       On November 30, 2013, Japan upped the ante by asking a UN agency—International Civil Aviation Organization—to assess risk implication of declaration of such an air defense identification zone over parts of East China Sea. Japan’s move on November 30 is aimed at making an effort to internationalize the issue, and embarrass Beijing in the eyes of international community

Chinese and US Defense Chiefs Spar over Islands in East China Sea
A visiting US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel took issues with his Chinese counterpart, Chang Wanquan, on April 8, 2014 over China’s unilateral declaration in November 2013 to create air defense zone over a disputed chain of islands in the East China Sea known as Diaoyu in Chinese and Senkaku in Japanese. Hagel also reiterated that US would stand by Japan over in any conflict over the uninhabited islands due to any Chinese escalation.

Sino-Jap Close Run-in over East China Sea Alarms the Region
On May 24, 2014, Chinese fighter jets came in proximity of as close as 100 feet to Japanese reconnaissance flights twice over the East China Sea in a menacing and muscular display of Beijing’s intent to enforce air defense identification zone unilaterally established on November 23, 2013. Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera on May 25, 2014 decried the Chinese maneuver in the high altitude over the East China Sea a day earlier.

Sino-Jap Relations Escalate over East China Sea
Nearly foreshadowed by the tension and news over the South China Sea, the Sino-Jap acrimony over a disputed chain of islands in the East China Sea, known as Diaoyu in Chinese and Senkaku in Japanese, were cooling down in recent years. However, increasing Chinese military and commercial activities raised the stakes again for both nations in the East China Sea. At least 14 Chinese Coast Guards vessels were sighted near the Japanese maritime boundary in the East China Sea on August 8, 2016. Meanwhile, Japanese newspaper Nikkei reported the ongoing construction of a military radar on a Chinese gas platform near the median line of the two nations.

********************************* EAST CHINA SEA TENSION *********************

Reform Agenda of Chinese Communists
The Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party came up with a sixty-point reform agenda during its recently concluded four-day session (November 9-12, 2013). The sixty-point reform plan was made public on November 15, 2013 along with an accompanying statement issued by President Xi Jinping. The reform agenda includes some of the far reaching policy reforms such as relaxation of the one-child per family policy and “reeducation through labor” program that has been in effect since 1950s. The other components of the reform plan include:

* Restructuring the economy by more market competition in key areas

* Encouraging greater degree of participation of private capital in financial sectors

* Streamlining the compensation plan for acquiring land in rural areas

The sixty-point reform plan is viewed as a concerted push by President Xi Jinping and Prime Minister Li Keqiang to move the country and an evolving society in a direction that aligns with global challenges as well as related opportunities.

Under the sixty-point reform plan, the most significant social reform is to allow couples to have two children if at least one parent is one child instead of both parents to be sole children, which is the norm now. Most rural families are allowed to have two children now. (Source: The Dallas Morning News)

First Chinese Aircraft Carrier Liaoning
In an escalation averted at the eleventh hour in South China Sea, a Chinese vessel on December 5, 2013 cut across the bow of an American missile cruiser, Cowpens, that was observing from the international water the first Chinese aircraft carrier Liaoning’s voyage off its base port of Quingdao.

Liaoning returned to its base port on January 1, 2014 after 37 days of successful sea trial in the South China Sea. (Source: The Dallas Morning News)

Chinese Human Rights again Under Scanner
In a trial that riveted and riled various rights group in the west, the Chinese dissident, Xu Zhiyong, who raised the awareness against endemic corruption through his New Citizens social movement on January 26, 2014 received a four-year jail term.

First Direct Talks between China and Taiwan
In a sign of thawing of relationship in the days to come, Chinese and Taiwanese officials held first direct talks on February 11, 2014 at the Chinese city of Nanjing, once the capital of Chiang Kai-shek’s Republic of China before Chiang’s defeat at the hand of Mao Ze-dong and his eventual fleeing to Taiwan. The talks, although more symbolic than substance, also marked a turnaround in the cross-strait relations that had soured during pro-independence Chen Shui-bian’s 2000-2008 rule in Taiwan. After being elected as Taiwan’s president in 2008, Ma Ying-jeou, current president of the island nation, emphasized on normalization in trade and cultural bonds between two nations and deepened the economic ties with the Main Land. Under the watch of President Ma Ying-jeou, cross-strait trade ballooned to $197 billion in 2013 and nearly 3 million Chinese had visited Taiwan in 2013.

Departing US Envoy Gives Mixed Signal on China
Departing US ambassador Gary Locke on February 27, 2014 lauded the strong trade and economic ties between Beijing and Washington, while expressing frustration over lack of progress on human rights, jailing of activists such as recent imprisonment of Uighur scholar Ilham Tohti in Xinxiang, and clamping down of dissidence. Locke will be replaced by former US Senator Max Baucus.

Xinjiang Violence Spills Over to Yunnan
In grim replay of November 2013 attack in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, where a car bomb blamed on Uighur militants had killed five far from the violence’s epicenter of Xinjiang province, a group of eight masked assailants carried out a slashing rampage on late March 1, 2014 at a train station in Kunming, the capital of Yunnan province that is 900 miles southeast of Xinjiang, killing 29 people and wounding more than 143. Police, in late response, opened fire, killing four assailants, and captured one. The state-run CCTV said on March 2, 2014 that at least two of the assailants were women, including one fatally shot and one captured.

Proposal to Strengthen Trade Ties with Mainland Created Furor
A landmark trade deal between China and President Ma Ying-jeou’s regime that would open many service areas on both side of the Strait created fury and fear among a large swath of Taiwan’s conservatives. College students occupied the legislative chamber since March 18, 2014 as the lawmakers pushed the trade deal to the floor for voting instead of taking piecemeal measures included in the pact as promised. The opposition protest reached a new high on March 30, 2014 as more than 350,000 demonstrators massed around the Presidential Office Building in a show of support for the occupying students and disapproval for Beijing-Taipei trade deal.

Chinese and US Defense Chiefs Spar over Islands in East China Sea
A visiting US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel took issues with his Chinese counterpart, Chang Wanquan, on April 8, 2014 over China’s unilateral declaration in November 2013 to create air defense zone over a disputed chain of islands in the East China Sea known as Diaoyu in Chinese and Senkaku in Japanese. Hagel also reiterated that US would stand by Japan over in any conflict over the uninhabited islands due to any Chinese escalation.

Obama Makes the Case for US to Defend Japan
In a week-long visit to Japan, South Korea, Malaysia and the Philippines, the country that’s likely to overshadow President Barack Obama’s most of the official programs is the country he is not visiting: China. A case in point: as President Obama arrived at Japan on April 23, 2014, country’s media was awash over President’s written statement to Yumiuri Shimbhun that if Japan was attacked over dispute related to a chain of uninhabited islands, known as Diaoyu in Chinese and Senkaku in Japanese, in the East China Sea, US would come to defend Japan under the Article V of the U.S.-Japan Treaty of Mutual Co-operation and Security. President Obama also stressed on advancing the long-delayed Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement.

Attackers Strike a Rail Station as President Visits the Restive Region
As Chinese President Xi Jinping was concluding his visit to Xinjiang on April 30, 2014, a group of assailants attacked people at a train station in the provincial capital of Urumqi with knives and a bomb, killing one person and wounding at least 79. At least 2 of the assailants were also killed. On April 30, 2014, President Xi Jinping stressed the need for integration of region’s Uighurs and other minorities into country’s mainstream.

China Locks Horn with Vietnam and Philippines

In a new escalation, Chinese ships on

May 7, 2014

rammed through Vietnamese vessels trying to block Chinese effort to place an oil rig in South China Sea. Although no injuries or damages were reported, the incident 120 nautical miles off the coast off Vietnam marked a new level of provocation and power-play by Beijing. Also, on

May 7, 2014

, Philippines detained Chinese fishermen hunting for sea turtles.

Five Chinese Military Officials Indicted by US DOJ on Cyberespionage
In a precedent setting indictment, the US Department of Justice on May 19, 2014 accused five Chinese military officials of hacking into networks of a number US companies that includes Alcoa World Alumina, Westinghouse Electric Co., Allegheny Technologies, U.S. Steel Corp., the United Steelworkers Union and SolarWorld to steal trade secrets and business plans. Chinese Foreign Ministry swiftly rebuffed the charges on late May 19, calling them “purely fictitious, extremely absurd”.

On

May 20, 2014

, Chinese Foreign Ministry summoned the US Ambassador to China for a dressing-down over the episode, and Defense Ministry called the US charges hypocritical.

Terrorists Strike Again at a Market in Urumqi
In continuation of bloodshed that had afflicted Xinjiang over the past five years, two SUVs plowed into a market at the capital, Urumqi, in the early hours of May 22, 2014 from the two ends with their riders throwing grenades at random on the people, killing at least 43 people and wounding 94. The market was teeming with older, retired people during the time of morning attack. Four attackers were also killed and the fifth was arrested hours later. Reacting to the latest incident, Chinese President Xi Jinping pledged on May 22 to punish the perpetrators severely. All five attackers were identified as people of Uighur minority. No one claimed the responsibility for the May 22, 2014, brazen attack, and the Chinese government didn’t lay the blame at the footstep of East Turkestan Islamic Movement, a ragtag Uighur rebel group often blamed by Beijing for stoking violence in Xinjiang and elsewhere.

Sino-Jap Close Run-in over East China Sea Alarms the Region
On May 24, 2014, Chinese fighter jets came in proximity of as close as 100 feet to Japanese reconnaissance flights twice over the East China Sea in a menacing and muscular display of Beijing’s intent to enforce air defense identification zone unilaterally established on November 23, 2013. Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera on May 25, 2014 decried the Chinese maneuver in the high altitude over the East China Sea a day earlier.

China Plays History to Wedge Distance Between South Korea and Japan
A visiting Chinese President used history to draw a line between South Korea and Japan. Chinese President Xi Jingping, addressing students at the Seoul National University, said on July 4, 2014 that China and South Korea shared history in their common fight to survive and prosper. Jingping referred to Ming Dynasty, which sent Chinese troops in 1590s to Korea to fight against Japanese aggression and 20th century fight against Japanese imperialism.

China’s War on Corruption Takes a New Turn with Investigation into Former Security Chief
In a new trend of transparency and emphasis on rooting out the corruption from the upper echelon of the Communist Party, party’s corruption watchdog, Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, announced on its website on July 29, 2014 that it would investigate into allegation of improprieties against former head of security, Zhou Yongkang. Until his retirement in 2012, Zhou was a member of all-powerful 9-member Standing Committee of the Communist Party’s Politburo. The investigation marked the one targeted against the highest-profile party official since Gang of Four treason trial in 1981. During that historic trial, Mao Zedong’s wife was among one of the defendants charged on excesses committed during 1966-76 Cultural Revolution.

Mayhem in Xinjiang Reported by China
Days after violence had hit the far western region of Xinjiang, the regional portal, Tianshan, of the regional government said on August 3, 2014 that an armed gang had killed 35 ethnic Han Chinese in Yarkand county of Xinjiang on July 28, 2014. The government forces then confronted the attackers, mostly Uighurs, killing 59 of them.

Near Collision Off the Chinese Coast
A Chinese warplane flew dangerously close to a US Navy P-8 Poseidon, a surveillance and reconnaissance plane, over the international water off the Chinese coast. Chinese war plane made several dangerous maneuvers and came as close as 30 feet on August 22, 2014.

China Rules out Open Election Process
In a sharp onslaught on the openness of the inaugural election to the post of Hong Kong’s chief executive post, Chinese legislature on August 31, 2014 rejected the demand that the nomination process had to be “open to all”, frustrating pro-democracy supporters and activists.

Rights Groups Decry Life Term of a Renowned Uighur Scholar
Several human rights groups called the September 23, 2014, sentencing of a moderate Uighur scholar, Ilham Tohti, sham and the result of a “show trial”. Tohti used to run a website that was critical of Chinese action in Xinjiang province. In January 2014, Ilham Tohti was put under house arrest. Tohti was convicted of separatism and sentenced to life in prison.

Books of Chinese-American Author Banned
Chinese authorities on October 14, 2014 ordered Chinese-American scholar Yu Ying-Shih’s books removed from store shelves immediately, expanding the crackdown on liberal writers, academics and authors. Beijing also included other authors in its purported crackdown, including economist Mao Yushi.

Battle on Corruption Reaches Higher Echelon of the Communist Party
In a sign of sparing-no-one policy on official corruption since Xi Jingping became party chief and president, a former high ranking general, who was number 2 in the People’s Liberation Army and a member of party’s Polibureau, is likely to be indicted on bribery charges, according to official Xinhua news agency and PLA Daily. Until stepping down in 2012, Xu Caihou was the Vice Chairman of the CPC’s powerful military commission.

Anti-Pollution Documentary Axed

A landmark, 104-minute anti-pollution documentary,

Under The Dome

, made by former CCTV investigative journalist

Chai Jing

was a hit as soon as it was released. Even China’s new environment minister likened the documentary to

Silent Spring

, a 1962 book that had jumpstarted the environmental movement in the USA. However, due to mysterious reasons, the documentary went offline on

March 6, 2015

after a week during which millions of Chinese had watched the documentary, a searing description of the Communist nation’s odyssey of climate catastrophe.

*************************** Crackdown on Chinese Feminists *************************Feminist Activists Detained on the Eve of International Women’s Day
A day before the International Women’s Day on March 8, 2015, Chinese security forces swooped in on eight dissenting voices in China’s feminist movement and took them to custody as five Chinese female legislators on March 7, 2015 highlighted Beijing’s recent moves to advance women’s rights in the Communist nation at a highly publicized news conference. As of March 13, 2015, five of the eight women were still in custody, and they–Li Tingting, Wu Rongrong, Zheng Churan, Wang Man and Wei Tingting–were charged on “picking quarrels and provoking troubles”.

Feminist Activists Released

Five Chinese feminist activists–

Li Tingting, Wu Rongrong, Zheng Churan, Wang Man

and

Wei Tingting

–under detention since

March 7, 2015

were set free by authorities after more than a month behind the bar at a notorious west Beijing prison,

Haidian District Detention Center

. Chinese media remained mum over the sudden release of the five Chinese feminist activists on

April 13, 2015

.

*************************** Crackdown on Chinese Feminists **************************************** China’s Concept of a New Bank to Rival World Bank ******************Australia, European Nations to Join Chinese-led Bank
In 2013, China proposed Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) to facilitate financing of ever growing construction and infrastructure projects in Asia. From the beginning, USA saw the idea as a Chinese counterbalancing strategy to check the influence of Washington in the region and offset the economic might of World Bank’s regional arm, Asian Development Bank. Obama administration worked with European allies in an effort to dissuade them from joining the AIIB on the grounds that the new bank would have lax lending rules, weaker standards for labor rights and less financial transparency. However, several European countries, including Germany, France and Britain,  in March 2015 announced that they would join the talks for AIIB. Following their footstep, Australia on March 29, 2015 announced that it would also join in negotiation as a prospective founding member of AIIB. The Australian announcement was all the more politically significant as it came in the form of a joint statement by none other than PM Tony Abbott, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop and Treasurer Joe Hockey.

*************** China’s Concept of a New Bank to Rival World Bank ******************Former Chinese Politburo Leader Indicted
As a follow-up to the charges made public on July 29, 2014 by Communist Party’s corruption watchdog, Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, country’s former security chief Zhou Yongkang, a former member of all-powerful CPC’s Politburo Standing Committee, was on April 3, 2015 indicted on corruption charges on the counts, among others, of accepting “huge” bribes, “taking advantage of his position to seek benefits for others”, abusing his power, intentionally disclosing state secrets and “causing heavy losses to public property, the state and the people”.

U.S. Geologist Freed
A U.S. geologist, Xue Feng, who was in Chinese custody since November 2007 on charges of illegally obtaining information related to Chinese oil industry, was reported on April 4, 2015 to have been released.

Kerry Asks China to Play Constructive Roles to Ease Tension over South China Sea
The US Secretary of State John Kerry on May 16, 2015 met with his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi and Chinese premier Li Keqiang at Beijing, and stressed the need to ease tensions with neighbors over South China Sea. Beijing claimed sovereignty over vast stretch of the South China Sea and carried out 2,000 acres of landfill on five coral outcroppings in the Spratly archipelago, something Philippines and other Asian neighbors took strong exception.  However, adopting a defiant note during a joint press conference later during the day, Yi said that China’s sovereignty couldn’t be questioned.

China Caps Party’s Anniversary with Three Key Laws
Chinese legislature capped the 94th anniversary of Communist Party of China on July 1, 2015 by passing the last of three laws in recent months. The last piece of legislation related to the country’s national security, including cyber security. The law calls for strengthening the party’s moral and ideological fabric to facilitate the “public opinion guidance” and “secure and controllable” internet access. The other two pieces of legislations passed before included measures related to counterterrorism and foreign non-governmental organization.

China’s Market Freefall Forces Government to Push for New Stock Market Rules
Faced with precipitous fall of China’s stock market over the past three weeks, Chine government-controlled Securities Association of China announced a remedial move on July 4, 2015 that required its 21 big brokerage firms to set aside $19.4 billion in capital to buy stocks in country’s most stable companies and stop selling shares. Also, in a simultaneous move, China’s two stock exchanges–Shanghai Stock Exchange and Shenzhen Stock Exchange–suspended the IPO of total of 18 companies on July 4, 2015. Share prices have fallen one-third since June 12, 2015, erasing almost $2 trillion in valuation.

Chinese Crackdown on Rights Lawyers Raises Stakes
That the Chinese regime of President Xi Jinping is in no mood to brook even a modicum of opposition has once more been proven by July 10, 2015, arrest of a prominent human rights lawyer, Li Heping, from his house in Beijing. Beside Li, three other lawyers and a paralegal from the same law firms went missing in the past 24 hours and were thought to have been detained by Chinese authorities. The firm, Fengrui Law Firm, is known to have taken cases tied to human rights and government corruptions. Wang Yu of Fengrui Law Firm disappeared from her house on July 9, 2015. The other two lawyers–Zhou Shifeng and Li Shuyun–and a paralegal, Liu Sixin, disappeared on July 10, 2015.

************ FORMER PRESIDENT’S AIDE SUSPECTED OF CORRUPTION **********Chinese Authorities Crack Down on Corruption
Former Chinese President Hu Jintao’s top aide, Ling Jihua, was on July 20, 2015 implicated in charges of corruption, bribery and revelation of classified information. The state official media Xinhua reported the results of internal investigation, and also said that all official posts were stripped as a result.

China Demands Return of President’s Former Top Aide’s Brother
As published by The Dallas Morning News on August 4, 2015 based on a report carried by The New York Times, China has demanded that USA return the businessman brother of Ling Jihua, the former top aide of Chinese President Hu Jintao, as Ling Wangcheng is rumored to have fled China and to be living in California.

Jihua Charged in Bribery
Chinese prosecutors on May 13, 2016 charged one of the most influential former Communist Party officials, Ling Jihua, on counts of bribery, illegal obtainment of state secrets and abuse of power, according to Xinhua news agency that said of the filing of the indictment at a court in Tianjin, southeast of Beijing. Ling rose through the ranks, and became the head of the General Office–equivalent to the White House Chief of Staff–under the former President Hu Jintao. In July 2015, Ling was expelled from the CPC.

************ FORMER PRESIDENT’S AIDE SUSPECTED OF CORRUPTION ************************************* CHINESE ECONOMY ******************************Devaluation of Chinese Currency Raises Fear of Financial Meltdown
On August 11, 2015, the Chinese currency, Yuan, was devalued a whopping 1.9 percent, biggest devaluation in a decade, raising ire in Washington and likelihood of another global financial meltdown. The odds of a crisis hitting the world financial markets rose as Yuan fell a cumulative 2.9 percent over the past three days (August 11-13, 2015).

Saga and Tribulation of Chinese Currency

* In 2005, Beijing, for the first time, unpegged its currency,

Yuan

, also known as

Renminbi

, against the basket of international currencies.

* However, three years later, in 2008, China re-pegged the currency again as it had risen 20% against the U.S. Dollar.

* On June 19, 2010, the People’s Bank of China, in an effort to assuage the international community in the run-up to the G-20 Summit (June 25-27, 2010) at Toronto, announced that it would loosen up the currency restrictions effective June 21, 2010. Yuan was un-pegged partially effective June 21, 2010.

IMF Applauds Slower Chinese Growth
IMF on August 14, 2015 estimated that Chinese economy would grow 6.8 percent in 2015 and 6.3 percent in 2016 compared to a torrid 7.4 percent growth in 2014. IMF also praised China’s slowing, but more sustained and stable growth.

China Registers Slowest Growth in Quarter Century
Increasing the pressure for a global stock market that had already seen significant pullback since the beginning of the year, China on January 18, 2016 reported its final quarter (October-December 2015) economic growth a meager 6.8 percent, slowest since the first quarter of 2009 when Chinese economy had registered a 6.1 percent growth as the world was slowly emerging out of the worst recession in a generation. The annual growth of Chinese economy in 2015 was 6.9 percent, lowest since 1990 when Chinese economy had grown by 3.8 percent as a result of suffering under a bout of international sanctions for its June 1989 clampdown on democratic protest movement at Tiananmen Square.

*************************** CHINESE ECONOMY ******************************China Showcases its Defense Might at a Military Jamboree

China on

September 3, 2015

used the occasion of

70th anniversary

of Japan’s World War II surrender to showcase its military potency through a spectacular military parade that had involved at least 12,000 troops, 500 pieces of military hardware and 200 aircraft of different versions. President Xi Jingping was eager to show the world the new face of an assertive and emergent China. Among foreign dignitaries were Russian President Vladimir Putin, South Korean President Park Guen-hye and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

********************** TENSION OVER SOUTH CHINA SEA *******************China Decries US Move to Send a Warship through Waters of Its Self-claimed Island Chain
Chinese foreign ministry on October 27, 2015 strongly rebuked what it called U.S. breach of its territorial integrity as USS Lassen, a guided missile destroyer, had sailed through waters within 12 nautical miles of a Chinese-built island chain, Spratly Islands. US considered October 26, 2015, passing of the USS Lassen off the Subi Reef as a normal maneuver through international water. US considers Chinese activities in the sprawling South China Sea, including construction activities in and around Spratly Islands, illegal.

American General Defends Sailing of Warship as China Calls it “Provocation”
An American general, Admiral Harry Harris Jr., head of the U.S. Pacific Command, on November 3, 2015 defended the action of the USS Lassen, a destroyer that had traveled through South China Sea, just 12 nautical miles off the Subi Reef, on October 26, 2015 as a move to preserve the right of navigation in international water. Admiral Harris Jr. made the comment during a speech to a small audience at Stanford Center at Peking University. However, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, Hua Chunying, called the US action nothing but a pure “provocation”.

U.S. Sailors Bring Goodwill to Chinese Harbor
Three weeks after USS Lassen passed 12 nautical miles off Subi Reef in South China Sea’s Spratly Islands, drawing harsh reaction from Beijing, its sister ship, Stethem, made a port call in Shanghai with a goodwill gesture. The commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, Adm. Scott Swift, who took over the command in May 2015, flew on November 16, 2015 to meet with a Chinese Vice Admiral, Su Zhinqian, aboard the USS Stethem a day later. Despite rising tension between the two largest economies of the world, especially of maritime and navigational right in Asia, two countries continued their courtesy port visits this year, with three Navy ships making port calls this year while the Chinese ships making port calls at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii and San Diego.

China Irked by American Navy Whizzing past Island It Claims

Almost three months after

USS Lassen

had sailed through waters within

12 nautical

miles off the

Subi Reef

in

Spratly Islands

in the

South China Sea

, another U.S. vessel,

Curtis Wilbur

, entered the water within 12 nautical miles from another island in the

South China Sea

 on

January 30, 2016

without prior permission. Hours after

Curtis Wilber

sailed near the

Triton Island

–claimed by China, Vietnam and Taiwan–in the

Paracel Islands

chain without any incident, Beijing called out the transgression, while the USA said that it wanted to send a message to all three nations that their unilateral claim for the island was not in line with international maritime rules.

Taiwan Alleges Chinese Deployment of Missiles on the Island
Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense on February 17, 2016 said that Beijing had deployed an undetermined number of missiles on the Woody Island, part of the Paracel Island Chain, in the South China Sea. The news of missile deployment in the contested island chain, claimed by both Taiwan and Vietnam, will likely to stoke further tension and saber-rattling in the region.

U.S. Ship’s Sailing through the Disputed Waters Irks Beijing
In a show of force and support for freedom of navigation in the disputed waters of the South China Sea, a U.S. warship, William P. Lawrence, a guided missile destroyer, on May 10, 2016 passed within 12 miles off a 700-acre artificial reef, Fiery Cross Reef, that China had unilaterally claimed and carried out various construction works. Fiery Cross Reef is part of Spratly Island Chain. China responded the U.S. destroyer’s sailing by sending three aircraft and three ships. Later, the Chinese Defense Ministry spokesman Yang Yujun issued a statement, saying that the U.S. ship’s sailing again “demonstrates that China’s installation on the Nansha Islands is totally reasonable and very necessary indeed”, referring the Spratly Islands by Chinese names. The near face-off took place in the run-up to a U.N. arbitration panel ruling related to a dispute over the territorial claim of a 12-mile swath of waters and 200-mile exclusive economic zones around reefs and atolls in the South China Sea. The case was filed to the arbitration panel by the Philippines.

U.S. Surveillance Plane Irks China
Barely a week passes by when there is no tiff between Washington and Beijing over navigational right, sovereignty claim and accusation of meddling in contested waters of the South China Sea. A week after a U.S. warship, William P. Lawrence, a guided missile destroyer, passed within 12 miles off a 700-acre artificial reef, Fiery Cross Reef, a surveillance plane had apparently entered into Chinese airspace on May 17, 2016, leading to a both diplomatic retort as well as military response. Two Chinese aircraft pursued the U.S. plane, but the incident ended peacefully. A Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesman, Hong Lei, on May 19, 2016 asked the U.S. to respect territorial integrity.

*** ANNUAL STRATEGIC AND ECONOMIC DIALOGUE ***China, U.S. Lay out Competing Vision over South China Sea
This year’s annual Strategic and Economic Dialogue was overshadowed by the controversy over China’s assertive approaches to dominate in the natural resources-rich South China Sea. On June 7, 2016, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and the Chinese State Councilor Yang Jeichi laid out competing and contrary plans during a meeting at the Great Hall of People in Beijing.

*** ANNUAL STRATEGIC AND ECONOMIC DIALOGUE ***International Panel Rejects China’s Claim over South China Sea
An international arbitration panel ruling in response to a petition filed by Philippines on July 12, 2016 rejected Beijing’s expansive claim over vast parts of energy-rich South China Sea. The five-member panel of the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague also ruled that China had violated Manila’s maritime rights by building artificial islands that had destroyed coral reefs and disrupted fishing and oil exploration. Former Filipino Foreign Minister Albert del Rosario, who had filed the legal brief in 2013 under a U.N. treaty governing the rights of seas, lauded the ruling as a verdict that could play as a “great equalizer among the states”. The White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest called China to respect the ruling, and the U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter put it more through the prism of diplomacy, saying while in a visit to Afghanistan that it (the ruling) had created an opportunity for various parties in the region for constructive engagement. However, China was livid after the ruling was issued, and called it a “farce”. It’s not clear what will happen now as the panel has no enforcement power. China has boycotted the panel’s proceedings all along.

Beijing Admonishes against Meddling
A day after a five-member panel of the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague ruled against China’s expansive claims over South China Sea, China warned on July 13, 2016 against any outside interference and said that the panel had no jurisdiction over what it called the country’s sovereign matters. China’s Vice Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin also threatened that, if push came to shove, Beijing would invoke air defense identification zone. However, Chinese officials, cognizant of the fact that the new Filipino administration of Rodrigo Duterte was friendlier to Beijing than the preceding administration, extended the olive branch, stressing that there was more benefit that might come out of cooperation and normalized relations between the nations.

China Acknowledges Arming Island Chain with Gunneries
Responding to a report published earlier in the week by the Center for Strategic and International Studies’ Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative, Chinese Defense Ministry on December 15, 2016 acknowledged that it was bringing sophisticated weapons and guns to the Spratly Island Chain in South China Sea.

***** NAVY DRONE AND TRUMP TWEET DRAMAChina Seizes an American Research Drone in South China Sea
Chinese vessels on December 15, 2016 seized an underwater science exploration drone in the South China Sea. Pentagon said on December 16, 2016 that after the drone got stuck in the international waters 50 nautical miles from Philippines’ Subic Bay, USS Bowditch sailed there to recover the drone. As a boat was about to be lowered off the USS Bowditch about 50 yards off the drone, a Chinese navy vessel seized the drone under the nose of U.S. sailors.

China Returns Research Underwater Drone, Takes Strong Exception to Trump Tweet
On December 20, 2016, China returned the underwater research drone to U.S. military, four days after a Chinese naval vessel seized it as the USS Bowditch was attempting to recover the drone in international waters 50 nautical miles northwest of Philippines’ Subic Bay, but not without taking a swipe and veiled protest over Donald Trump’s initially misspelled, but later corrected, Tweet in which the President-elect accused Beijing of stealing the drone. Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokeswoman Hua Chunyng said during the day that Beijing had handled the drone transfer in “responsible and professional manner”. Hua Chunyng added that the China did not like the word “steal”. Chinese Navy returned the underwater drone to sailors aboard the USS Mustin. Meanwhile, Filipino Defense Minister Delfin Lorenzana said in a statement on December 19, 2016 that although the matter was between the U.S. and China, it was “very troubling” to Manila as the incident occurred within 200-nautical miles of exclusive economic zone.

***** NAVY DRONE AND TRUMP TWEET DRAMAChina Deploys Aircraft Carrier in South China SeaThe New York Times reported on December 27, 2016 that China had pressed its only aircraft carrier Liaoning into deployment this week in the politically tumultuous waters of South China Sea, a move analysts considered a not-so-subtle challenge to the incoming Trump administration.

New Structures Reported to have been Erected on Disputed Islands of South China SeaReuters on February 22, 2017 reported that Chinese military built structures on islands in South China Sea. On February 23, 2017, Center for Strategic and International Studies displayed satellite images that showed structures built on three man-made atolls in the Spratly Islands: Fiery Cross, Mischief Reef and Subi Reef. According to the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the structures are equipped to accommodate China’s HQ-9 missile system that closely resembles Russia’s S-300, a surface-to-air missile system with a range of 93 miles and ability to hit targets flying at 88,000 feet.

U.S. Sends Warship to South China Sea
The Bloomberg reported on July 2, 2017 that USS Stethem was sailing in the South China Sea off 12 nautical miles of Triton Island during the day. Triton Island is a disputed speck of mass claimed by China, Taiwan and Vietnam. Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs called the sailing of the USS Stethem as “trespassing”.

Tension Rises as U.S. Ship Sails through South China SeaChinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Knag on January 20, 2018 warned U.S. not to test with China’s patience as Beijing would do whatever was necessary to protect the country’s assets in South China Sea three days after USS Hopper sailed within 12 nautical miles of Scarborough Shoal, an inhabited reef that China itself had seized from Philippines in 2012. Responding to China’s comment, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Navy’s Pacific Fleet, Lt. Gen. Nicole Schwegman, said on January 20, 2018 that USS Hopper’s January 17, 2018, sailing through the South China Sea near the Scarborough Shoal was a “routine and regular FONOP”, referring to Freedom of Navigation Operation.

********************** TENSION OVER SOUTH CHINA SEA *******************China Ending One-Child Policy
China’s ruling Communist Party, heeding the long-term demographic trend of an increasingly graying nation, on October 29, 2015 decided to end one-child policy put in place by late Deng Xiaoping in the late 1970s.

First Summit Among Three Asian Powerhouses in More than Three Years
In a ray of hope for thawing of relationship between Japan on one hand and its one-time colonies China and South Korea on the other, South Korean President Park Geun-hye on November 1, 2015 hosted Japanese premier Shinzo Abe and Chinese premier Li Keqiang for discussion that was symbolic in nature, but short on specifics. Last time such session was held in May 2012 when Abe was not in power. After Abe’s election as the prime minister of Japan in late 2012, the relationship between Tokyo and its neighbors nosedived because of Abe’s more assertive stand, including the recent passage of a defense package that would change Japan’s pacifist role.

Leaders of China and Taiwan to Meet in Singapore for the First Time in 66 Years
Once unthinkable, the presidents of China and Taiwan will meet on November 7, 2015 in Singapore for the first time since Kuomintang loyalists led by Chiang Kai-shek have fled the mainland and founded the Republic of China in Taiwan in 1949. Although it’s almost certain that there will not be any substantive progress on any of the topics that have divided the governments across the Taiwan Strait, the meeting between Xi Jingping and Ma Ying-jeou has the potential of opening a new, but rare, window of opportunity for increasing cross-strait trade, commerce and cultural exchanges.

Leaders’ Meeting for the First Time in 66 Years Attracts Worldwide Interest
In a historic meeting, presidents of China and Taiwan had held a closed door session in a neutral nation, Singapore, on November 7, 2015, underscoring the value of bilateral relationship both nations attached to. However, the meeting between Xi Jingping of China and Ma Ying-jeou of Taiwan was more symbolic in nature and of a photo-op showcase.

Three Worker Rights Leaders Detained

In a crackdown on the voice for independent labor rights movement, Chinese authorities on

December 4, 2015

detained a renowned labor leader in southern China,

Zeng Feiyang

, director of the

Panyu Workers’ Center

in the city of

Guangzhou

, on charges of “gathering a crowd to disturb social disorder”. In addition to Feiyang, the authorities had detained two more labor rights leaders in recent days:

Zhu Xiaomei

, a labor organizer, and

He Xiaobo

, who runs a group in

Foshan

that helps injured workers.

Beijing Imposes Environmental Emergency
Nearly two years after devising a four-stage alert system to flag severe air quality, authorities for the first time ever raised the alert to the highest stage, so-called red state, for three consecutive days beginning on December 8, 2015. As part of the red-state alert, Beijing’s schools will remain closed, half of the vehicles will be required to be off the roads and many factories will be shut down over the three days December 8-10, 2015. On December 8, 2015, the reading of PM2.5 rose to 300 micrograms per cubic meter, and was expected to rise until a cool front would arrive on December 10, 2015 to bring it down. Under the WHO guidelines, any reading of PM2.5 over 25 is deemed unhealthy.

China Angry over US Military Aid to TaiwanChinese Assistant Foreign Minister Zheng Zeguang summoned a U.S. diplomat, Kaye Lee, on December 16, 2015 and lodged a strong official protest over the recent US decision to give a $1.83 billion military aid package, including two warships and antitank missiles, to Taiwan. China also threatened to take unspecified measures against the companies involved such as Lockheed Martin, saying that Taiwan was “an inalienable part of China’s territory”.

French Journalist to be Expelled from China
Chinese Foreign Ministry on December 26, 2015 said that it would expel a French journalist, Ursula Gauthier,  tied to the French weekly L’Obs. Gauthier invited Chinese wrath for her article that had criticized Beijing’s effort to politically besmirch the Uighur movement by linking their resistance to ISIL attacks on Paris on November 13, 2015 that had killed 130 people.

Chinese Parliament Passes Controversial Anti-Terrorism Laws
Chinese parliament on December 27, 2015 approved a very controversial package of anti-terrorism measures after months of discussion and criticisms from the west that had felt nervous about the scope and scale of the reach of the law. The law requires foreign companies to share some of the vital information related to Chinese users of the companies’ services, thus setting up U.S. companies such as Google, Facebook and IBM in collision path with the Chinese government. In March 2015, U.S. President Barack Obama took parting shot at the law.

China to Use Own Design, Technology to Build Its Second Aircraft Carrier
China said on December 31, 2015 that it would use indigent design, equipment and technology to build its second aircraft carrier. A spokesman for the Ministry of National Defense, Col. Yang Yujun, said that the second aircraft carrier was being built at the country’s northeastern port city of Dalian. Country’s first aircraft carrier, Liaoning, was commissioned in September 2012. Liaoning was bought from Ukraine in 1998 as a castoff, uncompleted vessel, and Chinese Navy had refurbished it. There was an almost escalation over Liaoning’s voyage in December 2013. In an escalation averted at the eleventh hour in South China Sea, a Chinese vessel on December 5, 2013 cut across the bow of an American missile cruiser, Cowpens, that was observing from the international water the first Chinese aircraft carrier Liaoning’s voyage off its base port of Quingdao.

Chinese Parliament Convenes Amid Renewed Focus on Economic Reforms
Chinese parliament convenes on March 5, 2016 at a critical juncture of national and international economic uncertainty. After assuming power, Chinese President Xi Jinping’s primary focus was to fight against country’s endemic corruption and build the military might to assert its military supremacy in the region, especially the South China Sea. However, Xi’s effort in diversifying China’s economy, heavily dependent on exports, has been so far lackluster at best. Also hindering Chinese economy is a mix of factors such as a bloated bureaucracy, inefficiency in state sectors and low productivity. So, when Xi Jinping called for supply-side structural reform on the eve of convening of parliament, it didn’t evade attention from western observers as the concept of supply-side structural reform was originally rooted in Reagonomics. Now, it is to be seen whether Xi’s call for supply-side structural reform is mere a catchy slogan, or foretells more fundamental reforms such as divesting inefficient state enterprises and workforce streamlining.

Chinese Premier Gives Preview of Economy to Parliament
On the opening day of the country’s parliament, Chinese premier Li Keqiang addressed the lawmakers on March 5, 2016, previewing his administration’s goal on economic growth, creating 10 million additional jobs this year (2016) and an additional at least 50 million jobs by . Li set a target of 6.5 percent to 7.0 percent annual GDP growth through . China needs at least 6.5 percent growth if it wants to meet President Xi Jinping’s target of doubling the economy by . China’s growth rate has decelerated significantly last year with its 2015 growth logging a subpar rate of 6.9 percent, a 25-year low. To spur the economy in order to achieve its lofty medium- and long-term goals, Li Keqiang prescribed private participation in electric power, telecommunications, transportation, energy and municipal sectors without divulging whether foreign participants would be allowed to participate in. Li also added that the government would not discriminate private participants on tax policy, state subsidy, project approval and finance.

Western Diplomats Barred from Visiting Detained Chinese Lawyer
A detained Chinese activist and lawyer who was awarded in March 2016 the U.S. State Department’s International Women of the Courage Award was deprived of meeting with diplomats from European Union, Germany, France, Canada and Switzerland. The lawyer, Ni Yulan, said on April 23, 2016 that the diplomats were prevented from visiting her home three days earlier on April 20, 2016.

Cultural Revolution’s 50th Anniversary Harkens to China’s Dark Past
The Cultural Revolution was officially launched on May 16, 1966 at the insistence of and under the leadership of the then-supreme leader Mao Zedong to purify the society of bourgeoisie vices in which more than a million people were killed, tens of millions were persecuted, the economy had stagnated, thousands of historical monuments had been destroyed until it had faded in the aftermath of Mao’s death in 1976. Under the mercurial theocracy of the party, the so-called Red Guard groups assumed mantle of the moral police and imposed the doctrine-filled party dictatorship on the mass with brute force. The Communist Party of China officially condemned the move in 1981.

******************* ANNUAL STRATEGIC AND ECONOMIC DIALOGUE ************China-US Bilateral Security and Economic Dialogue Begins Amid Suspicion of Chinese Hacking
The two-day (June 23-24, 2015) Security and Economic Dialogue between China and USA at Washington is being overshadowed by alleged Chinese cyber spying of US government agencies, including Office of Personnel Management, and accessing the names and contacts of people with national security clearance. Opening the conference, Vice President Joe Biden emphasized the significance of relationship between the world’s two largest economies and reminded the Chinese delegation about their country’s responsibility. Chinese Vice Premier Liu Yandong stressed on the need for “respect” and accommodation of “each other’s interest”.

China, U.S. Lay out Competing Vision over South China Sea
This year’s annual Strategic and Economic Dialogue was overshadowed by the controversy over China’s assertive approaches to dominate in the natural resources-rich South China Sea. On June 7, 2016, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and the Chinese State Councilor Yang Jeichi laid out competing and contrary plans during a meeting at the Great Hall of People in Beijing.

Talks Get Overshadowed by Tariff Threats
It’s not very unusual that annual Strategic and Economic Dialogue get derailed by issues of national security and political interests, but this year’s (2018) talks have been jolted from the very beginning by charged rhetoric over tariff. U.S. delegation headed by Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross concluded the two-day talks at Beijing on June 3, 2018, and returned home almost empty-handed as China failed to deliver a good plan on how to cut down the trade deficit. Also, the absence of U.S.T.R. Robert Lighthizer , who had threatened to impose tariff on an additional $50 billion of Chinese imports after slapping tariffs on $3 billion in Chinese imports of steel and aluminum, from the Beijing talks was not a good indication on the degree of importance that any deal, if it would have been reached, out of these talks might have been associated with as Lighthizer’s influence grew rapidly within Trump administration and now was a force to be reckoned with in trade-related matters.

******************* ANNUAL STRATEGIC AND ECONOMIC DIALOGUE ****************************************** CHINESE SPACE AMBITION ***********************China’s Lunar Adventure
On December 14, 2013, Chinese unmanned space probe Change’e 3 landed on lunar surface, first time in almost four decades. Then a six-wheeled rover, Yutu, was set free for a three-month scientific exploration. It marked a great leap for Beijing to explore earth’s closest neighbor, hitherto domain of U.S. and former Soviet Union, which sent a spacecraft last time to moon in 1976. Under an aggressive Chinese space exploration plan, a space station is scheduled to be opened on moon by 2020.

Quantum Communication Satellite Launched
China made space history on August 16, 2016 by becoming the first nation to launch a satellite that would empower and enable communications using Quantum techniques such as using Photon emission. Message sent over the Quantum conduit is safer and more secure than message sent via signals using radio waves. China’s 13th Five-Year Plan unveiled in March 2016 calls for greater emphasis on Quantum communication technology. The August 16, 2016, launch of Quantum communication satellite from the Gobi Desert marked the first step of that focal plan.

China Sends a Cargo Vessel to Its Now-Unmanned Space Station
China on April 20, 2017 launched a rocket, one from the latest-generation March 7 rocket family, carrying a cargo spacecraft, Tianzhou 1, to connect with China’s now-unmanned space station, Tiangong 2. A pair of Chinese astronauts spent 30 days last year in Tiangong 2.

China Send Lunar Probe to Explore the Dark Side
China on December 8, 2018 launched a Long March 3B rocket carrying a lunar exploer, Chang’e 4, from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in Sichuan Province. The December 8, 2018, launch of the rocket at the local time 2:23AM heralded China into a new frontier of lunar exploration as the the spacecraft would land on the side of the moon that’s further from the earth, also known as the “dark side” of the moon. The composition of “dark side” is known to be different from the “near side” that faces the earth. China sent its Yutu, or Jade Rabbit, rover on the moon in 2013. It will send Chang’e 5 probe next year. China is considering a manned lunar mission in near future.

Chinese Spacecraft Lands on the Far Side of the Moon
China’s Chang’e 4 lunar explorer landed on the dark side of the moon at 10:26AM Beijing time on January 2, 2019, according to China Central Television (CCTV), marking a landmark success that no other nations were able to achieve. Chang’e 4, the moon lander, is carrying a 300-pound lunar rover–Jade Rabbit 2–with probes and spectrometers, and touched down in the Von Karman Crater in the South Pole-Aitken Basin, according to the China National Space Administration. In 2013, China sent another explorer, Chang’e 3, to the near side of the moon, becoming only the third nation after the USA and USSR to do so as the explorer made a soft-landing. However, Chang’e 3 malfunctioned after two days although it kept sending information to the earth. Later this year, China is going to send another lunar explorer, Chang’e 5, to bring back lunar soil sample. China is becoming, if not already has become, serious player in space, and Beijing’s ambition is to create a permanent human settlement in moon. As a baby step towards that goal, eight Chinese students in May 2018 successfully completed a year-long experiment of enclosed living at a bio-regenerative life support system at Beihang University where they grew wheat, carrots, beans and onions, and used re-cycled water, food and air, at least proving, at a very small scale, that human life could sustain in a bio-regenerative life support system in the harsh lunar climate.

Rover Walks off the Ramp into Flaky Lunar Surface
The Chinese rover, Jade Rabbit 2, with probes and spectrometers on January 3, 2019 night plowed into powdery surface of the far side of the moon in what was called as “a small step for the rover, but a giant leap for the Chinese nation” by the chief designer of the Lunar Exploration Project, Wu Weiren, in talks with CCTV, mirroring the 1969 statement of Neil Armstrong after the first walk of a human on the lunar surface. What’s special of the Chinese mission is that all previous missions, including six U.S. manned missions from 1969 to 1972, have taken place on the near side of the moon and this is the first to explore the far side of the moon. The Jade Rabbit 2 can crawl at a maximum speed of 220 yards per hour and climb a 20-degree hill or rise over an obstacle as high as 20 inches.

****************************** CHINESE SPACE AMBITION ***********************

China Ratifies Paris Climate Change Agreement on the Eve of G-20 Summit
China on September 2, 2016 announced that it had ratified the Paris Climate Change Treaty as the country was getting ready to host G-20 summit at Hangzhou.

China, U.S. Join Paris Climate Agreement
The G-20 summit at Hangzhou, China was overshadowed by a giant environmental splash as the world’s two most polluting nations, the USA and China, on September 3, 2016 delivered documents to the U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on the sidelines of the summit, certifying their joint commitment to Paris Climate Change Agreement. With China and the USA joining the bandwagon, the prospect of the Paris Climate Change Agreement going into force by the end of this year looks brighter as the combined share of greenhouse gas emissions by China and the USA stands at 38 percent, taking the deal to the final lap to achieve the targets set out for the accord to be effective: at least 55 nations accounting for at least 55 percent of the global emissions must ratify the deal.

G-20 Summit Ends without any Major Decision
The Hangzhou Summit (September 3-5, 2016) of G-20 nations concluded on September 5, 2016 somehow without producing any ambitious agenda for the coming months. Instead the summit was overshadowed by environmental heavy-hitters such as joint U.S.-China submission of documents confirming their formal commitment to and ratification of Paris Climate Change Agreement and war in Syria. Hangzhou Summit of G-20 nations will go down in the history as the bloc’s least focused economic summit.

New Interpol Pick Raises Eyebrows for Chinese Government Connection
The international police organization, known as Interpol, on November 10, 2016 chose a Chinese government official as its chief. The appointment that became effective immediately sent political tremors and trepidation to the rights groups because Meng Hongwei had served as the vice minister for public security for the past dozen years and was thought to have amassed a list of Chinese dissidents. In 2014, Chinese government handed over Interpol a list of more than 100 people who were alleged to have committed financial crimes, and a third of them had been nabbed and repatriated to stand trial. Some rights groups fear that Meng Hongwei may be in a position to influence Interpol priorities to muzzle political dissidence, a concern many others have dismissed.

China’s Lone Aircraft Carrier Passes Taiwan Strait, Raises Alarm

After China’s lone aircraft carrier, Liaoning, passed through the Taiwan Strait, Taipei responded by sending a frigate and fighter jets to the Strait. The

January 11, 2017

, incident raised already deteriorated tension to an escalation level.

Tillerson Meets with Chinese Leader, Tries to Soothe the Rough PatchU.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on March 19, 2017 met with Chinese President Xi Jingping, who had openly embraced the former CEO of Exxon at the Great Hall of the People and appreciated Tillerson’s work and emphasis on efforts to improve Sino-American relationship in the wake of the test of a rocket engine by North Korea during the day and two days after U.S. President Donald Trump’s Twitter complaint that Beijing had done too little to rein in Pyongyang.

************* Chinese President’s First U.S. Visit under Trump Presidency *****************Chinese, U.S. Presidents to Talk on North Korea, TradeChinese President Xi Jinping and U.S. President Donald Trump met on April 6, 2017 along with their respective spouses, Peng Liyuan and Melania Trump, respectively, at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort. The Chinese President’s two-day (April 6-7, 2017) meeting with President Trump will cover, among others, two delicate subjects: trade and North Korea.

Chinese Leader Offers a 100-day Timeline to Address Trade Issues
After an intense two-day summit negotiation at Mar-a-Lago, Chinese President Xi Jinping was reported to have offered President Trump and his aides a 100-day timeline to come up with a plan to address the thorny trade issues that had bedeviled the Sino-U.S. bilateral relationship for decades.

************* Chinese President’s First U.S. Visit under Trump Presidency *****************
Nobel Winner Given Medical Parole

Nobel Peace Prize winner

Liu Xiabao

was given medical parole and had been hospitalized at a hospital in

Shenyang, capital of northeastern Liaoning province

, authorities disclosed it on

June 26, 2017

.

Nobel Peace Laureate Dies of Cancer
Jailed Nobel Peace Laureate Liu Xiaobo died of cancer on July 13, 2017, according to a web bulletin posted by the Bureau of Justice in Shenyang, the city in the northeast where Liu was going through treatment. Chinese authority announced in late June 2017 that Liu Xiaobo had terminal cancer and it had spread all over. He was also given medical parole, and was being treated in Shenyang’s First Hospital of China Medical University. Liu became a world renowned political activist in 2008 for initiating Charter 08, a petition to expand democracy and freedom of speech, that eventually landed him in prison a year later. In 2010, Liu Xiaobo was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. German Chancellor Angela Merkel called Liu “a courageous fighter for civil rights”. Former U.S. President George W. Bush saluted Liu for dreaming of a “China that respects civil rights”. U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson urged China to free Liu’s widow from jail.

China Showcases Military Might on the 90th Anniversary of Its Military’s Founding
China on July 30, 2017 demonstrated and displayed symbolically enriched mega-military parade at the Zhurihe Military Base in Inner Mongolia. It was a show of force to mark the 90th anniversary of People’s Liberation Army. Addressing tens of thousands of troops, Chinese President Xi Jinping, dressed in military fatigue, said that Chinese military had the “confidence and capability” to build what he had called the most advanced military force in the world. Xi also reiterated that it was necessary “more than ever” to build the military to its fullest potential. Among the sophisticated arsenal on display during the military parade were Dongfeng-31AG variant of the nuclear-tipped ICBM, Dongfeng-21D “carrier killer” and several long-range H-6K bombers.

Trump Signs Executive Memo to Consider Investigation into China’s IP Violation
At the same time the Trump administration needs the most Beijing’s help and cooperation in exerting pressure on North Korea in an effort to dismantle, at the least contain, the reclusive nation’s nuclear and ballistic missile program, President Donald Trump does a self-inflicting diplomatic harm to assuage his restive political base by trying to put up a tough-guy attitude to face Beijing. On August 14, 2017, President Donald Trump signed an executive memorandum to instruct U.S. Trade Representative Robert B. Lighthizer to consider whether to launch an investigation into China’s intellectual property violations to American trade and commercial trade secrets.

*************** CHINESE COMMUNIST PARTY CONGRESSParty Congress Elevates Xi’s Profile as an Ideologue
The week-long CPC Congress that concluded on October 24, 2017 at the cavernous Great Hall of China yielded two important outcomes:

* Raised the profile of President Xi Jinping to the same stature of Mao Zedong by incorporating Xi’s political line of thinking, the so-called “Xi Jinping Thought”, into party’s constitution

* Leaving no heir apparent to Xi as it became clear after the debut of new Standing Committee of the Chinese Party’s Political Bureau

*************** CHINESE COMMUNIST PARTY CONGRESS

China’s Parliament Convenes

Nearly 3,000 delegates of

’s Congress

are meeting at the cavernous Great Hall of People to receive policy prescriptions from top brass of government. The parliament began on

March 5, 2018

with a 2-hour opening address by

Prime Minister Li Keqiang

, who gave a detailed state of the nation address to the lawmakers, including projection of economic growth of about 6.5 percent this year compared to last year’s 6.9 percent growth.

Chinese Parliament Approves Constitutional Amendment to Lift Presidential Term Limit
In near total unanimity, China’s legislature, National People’s Congress, on March 11, 2018 almost unanimously voted to approve a CPC-pushed constitutional amendment to lift the president’s two-term limit. The vote among nearly 3,000 members was lopsided as only two delegates opposed the measure and three had abstained. The term limit was brought in 1982 after the catastrophic Cultural Revolution that had purged hundreds of thousands of party members, forced tens of thousands to labor camps and sent many thousands to their death. The March 11, 2018, constitutional amendment was a major victory for President Xi Jinping

Chinese President Re-appointed

To no one’s surprise, Chinese President

Xi Jinping

was re-elected for another term on

March 16, 2018

by an overwhelming margin by

National People’s Congress,

or the country’s parliament. This time, though, there is no term limit for Xi. A close ally,

Wang Qishan

, was appointed as China’s Vice President.

Xi Begins Second Term on a Strong Note
A day after getting thumping approval of all 2,970 members of National Peoples’ Congress, Xi Jinping on March 17, 2018 began his second term with a strong and assertive Vice President, Wang Qishan, a former anti-corruption chief who had received all but one votes from the Chinese lawmakers, with emphasis on chalking out a strategy on the looming tariff war with Trump administration, crisis in Korean Peninsula and continuous tension in South China Sea.

Chinese, Russian Diplomats Assail USA
Foreign ministers of Russia and China met on April 5, 2018 at Moscow to strengthen bilateral relationship in the wake of what Wang Yi and Sergey Lavrov called USA’s increased unilateralism in global affair, especially on the tariffs recently imposed by Trump administration.

********************************** ZTE SAGA **********************************Trump Vows to Help ZTE
The president who made it a point to blast foreign companies and countries, especially China, for the woes of American working class, pulled the most eye-popping surprise on May 13, 2018 as Donald Trump tweeted in a new vigor to help ZTE, or Zhongxing Telecommunications Equipment, Chinese telephone behemoth, to get back on business after he had talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping. Trump also expressed concerns about Chinese workers losing jobs, a reversal of his public vow to protect American jobs as part of his “America First” policy. After the U.S. Commerce Department in April 2018found  ZTE at violation of last year’s settlement for cheating the sanctions on Iran and North Korea and penalized the company by barring it from buying equipment and gears from the U.S. manufacturers for seven years, ZTE said on May 9, 2018 that it would cease all its operation in the U.S. Last year (2017), the U.S. government found ZTE of not compliant with the sanction regimes slapped on Iran and North Korea and penalized the company with $1.19 billion and other restrictions. In March 2017, ZTE pleaded guilty to the Commerce Department charges that the company had violated the sanctions against North Korea and Iran between 2010 and 2016, and paid a penalty of $892 million. Commerce Department found in April 2018 that the company did not punish its employees, as required by the last year’s settlement, for evading the sanctions between 2010 and 2016, and thus, the new punitive measures barring U.S. companies from selling the company any telecom gears for seven years. Besides, the Department of Defense in April 2018 ordered its overseas bases to instruct all soldiers not to buy ZTE phones because they might include components used for spying. The Defense Department’s order came on the top of FCC’s recent ruling that phones by Chinese makers such as Huawei posed potential cybersecurity threat.

ZTE and Huawei at Crosshairs of U.S. Intel as Bipartisan Outrage Grows
As President Donald Trump’s May 13, 2018, tweet that he was working with Chinese President Xi Jinping to help ZTE “get back into business” and save thousands of Chinese jobs, a chorus of bipartisan criticism and mock had erupted. Additional information of warnings on two top Chinese telephone companies–Huawei and ZTE–emerged on May 14, 2018. At a Senate hearing in February 2018, FBI Director Christopher Wray warned that their products provided “the capacity to maliciously modify or steal information” of American consumers. FBI chief’s premonition came almost five-and-half years after an October 2012 House Intelligence Committee report that alleged Chinese telephone companies, including ZTE and Huawei, not trustworthy.

Senate Votes to Override Trump’s Edict on ZTE
In a solid bipartisan vote, U.S. Senate on June 18, 2018 voted overwhelmingly by 85-10 margin to override Donald Trump’s overdrive to infuse life to ZTE. The vote was for an amendment that was attached to National Defense Authorization bill. Trump’s May 13, 2008, tweet that “too many jobs in China lost” in reference to U.S. sanctions on ZTE had been ridiculed by many in both parties as ridiculous because of Trump’s hallmark bragging vow to protect American jobs. On June 7, 2018, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross announced a deal to keep ZTE in business, but with a set of stringent punitive conditions:

* $1 billion in fine in addition to $832 million that ZTE had already paid

* An additional $400 ordered to be put in Escrow

* New compliance practices to be formulated and headed by a team based out of the USA

********************************** ZTE SAGA **********************************

China Launches First Indigenously Constructed Aircraft Carrier

China on

May 13, 2018

added another feather to its cap of military might by inaugurating first indigenously built aircraft carrier, not yet named, at the northeastern port of Dalian. The

May 13, 2018

, inauguration by

People’s Liberation Army Navy

was filled with pomp, pride, blow of horns and plenty of fireworks as this marked the first time that an aircraft carrier had been built on the Chinese soil from the scratch. Before

May 13, 2018

,

Liaoning

was considered as indigenously built aircraft carrier though it was an unfinished vessel sitting at an Ukrainian port and China bought it in 2012, then finished it and commissioned the carrier in 2016. This new aircraft carrier can carry 32 to 36 J-15 fighter jets compared to Liaoning’s 24 jets. Both displace

50,000

tons of waters. The latest U.S. aircraft carrier, USS Gerald R. Ford, displace twice that amount and can carry 75 fighter jets on its deck.

China Rebuts U.N. Allegation of Uighur Re-education
Reacting to August 10, 2018, comments of a member of U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (UNCERD), Gay McDougall, that China had been running a “massive internment camp” witth ethnic Muslim Uighur population in the western Xinjiang Province to brainwash into Communist philosophy, a 49-member strong Chinese delegation, appearing before the UNCRED at Geneva, on August 13, 2018 strongly rebutted the allegation, with the senior Communist party official Hu Lianhe himself taking the charge and firmly saying that “there is no such thing as re-education centers” and “there is no torture, persecution or disaapearance of repatriated personnel”.

UNCRED Report Released
A report compiled by the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (UNCERD) releasedon August 31, 2018 blasted China’s reprehensible policy of sending tens of thousands of Uighur people in the far western region of Xinjiang to detention camps for re-education purpose. The policy came under sharp questions in recent months from human rights groups as well as UNCRED Vice Chairwoman Gay McDougall, who decried the practice of holding people in “massive internment” camps “shrouded in mystery”. Not surprising, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying called the report not having any “factual basis”.

Xinjiang’s Regional Head Defends Education CampsXinjiang regional chief Shohrat Zakir on October 16, 2018 defended federal government’s “transformation through education” program to de-radicalize the extreme-leaning Uighur people. Zakir, himself a Uighur, said during an interview with Xinhua news agency that carried it on October 16, 2018 that the camps provided job skills training and vocational classes.



********************** HUAWEI CFO’S ARREST BY CANADA ********************

Huawei CFO Detained at Vancouver
The same day Presidents Donald Trump and Xi Jinping signed a 90-day trade truce at the G-20 summit at Buenos Aires, the CFO of the Chinese telecommunication giant Huawei, Meng Wanzhou, was detained at Vancouver over a U.S. arrest warrant for skirting the Iran sanctions. Meng’s December 1, 2018, arrest during layover at Vancouver en route to Mexico from Hong Kong opened another front of political and trade tension between world’s two strongest economic powers and sucked Canada deep into controversy.

Prosecutor Asks Judge to Deny Bail to Meng
A prosecutor on behalf of Canadian authority on December 7, 2018 urged a judge to deny bail to Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou, who had been arrested during her layover at Vancouver as she was en route to Mexico. John Gibbs-Carsley told a Vancouver judge that Meng was a flight-risk and she had the wherewithal to flee Canada. John Gibbs-Carsley, the Canadian prosecutor, told the judge that Meng was aware of the U.S. arrest warrant that had been issued on August 22, 2018 at New York City, and she had been avoiding U.S. since then although her teenage son went to school in Boston. Meng Wanzhou was accused of lying to U.S. financial institutions in 2013 that Huawei had nothing to do with Hong Kong-based former subsidiary Skycom that it had sold in 2009. At the time Meng misled the U.S. financial institutions, Skycom was violating the U.S. sanctions on Iran by selling the U.S.-manufactured gears to Teheran. Meng’s lawyer, David Martin, dismissed the prosecution argument, saying that Meng was an honorable business executive and she would put two of her Vancouver homes as collateral in addition to wearing an electronic anklet.

Huawei Executive Granted Bail
After three days of hearings, a British-Columbia judge on December 11, 2018 granted bail to Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou in lieu of $10 million Canadian, requiring her to wear an ankle bracelet, surrendering her passport, confining her movement to Vancouver and surrounding areas and ordering her to stay overnight from 11PM to 6AM at one of her two Vancouver homes. Upon hearing her bail, a strong crowd of her supporters from the Vancouver’s Chinese community erupted in applause. At the courthouse, her husband, Liu Xiaozong, was also present.

China Detains a Former Canadian Diplomat
In what could be a tit-for-tat diplomacy, China on December 11, 2018 morning took a former Canadian diplomat, Michael Kovrig, to custody. Michael Kovrig has been a Canadian diplomat to China, Hong Kong and the U.N., and has gone to China as part of his current work as a North East Asia adviser for the International Crisis Group.

A Second Canadian Taken to Custody
A day after former Canadian diplomat Michael Kovrig’s detention, a second Canadian, Michael Spavor, was detained by Chinese authorities on December 12, 2018 on charges of “activities that jeopardize China’s national security”. Michael Spavor runs a North Korea cultural exchange program. Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland expressed deep concern over the detention of two Canadians in a span of 24 hours.

Kovrig’s, Spavor’s Cases Handled Separately, China SaysChinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said on December 13, 2018 that Michael Kovrig’s case was being handled by Beijing bureau of the country’s national intelligence agency while the case of Michael Spavor was being handled by the agency’s local bureau in the city of Dandong, where Spavor was detained.

A Third Canadian Arrested Released and Returned Home
As the political theatrics and troubles hobbled the Sino-Canadian relations over the arrest of a Huawei executive on an American arrest warrant, Canadian government spokesman Richard Walker said on December 28, 2018 that Sarah McIver, an Albertan teacher, who had been recently arrested in China over security related issues tied to her teaching job, had been subsequently released by Chinese authorities and McIver was already back in Canada.

Canada Worried about Death Sentence Imposed by China on One of Its Citizens

Canadian premier, Justin Trudeau, on January 14, 2019 expressed dismay, “extreme concern” and worry over the renewed sentencing imposed on a jailed Canadian by a Chinese court. The defendant, a 36-year-old Canadian citizen, Robert Lloyd Schellenberg, was detained in 2014 by Chinese authorities for smuggling methamphetamine, and later sentenced to 15 years of imprisonment. The case went unnoticed for the most part until a Chinese court had re-opened the case days after a Huawei executive had been arrested in Vancouver on an American arrest warrant, precipitating a political crisis between Ottawa and Beijing, and resentenced Schellenberg to death. Many see the re-opening the case and re-sentencing Schellenberg to death a political move to settle score with Ottawa.

********************** HUAWEI CFO’S ARREST BY CANADA ********************


Tiananmen Massacre Remembered

The 30th anniversary of Tiananmen Square crackdown was remembered on June 4, 2019 in two poles apart manner in Mainland China and Hong Kong. The June 3-4, 1989, bloody crackdown in Tiananmen Square had reportedly killed hundreds, if not thousands, of demonstrators who had been protesting at the square for greater freedom of political participation and speech. In China, it was just another busy day, while in Hong Kong, tens of thousands of demonstrators turned out for a candle light vigil at the city’s Victoria Park near the Causeway Bay shopping district. 
70th Anniversary of Founding of Communist China Celebrated with Pomp

People’s Army of China has deployed a whole range of military gears and apparatus, 15,000 soldiers, more than 160 aircraft and a brand new nuclear-powered glider, Dongfeng-17, that can avoid U.S. radar system to mark the October 1, 1949, founding of Republic of China. The October 1, 2019, 70th anniversary was designed to showcase the military might and industrial development in China. President Xi Jinping received salute from troops in a well-organized parade that brought out the glamor and prestige of the Communist hierarchy into open. 

********************************* TIBETAN NEWS *******************************

Tibetan Nun Immolates Herself

A Tibetan nun in her 40s self-immolated herself near a famous monastery,

Nganggang Nunnery

in

Sichuan

province, on

April 8, 2015

. The death of the nun,

Yeshi Khando

, marked the death of second nun this year and 138th since a failed Tibetan uprising had erupted in

2009

.

Jailed Tibetan Lama Dies
A renowned Tibetan Lama, Tenzin Delek Rinpoche, died in Chinese prison in the 13th year of his 20-year sentence. His family was notified on July 12, 2015, according to New York-based Students for a Free Tibet, which made the death public on July 13, 2015. Tenzin was born in 1950 in a Tibetan area of Sichuan, but moved to India in 1982 and studied under Dalai Lama until 1987. After returning to China, Tenzin Delek Rinpoche worked to establish monasteries, orphanages and health clinics in Tibetan areas. He rose through Tibetan ranks, and apparently rankled Chinese establishment. He was implicated in April 3, 2002, blast in Chegdu city that had injured 3 people, a charge Tenzin and rights groups always refuted. Initially he was sentenced to death, but later commuted to life term in 2005. Eventually his sentence was reduced to a 20-year term. A pall of gloom descended on the Tibetan areas as the news of his death in a Sichuan jail had been made public.

Obama Meets with Dalai LamaPresident Barack Obama on June 15, 2016 met with Tibetan spiritual leader Dalai Lama at the White House, a move criticized by China. A spokesman of the Chinese foreign ministry, Lu Kang, criticized President Obama’s meeting, accusing the Dalai Lama of “long conducting anti-China splittist activities on the world stage under the cloak of religion”. However, Obama didn’t accord the Tibetan leader the prestige and profile of a foreign head of state by changing the venue to Map Room from the Oval Office.

********************************* TIBETAN NEWS *******************************HONG KONGChina Rules out Open Election Process
In a sharp onslaught on the openness of the inaugural election to the post of Hong Kong’s chief executive post, Chinese legislature on August 31, 2014 rejected the demand that the nomination process had to be “open to all”, frustrating pro-democracy supporters and activists.

Hong Kong Protesters Demand Universal Suffrage
Tens of thousands of young protesters massed the city center since September 26, 2014, demanding that the first chief executive to be chosen in the first direct election in 2017 should not be from a slate of candidates hand-picked by Beijing and, instead, should be elected in an open and fair elections in which eligible candidates irrespective of allegiance to Beijing should be allowed to run in the elections. On early September 28, 2014, a broader movement called the Occupy Central with Love and Peace, or Occupy Central in short, joined the mass sit-in.

Police Uses Tear Gas, Protesters Demand Chief Executive’s Resignation
The situation at the main sit-in went out of control on September 28, 2014 as Hong Kong’s police force used tear gas to disperse the crowd, drawing angry reaction from demonstrators. Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying asked the crowd to go home. However, the protesters defied his call, and instead demanded his resignation.

Protesters Observe Mobile Light Vigil, Set Deadline
A day after island’s police lobbed tear gas to break up demonstration, September 29, 2014 turned out to be a quiet day and, as night fell, crowds began to swell in number and spirit, leading to a unique display of protest using mobile phones, instead of candle lights, to illuminate the night sky. The “mobile light” vigil was followed by protesters setting a deadline of October 1, 2014 for Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying to meet their demands and step down. The sit-in protests, dubbed as “Umbrella Revolution”, that had started on September 26, 2014 remained peaceful so far barring September 28, 2014 night when Hong Kong’s police force lobbed 87 rounds of tear gas as some of the protesters began to push forward past the barricades. At least 41 protesters were injured.

Hong Kong’s Top Administrator Asks Protesters to Go Home
Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying on September 30, 2014 called the pro-democracy protesters to go home. However, the two major organizations, Occupy Central with Love and Peace and Hong Kong Federation of Students, that had led the protest movement since it had begun on September 26, 2014 dismissed the call from the chief executive, and vowed to continue the sit-in.

Hong Kong Leader Says, He Won’t Quit
Dismissing the demand of the protesters, Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying on October 2, 2014 said in no uncertain terms that quitting was not part of his agenda to placate the protesters. Although the protesters agreed to meet with Leung’s deputy, Chief Secretary Carrie Lam, they remained determined in their demand that Leung quit.

Street Fighting Mars Hong Kong Protests
Fisticuff and fighting erupted on October 3, 2014 at one of the sit-in sites between protesters and a group of counter-protesters, with free-for-all for both sides. At least 18 people were injured, including 6 police officers. Apparently police didn’t try to intervene in the skirmishes at Mong Kok neighborhood, site of fighting. Two main protest groups–Occupy Central with Love and Peace and Hong Kong Federation of Students–called off their planned talks with the city administration in protest against the attack.

A Spirited Rally to Decry Attacks a Day Earlier
Tens of thousands of student protesters massed one of the protest sites, Admirality, across the government seat of powers on October 4, 2014, a day after a group of people attacked the protesters at one of the sit-in camps, to lodge their vocal protest against what some said the government-sponsored attacks against the protesters. However, the Hong Kong administration, sensing rising popular angst at the protest movement, gave a deadline of October 6 (Monday), 2014, morning to clear out all the barricades and blockades in front of the government buildings so that civil servants would have unhindered access to the offices. Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying’s  warning came as the tension and mistrust between the sides were on the rise since the October 3, 2014, street brawl between pro- and anti-protest groups.

Hong Kong Returns to Normality; Protests Ebb off
As the popular sentiment against the continuing student protest and occupation of the heart of the city had been rising in recent days, protesters sensed the mood and began to dismantle the blockades and barricades in and around the main administrative plaza on October 6, 2014. By midmorning, all the entryways to the government buildings were free, and civil servants could enter into their offices freely.

Australian Newspaper Brings Fiscal Corruption Charge against Hong Kong Chief Executive
The Sydney Morning Herald on October 8, 2014 reported that Australian engineering firm UGL paid Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying $6.4 million in connection with its acquisition of DTZ Holdings, a British property services firm. At the time of the acquisition, Leung was a director of DTZ Holdings.

Hong Kong Authorities Call off Peace Talks with Protesters
Hours before a tentative round of peace talks was about to start on October 10, 2014, the island administration’s chief secretary Carrie Lam called off the negotiation on October 9, 2014 on grounds that the protesters were rigid on their demand for “universal suffrage” that would be impossible for Beijing to concede.

Thousands Return to Streets
A day after the Hong Kong administration canceled peace talks with the protesters, tens of thousands of people returned to the streets on October 10, 2014 night for a spirited rally. The gathering was buoyed by the song Do you hear the people sing from the musical Les Miserables.

Tunnel in Front of Administrative District Cleared of Demonstrators
Hong Kong’s security forces in early hours of October 15, 2014 moved in and tore down barricades, camps and other structures put up by the demonstrators at the entrance of a key tunnel in front of the island’s main administrative district.

Clashes Reported as Authorities Announce New Talks
Early hours of October 17, 2014 saw some of the rapid actions of Hong Kong’s security forces as they jousted and dispersed demonstrators from the Mong Kok area across the Victoria Harbor. However, tens of thousands of demonstrators returned to the area later on October 17, 2014 as well as on October 18, 2014. The authorities announced on October 18, 2014 new talks to begin October 21, 2014.

Talks Held, but Parties Far Apart
On October 21, 2014, authorities of the island mini-state and leaders of the protest movement participated in a much-hyped negotiation, but parties remains miles apart on the key demand of the protesters: universal suffrage.

Parts of Sit-in Sites Cleared
Armed with a court order and faced with no resistance, authorities on November 18, 2014 cleared the barricades, tents and other obstruction from one of the sit-in areas around Citic Tower.

Resistance by Protesters to the Authorities’ Eviction Drive
A week after a peaceful and low-key court-ordered eviction drive in and around Citic Tower, authorities faced a much larger and hostile crowd at Mong Kok District on November 25, 2014 evening. Security forces began to dismantle small scaffoldings, wooden barricades and temporary sit-in structures. Security forces warned the protesters that they were dismantling the sit-in camp as per court orders.

Protest Leaders Arrested
Two protest leaders–18-year-old Joshua Wong, head of the Scholarism group, and 21-year-old Lester Shum, Deputy Secretary-General of Hong Kong Federation of Students–were arrested on November 26, 2014 for putting up the resistance at Mong Kok’s Nathan Road. Later in the evening, large number of protesters returned to the streets on Sai Yeung Choi Street, a block off the Nathan Road, for showing solidarity with arrested leaders.

Fissure Appears in Protest Movement, Professors Request Protest Drawdown
Three leaders of the Occupy Central movement—Professor Benny Tai Yiuting, Professor Chan Kin-man and Pastor Chu Yiu-ming—on December 2, 2014 called for an end to protest movement, and said that they would turn themselves in to police on December 3, 2014.

Police Begins to Dismantle Main Protest Site
Armed with a court decree and waning public support for the student protesters, Hong Kong security forces on December 11, 2014 began dismantling tents, barricades, tables and other temporary structures at the main protest site in the Admirality District that had worked as the epicenter of anti-Beijing movement in Hong Kong over the past 11 weeks. A night before, protest movement’s star leader, 18-year-old , Joshua Wong, head of the Scholarism group, conceded that the movement had failed to elicit any concession from authorities, but urged the crowd to keep up the spirit for larger struggle.

Lone Remaining Protest Site Dismantled
Flanking a court order, police on December 15, 2014 dismantled the structures at the third sit-in site in the Causeway Bay area, thus bringing to an end to a spontaneous movement that had begun with much promise but ended in a whimper.

Hong Kong Lawmakers Reject Chinese Proposal on Election
After two days of intense debate on a Chinese proposal tabled by island’s Chief Secretary Carrie Lam, Hong Kong’s legislature on June 18, 2015 voted down the measure that called for popular election for new chief executive from a pool of candidates to be screened by a Beijing-appointed panel. The defeat of the measure was celebrated by students, youths and others afterward in a boisterous rally. It’s not clear what Hong Kong administration will now do after June 18, 2015, vote in which 34 lawmakers have refrained from voting, 28 have opposed and eight have supported the measure. To pass the controversial proposal, at least 47 members of 70-seat legislature have been required to vote for it.

Hong Kong at Crossroads: China Tightens on the Oath-taking Content
After the recent polls of Hong Kong legislature, a high-decibel drama and political brick-batting  erupted over perceived anti-Chinese statements that two pro-independence legislators–Sixtus Leung, 30, and Yau Wai-ching, 25–had inserted during swearing-in ceremony for the new session of the legislature. As a response, a National People’s Congress panel on November 7, 2016 issued an edict barring any lawmaker who would fail in taking “sincerely and solemnly” the loyalty oath from taking seat in the parliament. Hong Kong’s local bar council on November 8, 2016 organized a protest rally to condemn the NPC panel’s November 7, 2016, edict.

Eight More Pro-Democracy Lawmakers May Lose Their Seats
In addition to Sixtus Leung, 30, and Yau Wai-ching, 25, eight other legislators elected in the September 2016 legislative polls may lose their seats if a libel brought by the president of a taxi drivers union stands in the judicial test.  The libel filed on November 9, 2016 accused the eight lawmakers of using statement deemed insulting to Beijing during oath-taking. However, the disloyalty shown by Sixtus Leung and Yau Wai-ching received prominence in media coverage, leading to Beijing’s November 7, 2016, issuance of an executive order that would strip any legislator of parliamentary seat if found not taking the oath of office “sincerely and solemnly”.

Hong Kong Court Dismisses Two Lawmakers
A Hong Kong court on November 15, 2016 ruled to vacate the seats in the city’s Legislative Council held by Sixtus Leung, 30, and Yau Wai-ching, 25, for inserting the so-called anti-China sentences in their oath statement.

Pro-Beijing Loyalist Selected as Hong Kong’s New Leader
In a highly choreographed legislative drama, fewer than 1,200 of Hong Kong’s lawmakers on March 26, 2017 chose Carrie Lam over two other Beijing loyalists, John Tsang, a former Finance official, and a retired high court judge, Woo Kokhing. One of the leaders of the 2014 protest movement, dubbed as Umbrella Movement, Joshua Wong, called her election as a nightmare for Hong Kong and would little to change the political climate of the semiautonomous territory. Wong led tens of thousands of Hong Kong residents, especially students, in the aftermath of Chinese government issuing a white paper in August 2014 on the future status of Hong Kong. The 14,500-word white paper called the HKSAR (Hong Kong Special Administrative Region) as a body to “run local affairs as authorized by the central leadership”. The “high-degree of autonomy”, the white paper reads, “is not full autonomy, nor a decentralized power”.

President Xi Arrives at Hong Kong Amid Security Crackdown on DissentChinese President Xi Jinping arrived at Hong Kong on June 29, 2017 for a three-day (June 29-July 1, 2017) state visit that included marking the 20 years of British handover of the island to Chinese authority and inauguration of the new chief executive Carrie Lam on July 1, 2017. Upon his arrival, Xi expressed hope for “stable development” of Hong Kong’s “one country, two systems” framework. A day before, on June 28, 2017, 26 of pro-democracy activists, including Joshua Wang–the leader of the 2014’s “Umbrella Movement”–and Nathan Law, were arrested for holding a pro-democracy rally and staging a sit-in.

Xi Gives a Tough Speech at the Inauguration of Island’s Fifth Chief Executive
On July 1, 2017, Carrie Lam was sworn in Hong Kong’s fifth chief executive since Britain had handed over the island to Beijing under the system called the “one country, two systems”. Addressing during inauguration, Chinese President Xi Jinping vowed to have “zero tolerance” for action that undermined the island nation’s Basic Law, the constitutional framework for Hong Kong’s governance.

Activist Arrested over Allegedly Faked Kidnap Story
Hong Kong authorities on August 15, 2017 said that the pro-democracy activist Howard Lam last week concocted the incident that he had been kidnapped and his legs had been pierced by staples. The bizarre allegation raised suspicion on Beijing’s malintention to suppress freedom of speech in pro-western island as well as casting a light on the veracity of allegation itself. Lam was arrested on August 15, 2017 morning. He gave a bizzarre account last week that he had written a letter to FC Barcelona in early July 2017, asking for a signed photograph of star soccer player Lionel Messi as a gift to the dying jailed Nobel Laureate and Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo. Liu, a fan of Messi, died of liver cancer, before the signed photograph had arrived. Howard Lam alleged that he had received a call last week from a Mandarin-speaking person–most of the Hong Kong residents are Cantonese speakers, implying the caller being a Chinese state security agent–warning him not to give the signed photograph to Liu Xiaobo’s widow, Liu Xia, who remained under house arrest.

Three Pro-Democracy Activists Sent to Jail
Hong Kong’s High Court on August 17, 2017 overturned a lower court’s ruling and hand down sentences of up to eight months of prison times to three pro-democracy leaders–Joshua Wong, Nathan Law and Alex Chow–of the 2014 “Umbrella Movement”. Wong and Law were originally given the community service, while Chow was given the suspended three-week jail time. However, Hong Kong’s Justice Secretary appealed the original ruling, and a three-judge panel on August 17, 2017 handed down the sentences to trio of political leaders. Last year, Nathan Law, 23, became the youngest lawmaker of Hong Kong’s parliament, but was disqualified because he had veered off the script during oath-taking to decry against lack of democracy. Joshua Wong was taken out of court in a prison van, but Wong remained defiant, tweeting: “you can lock up our bodies, not our minds! We want democracy for Hong Kong, And we will not give up”.

Three Pro-Democracy Leaders’ Sentences Tossed outHong Kong’s Court of Final Appeal on February 6, 2018 tossed out the Court of Appeal’s last year’s sentences against trio of Umbrella Movement leaders–Joshua Wong, Nathan Law and Alex Chow. Three leaders are currently out of jail on bonds. 

Hundreds of Thousands Mark Tiananmen Massacre
Hundreds of thousands of Hong Kong residents held a candle light vigil on June 4, 2018 to mark the 29th anniversary of Tiananmen Square massacre that tainted the history of Chinese Communist Party and its government for decades to come as a ruthless response to popular clamor of democratic rights. This year’s vigil was attended by approximately 100,000 people, a sharp drop from 180,000 people who had attended in 2014 at the outset of popular months-long sit-ins that had hit the island nation. This year’s theme was focused on “dissidents imprisoned or under home arrest”.


Tiananmen Massacre Remembered

The 30th anniversary of Tiananmen Square crackdown was remembered on June 4, 2019 in two poles apart manner in Mainland China and Hong Kong. The June 3-4, 1989, bloody crackdown in Tiananmen Square had reportedly killed hundreds, if not thousands, of demonstrators who had been protesting at the square for greater freedom of political participation and speech. In China, it was just another busy day, while in Hong Kong, tens of thousands of demonstrators turned out for a candle light vigil at the city’s Victoria Park near the Causeway Bay shopping district. 

******************** PROTEST OVER CONTROVERSIAL EXTRADITION LAW

Hong Kong Legislature Erupts in Cacophony and Chaos
It was a scene of chaos and scuffle among lawmakers in Hong Kong’s regional parliament on May 11, 2019 over a divisive extradition law that might send political dissidents to Mainland China to stand trial. The proposed law is a stab at what has been a sound “One Nation, Two System” framework that has guaranteed the tiny island overwhelming autonomy over the next half century as Britain has completed its withdrawal from its former colony in 1997.

A Sea of Protesters Make Their Statement
A sea of humanity–estimated by police around 240,000 and rally organizers more than a million–on June 9, 2019 rallied in Hong Kong to protest the so-called extradition law that would authorize Communist authorities to bring in the suspects to Mainland China to stand trial. The unprecedented level of participation in the day’s rally led to Hong Kong’s administrative authority to issue a statement, affirming the “freedom of expression” as “enshrined in the Basic Law and the Hong Kong Bill of Rights Ordinance“. The controversial measure is going to be tabled in regional legislature on June 12, 2019.

Controversial Bill’s Intro to Parliament Postponed
As embattled chief executive of Hong Kong, Carrie Lam, postponed the tabling of the controversial extradition measure at the eleventh hour, protesters showed up in full force on June 12, 2019. The protest during the day took turn for the worse as the protesters fought a pitched battle with security forces, and the demonstration sites looked more like war zones”. By the end of the day, about 80 people, including about 20 police officials, were hurt.

Hong Kong’s Besieged Leader Shelves the Extradition Bill
Sensing strong opposition and intense public opinion, Hong Kong’s top Beijing-appointed administrator, Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam, fourth Chinese-appointed official and first female leader since Britain handed over Hong Kong to China in 1997, on June 15, 2019 has put introducing the controversial Fugitive Offenders Ordinance as the controversial extradition law is formally known in abeyance indefinitely. The June 15, 2019, move by Carrie Lam to shelve the controversial extradition law has done very little to soothe the ruffled feathers of the demonstrators as the protest leaders demand to revoke the law and ouster of Carrie Lam.

Another Million-Plus People’s March Rock Hong Kong; Leader Apologizes
A day after Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam shelved a controversial extradition measure, Fugitive Offenders Ordinance, and a week after a massive demonstration was held in the heart of Hong Kong, a sea of humanity on June 16, 2019 descended on the area in front of Carrie Lam’s office and police headquarters. According to estimate given by the demonstrators, up to 2 million of the island’s 7 million people participated in the June 16, 2019, demonstration, making it by far one of the largest ever demonstrations. However, police estimated that about 338,000 demonstrators were present in the rally. Added fuel to the fire was June 12, 2019, strong-armed tactic and sheer force that had been applied by police against demonstrators, injuring dozens of protesters. Later in the day, Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam issued a statement, apologizing the way she had handled the extradition law and pledged to “adopt a most sincere and humble attitude to accept criticisms and make improvements in serving the public”.

Protesters Try to Disrupt the Transfer Day
Protesters took law onto their hands on July 1, 2019 and tried to put blockade to the venue of 22nd Anniversary of Hong Kong’s transfer to China at Golden Bauhinia Square. Hours later, Hong Kong’s chief executive, Carrie Lam, and other Chinese dignitaries were able to observe the day with much fanfare.

Protesters Seize Legislature on the 22nd Anniversary
A breakaway group of protesters after the day’s main anti-China demonstration had ended seized the halls of Hong Kong’s legislative body on July 1, 2019 and spray-painted the walls. The radical protesters chanted anti-China and anti-Carrie Lam slogans. The occupation continued until early hours of July 2, 2019. Protesters want the controversial extradition law to be revoked altogether, not just suspended.

Beijing Condemns Siege of Legislature
China’s foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang on July 2, 2019 sharply criticized the protesters who had occupied for hours Hong Kong’s legislature and spray-painted its walls, calling the action as “serious illegal acts”. China on July 2, 2019 also strongly backed the administration of Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam and the way police had handled the unrest.

Protest Turns Violent again
Protesters marched peacefully on July 21, 2019 in protest against police brutality against demonstrators, Chief Executive Carrie Lam’s continuing in power and now-suspended an extradition bill that Lam administration had tried to push through. However as the march reached its destination at Wen Chai district, a section of protesters marched onward and threw eggs and other projectiles at the China’s Liaison Office in Hong Kong. That ensued melee between law enforcement and protesters. Meanwhile, video circulated that protesters were being between by masked men at a subway station in the evening.

China Takes Strong Exception to Attack on Liaison Office
A day after a breakaway group of protesters stoned China’s Liaison Office in Hong Kong, Chinese official newspaper People’s Daily on July 22, 2019 condemned the attack on its symbol of power, vowing with a headliner “Central Authority Cannot be Challenged”. However, the Communist Party of China mouthpiece was absolutely silent on the mob attack on the protesters at a subway station.

Protesters Begin Demonstrating at the Airport
In a strategic and escalatory shift in protest demonstration tactic, protesters on July 26, 2019 began a new, but controversial, phase of movement by shifting their protest to Hong Kong’s international airport. Hundreds of protesters showed up at the arrival terminal with placards, signs and chats denouncing Hong Kong authorities.

Hong Kong Police Swings Batons against Protesters
As the protest movement continued at the international airport’s arrival terminal for the second straight day on July 27, 2019, a group of demonstrators showed up and pushed forward at the city’s Yuen Long area, where authorities had promulgated a restrictive order against assembly, leading to police charging the protesters with batons and beatings.

Day-long Strike Hampers Normal Business, Protests Turn Violent
A day-long strike was observed in Hong Kong on August 5, 2019 as pitched battle erupted between protesters and security forces during the day at several places in the city-state. The alarming situation in Hong Kong, escalated further by the day’s event, sent a cause of desperation throughout Hong Kong’s administrative circle. Chief Executive Carrie Lam said afterward that Hong Kong was on “the verge of a very dangerous situation”.

China Warns of Harsh ResponseChina on August 6, 2019 issued a strong warning to the Hong Kong protesters that Beijing would not sit idle if they continued with their violent demonstrations. The warning came from a spokesman of Chinese Cabinet’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, Yang Guang, who called the protest in Hong Kong as orchestrated by a “very small group unscrupulous and violent criminals and the dirty forces behind them”.

Hundreds of Flights Cancelled as Protesters Gather at Main Terminal
The protest at one of the world’s busiest airports that had begun on July 26, 2019 as a token conveyance of Hong Kong’s frustration with Chinese authorities to the international community took a drastic turn on August 12, 2019 as hundreds of protesters stormed the main terminal, forcing cancellation of about 200 flights. The August 12, 2019, action by protesters inconvenienced tens of thousands of passengers. Police clashed with the protesters and cleared the main terminal on August 13, 2019, but airlines had struggled to resume normal service as stranded passengers looked helpless.

“Hong Kong Way” Observed in the Mold of “Baltic Way”
30 years to the date that shook the then-Soviet Union, democracy protesters in Hong Kong on August 23, 2019 held a massive human chain and used their mobile devices to lit up the Hong Kong Harbor in a marvelous form of demonstration. The organizers of the “Hong Kong Way” held the demonstration in line with and following the form of another historic event held 30 years ago on this day–August 23, 1989 when 2 million Latvians, Lithuanians and Estonians had formed a 370-mile human chain, dubbed the “Baltic Way“, against the occupation of the then-Soviet Union.

Hong Kong’s Two Well-known Activists Arrested, Released
Hong Kong authorities arrested two well-known activists, who had spearheaded another pro-democracy movement five years ago, and then a court released the on August 30, 2019. Joshua Wong and Agnes Chow’s arrests, on the charges that they had organized an illegal demonstration near a police station on June 21, 2019,  came on the heels of the  fifth anniversary of the 2014 Hong Kong unrest that had lasted for months and highlighted the lack of universal suffrage in the Chinese-administered island.

Violent Protest Erupts on the Fifth Anniversary of Pro-Democracy Movement
Hundreds of militant youth defied crackdown on August 31, 2019 to mark the beginning a civil disobedience movement that called for rights of universal suffrage and proper democratic rights. The demonstration on August 31, 2019 turned violent, with protesters hurling gasoline bomb on police headquarters. Hong Kong authorities denied permission for August 31, 2019, fifth anniversary of pro-democracy protest.

Lam Withdraws Extradition Bill
In a major concession to protesters, Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam on September 4, 2019 announced that she was withdrawing the extradition bill that had led to massive–often violent–anti-Beijing demonstration over the past several weeks. The move is seen by many as an olive branch to soothe the frayed nerve in the run-up to October 1, 2019, 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China. However, it’s not sure whether the move is enough to calm down the protesters as the original protest movement has hurtled into a more broader anti-government movement, with protest leaders now laying a five-point agenda. Withdrawal of extradition bill constitutes just one point. Others include amnesty of those arrested and more democracy in the balloting process.

Violence Breaks out
Protesters threw gasoline bombs and projectiles at the security forces on September 21, 2019 at Tuen Mun district in Hong Kong, marking a more violent turn of the protest that grew out of a proposed extradition law.

******************** PROTEST OVER CONTROVERSIAL EXTRADITION LAW

INDIA

India’s Newest State CreatedIndia’s lower house of parliament, Lok Sabha, on February 18, 2014 approved a measure to create the 29th state. The newest state is Telangana, carved out of Andhra Pradesh, and home to plentiful natural resources. The upper house of India’s parliament okayed the formation of Telangana on February 20, 2014.

India’s New Premier Accuses Pakistan of Supporting TerrorismAddressing the troops at Leh in Kashmir on August 12, 2014, India’s new premier dropped a bombshell, saying that Pakistan didn’t have means to win a conventional war with his country and relied on supporting terrorism. PM Narendra Modi’s comments came at a crucial time when diplomatic circles on both nations were warming up for the upcoming meeting later this month.

Bilateral Agreement Marks Chinese President’s Visit to IndiaShowcasing a close bilateral relationship between two ancient civilization, their political leaders sealed a historic deal on September 20, 2014 to strengthen the economic, cultural, trade and security ties. India’s new premier Narendra Modi hosted the Chinese President Xi Jinping in his home state of Gujarat on September 20, and both leaders felicitated bilateral deals worth of $20 billion.

Somber, but Smaller, Event to Mark the 30th Anniversary of Bhopal Gas TragedyOn December 3, 2014, thousands of people assembled in Bhopal to pay their homage to more than 4,000 people who thirty years ago on this date succumbed to a poisonous gas, methyl isocyanate, that had leaked from a former Union Carbide plant. Over the next few decades, 15,000 additional people would die as a result of their exposure to the gas, and a generation of children were born with birth defects and other genital disease, leaving a lasting impact of the gas leak for generations to come. What startled the locales and country’s environmentalists was a $470 million, 1989 settlement Union Carbide had reached with the Indian government that, to many observers, was short on compensation and slack in responsibility. In 1998, the state government of Madya Pradesh assumed the responsibility of running the plant. In 2001, Dow Chemical acquired the Union Carbide, and disavowed any responsibility for the gas leak.

Attack Kills Dozens of Tribal People in AssamScores of separatist National Democratic Front of Bodoland, which had been waging a secessionist war for the last three decades that had killed more than 10,000 people, descended in the midst of darkness on December 23, 2014 on several remote tribal helmets in Assam’s Sonitpur and Kokrajhar districts and killed at least 72 people. Many people, both Hindus and Christians, in and around the area fled and sought shelter in a church at Shamukjuli village in Sonitpur District. Following day, December 24, 2014, angry tribal people surrounded the police station in Sonitpur and attacked the police personnel inside, leading to police firing that had killed three people. The December 23, 2014, massacre was reminiscent of a similar massacre in May 2014 in which more than 30 Muslims were killed by NDFB separatists. Bodos make up roughly 10 percent of the state’s 33 million population, and the underlying tension that had erupted in secessionist violence over the past three decades had almost century-old roots as many tribal people had migrated in the area and settled in the indigenous land, followed by late arrival of Muslim settlers.

Ruling Party Suffers Ignominious Defeat in Capital PollsThe ruling Bhartiya Janata Party lost miserably in the assembly polls of Indian capital of Delhi. As polls results poured in on February 10, 2014, Aaam Admi Party led by Arvind Kejriwal made a clean sweep winning all but 3 seats in 70-member assembly. The results are as follows: AAP-67; BJP-3.

International Yoga Day Marked Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi led the way on June 21, 2015 in observing the International Yoga Day as he himself stretched his arms and legs in different yoga exercises at a festive event in the capital. Modi proposed establishment of International Yoga Day, and the UN began it this year. Hundreds of events took place in different parts of India, including state capitals. The event was also observed in various US cities and other parts of the world.

Mother Teresa on the Way to SainthoodPope Francis on December 18, 2015 recognized a second miracle, paving the way for Mother Teresa to become a saint some time next year. The miracle in question was reported by a Canadian priest, Rev. Brian Kolodiejchuk, who was the primary mover of Mother’s sainthood. According to Rev. Kolodiejchuk, a Brazilian man went to coma after getting a virulent brain infection and leading him to a state of multiple abscesses. As he was about to be taken for an emergency surgery on December 9, 2008, the man’s wife, who had been praying to Mother Teresa for months, his priest and relatives intensified their prayer. Next day, the man woke up with full cognitive ability. Mother Teresa was beatified in 2003 after the first miracle involving the unexplained disappearance of a woman’s incurable tumor following her prayer to Mother Teresa was reported was reported. Usually two miracles are required for canonization, or sainthood. Pope Francis announced Mother Teresa’s second miracle on his 79th birthday on December 18, 2015. Reacting to the Vatican announcement of Mother Teresa’s second miracle, Kolkata Archbishop Thomas D’Souza said on December 18, 2015 that the City of Joy had received “a real Christmas gift” from the “Holy Father”. Mother Teresa, an Albanian, joined the Loreto order of nuns in 1928, and moved to India a year later. She was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979. Mother Teresa passed away in 1997 at the age of 87. Usually there is a five-year waiting period before the process of sainthood even begins. Pope John Paul II waived it through a special dispensation in 1999, and beatified her in 2003.

Nehru Dynasty Implicated in CorruptionA case brought by a BJP-linked activist, Dr. Subramaniam Swamy, who made a name by suing political leaders, forced Congress leader Sonia Gandhi and her son, Rahul Gandhi, to appear at a New Delhi court on December 19, 2015 and post a bond of 50,000 rupees each. Throngs of party supporters, many of them from far-flung areas, arrived at the courthouse prior to arrival of Gandhis to show support for the party and the family. The corruption case is related to a real estate that was part of a pre-independence newspaper, The National Herald, established by the country’s first premier and Rahul Gandhi’s great-grandfather Jawaharlal Nehru in 1937. The publication was shuttered in 2008 after years of mismanagement and alleged financial irregularities.

Modi’s Unannounced Visit to Pakistan Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s unconventional diplomacy received a new round of applause as, en route to New Delhi from a foreign trip, Mr. Modi called on his Pakistani counterpart, Nawaz Sharif, on December 25, 2015 to wish him a happy birthday and expressed his desire to pay a visit to Sharif’s house in Lahore. Modi’s plane landed at the Lahore International Airport, and he was cordially received by Sharif. From the airport, both Sharif and Modi went to Sharif’s house where the Indian premier stayed for about two hours. The visit was “suddenly planned” and the meeting at Sharif’s house was cordial and friendly, according to Pak Foreign Minister Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry. Beside being Nawaz Sharif’s birthday, it was also the wedding day for Sharif’s granddaughter.

Indian Capital to Try out Novelty in an Effort to Cut PollutionIndian capital, New Delhi, on January 1, 2016, launched an ambitious program of limiting cars in its streets to relieve the city of choking pollution and smog. Under the plan that will be effective through January 15, 2016, cars will be driven on the alternate days of the week depending on the license plate numbers.

**********************  Siege and Standoff at an Indian Air Force Base *****************Pakistani Militants Blamed for Attack on Indian Military BaseIn an audacious attack, at least five gunmen wearing Indian military uniform entered into an Indian Air Force base at Pathankot in Punjab, close to Pakistani borders, around 3:30 AM on January 2, 2016 and led to hours-long standoff. Three Indian soldiers were killed in the battle, and four of the attackers were killed by the early morning. However, the fifth attacker was holed in, and exchanged fire with troops until he was killed later in the afternoon. Although Pak Foreign Ministry condemned the attack, the Indian officials said that they had credible information that Pakistan-based militants had carried out the attack.

Standoff Continues for the Second DayThe standoff at the Pathankot Air Force base that had begun on January 2, 2016 continued for the second day on January 3, 2016 as two more assailants were believed to be holed in inside the base. Meanwhile, more details emerged on the planning hours before the audacious attack that left Indians in a state of shock. Four militants wearing Indian army uniforms were alleged to have hijacked a vehicle that was carrying a high-level police officer of Punjab Police in Gurdaspur District. Later the police officers and other passengers were forced to leave the vehicle, and militants drove the vehicle to the air force base. Meanwhile, the federal government issued an updated casualty estimate. At least seven Indian military personnel and four attackers were killed.

A Fifth Attacker Killed on the Third Day of SiegeA fifth attacker was reported to have been killed on January 4, 2016, and at least one more attacker was reported to have been holed in inside the base.

Indian Soldiers Retake the Military BaseAfter a four-day standoff at an Indian airbase near Pak borders, Indian military personnel were reported on January 5, 2016 to have regained total control of the base at Pathankot. Although Indian Defense Minister Manohar Parrikar stopped short of calling that the operation had ended, in all likelihood, the siege had come to an end on January 5, 2016 after the last and sixth assailant was killed. In close to 100-hour firefight, seven Indian military personnel were also killed. Meanwhile, on January 5, 2016, a group called the United Jehad Council, an alliance of 13 Kashmir-based militant organizations claimed that its “highway squad” was behind the attack on the air force base.**********************  Siege and Standoff at an Indian Air Force Base *****************

Mother Teresa to Become a Saint in September 2016

Vatican on

March 15, 2016

announced that Mother Teresa would be accorded to be a saint on

September 4, 2016

.

Twenty Convicted into Anti-Muslim Riot
A judge in Ahmedabad on June 2, 2016 issued guilty verdict against 22 defendants in the Gujarat riot in 2002 when Narendra Modi, now the premier, was the chief minister of the state. In the ensuing riot, more than 1,000 people were killed, including a former member of parliament, Ehsan Jafri. 36 other defendants were acquitted in the trial. The verdict was related to violence on February 28, 2002 in which Ehsan Jafri, among others, were killed by an irate mob.

Killing of Hizbul Leader Triggers Latest Unrest
The death of Hizbul Mujahedeen commander, Burhan Muzaffar Wani, in an exchange of gunfire in Kashmir on July 8, 2016 has opened the valve of India’s political pressure cooker that is Kashmir one more time, unleashing a spontaneous streak of violent counter-protests over the next several days. Tens of thousands of mourners attended the Burhan’s burial at his native village of Tral in South Kashmir the following day. Over the past week at least 30 Kashmiri youths were killed in non-stop violence in the valley.

Kashmir Grounds to Halt in Days after Militant Leader’s Killing
The firestorm erupted since the July 8, 2016, killing of Hizbul Mujahedeen commander Burhan Muzaffar Wani engulfed the valley in the following days. All the shops, restaurants and entertainment complexes among others remained shut down because of an undeclared strike that had affected normal life. After the death of Wani, violent protests organized by Kashmiri youths had become a routine affair and the security forces tried to quell them forcefully too, leading to loss of lives. The latest of that came on August 3, 2016 as two more protesters had been killed by police bullets, raising the death toll to at least 51, including one police officer.

13 Civilians Killed in Assam
Half a dozen militants raided a rural market teeming with villagers at Balajan Tiniali near the town of Kokrajhar on August 5, 2016, and began to fire randomly on the shoppers, killing at least 13 civilians. One militant was killed in return fire from the security forces. The militants were suspected to be from the National Democratic Front of Bodoland.

Five Killed in Kashmir ViolenceFive people were killed by Indian security forces in Kashmir on August 16, 2016, latest tragic turn in events that had erupted in the aftermath of July 8, 2016, killing of Hizbul leader Burhan Muzaffar Wani. Four people were killed when security forces opened fire on a crowd of protesters at the village of Aripanthan, west of Srinagar. Another protester was killed in Anantnag.

Mother Teresa: An Iconic Journey from Streets to SainthoodSeptember 4, 2016 represents a historic day for the City of Joy and India as one of the past century’s most revered spiritual healers, Mother Teresa, was bestowed the honor of sainthood by Pope Francis at a magnanimous open ceremony attended by hundreds of thousands at the Vatican City. Extolling the virtue of helping the destitute as exemplified by Mother Teresa, Pope urged the audience at St. Peter’s Square to “carry her smile in our hearts and give it to those whom we meet along our journey, especially those who suffer”. Mother Teresa launched her Missionaries of Charity with 12 nuns in 1950, and eventually grew it to one of the most renowned charitable organizations of the world with 5,800 people in 139 countries.

India Ratifies Paris Climate Change Deal
On the birth anniversary of the Father of the Nation, India on October 2, 2016 officially ratified the Paris Climate Change Agreement, consolidating the world effort to fight greenhouse gas effects. The government of India, responsible for 4.5 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, approved the measure on September 28, 2016 at a cabinet meeting led by the premier Narendra Modi, and on October 2, 2016, the Indian Ambassador to the U.N., Syed Akbaruddin, handed over the instrument of ratification document to the U.N. officials. With India’s ratification of the deal, 62 countries with collective share of 52 percent of greenhouse emissions have so far ratified the deal. The deal includes a so-called 55/55 trigger, implying that at least 55 nations with 55 percent of greenhouse gas emissions must ratify for the deal to become effective. To meet its goal, India has committed that at least 40 percent of its electricity will come from non-fossil fuel sources by 2030, including at least 175 gigawatt of power from renewable energy by 2022. India needs to invest over $2.5 trillion to meet all of its targets.

India Invalidates Higher-Denomination Currency
The Narendra Modi regime on November 8, 2016 surprised the country by issuing order to invalidate 500- and 1,000-rupee notes as part of a crackdown on the country’s swelling black money. In the aftermath of the government announcement, there was huge rush of people to run on country’s commercial and retail banks to exchange the higher denomination notes. Long queues were the common presence during the day in front of bank buildings in major metropolitan areas, and they got longer and more chaotic with hour.

Indian Shelling Kills 10 in Pakistan
Pakistan accused India on November 23, 2016 of shelling a passenger bus on the Pakistan side of Kashmir Valley that had killed 10 civilians. Pakistani premier Nawaz Sharif called the Indian shelling as a “naked aggression” and Pakistan foreign ministry summoned an Indian embassy official to lodge formal protest. Pakistani Army also released a statement, saying that Islamabad reserved the “right to respond at the place and time of our choosing”. Pakistani Army said that it had fired back and killed 7 Indian soldiers, a claim refuted by Indian military. Since a snap and surprise attack on September 18, 2016 by militants on an Indian Army base at Uri in Kashmir killed 19 soldiers, the bilateral relationship took a tailspin.

Seven Soldiers Killed in Indian Army Base Attack; Three Infiltrators Shot Dead
A little over two months after September 18, 2016, attack on a military base at Uri in Kashmir had killed 19 Indian soldiers, separatist rebels struck on November 29, 2016 at another Indian military base in the town of Nagrota, setting off a fierce clash in which 7 soldiers and three gunmen were killed. In separate incident during the day, three insurgents while crossing the borders from Pakistan were shot dead by the Indian security forces.

India’s Record-Breaking Satellite Launches Wow the World
India on February 15, 2017 reached a new high in space launch program by launching 104 satellites at a rapid succession from a single rocket that traveled at 17,000 mph. The previous record was held by Russia that had sent 37 satellites to space with one rocket in 2014. The February 15, 2017, record set by Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) helped consolidate India’s role as a key, if not an exclusive, player in the commercial satellite launch space. 88 of the 104 satellites launched during the day weigh about 10 pounds, and are known as “Doves” and built by San Francisco-based Planet Labs, a private company that sells data to governments and commercial entities. ISRO’s launch program has become very cost-effective, and will help the country to size up a significant share in a $3 billion to $4 billion market in information about climate, topography and defense.

In 2014, India sent a spacecraft to Mars for $74 million, a fraction of U.S. Mars Mission that spends an average of $671 million.

Rahul to Lead Congress
Congress on December 16, 2017 chose Rahul Gandhi as the president of Congress Party. After a bout of 18 years, Sonia Gandhi has paved the way for her son to become the sixth member of Nehru-Gandhi dynasty to lead the oldest political party of India.

India-Pakistan Clash Raises Border Tension
The latest flare-up began on January 17, 2018 as the armies from Southeast rivals clashed along the LOC in Kashmir, and as of January 19, 2018, two civilians and two military personnel on the Indian side were killed.

India, Pakistan to Stop Exchanging Fire
Indian and Pak military officials on May 30, 2018 announced that they would immediately halt trading fire on each other, a step welcomed by many on both sides of the border as a positive gesture in the Holy Month of Ramadan.

Indian Apex Court Axes the Anti-gay Law
Indian Supreme Court on September 6, 2018 scrapped the 1861 Victorian-era, colonial law that had made gay-sex a crime punishable up to 10 years of prison. After weeks of deliberation, Chief Justice Dipak Misra stated in the defense of repealing the law, Section 377, that it was “irrational, indefensible and manifestly arbitrary”.

Seven Protesters Killed after Indian Military and Separatists Trade Bullets
Upon receiving a tip, Indian security forces on December 15, 2018 surrounded a village in southern Pulwama in Kashmir, setting off a firefight that killed three separatists and one soldier. The firefight immediately triggered anti-military protest around the village and beyond. Protesters hurled stones at the Indian security forces, resulting in live bullets fired by the security forces that had killed seven people.

Violent Protests Break out in Kerala after Two Women Enter a Temple
Two women on January 2, 2019 entered one of the most renowned Hindu pilgrimage sites, Ayyappa Temple, in Kerala after the Indian Supreme Court in October 2018 overturned a decades old ban on women from 10 to 50 years in range from entering the temple.  Communist government led by Pinarayi Vijayan has provided police protection to the women. Their entry had led to eruption of spontaneous protests across the state, with hundreds blocking the roads and some of the protests turning violent. Temple’s priests washed the entire temple after the women visited the temple. The women’s entry came a day after a mammoth 375-mile woman chain from northern Kasargod to southern tip of capital Thiruvanthapuram was organized by the ruling Left Democratic Front on January 1, 2019.

41 Soldiers Killed in a Suicide Car Bomb Attack
In the deadliest attack in Kashmir since the beginning of the unrest in 1989, a suicide car bomber rammed his vehicle into a convoy in the outskirts of Srinagar, killing at least 41 soldiers and wounding about 20 others on February 14, 2019. Jammu and Kashmir Governor Satya Pal Malik blamed the attack on Jaish-e-Mohammad.

Five Killed in Gun Battle in Kashmir
10 days after a suicide car bomb killed 40 Indian military personnel, Kashmir went through another violent convulsion as a firefight between militants and Indian Army had killed three rebels, one counterinsurgency police officer and one Indian Army personnel on February 24, 2019 in Kulgam. On February 24, 2019, Srinagar and other parts of Kashmir observed a strike called by Joint Resistance Leadership, or JRL, to protest continuing suppression by Indian Army and control by New Delhi.

India Launches Airstrikes; Pilot Captured
Days after Jaish attack that had killed 40 Indian soldiers in Kashmir Valley, Indian Air Force carried out surgical strikes against militant targets in Pakistan. One of the Indian planes crashed, and its pilot, Abhinandan, captured by Pak forces. Couple of days later, Pak authorities handed Abhinandan to Indian authorities.

Pakistan Arrests 44, including Brother and Son of India Attack Group’s Founder
Following a list handed by Indian authorities, Pakistan carried out a security sweep, netting 44 militants from various outlawed groups, Pak Interior Minister Shehryar Afridi said on March 5, 2019. Among the arrestees were a brother and son of Masood Azhar, the founder of Jaish-e-Mohammad, responsible for February 14, 2019, Kashmir attack that had killed 40 Indian soldiers.

BJP Wins a LandslideRuling Bharatiya Janata Party won a thumping victory in seven-phase parliamentary election for which results were declared on May 23, 2019. As dust settled down, it was clear that BJP bested its earlier performance and Indian people reposed faith in Prime Minister Narendra Modi for another five years. BJP alone won 303 seats in 542-member Lok Sabha, while Rahul Gandhi-led Congress experienced a near-total rout, winning only 52 seats.

On

May 25, 2019

, Indian President Ram Nath Kovind asked Modi to form the next government.

***************************** KASHMIR AUTONOMY REVOKED ******************Indian Government Revokes Special Status, Statehood
In a massive surprising stroke of political upheaval, Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led BJP government on August 5, 2019 issued orders to revoke Article 370 that had accorded special status to Kashmir and downgrade the status of Jammu and Kashmir from statehood to union territory. The drastic action followed hours of swift and sudden security measures, including blanketing the valley by tens of thousands of security forces, detaining Kashmiri political leaders of all political persuasion, cutting off landline services, mobile services, internet services and imposing round-the-clock curfew. Modi government unveiled the so called “Jammu and Kashmir Reorganization Bill“, and simultaneously, a presidential order revoked Article 370 and downgraded the statehood of Jammu and Kashmir.

Modi Government Tables the Controversial Bill in Parliament, Pakistan Warns Violence to Visit
On August 6, 2019, Modi government sent the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganization Bill to the lower house of parliament, or Lok Sabha, as the security clampdown in Kashmir all but crippled the normal life in the valley. Residents there had become prisoners in their own homes. Telephone, mobile and internet services remained cut off as frenetic relatives tried to get hold of their families from the rest of India. Shops, retailers and malls remained closed. Meanwhile, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, addressing the parliament, warned that anti-India violence might flare up in Kashmir in protest against the August 5, 2019, Indian action and New Delhi might blame Islamabad for that.

Muslims Celebrate a Sad Eid amid Crackdown
A week after the Indian government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi revoked the Article 370 and downgraded the status of Jammu and Kashmir, many Muslims celebrated Eid ul-Adha in a somber mood on August 12, 2019 in Sri Nagar and rest of the state as the valley remained cut off from the rest of India. As tens of thousands of military personnel patrolled the streets of the state capital, people flocked to local mosques for prayer. Meanwhile, supplies to Kashmir were running alarmingly low.

Demonstrations Erupt in Kashmir as U.N. Takes up the Issue
To the contrary of India’s international interest, U.N. Security Council handed out a major diplomatic victory to Pakistan on August 16, 2019 by holding a special session on Kashmir for the first time in years at the urging of Islamabad. Meanwhile, Kashmiris held anti-New Delhi demonstrations across the valley after Friday prayer during the day. Demonstrators carried Islamic flags and placards that read: “Stop Genocide in Kashmir, Wake up World”. A senior official, B.V.R. Subhramaniyam, said earlier in the day that the landline services would be restored later in the day (August 16, 2019) and schools and colleges would re-open on August 19, 2019.

***************************** KASHMIR AUTONOMY REVOKED ******************

Assam Agonized over nearly 2 million Excluded from NRC
A 1951 measure, unique to Assam, that called for creating a National Register of Citizens, or NRC, was implemented more than six decades later on August 31, 2019. The list includes 31.1 million residents, while leaving out more than 1.9 million people, many of them are Muslims. 

INDONESIA

Competing Claims of Lead in Presidential PollsTwo top candidates in July 9, 2014, presidential polls claimed lead as the southeast Asian nation readied itself for a democratic transition from a civilian president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, to another civilian president 16 years after dictator Suharto had to leave under a massive protest movement by students. Both amiable Joko Widodo, Governor of Jakarta, and stiff Prabowo Subianto, a former head of Indonesia’s special forces, laid claims to lead in polls.

Down-to-Earth Politician Wins Presidential PollBreaking the long-held tradition of the fourth most populous nation to have presidency coveted only for well-known, famous and military generals, Joko Widodo, a rag-to-high-profile ascendancy story, was declared winner of July 9, 2014, presidential polls. The General Election Commission announced on July 22, 2014 that Widodo had received 53 percent of vote as opposed to Gen. Prabowo Subianto’s 47 percent. Widodo, who grew up in a slum on the bank of a river at Solo in Central Java province and became mayor of his hometown before becoming the governor of Jakarta in 2012, will be sworn in October 20, 2014. Subianto withdrew his candidature hours before the announcement of final results.

Widodo Sworn in Amid Rising Expectation and Popular Good WillThe self-made slum dweller who had shocked the nation of 250 million people by winning the presidency for the first time as a commoner without elite connection was sworn in as Indonesia’s president on October 20, 2014. Later President Joko Widodo held a spirited public rally.

Indonesia to Join the Rival Banking OrganizationIn a major economic coup by Beijing, Indonesia on November 27, 2014 announced that it would join a rival regional banking system floated by China. USA opposed the concept of Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, which will compete with more established Asia Development Bank and the World Bank, from the very beginning and tried to woo Jakarta out of the deal. However, the Indonesian Finance Minister Bambang Brodjonegoro on November 27, 2014 said that joining AIIB won’t dilute the island nation’s deep involvement with other international institutions.

*********************** AIR ASIA FLIGHT TRAGEDY ****************************

Flight Missing after Take-offBudget airline Air Asia’s Flight 8501 went missing in the morning of December 28, 2014, 45 minutes after taking off from the Indonesia’s airport at Surabaya. The Flight QZ8501 was over the Java Sea and about an hour from the destination of Singapore. The plane, an Airbus A320-200, was carrying 155 passengers and six crew members. Minutes before dropping off the radar, pilots informed the air control tower at Jakarta that they were planning to go up from 32,000 feet to 38,000 feet to avoid a severe thunderstorm. The disappearance of another flight added to the jittery of flying public in south-east Asia. Air Asia, based in Malaysia, however has unblemished safety record.

History of Air AsiaTony Fernandes, a billionaire, bought Air Asia in 2001 from a government-linked conglomerate, DRB-Hicom. Mr. Fernandes turned around the financially struggling carrier into a profitable and financially viable budget airline with a growing network. Air Asia was originally formed in 1994.

Key Difference in Fate of Missing Air Asia and Malaysian Airline Flights* Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 is one of the aviation industry’s most intriguing disappearance mystery as on that fateful March evening, the weather was normal and the last words from the pilot was “good night”.  Air Asia Flight 8501 encountered a severe thunderstorm over the Java Sea, and the pilot asked permission to increase the altitude of the plane from 32,000 feet to 38,000 feet minutes before the plane’s disappearance from the radar.* Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 veered from its scheduled path, and its last known position was somewhere in the vast expanse of the desolate part of the Indian Ocean southwest of Australia. Air Asia Flight 8501 was on its planned path over the Java Sea.* In the case of MH 370, a key automated system, Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System, or ACARS, was deliberately disabled in the cockpit while no such interference with ACARS took place in the case of QZ8501.

*********************** AIR ASIA FLIGHT TRAGEDY ****************************

Islamic State Finds a Foothold Even in Moderate IndonesiaA coordinated, series of attacks on January 14, 2016 morning at the heart of Jakarta that had killed at least 7 people, including five attackers, and claimed to have been carried out by Islamic State raised the specter of another battlefront in the fight against ISIL. The day’s bloody trail unfolded with a suicide bombing just outside a Starbucks in a posh area of Jakarta, near the upscale Plaza Sarinah. As people began to rush on the street in front of the Starbucks, two gunmen opened fire, killing a Canadian and wounding an Indonesian. Almost at the same time, two suicide bombers attacked on a  police booth, killing themselves and an Indonesian man. Minutes later, two of the remaining gunmen involved in the Starbucks shooting attacked a group of police officers a few blocks way, ensuing a firefight that had killed both the attackers. Jakarta Provincial Police chief and former head of the country’s elite national counterterrorism unit, Gen. Tito Karnavian, said on January 15, 2016 that the attack was planned by an Indonesian, named Bahrun Naim, who was in Raqqa, Syria, and part of the Katibah Nusantara, a group consisted of Malaysian, Indonesian and other Southeast Asian fighters under the direct command of ISIL. According to security analysts, there are three overlapping groups in Indonesia that staked claims of allegiance to ISIL:* Ansharut Daulah Islamiyah, an umbrella group of indigent militants* Mujahidin of Eastern Indonesia, based in Poso, on the Sulawesi Island, led by Santoso* Katibah Nusantara 

Indonesia Claims ISIL to be Chief Source of Funding for Terrorist Attack Indonesian authorities said on January 15, 2016 that ISIL had funded the January 14, 2016, attacks at three places in Jakarta in which two civilians–one Canadian and an Indonesian–and all five assailants were killed. Authorities believed that the attacks were masterminded by an Indonesian now in Syrian war theater.
Indonesia Reports the Killing of One of its Top Terrorists

Indonesian authorities announced on July 23, 2016 that one of the two insurgents killed by security forces on July 18, 2016 near Poso, a town in the central province of Sulawesi, was identified as Santoso, one of the dreaded terrorists of Indonesia and leader of the Mujahidin of Eastern Indonesia, based on postmortem and medical examination. The news came as a shot in the arm of President Joko Widodo who, after taking office last year, made it a priority to kill, or capture, Santoso–placed on the U.S. global terrorism watch list along with his group, Mujahidin of Eastern Indonesia in March 2016–and created a joint military-police task force.
Christian Governor of Jakarta Dusts up Controversy, Tests the Legal System

The brash Christian governor of Jakarta, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, is heading to a contentious and  high-profile election to be held on February 15, 2017 that had attracted an unusual international attention. Purnama’s often anti-Islamic rhetoric is testing the boundary of Indonesian democracy and judicial limit as he is facing religious defamation charges.
Jakarta Governor Heads to a Runoff

Jakarta’s Christian governor, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, who had created a furor over his anti-Islamic comments and off-the-cup statements had been headed to a runoff with the former Indonesian cabinet minister, Anies Rasyid Baswedan, who had been backed by Islamic conservatives. According to the tally known as of February 16, 2017, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama received 43 percent of popular vote compared to Baswedan’s 40 percent.
Outspoken Christian Incumbent Loses Runoff

A pro-Islamic challenger,

Anies Rasyid Baswedan

, a former Education Minister, won the

April 19, 2017

, runoff and ousted the controversial Christian Governor of Jakarta,

Basuki Tjahaja Purnama

.

Indonesia at the Edge after Members of the Same Family Carry out Suicide Attacks
The second-largest city of Indonesia, Surabaya, on May 13, 2018 was subjected to the reign of terror committed by a husband-wife duo, who along with their four children, targeted city’s Christian minority during Sunday service. The suicide bomber family was recently deported from Syria, and they had used three modes of attacks–a suicide vest at a church, a motorcycle bomb and a car bomb–to target three separate churches in Surabaya, capital of the East Java province. The terrorist attacks on May 13, 2018 killed all five members of the attacker family and at least seven other people, and sent a wave of fear across Indonesia, the most populous, but a moderate, Muslim nation. Later in the night, security forces surrounded an apartment complex, and a indigenously built bomb exploded, killing a family of three. Separately, Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attacks on ethnic Chinese Christian churches at Surabaya.

Within Hours, A Family of Five Attacks City Police Headquarters
No sooner than the city of Surabaya woke up from a day-long wave of terror attacks and security clampdown than a third family launched an attack on May 14, 2018 morning, this time targeting the city police headquarters. During the May 14, 2018, attack, a family of five, riding on two motorcycles, blew up at the entrance of the Surabaya City Police Headquarters, killing all but one eight-year-old girl of the family and wounding four police officers. Reacting to the two-day streak of terrorist events, Indonesian President Joko Widodo on May 14, 2018 called the attacks “barbaric”, and said that altogether 13 perpetrators from three families and 12 other people were killed in five separate incidents: three on May 14 targeting three Surabaya churches, an explosion on May 14 at an apartment complex where a family had built a bomb and an audacious attack on the city’s police headquarters the following morning.

Incumbent Wins Poll
The April 17, 2019, Indonesian Presidential Election saw a bitter contest between President Joko Widodo and former Gen. Prabowo Subianto, and at the end, Widodo was re-elected.

Incumbent Officially Declared the WinnerIndonesia’s General Elections Commission on May 21, 2019 officially declared President Joko Widodo as the victor in the April 17, 2019, presidential election, receiving 55.5 percent vote and almost doubling the margin of victory, compared to 2014 presidential election, over opposition candidate, former Gen. Prabowo Subianto, who received 44.5 percent vote. Widodo will be sworn in for the second time on October 20, 2019. However, Prabowo’s backers are not accepting the commission results and have called for demonstrations against poll fraud. Subianto threatened to challenge the election commission declaration in the country’s Constitutional Court.

Violence Mars Demonstration, Six Killed
Backers of opposition candidate Prabowo Subianto on May 22, 2019 held a demonstration outside the General Election Commission office in Jakarta. The demonstration turned violent, leading to a pitched battle between security forces and Subianto supporters. At least half a dozen protesters were killed. Later in the day, Indonesia’s Communications Minister Rudiantara announced that the access to social media would be curtailed temporarily to block fake news and violence.

Constitutional Court Dashes Hope of Opposition Candidate
Indonesia’s Constitutional Court on June 27, 2019 upheld the election results.

JAPAN

******* MARCH 2011 JAPANESE EARTHQUAKE AND NUCLEAR MELTDOWN ******The March 11, 2011, 9.0-magnitude earthquake and the resulting tsunami wreaked havoc on the country’s northeastern coastal areas, destroying villages and towns, ravaging blocks after blocks, and most likely, killing thousands of people. The earthquake, the worst recorded in Japan, and the subsequent two-storey high tsunamis it had spawned were dwarfed by the meltdown risk of one of Japan’s nuclear power plants. As of March 16, 2011, four of Fukushima Daiichi plant’s six reactors are at vulnerable situation. On March 12, the Unit 1 of the Daiichi plant had hydrogen explosion destroying much of the containment building although the vessel containing the fuel rods were thought to be intact. The Unit 3 of the Daiichi plant suffered an hydrogen gas-caused explosion on March 14, resulting in likely release of radiation and partial meltdown of the core. A third explosion occurred in Unit 2 on early March 15, and fires were burning in a fuel storage pond in Unit 4 on March 15 and March 16. The situation warranted withdrawal of personnel from the plant on March 16 in favor of using sea water from planes. The partial meltdown occurred as the twin whippings of earthquake and tsunami knocked down the electrical power thus shutting down the cooling system altogether. The back-up power resumed cooling system, but to no avail. The nuclear disaster forced Naoto Kan government to issue order for evacuation of almost 140,000 people within 12 mile of the nuclear power plant operated by Tokyo Electric Power Co. Five days after the apocalyptic disaster had hit Japan’s northeast, at least 450,000 people were still at the temporary shelters. Meanwhile, on March 14, Japan’s Central bank injected $183.8 billion into money markets to stabilize the financial market.

P.S.: The article is based on information as of March 16, 2011.

Reports Updated on March 17-18, 2011

Japanese military helicopters dropped loads of seawater on March 17 to douse fire on UNIT III of Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. Emergency workers were forced to retreat from the plant on March 16 when radiation levels had soared, losing precious time. The troubles at the plant began after March 11, 2011, disaster knocked down the power and backup generators needed for the cooling system. Meanwhile, U.S. government on March 16 issued evacuation order of all Americans within 50-mile radius from the Daiichi plant. The decision, stricter than the Japanese directive of evacuation within 12-mile radius and staying indoor within 20-mile radius, came after a crucial White House meeting on March 16 between President Barack Obama and U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chairman Gregory Jaczko. Meanwhile, hundreds of relief trucks are on their way to quake-hit five prefectures in the northeast–including Miyagi, Ibaraki, Iwate and Fukushima–for delivering 1.24 million meals and 700,000 beverage bottles.

On March 18, 2011, smoke billowed from Unit II, but its cause was not known. In Unit III, the immediate danger were coming from the pool of used fuel rods, which were partially immersed in fluid, rather than nuclear core.

Reports Updated based on Information from March 21-23, 2011
On March 20, Japan reported first sign of stabilizing of nuclear reactors, but revealed signs of nuclear contamination in agricultural produce and livestock although the extent is not yet known. The total death toll had climbed so far to at least 8,600. On March 21, the World Bank said that Japan might need five years to rebuild and estimated damage at $235 billion. The economic damage resulting from the 9.0-magnitude earthquake, subsequent tsunami and nuclear disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi may this year shave 0.5% off the country’s economic output. On March 22, 2011, power cables were re-connected to all six reactors of the Daiichi plant, raising guarded optimism.

Reports Updated based on Information from March 29, 2011
On March 28, workers found new pools of radioactive water in the ill-fated nuclear power plant and crews found plutonium traces on the soil outside the complex. The crisis at Fukushima already exceeded the ones in 1979 at Three Mile Island, but, in severity, not near the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster.

Reports Updated based on Information from April 5, 2011
TEPCO on April 4 began dumping 11,000 tons of radiactive water into the Pacific Ocean just to make room for more contaminated water. The water being dumped into Pacific contains radioactive contaminants 100 times the legal limit in order to make room for waters which are 10,000 times the legal limit.

Reports Updated Based On Information April 12, 2011
Japan on April 12 upped the severity level of radiation from 5, at the same par with the Three Mile Island accident in 1979, to the level 7, same as Chernobyl disaster. The scale, developed by the International Atomic Energy Agency and the nations that use nuclear energy, requires the country where the accident had taken place to calculate the rating based on some complicated criteria. Japan’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency said on April 12 that country’s Nuclear Safety Commission had estimated that Fukushima emitted nearly 10,000 terabecquerels of radiation per hour in the aftermath of plant breakdown on March 11. The radiation since has dropped to 1 TPH. Meanwhile, as of April 12, 2011, the number of confirmed death stood at 13,219, missing stood 14, 274 and number of displaced put in shelters was 150,000.

Report Based on Information From April 23, 2011, Edition of The Dallas Morning News
On April 22, 2011, Japanese government estimated that the cost of damage stemming from March 11, 2011, earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster was $309 billion. More than 27,000 people are dead or missing. About 135,000 people are living in 2,500 shelters, and many others moved into temporary housing or are staying with the relatives. Japan’s government on April 22 proposed $50 billion to help finance reconstruction efforts.

Based on Information from May 11, 2011, Edition of The Dallas Morning News
On May 10, Japanese P.M. Naoto Kan re-tooled the energy strategy by scrapping the plan to build 14 nuclear reactors to augment the contribution of nuclear energy from its current share of 30% (from 54 reactors) to 50% share by 2030. Instead PM Kan emphasized that the hallmark of the country’s energy policy will include conservation and renewable energy. The March 12, 2011, earthquake and resulting tsunami has affected the psyche of the country so deep that the government is forced to re-calibrate and re-tool its long-term energy policy in such a significant way that was unthinkable even few months ago. Last week, the Naoto Kan regime had ordered a second utility, Chubu Electric Power Co., to shut down the Hamaoka Nuclear power plant until a wave wall was built around it. Chubu agreed on May 9 to shut down. The March 12, 2011, Japanese earthquake, along with resulting tsunami and nuclear disaster, that had left at least 26,000 dead or missing prodded Germany to accelerate a 25-year phase-out plan from nuclear energy by as early as 2020. However, the disaster is having no effect on the U.S. energy policy as the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chairman Gregory Jaczko reiterated on enhanced inspection and safety procedures in the country’s 104 nuclear reactors, but there is no plan to slow down the the licensing process of 12 additional nuclear reactors.

On September 30, 2011, the Japanese government has announced to ease the restrictions around the Fukushima Daiichi plant. The 12-mile exclusion zone will remain in vogue around the plant. Beyond the exclusion zone, evacuation order is to be lifted from five lesser-hit towns and cities.

Japan’s nuclear regulator, Nuclear Regulation Authority, on June 19, 2013 issued safety regulation for the country’s nuclear power operators. The rules are effective from July 8, 2013, when operators may apply for inspections. Japan’s all but two of 50 nuclear reactors have been offline since March 2011 meltdown in Fukushima’s nuclear reactors caused by an earthquake and tsunami.

Japanese Government Brings Back Nuclear Powers as Part of Energy Policy
Taking a break from the preceding regime, Shinzo Abe regime on February 25, 2014 unveiled a new energy plan that included nuclear energy as one of the mainstays of economic driving engines in years to come. The 75-page draft calls for:

* Emphasis on renewable energy, including nuclear power, although without giving a breakdown of share of nuclear power in the total energy mix

* Adoption of nuclear power as dependable source of power that “emits no greenhouse gases”

After Fukushima Daiichi meltdown–which had forced more than 150,000 people from their homes, contaminated 700 square miles and  required a massive clean-up with subsequent new radiation–in the aftermath of March 2011 earthquake, Japan idled 48 operable nuclear reactors. Prior to Fukushima disaster, Japan relied on nuclear power for 30 percent of its energy and was on its way to increase that share to 50 percent by 2030. After the disaster, the former government planned to phase out nuclear powers by 2030s. The new energy plan released on February 25, 2014 by premier Shinzo Abe’s government had just reversed that phase-out plan, and instead called for accelerated adoption of nuclear power as part of long-term energy security.

Japanese Government Certifies Two Nuclear Reactors Safe
Over protest by environmentalists, activists and political opposition, the Shinzo Abe regime on September 10, 2014 inched a step closer to reopening some of the country’s 48 commercial reactors shuttered since March 2011 earthquake and subsequent nuclear meltdown in Fukushima Daiichi. During the day, Abe administration gave green light to two reactors of the Sendai Power Plant operated by Kyushu Electric Power Co. However, it will be months before the reactors become operational as there remains more bureaucratic and burdensome official work.

Fourth Anniversary of Fukushima Disaster Marked
On March 11, 2015, Japan marked the fourth anniversary of the deadly tsunami and Fukushima meltdown. The toll for Fukushima disaster is astounding:

* 15,891 people dead
* 6,152 people injured
* 2,584 people unaccounted

Former Executives of Fukushima Plant IndictedAlmost half decade after a massive tsunami and nuclear meltdown caused havoc in Japan, prosecutors on February 29, 2016 indicted three former executives of Tokyo Electric Power Company, or TEPCO, operator of the ill-fated Fukushima Daiichi power plant, on criminal negligence. Prosecutors blamed former three executives–Tsunehisa Katsumata, 75, the then-Chairman of TEPCO; Sakae Muto, 65; and Ichiro Takekuro, 69–for mishandling the crisis that resulted in 44 deaths during a chaotic evacuation. ******* MARCH 2011 JAPANESE EARTHQUAKE AND NUCLEAR MELTDOWN ****** o       In an assertive stance, China on November 23, 2013 declared sky over parts of East China Sea as “Air Defense Identification Zone”, thus requiring commercial flights to seek flight permission prior to flying through the area. The zone, claimed too by Japan, includes the uninhabited island chain—known as Senkaku in Japanese and Diayou in Chinese—at the heart of recent Sino-Japanese tension.

o       On November 24, 2013, Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida criticized the Chinese declaration as well as US Secretary of State John Kerry called out the action “as a destabilizing attempt”.

o       On November 29, 2013, US asked its civilian airlines to seek flight permission to fly through the air defense identification zone declared by Beijing on November 23 although publicly it continued criticizing the Chinese action.

o       On November 30, 2013, Japan upped the ante by asking a UN agency—International Civil Aviation Organization—to assess risk implication of declaration of such an air defense identification zone over parts of East China Sea. Japan’s move on November 30 is aimed at making an effort to internationalize the issue, and embarrass Beijing in the eyes of international community.

Japanese premier Shinzo Abe’s visit to Tokyo’s Yasukoni Shrine on December 26, 2013 raised political ire in the region, and China called it a “gross violation of the feeling of the Chinese people and people of the other Asian countries”. Yasukoni Shrine reflects Japan’s World War II-era military adventurism and represents memories of many of the Japanese generals accused of war crimes during its colonial rule over China and Korea.

In a victory to PM Shinzo Abe’s focus on building a close bond with Washington, Okinawa Governor Hirokazu Nakaima on December 27, 2013 signed an agreement to move the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma from its current location of densely populated Ginowan City to sparsely populated Henoko in Nago city. In 1996, U.S. and Japan signed an agreement to move the base to Nago from its current location of densely populated Ginowan City. The U.S. base has been drawing ire from local population for long time, with demand to shut it down altogether intensifying in recent years.

Chinese government was so irked by Japanese premier’s December 26, 2013, visit to the controversial war memorial of Yasukoni Shrine that Chinese Foreign Ministry said on December 30, 2013 that Shinzo Abe was not welcome in China.

In a victory to protest movement, Nago City Mayor Susumu Inamine, who vowed to deny permit to begin construction projects for the proposed move of Okinawa airbase,  was re-elected on January 19, 2014. Inamine is a vocal opponent of a 1996 US-Japan agreement that called for moving the airbase from densely populated Ginowan City to sparsely populated Henoko in Nago city.

Japanese Government Brings Back Nuclear Powers as Part of Energy Policy
Taking a break from the preceding regime, Shinzo Abe regime on February 25, 2014 unveiled a new energy plan that included nuclear energy as one of the mainstays of economic driving engines in years to come. The 75-page draft calls for:

* Emphasis on renewable energy, including nuclear power, although without giving a breakdown of share of nuclear power in the total energy mix

* Adoption of nuclear power as dependable source of power that “emits no greenhouse gases”

After Fukushima Daiichi meltdown–which had forced more than 150,000 people from their homes, contaminated 700 square miles and  required a massive clean-up with subsequent new radiation–in the aftermath of March 2011 earthquake, Japan idled 48 operable nuclear reactors. Prior to Fukushima disaster, Japan relied on nuclear power for 30 percent of its energy and was on its way to increase that share to 50 percent by 2030. After the disaster, the former government planned to phase out nuclear powers by 2030s. The new energy plan released on February 25, 2014 by premier Shinzo Abe’s government had just reversed that phase-out plan, and instead called for accelerated adoption of nuclear power as part of long-term energy security.

South Korean President Blasts Japanese Premier
Addressing a key uprising on March 1, 1919, in which Korean resistance against Japanese occupation (1910-45) had erupted that later inspired a generation of Koreans, South Korean President Park Geun-hye  blasted Japanese premier Shinzo Abe’s regime for issuing an order a day earlier to re-examine a formal apology statement issued in 1993 for the practice of using Korean women as “comfort woman” in Japanese army bases during the time of occupation.

Japan to Give up Some Materials as a Key Nuclear Summit Begins
As a key nuclear security summit begins on March 24, 2014 at The Hague, Netherlands, Obama administration on March 23, 2014 announced that Japan had agreed to hand over more than 700 pounds of weapons-grade Plutonium and a large quantity of highly enriched Uranium. However, Obama administration didn’t divulge the amount of Uranium to be given up by Tokyo. The quantity of Plutonium to be handed over is meager compared to a total inventory of 9 tons. The announcement is politically significant in the wake of the third nuclear security summit as there has been mounting criticism over USA’s perceived double-standard policy over other nations possessing nuclear materials. While there has been international pressure and sanctions over Iran’s nuclear program, there is not even enough talks of such program in ally nations such as Japan. In that respect, Obama administration’s announcement on March 23 was a step in the right direction to allay and address these issues. Since Obama began these nuclear security summit meetings after coming to power in 2009, 13 nations gave up cache of materials and others tightened security and safety-net around their facilities. President Obama pursues an ambitious agenda to seek “the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons”, as he has laid out in a historic speech in Prague in 2009. (Source: The Dallas Morning News)

Japan to End Weapons Export Ban
In a turn away from its pacifist past, Japan on April 1, 2014 decided to decades old ban on arms export ban. Under a new guideline issued by the Shinzo Abe government on April 1, Japan will export weapons to allies and partners who will not resell to another third country without approval from Tokyo and invest in joint collaboration to develop new weapons.

Chinese and US Defense Chiefs Spar over Islands in East China Sea
A visiting US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel took issues with his Chinese counterpart, Chang Wanquan, on April 8, 2014 over China’s unilateral declaration in November 2013 to create air defense zone over a disputed chain of islands in the East China Sea known as Diaoyu in Chinese and Senkaku in Japanese. Hagel also reiterated that US would stand by Japan over in any conflict over the uninhabited islands due to any Chinese escalation.

Obama Makes the Case for US to Defend Japan
In a week-long visit to Japan, South Korea, Malaysia and the Philippines, the country that’s likely to overshadow President Barack Obama’s most of the official programs is the country he is not visiting: China. A case in point: as President Obama arrived at Japan on April 23, 2014, country’s media was awash over President’s written statement to Yumiuri Shimbhun that if Japan was attacked over dispute related to a chain of uninhabited islands, known as Diaoyu in Chinese and Senkaku in Japanese, in the East China Sea, US would come to defend Japan under the Article V of the U.S.-Japan Treaty of Mutual Co-operation and Security. President Obama also stressed on advancing the long-delayed Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement. However, Obama’s visit to Japan was marred by controversy surrounding Japanese premier Shinzo Abe’s visit to Yasukuni Shrine–a memorial to pay homage to war dead, including 14 war criminals–two days ago.

Sino-Jap Close Run-in over East China Sea Alarms the Region
On May 24, 2014, Chinese fighter jets came in proximity of as close as 100 feet to Japanese reconnaissance flights twice over the East China Sea in a menacing and muscular display of Beijing’s intent to enforce air defense identification zone unilaterally established on November 23, 2013. Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera on May 25, 2014 decried the Chinese maneuver in the high altitude over the East China Sea a day earlier.

North Korea to Launch Inquiry into where-about of Japanese Abductees
After three days of secret negotiation at Stockholm last week, Japan and North Korea agreed on a deal that would shed light on missing Japanese citizens who were kidnapped by North Korean agents in 70s and 80s as part of an effort to train North Korean security forces in Japanese language and culture, according to an announcement made by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on June 5, 2014 in Tokyo. In exchange for Pyongyang’s re-opening of the missing case files, Japan will ease its sanctions on the reclusive Communist nation. North Korea first admitted the kidnappings during a summit between Kim Jong Il, the late father of current leader Kim Jong Un, and the then-Japanese premier Junichiro Koizumi in 2002. At that time, Pyongyang admitted that it had kidnapped only 13 Japanese, let 5 of them to return to Japan in the same year (2002) while saying the remaining eight had already died. Meanwhile, Tokyo reneged its promise to return the 5 to North Korea, thus breaking off what was seen as promising new beginning. After several false starts, re-investigation was launched in 2008 into any remaining Japanese abductees still in North Korea. However, the process had ground to halt as geo-political situation in the Korean Peninsula took precedent, thus dimming any hope for progress in decades-old abduction cases that had come to define bilateral relationship between the two nations.

Japan to Re-Interpret Its Pacifist Constitution
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said on July 1, 2014 that his government would push for re-interpretation of the country’s pacifist constitution, a hallmark for Tokyo’s defense policy over the past several decades, through parliament. According to the proposed re-interpretation, Japan would use force not only for “self-defense”, but also for “collective self-defense”, implying that Japanese force might be used in case allies such as USA needed help in the face of aggression from a hostile nation. Given the fact that his party holds sway in both houses of parliament, the re-interpretation measure is going to pass.

Japanese Premier Dissolves Parliament; Calls Early Election
Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on November 21, 2014 sought mandate from the electorate for bold economic reforms by dissolving the lower house of parliament and announcing polls to be held on December 14, 2014. Abe’s decision led the nation to electoral frenzy days after statistical data showed that the world’s third-largest economy had officially slipped into recession.

Japan to Observe Pearl Harbor Attack in a Low-Key Fashion
The December 7, 1941, Japanese attack on the Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor that killed 2,403 Americans and drew the U.S. into the Second World War is observed in a subdued and somber, but low-key, manner year after year. Most of the Japanese ignore the event as the primary memorial and remembrance takes place at Pearl Harbor’s sister city, Nagaoka. Japan’s past still haunts its present leadership, especially over their visit to a war memorial, Yasukuni Shrine, that also memorializes 14 war criminals, including Gen. Hideki Tojo, who as a Prime Minister ordered the Pearl Harbor attack and later hanged to death.

Abe’s Liberal Democrats Sweep Snap Parliamentary PollsShinzo Abe’s gamble of going to a quick snap polls paid huge dividends to his political party as Liberal Democratic Party garnered 290 seats in the December 14, 2014, polls, helping to form a super-majority with the coalition partner Komeito, which won 35 seats. The opposition Democratic Party marginally improved its tally from the current 62 seats to 73 seats in 475-member House of Representatives.

Abe Swears in for the Third Term
On December 24, 2014, Shinzo Abe was sworn in as Japan’s premier for a third term, and he chose a former military officer, Gen. Nakatani, as his Defense Minister. However, Abe made it clear that his primary emphasis was to improve the economy.

USA to Act as Go-Between for Intel Sharing between Japan and South Korea
Two colonial-era Asian foes turned US allies on December 29, 2014 signed a memorandum of understanding to share intelligence on North Korea’s missile and nuclear program through the USA. The limited, non-binding MOU between Japan and South Korea, though limited, heralded a likely new era of co-operation between Washington’s two loyal allies in the region and calibrating a cohesive US-led policies in the face of an assertive China.

************************** JAPANESE HOSTAGE CRISIS **************************Islamic State Demands $200 Million
A video showing a masked militant standing between two Japanese hostages and demanding $200 million in ransom surfaced on January 20, 2015. The Japanese duo–journalist Kenji Goto Jogo and self-styled military consultant Haruna Yukawa–were thought to be kept captive in Syria. The militant, speaking in fluent British English, pronounced a 72-hour countdown and said that the ransom demand was in response to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s January 17, 2015, announcement at Cairo to give $200 million in non-military aid to the refugees displaced by Islamic State advances in Iraq and Syria.

Muslims in Japan Pray for Hostages
As previously given 72-hour deadline for $200 million in ransom passed, prayers were offered on January 23, 2015 at Tokyo’s biggest mosque for the two Japanese hostages–journalist Kenji Goto Jogo and self-styled military consultant Haruna Yukawa–held by ISIL.

One of the Japanese Hostages Decapitated
An image circulated on January 24, 2015 showed the decapitated body of Haruna Yukawa. The image outraged Japanese PM Shinzo Abe as well as the US President Barack Obama, who, traveling in India, blasted the “brutal murder” of Yukawa.

New Twist in Hostage Crisis Saga, Now ISIL Demands Prisoner Swap
An audio message was released on January 27, 2015 in which a kidnapped Japanese journalist was heard calling for the release of an al-Qaeda-linked Iraqi prisoner, Sajida al-Rishawi, awaiting for death penalty in Jordanian jail in exchange for his life and the life of a Jordanian pilot, 1st Lt. Gen. Mu’ath Safi al-Kaseabeh, held hostage by the Islamic State. In the audio message, Kenji Goto also expressed fear that he had only 24 hours left.

Japanese Journalist Decapitated by Islamic State
The days-long drama involving a captive Jordanian pilot, a Japanese journalist kept hostage since October 2014 and an Iraqi al-Qaeda activist in death row in Jordan came to partial end on January 31, 2015 as an online video surfaced that showed the beheading of Japanese journalist  Kenji Goto. An outraged Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe reacted: “I feel indignation over this immoral and heinous act of terrorism”. Abe also vowed to provide humanitarian help to countries that bore the brunt of ISIL onslaught.

************************** JAPANESE HOSTAGE CRISIS ***************************************************** OKINAWA NEWS ***********************************Okinawa Governor Signs Deal to Shift the U.S. Marine Base
In a victory to PM Shinzo Abe’s focus on building a close bond with Washington, Okinawa Governor Hirokazu Nakaima on December 27, 2013 signed an agreement to move the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma from its current location of densely populated Ginowan City to sparsely populated Henoko in Nago city. In 1996, U.S. and Japan signed an agreement to move the base to Nago from its current location of densely populated Ginowan City. The U.S. base has been drawing ire from local population for long time, with demand to shut it down altogether intensifying in recent years.

Anti-U.S. Base Leader Re-elected
In a victory to protest movement, Nago City Mayor Susumu Inamine, who vowed to deny permit to begin construction projects for the proposed move of Okinawa airbase,  was re-elected on January 19, 2014. Inamine is a vocal opponent of a 1996 US-Japan agreement that called for moving the airbase from densely populated Ginowan City to sparsely populated Henoko in Nago city.

Okinawa Governor Orders Stoppage of Work on the New U.S. Base
Okinawa’s new Governor Takeshi Onaga, who had won a landslide election victory in November 2014 on a plank of strident opposition to U.S. military presence in the island, on March 24, 2015 ordered that the geological work going on in the proposed Marine base at Henoko be stopped within seven days. Authorities in Tokyo said that they would ignore the gubernatorial order and continue working on the geological study.

Okinawa Governor Revokes U.S. Base Relocation License
Okinawa’s Governor Takeshi Onaga, who had won a landslide election victory in November 2014 on a plank of strident opposition to U.S. military presence in the island, on October 13, 2015 ordered revocation of construction license for the new U.S. base in the coral-filled waters of Henoko Bay.

Legal Battle Between Okinawa Governor and Central Government over Proposed U.S. Marine Base
After Okinawa Governor Takeshi Onaga’s October 13, 2015, order to revoke construction license in the coral-filled waters of Henoko Bay, proposed site of the new U.S. Marine base from its existing site at the populated Ginowan City, the relationship between the local prefecture and the central government took a nosedive. First, the central Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transportation and Tourism ordered Onaga administration to revoke the work cancellation order that was immediately rejected. Then the federal government filed a lawsuit against the Takeshi Onaga administration, and suspended the construction cancellation decree issued in October.  On December 25, 2015, Takeshi Onaga administration sued the central government, accusing Tokyo of illegally suspending its October 2015 construction cancellation order for the new U.S. base in the coral-filled waters of Henoko Bay.

USA’s Okinawa Base to Take Two More Years to Shift
US Pacific Command head Admiral Harry Harris said on February 23, 2016 at a Congressional hearing that the move of Futenma Airbase to its new location of Henoko Bay would take two more years than scheduled due to stiff local opposition and delay in construction works. As per Admiral Harris’ estimate, the move will not be completed until 2025.

President Arrives at Japan amid Murder Charges against American Security Contractor
President Barack Obama arrived at Nagoya, Japan on May 25, 2016 to attend G-7 summit that was scheduled to begin on May 26, 2016. President Obama was received at the airport by the U.S. Ambassador to Japan Caroline Kennedy and her husband, Ed Schlossberg. However, President’s Japan visit was overshadowed by the controversy and anger generated by the recent killing of an Okinawa woman, Rina Shimabukuro, 20, by an American private contractor, 32-year-old Kenneth Shinzato, a former U.S. Marine. Rina Shimabukuro‘s body was found last week in a forest several weeks after she had disappeared on April 28, 2016 during her walk. The subsequent arrest of Shinzato evoked a very strong reaction and condemnation from Japanese across the political spectrum, and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe raised the issue with Obama on May 25, 2016 during an official dinner. President Obama expressed his “deepest regrets” to the “unforgivable crime”, in the words of premier Abe, committed by Kenneth Shinzato

Largest Demonstration against American Military Base
An estimated 65,000-strong demonstration decrying the presence of U.S. Marine base in Okinawa was held on June 19, 2016 at the provincial capital of Naha. Addressing the crowd, most likely the largest anti-American demonstration on the island, Okinawa Governor Takeshi Onaga said that he would like to apologize to the family of Rina Shimabukuro, 20, for failing to protect her. Rina Shimabukuro, 20, was raped and killed by an American private contractor, and the incident triggered one of the most intense anti-American sentiments in the country in general and Okinawa in particular. The demonstrators also demanded a review of the U.S.-Japan bilateral security agreement that was signed in 1996 to move the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma from its current location of densely populated Ginowan City to sparsely populated Henoko in Nago city in the aftermath of the rape of a girl in 1995 by three U.S. servicemen. A smaller, but enthusiastic, demonstration of 10,000-strong crowd was held outside the premier Shinzo Abe’s official residence at Tokyo.

Okinawa Elects an Opponent to U.S. Base Transfer Plan as Governor
Okinawans on September 30, 2018 elected a strident opponent of American base transfer plan as the new governor of the region. Denny Tamaki, a son of American Marine and Japanese mother, was until now a federal lawmaker, and defeated his LDP opponent Atsushi Sakima, a supporter of the U.S. base transfer plan, in the September 30, 2018, polls, and will succeed another outspoken critic of the U.S. presence in Okinawa, Takeshi Onaga, who had passed away in August 2018 in pancreatic cancer.

*************************** OKINAWA NEWS ***********************************Japanese Defense Expansion Plan Pilloried
Hundreds of protesters blocked the proceeding of parliament and were about to assault the head of a key parliamentary panel as Mr. Yasukazu Hamada, Chairman of lower house panel on security legislation, on July 15, 2015 cut off debate and rushed a piece of legislation that would expand Japan’s worldwide defense role significantly. Premier Shinzo Abe pushed for legislative steps to assume more responsibility in peacekeeping and other defense-related measures. The piece of legislation that brought angry demonstration to the chamber called for “collective self-defense”, a concept critics called a stretch of constitution’s acceptable limits to pursue militaristic adventure.

Japan’s Defense Expansion Measures Sail through Lower Chamber
Japan’s lower house of parliament on July 16, 2015 handed premier Shinzo Abe what he wanted for a long time: expanding Japan’s military might and influence beyond the long-held pacifist stand of self-defense strategy. The lower chamber passed 11 related measures over loud protests by opposition lawmakers inside and thousands of demonstrators outside. The plan now goes to the upper chamber, a more secure chamber for Abe.

WikiLeaks Spills the Beans, Japanese Leaders Spied Too
WikiLeaks’ new revelations on July 31, 2015 created another fault line across the heart of a time-tested relationship between USA and Japan as documents showed that NSA had spied on the Japanese leaders for a long time that dated back to 2006.

70th Anniversary of Hiroshima Bombing Observed with Call for Nuke-Free World
At 8:15AM on August 6, 1945, humanity suffered its first mass casualty both on moral and military fronts as the U.S. dropped the “Little Boy” Uranium bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima, killing more than 100,000 people. Three days later, on August 9, 2015, U.S. forces dropped a Plutonium bomb on a second Japanese city, Nagasaki. Marking the 70th anniversary of the Hiroshima Bombing on August 6, 2015, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe called for eliminating all nuclear weapons from the world. Abe was among more than 55,000 people, including the U.S. Ambassador to Japan Caroline Kennedy and the U.S. Undersecretary of State for Arms Control Rose Gottemoeller, attending the memorial service. The twin nuclear bombings changed the mindset of Japanese forever as the country subsequently adopted a pacifist constitution. In the recent months, though, Japanese government led by hawkish premier Shinzo Abe went on full swing to revise and  reinterpret the Article 9, the hallmark of the pacifist constitution. The Asahi Shimbun newspaper reported that Hiroshima survivors had met with Abe on August 6, 2015 to press against any revision to the constitution.

Military Expansion Bills Come to Full Upper House Chamber
After long hours of pandemonium and confusion, a package of 11 defense-related bills came to full upper chamber on September 17, 2015. The bills aim to shape the mode of engagement of Japan’s Self-Defense Force in radical way.

Japan’s Upper House Clears Bills Aimed at Changing the Country’s Defense Mission
Japan’s upper house of parliament followed the footstep of the more powerful lower house, which passed the package in July 2015, on early September 19, 2015 that would empower the country with provision to change the mandate of engagement from “self-defense” to the so-called “collective self-defense”, raising the prospect that Japan would be more involved in peacekeeping missions in future and go further than humanitarian help.

First Summit Among Three Asian Powerhouses in More than Three Years
In a ray of hope for thawing of relationship between Japan on one hand and its one-time colonies China and South Korea on the other, South Korean President Park Geun-hye on November 1, 2015 hosted Japanese premier Shinzo Abe and Chinese premier Li Keqiang for discussion that was symbolic in nature, but short on specifics. Last time such session was held in May 2012 when Abe was not in power. After Abe’s election as the prime minister of Japan in late 2012, the relationship between Tokyo and its neighbors nosedived because of Abe’s more assertive stand, including the recent passage of a defense package that would change Japan’s pacifist role.

Remains of More than 3,000 South Koreans Found in Japan
As part of search for remains of South Koreans who were enslaved under the imperial Japan, 2,745 sets of remains were found in 340 sites across Japan, according to a report issued on November 4, 2015 by a South Korean government commission on missing South Korean laborers. During the era of Japan’s dominance in the continent, about 1.2 million South Koreans were thought to have worked for Japanese industries under inhuman and harsh conditions. A commission was formed in 2004 as part of an agreement between then-President and -premier of South Korea and Japan, Roh Moo-hyun and Junichiro Koizumi, respectively, to search for the remains of South Korean laborers. The report that was issued on November 4, 2015 came from this commission.

Historic Deal Announced to Pull Curtain on “Comfort Woman” Dispute
Japan, intent on closing the chapters from its brutal colonial-era past, announced a deal with South Korea on December 28, 2015 aimed at ending the controversy over the sex-slave dispute for once and all. Under the deal, announced at Seoul by foreign ministers of Japan and South Korea. Imperial Japan during its occupation of Korean Peninsula ran despicable “comfort woman” ring in which Korean, Dutch and Chinese women and girls were forced to have sex with Japanese soldiers. The practice left a long-lasting scar on relations between Japan and its regional neighbors. As per the deal announced by the foreign ministers of Japan and South Korea, Japan has

* Apologized for its part in this sordid episode

* Committed to create a $8.3 million fund for compensation

So far, 238 victims came forward, but only 46 are still living with frail health at ages 80s and 90s. For them, this came as too late, too small, and too insincere. The reaction to this historic deal was almost on expected line: supporters and members of President

Park Geun-hye

expressed support, while the opposition decried the deal.

Japan Experiences Economic Contraction Amid a Negative Interest Rate Regime
In the final three months of 2015, Japanese economy shrank 1.4 percent compared to 1.3 percent growth in the third quarter of 2015. The bleak outlook about the economy came on February 15, 2016, days after Bank of Japan instituted a negative interest regime, implying the central bank would charge companies for certain categories of perking money instead of lending.

Kerry Highest-Ranking American Official to Visit HiroshimaU.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on April 11, 2016 made a historic visit to Hiroshima memorial, becoming the highest-ranking U.S. official to pay homage to the memorial of more than 140,000 people killed in the American atomic bomb. Stopped short of apology, Kerry wrote in museum’s guestbook that the museum “compels us all to redouble our efforts to change the world, to find peace and build the future”. Kerry was part of G7 foreign minister team that took the visit to the memorial.

President Arrives at Japan amid Murder Charges against American Security Contractor
President Barack Obama arrived at Nagoya, Japan on May 25, 2016 to attend G-7 summit that was scheduled to begin on May 26, 2016. President Obama was received at the airport by the U.S. Ambassador to Japan Caroline Kennedy and her husband, Ed Schlossberg. However, President’s Japan visit was overshadowed by the controversy and anger generated by the recent killing of an Okinawa woman, Rina Shimabukuro, 20, by an American private contractor, 32-year-old Kenneth Shinzato, a former U.S. Marine. Rina Shimabukuro‘s body was found last week in a forest several weeks after she had disappeared on April 28, 2016 during her walk. The subsequent arrest of Shinzato evoked a very strong reaction and condemnation from Japanese across the political spectrum, and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe raised the issue with Obama on May 25, 2016 during an official dinner. President Obama expressed his “deepest regrets” to the “unforgivable crime”, in the words of premier Abe, committed by Kenneth Shinzato.

G-7 Summit: President Reminds the Nuclear Risk
President Barack Obama met with six other world leaders at the G-7 Summit at Shima. The two-day summit (May 26-27, 2016) touched a wide range of issues such as nuclear proliferation, global economic growth, trade deals, including Trans-Pacific Partnership and Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership and terrorism. In the morning of the opening day of the summit, leaders were transported to Isa Shrine, one of Japan’s holiest places, where Shinto priests greeted the leaders.

An Emotional Appearance of Obama at Hiroshima
In a vividly emotional and historic appearance, President Barack Obama on May 27, 2016 visited Hiroshima as the first sitting U.S. President to pay respect for the victims of the atomic bomb. Although President Obama didn’t apologize for the atomic bomb that had killed an estimated 140,000 people in Hiroshima and another atomic bomb that had killed up to 80,000 people in Nagasaki, 260 miles away, he was candid about the danger of nuclear proliferation with his emphatic call for a “moral revolution” against any recurrence of what had happened 71 years ago when “death fell from the sky, and the world was changed”. President Barack Obama placed a white-and-yellow wreath in front of the monument, and later met one of the survivors, Sunao Tsuboi, a chairman of the Hiroshima branch of Japan Confederation of A- and H-Bomb Sufferers Organization.

**************************** JAPANESE ECONOMIC NEWS ***********************Japan Grows at a Slow Pace
Japan’s growth for the April-June quarter of 2016 has been a meager 0.2 percent after growing 0.8 percent in the preceding quarter, government has disclosed on August 15, 2016.

**************************** JAPANESE ECONOMIC NEWS ***********************First Female to Win as Tokyo GovernorYuriko Koike is a trend-setter in different ways. She was the first female defense minister. She was a voice for women’s rights in ruling Liberal Democratic Party. Now, to cap all of it, she won the July 31, 2016, elections to become the first woman Governor of Tokyo. A former newscaster, Yuriko Koike, 64, has attended an Egyptian university and speaks fluent Arabic. As a Governor of Tokyo, home to more than 13 million people, she will oversee a budget bigger than Sweden’s national budget.

*********** JAPANESE PREMIER’S HISTORIC VISIT TO PEARL HARBOR ***********Abe to Visit Pearl Harbor
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe divulged in a televised news conference on December 5, 2016 that he would visit Pearl Harbor as part of his Hawaii trip on December 26 and December 27, 2016. The historic trip, first for a post-World War II Japanese head of state, is a good will reciprocal diplomatic gesture of the U.S. President Barack Obama’s May 27, 2016, trip to Hiroshima.

*********** JAPANESE PREMIER’S HISTORIC VISIT TO PEARL HARBOR ***********Japanese Prime Minister Dissolves Lower House of Parliament, Calls Snap Polls
Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on September 28, 2017 dissolved the lower house of parliament and called for early election to be held on October 22, 2017. The party led by Tokyo Mayor Yuriko Koike, Party of Hope, is expected to throw a stiff challenge.

73rd Anniversary of Hiroshima Atomic Bombing Marked
This year’s (2018) observance of Hiroshima Atomic Bombing took place in the backdrop of Japanese premier Shinzo Abe’s assertive defense posture and growing call from the country’s hawks to increase the military budget. On August 6, 2018, a 50,000-strong crowd showed up at the Hiroshima Memorial Park, and doves were released to fly over the park. Hiroshima Mayor Kazumi Matsui urged the audience to go back in time to that fateful day 73 years ago “as if you and your loved ones were there” and commit to hold lines against any future recurrence of that hellish day in which American atomic bomb had killed at least 140,000 people. Three days later, August 9, 2018, another atomic bomb took an additional 80,000 lives.

Japan’s Premier Wins Party’s Leadership Race on His Way to Become Longest OfficeholderJapanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on September 20, 2018 won the leadership post by defeating his rival Shigeru Ishiba, a former defense minister, thus all but assuring that he would become the longest-serving Japanese Prime Minister since World War II. If he completes his term in November 2019, he will surpass any prime minister in Japanese history since the Meiji era of early 20th century rule of Taro Katsura. However, if one takes into account his previous brief stint as premier, Abe, in power since December 2012, will exceed Katsura’s record by the end of next year. Shinzo Abe provided much needed stability to the nation which had seen an average tenure of 2 years for premiership since World War II.

Transfer of Monarchy Japan’s long-time Emperor Akhihito, 85, abandoned the throne on April 30, 2019 on the ground of ill-health. His 59-year-old son, Naruhito, on May 1, 2019 ascended to the Chrysanthemum Throne.

LAOSObama, the First Sitting President to Visit Laos, Pledges for Help
President Barack Obama became the first American sitting president to visit Laos as he had arrived at Vientiane on September 5, 2016 to attend ASEAN summit. Addressing a gathering in the capital, Vientiane, on September 6, 2016, President Obama acknowledged the U.S. culpability for bloodshed in this Asian nation at the height of Vietnam War although stopping short of apologizing. More than 2 million tons of bombs were dropped in Laos, making the country the most heavily per capita bombed nation in the world. There are still tens of thousands of unexploded munitions in the countryside of Laos, continuously taking tolls of human lives and livestock. President Obama on September 6, 2016 added that his government would double the aid to $30 million per year for the next three years to find live bombs.

MALDIVESMaldives’ VP Arrested on Treason Charge
Maldives’ Vice President Ahmed Adeeb was arrested on October 24, 2015 upon his arrival from a visit to China on charge that he tried to kill President Yameen Abdul Gayoom with an explosion on a speedboat on September 28, 2015.

Former VP Convicted in Assassination Plot
Former VP Ahmed Adeeb on June 9, 2016 was convicted of plotting the murder President Yameen Abdul Gayoom, and sentenced to 15 years in jail.

Maldives’ Government Declares Emergency; Arrests Judges and Former President
After last week’s Supreme Court ruling to set jailed opposition leaders free, opposition received oxygen to launch a full-blown anti-regime protest in Male, the capital city, and other parts of the Indian Ocean island nation. Undeterred, the administration of President Yameen Abdul Gayoom, declared a 15-day state of emergency on late February 5, 2018. In the early hours of February 6, 2018, government security forces stormed the Supreme Court building and arrested two of the three Supreme Court judges–Chief Justice Abdullah Saeed and Judge Ali Hamid–who had ordered last week to set opposition leaders free. The security forces also arrested the opposition leaderformer President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who had ruled Maldives from 1978 to 2008 and a half-brother of current President Yameen Abdul Gayoom.

Maldives Magic: Unexpected Defeat of the Strongman
After trying so hard to muzzle democracy and opposition voices, Maldives President Yameen Abdul Gayoom was rejected by the island’s electorate by giving a convincing victory to a little known opposition candidate, Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, in the September 23, 2018, presidential election. The results were so unexpected that people of the island nation first had hard time to believe in, but reality started to sink in as the night wore on. Supporters of the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party, whose most of the first tier leaders are either behind bars or in exile, leaving the field to Solih, much less important in party hierarchy, poured on the streets of Male to celebrate the bolt from the blue win. European Union declined to send election observers to Maldives as it anticipated that the election would not be free and fair while Trump administration threatened to take measures if the election was turned into sham. However, President Gayoom had yet to concede.

Opposition Candidate Declared Elected
Maldives’ election commission on September 24, 2018 announced opposition candidate Ibrahim Mohamed Solih elected. According to the Maldives Elections Commission’s twitter posting, Solih had received more than 58 percent of the votes with more than 90 percent votes tallied.

Maldives Court Frees Former President
A Maldives court on September 30, 2018 freed former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom on bail. Gayoom was arrested in February 2018 on charges of plotting to overthrow the government of then-President and his half-brother Yameen Abdul Gayoom. Maumoon was sentenced in June 2018 to 19-month prison sentence for failure to hand over his cell phone to investigators.

MALAYSIA

***************** MALAYSIAN AIRLINE FLIGHT MH 370 TRAGEDY **************

Malaysian Airplane Goes Missing
A Malaysian Airlines flight, Flight MH 370, from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing lost contact in the early hours of March 8, 2014 over the South China Sea. The Boeing 777-200 was carrying 239 people when it had lost contact.

After days of futile searches and false leads, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak on March 24, 2014 announced in a nationally televised address that the plane had actually crashed into Southern Indian Ocean based on the satellite data analysis.

Approximate Location of the Plane Detected by an Australian Navy Ship
A visiting Australian premier Tony Abott said in Sanghai on April 11, 2014 that an Australian Navy ship, Ocean Shield, towing a leased Black Box signal detection equipment from the USA received pings on April 8, 2014 which are in line with that of originated from the Black Box. On April 12, 2014, two more sounds consistent with the Black Box were heard from the same general area. The search area now is constrained to 500-square-mile patch of seabed and 18,036 square miles of ocean surface that involve continuing operation by up to 15 planes and 13 ships.

Search Called Off
After an almost three-month futile search and scouring of the Indian Ocean, the Australia-based Joint Agency Coordination Center on May 29, 2014 stopped searching for the aircraft and said that it would resume the search again in August.

Suspected Debris from Missing Malaysian Flight Wash Ashore
More than a year after Malaysian Airline Flight 370 went missing during its short flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing in what was later construed as the biggest aviation mystery and had led to massive multi-national search in the vast, isolated expanse of the Indian Ocean, an airplane wing span-looking part washed ashore the French-ruled tiny island of La Reunion on July 29, 2015, giving a fresh hope for eventual discovery of the plane wreckage.

Suspected Plane Part Brought to French Lab
The debris that had washed ashore in the Indian Ocean island of La Reunion on July 29, 2015 was brought to a French aeronautical research lab near Toulouse on August 1, 2015 to carry out tests to ascertain whether it’s from the missing Malaysian Airline Flight 370.

French Authorities Confirm the Piece as that of Missing Plane
Authorities on September 3, 2015 confirmed what was known all along that the flaperon that had washed ashore Indian Ocean island of La Reunion came from the missing Malaysian Airline Flight 370.

***************** MALAYSIAN AIRLINE FLIGHT MH 370 TRAGEDY **************Obama Makes the Case for US to Defend Japan
In a week-long visit to Japan, South Korea, Malaysia and the Philippines, the country that’s likely to overshadow President Barack Obama’s most of the official programs is the country he is not visiting: China. A case in point: as President Obama arrived at Japan on April 23, 2014, country’s media was awash over President’s written statement to Yumiuri Shimbhun that if Japan was attacked over dispute related to a chain of uninhabited islands, known as Diaoyu in Chinese and Senkaku in Japanese, in the East China Sea, US would come to defend Japan under the Article V of the U.S.-Japan Treaty of Mutual Co-operation and Security. President Obama also stressed on advancing the long-delayed Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement.

Obama Arrives at Malaysia; First US President to Visit the Country Since LBJ
President Barack Obama arrived at Malaysia on April 27, 2014 in the first ever presidential visit since LBJ came to the Asian nation nearly five decades ago.

***************** MALAYSIAN AIRLINE FLIGHT MH 17 TRAGEDY **************Plane Shot Down Over Ukraine
An eerily similar tragedy, with the same airline, with the same kind of plane, Boeing 777-200ER, struck Malaysia in a space of four months. This time MH 17 flight en route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur was hit by a surface-to-air missile at a height of 33,000 feet over Eastern Ukraine, close to Russian borders. The plane exploded, crashing near the town of Grabovo. The accident scene was littered with metal debris, charred bodies and limbs, stuffed clothes, children’s toys and smoldering remains. Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko called the July 17, 2014, midair explosion of MH 17 as “terrorist act”. Poroshenko called Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte to offer his condolence. The flight was carrying 298 people, including 283 passengers and 15 crews. The passengers included 189 Dutch, 44 Malaysians, including crews, 27 Australians, 12 Indonesians, 9 Britons, 4 Germans, 4 Belgians, 3 Filipinos, one New Zealander and one Canadian. Nationality of four passengers remained unknown. Russian President Vladimir Putin didn’t deny that the missile that had shot down the plane on July 17, 2014 was of Russian make, but blamed Ukraine for creating conditions on the eastern part of the country for the situation that had yielded such a tragedy.

Russia Vetoes the U.N. Measure to Establish Court for Plane Downing
Russia on July 29, 2015 vetoed a U.N.S.C. resolution aimed at establishing an international court to try the July 17, 2014, downing of Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 in eastern Ukraine. It is widely believed that a surface-to-air missile launched by Russia-backed rebels, who mistook the plane as Ukrainian fighter jet, hit the plane, killing all 298 people aboard.

Russian-Made Missile Struck Malaysian Airlines, Reports Inquiry Panel
After a 15-month investigation, a Dutch inquiry panel concluded on October 13, 2015 that a Russian-made missile had struck the Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 over Ukraine on July 17, 2014, killing 298 people, including 15 crews. Tjibbe Joustra, Chairman of the Dutch Safety Board, issued the report at the Gilze-Rijen Airbase in the Netherlands on October 13, 2015. The inquiry also found fault with the Ukrainian authorities for failing to close the airspace over the war zone to commercial flights.

Dutch Court to Try Plane Attack
Dutch Foreign Minister said on July 5, 2017 that investigating prosecutors, who were from the Netherlands, Australia, Malaysia, Belgium and Ukraine, decided to try the case in Dutch court. Although the prosecutors determined that the missile launcher, called a Buk or SA-11, came from Russia and returned to Russia after launching the missile, they had yet to name any culprit and formally accuse the Russian government of direct link to the July 17, 2014, missile attack on the Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 in eastern Ukraine that had killed 298 people.

Russia Found to be the Source of Missile
Holding a meeting at Bunnik, Netherlands, investigators on May 24, 2018 made an additional piece of puzzle public. The report clearly pointed toward Russia as the source of the Buk missile that had downed the ill-fated MH Flight 17 in Eastern Ukraine on July 17, 2014 that had killed 298 people.

Four Charged in Malaysian Airlines Flight Downing
Wilbert Paulissen of the Joint Investigative Team, comprised of detectives from Netherlands, Malaysia, Australia, Belgium and Ukraine, on June 19, 2019 charged four people in the July 17, 2014, missile attack on the Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 that had killed 298 people. Among those charged are Igor Girkin, a former colonel in Russia’s main intel agency, FSB; Russian citizens Sergey Dubinskiy and Oleg Pulatov; and a fellow Ukrainian, Leonid Kharchenko.

***************** MALAYSIAN AIRLINE FLIGHT MH 17 TRAGEDY **************

*********************** AIR ASIA FLIGHT TRAGEDY ****************************

Flight Missing after Take-offBudget airline Air Asia’s Flight 8501 went missing in the morning of December 28, 2014, 45 minutes after taking off from the Indonesia’s airport at Surabaya. The Flight QZ8501 was over the Java Sea and about an hour from the destination of Singapore. The plane was carrying 155 passengers and six crew members. The disappearance of another flight added to the jittery of flying public in south-east Asia. Air Asia, based in Malaysia, however has unblemished safety record.

*********************** AIR ASIA FLIGHT TRAGEDY ****************************Malaysian Opposition Leader Sent to Prison
A 7-year-old sodomy case implicating a renowned Malaysian opposition leader came to conclusion on February 10, 2015 as the leader, Anwar Ibrahim, lost the final appeal and was immediately taken to the jail to begin a five-year term. The White House issued a terse statement expressing its disappointment over the verdict and putting the judicial integrity into question.

Malaysian Premier Swirled in Corruption Inquiry
Malaysia’s Attorney General Abdul Gani Patail said on July 7, 2015 that an investigation was launched into a state investment fund, IMDB, and some of the foreign bank accounts where millions of dollars were illegally deposited might be tied to Prime Minister Najib Razak.

A.G. Closes the Corruption Inquiry
Citing lack of evidence to tie Malaysian premier to any corruption charges in spite of Najib Razak’s insufficient, if not inaccurate, explanation on how $700 million was transferred into his accounts, Malaysia’s Attorney General Mohamed Apandi Ali on January 26, 2016 closed the corruption inquiry. The announcement immediately drew condemnation and ridicule by the opposition. According to Attorney General Mohamed Apandi Ali, most of the money came as donation from Saudi royal family.

Swiss Prosecutors Talk about Misappropriation of State Funds
Three days after Malaysian Attorney-General Abdul Gani Patail closed a corruption inquiry involving premier Najib Razak, Swiss prosecutors on January 29, 2016 said that there were evidence of misappropriation of state funds and transfer of $4 billion from state-owned companies into Swiss accounts tied to Malaysian officials.

Call for Premier’s Resignation Grows
In a growing display of dissatisfaction with Prime Minister Najib Razak, 58 prominent public figures, including former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, who had ruled for 22 years before quitting in 2003, signed a petition on March 4, 2016, calling on the premier to resign. Mahathir said that the country’s reputation was being tarnished everyday Razak stayed in office as he couldn’t defend large sum of money in his account and suspicion never ceased swirling that the money came from ailing state investment fund, 1MDB. Responding to the petition drive by 58 public figures in general and criticism of Mahathir in particular, Prime Minister’s office issued a statement on March 4, 2016 that this sheer alliance between Mahathir and his once foes demonstrated “the depth of their political opportunism and desperation”. The statement also said that Mahathir must wait for his term until 2018, when the new elections would be held.

U.S. to Seize Funds Tied to Malaysian Leader
U.S. Justice Department’s Kleptocracy Asset Recovery Initiative unit on July 20, 2016 announced an investigation into and moved a step closer to seize more than a $1 billion in assets and holdings in a Malaysian sovereign fund, 1Malaysia Development Berhad, or 1MDB, which Malaysian premier Najib Razak and his family had stakes in. The move, if it leads to asset seizure, will be the biggest ever asset seizure under such cases by the U.S. government.

Malaysian Leader to Purchase Arms, Give a PR Victory to China
After Philippines’ Rodrigo Duterte, it is now the turn of Malaysian premier Najib Razak to move away from the USA and tilt towards Beijing. After the U.S. Justice Department’s Kleptocracy Asset Recovery Initiative unit on July 20, 2016 announced an investigation into misappropriation of a Malaysian sovereign fund, 1MDB, by the prime minister and his family, the relationship between Malaysia and USA became strained, to say the least. In this context, Razak’s visit to China that began on October 31, 2016 and would highlight a multi-billion dollar arms purchase gave Beijing a great PR opportunity to rattle Washington.

Former Strongman Leads Opposition to Oust Ruling Party
After a spell of 60 years, Malaysia’s ruling party’s reign in power came to an end on May 9, 2018 as Malaysian electorate handed a clear mandate to the opposition Alliance of Hope, led by former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamed, 92, former mentor of the incumbent, Najib Razak, whose reputation had been tainted by numerous allegations of corruption and money laundering, including U.S. Justice Department’s allegation that $4.5 billion had been looted from the state investment fund 1MBD between 2009 and 2014, out of which nearly $731 million found its way to Razak’s personal coffer. It was a mandate against the endemic corruption in favor of a not-so-covert autocratic ruler Mahathir who had ruled Malaysia with an iron hand for 22 years until he stepped down in 2003. Mahathir vowed to let the law take its own course and bring the culprits to justice, a stand many Malaysian people had respected brushing aside his high-handed rule in the past.

Mahathir Begins anti-Corruption Crusade Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad has wasted little time after sworn in as premier, and puts his money where the mouth is. He ordered the country’s attorney general, General Mohamed Apandi Ali, on leave as suspicion was raised that Ali was trying to shield the former premier Najib Razzak. On May 16, 2018, a caravan of police cars swept through the neighborhood of former premier and carried out raid at Razzak’s residence.

Malaysia Seizes more than $300 million in Ill-gotten Wealth from Former Premier’s Houses
In a vast sweep covering numerous properties of former premier, Najib Razzak, law enforcement personnel on June 27, 2018 seized $273 million in jewelry and other movable ill-gotten assets and $30 million in cash, creating a specter of looming legal trouble for the former disgraced prime minister and his family.

Former Premier Arrested
In a wide ranging dragnet to rein in corruption and bring the people implicated to justice, administration of Mahathir Mohamad’s anti-corruption officials on July 3, 2018 arrested former Prime Minister Najib Razak.

Additional Charges Filed against Najib
Malaysian authorities on August 8, 2018 brought three additional money laundering charges against former premier Najib Razak. Appearing at the court, former premier pleaded not guilty. The charges had been brought a day after country’s attorney-general disclosed that a $250 million yacht, allegedly bought by Razak using his ill-gotten money, and seized by Indonesia in February 2018 had been returned to Malaysia. In July 2018, after his arrest, Razak was slapped with three counts on criminal breach of trust and one count on corruption. Razak, 65, then pleaded not guilty to all four counts too.

Najib’s Wife Arrested
Malaysian version of profligate Imelda Marcos, Rosmah Mansor, wife of former disgraced premier Najib Razak, was arrested on October 3, 2018 on charges of corruption and money laundering related to $4.5 billion mismanaged 1Malaysian Development Berhad, or 1MDB, money.

MYANMARDoctors Without Borders said on February 28, 2014 that it was kicked out of Myanmar by the country’s government for its work among Rohingya Muslim victims in Rakhine state since the violence broke out in June 2012, with Muslims as primary target of violence at the hand of Buddhist mobs.

Myanmar government announced on March 1, 2014 that it would allow Doctors Without Borders operate in the country barring the Rakhine state that was plagued by Muslim-Buddhist communal violence since June 2012.

Thousands of Rohingya Refugees Adrift at Sea
According to a U.N. report issued on May 8, 2015, at least 25,000 Rohingya refugees from western Myanmar and Bangladeshis had fled their countries in the first quarter of this year, and tens of thousands were at sea in rickety boats under perilous conditions.

Myanmar’s Military Flexes Its Muscle to Stifle Progress in Democracy
Myanmar’s military-backed parliament on June 25, 2015 defeated two measures that would have made democratic progress in the country easier and smoother. The parliament’s action thwarted:

* A measure that would require

70 percent

, instead of current practice of

75 percent

, of legislative support to effect a constitutional amendment

* A second measure that would amend a constitutional clause that prohibits any politician with spouse a citizen from a foreign country to hold presidency or vice-presidency of Myanmar

Even if the second measure were passed, it would have been impossible for Myanmar’s revered political leader

Aung San Suu Kyi

to become president one day as the current clause included

spouse

as well as

foreign born children

–Suu Kyi’s children are Britons–as factors that would proscribe Suu Kyi’s chance.

Genocide Documented in a Respectable report
A 78-page legal analysis carried out by the Yale School of Law and released on October 29, 2015 cited incidents of genocide in Myanmar’s recent campaign against Rohingya Muslims.

Myanmar Leader’s Comments Irk Democracy Activists
Myanmar’s legendary leader Aung San Suu Kyi said on November 5, 2015 that if her party, National League for Democracy, won the November 8, 2015, parliamentary polls, she would run the country although she was prohibited from becoming president under a biased constitution.  That the new president will take the order from Suu Kyi, 70, has raised the possibility for extra-constitutional influence that she may exert under the new administration and immediately raised doubt among democracy activists all around the world about the direction of democratic progress in the country.

Myanmar Election Results Trickle in; Suu Kyi’s Party Makes a Clean Sweep
The results from Myanmar’s November 8, 2015, parliamentary elections started to trickle in, and with every hour, trends are becoming more and more clear, with Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy headed for a clear sweep in both houses of parliament.

Peaceful Transition Promised by Strongman as Suu Kyi’s Party Marches toward a Massive Victory
As poll results were showing a massive victory in favor Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy, President Thein Sein called the Noble Laureate on November 11, 2015, and pledged a smooth transfer of power. Thein Sein led a nominally civilian government since 2011 as the last elections in 2010, boycotted by NLD, elected most of the candidates from the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party, thus giving former commanders the key to governance. In the run-up to the November 8, 2015, parliamentary polls, country’s military had already an advantage as 25 percent of 664 seats of both houses of parliament were reserved for those selected by military.

Suu Kyi’s Party Gains Majority
As the poll results were coming at a snail’s pace, it was all but certain, based on trends that had emerged from the very beginning and had only become stronger, that Suu Kyi’s NLD would achieve majority in 664-seat bicameral parliament. On November 12, 2015, NLD crossed the half-way threshold of 329 seats by gaining 21 additional seats during the day. Polls were not held in seven constituencies. So far, NLD won 238 seats in lower house of parliament, and 110 seats in the upper house of parliament, totaling 348 seats in both houses of parliament.

Parliament Begins a Historic SessionFebruary 1, 2016 marked a historic day in Myanmar’s democratic revolution as a historic session of a new parliament, stacked by members of pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s political party, opened on this day that would usher in formation of a new government.

Suu Kyi Loyalist to Become President
Myanmar’s parliament took another important step on March 15, 2016 to get out of the shadow of country’s military establishment that had ruled this Southeast Asian nation for the past 54 years either through direct or indirect rule by electing 70-year-old Htin Kyaw, a long-time confidante of Nobel Peace Laureate and pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi. Htin Kyaw will be sworn in on April 1, 2016. As the parliament speaker Mann Win Khaing Than announced the election of Htin Kyaw as country’s first civilian president in more than half a century, boisterous cheers erupted in the parliament hall.

Suu Kyi to Become “State Counselor”
Pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, barred from presidency by a junta-era law, will become “state counselor” under a law passed by Myanmar’s parliament on April 5, 2016.

Myanmar to Release Political Prisoners
Pro-Democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who became the “state counselor” under a new law, pushed the needle that amplified her role in government as the key force, confirming what she had stated in the aftermath of the elections that she would run the government from behind, by issuing a presidential declaration on the Facebook page of President Htin Kyaw on April 7, 2016 that about 100 political prisoners would be released soon.

Suu Favors a Balanced Relations with USA, China
Myanmar’s former democracy activist and current “state counselor” Aung San Suu Kyi used her five-day (August 17-21, 2016) China visit to reset the Myanmar-China relationship and help herald an era of joint ventures and collaboration. Kyi met with Chinese President Xi Jinping on August 20, 2016 at Beijing, and a joint statement issued afterward emphasized the close relationship between the neighbors and harp on promoting bilateral trade, business and technology ties. Under Aung San Suu Kyi‘s leadership, Myanmar aims to strengthen Sino-Burmese relationship alongside sustaining and improving bilateral relationship with Washington.

Economic Sanctions LiftedPresident Barack Obama on October 7, 2016 issued a decree to lift economic sanctions on Myanmar as the Southeast Asian nation made significant stride toward restoring democracy by holding elections and electing a civilian government for the first time in a generation. Last month (September 2016), President Obama welcomed the Burmese pro-democracy leader and Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi at the White House.

Rebel Attacks Set off Massive Government Crackdown
Overnight August 24-25, 2017, sudden and surprising attacks by Rohingya militants on military and security checkpoints and outposts in the west Rakhine state left at least 12 security personnel dead. The attacks by guerrillas belonging to Arkansas Rohingya Salvation Army, or ARSA, led to a massive invasion of dozens of Rohingya villages by Myanmar’s security forces. The Burmese military burned down huts and thatches of poor Rohingya people, and killed at least 59 people, most of them were civilians. The vengeance and violence displayed by Burmese military could portend as the beginning of another ethnic cleansing spree if not checked. Tens of thousands of Rohingya villagers were reported to be fleeing their villages in order to avoid the military clampdown.

Tens of Thousands of Rohingyas Flee Military Crackdown
In the wake of scorched-earth policy pursued by Myanmar’s military, village after village in the western Rakhine State is being purged of Rohingya population. As tens of thousands of Rohingya refugees with meager belongings were heading to Bangladesh borders on August 26 and August 27, 2017, a human catastrophe was all but guaranteed to set in.

Myanmar Army: About 400 Dead; 38,000 Flee to Bangladesh
According to reports citing the Myanmar Army, about 400 people were killed as of September 1, 2017 in ensuing violence that had erupted after August 25, 2017, attacks by Rohingya militants on military check posts in the western Rakhine State. At least 38,000 villagers fled to neighboring Bangladesh.

Huge Wave of Refugees Heading for Bangladesh
In one of the worst catastrophic events in recent memory, at least 76,000 Rohingya residents of the Myanmar’s western Rakhine State were displaced. Waves of refugees were heading to Bangladesh, risking their lives with treacherous journeys through turbulent rivers, ravines, muddy creeks and voyage. On September 2, 2017 itself, the largest wave of migration, involving tens of thousands of refugees, took place.

U.N. Increases the Estimate of RefugeesU.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, U.N. office for refugees, on September 8, 2017 upped the estimate of displaced Rohingya villagers from Myanmar’s western Rakhine province to 270,000 from its estimate earlier in the week of 125,000. There was a human catastrophe brewing in Bangladesh as the border camps had been overwhelmed by the waves of newcomers, who–after days of trekking through muddy and dangerous trenches had been arriving at the refugee camps hungry and destitute.

Suu Kyi Visits the Affected Region 
Weeks after what U.N. had dubbed a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing” that had led to the biggest exodus and uprooting of population since 1994 Rwanda Crisis, Myanmar’s most powerful civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi on November 2, 2017 visited the most affected region, Maungdaw, of the western Rakhine State, but failed to criticize the military crackdown that had forced more than 600,000 Rohingya people to flee their towns and villages to neighboring Bangladesh. Instead, the Nobel Peace Laureate said vaguely that “we all have to try our best to live peacefully”.

Security Council Issues a Stern Statement, but Fails to Take Strong Action under Chinese PressureU.N. Security Council on November 6, 2017 missed an opportunity to take up a strong, legally binding resolution offered by Britain and backed by the U.S. and Britain, but under China’s veto threat, the resolution–which is legally binding and enforceable–was dropped. Instead, the U.N. Security Council on November 6, 2017 issued a so-called presidential statement that was not legally binding. The presidential statement expressed grave concern at reports of human rights violation. Myanmar’s ambassador to the U.N., Hau Do Suan, called the presidential statement as biased and not based on facts.

*********************** PAPAL VISIT TO MYANMAR AND BANGLADESH***********Pope Plays Delicate Act of PoliticsPope Francis’ high-profile visit to Myanmar and Bangladesh was anything but a dexterous handling of political and ethnic sensibilities in the wake of the large-scale crackdown, in the parlance of U.N. language a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing”, of Rohingya Muslims by Myanmar’s military and militant Buddhist groups that had led to influx of more than 600,000 refugees to neighboring Bangladesh and created the one of the worst humanitarian crisis in recent memory. Pope Francis met with country’s military head Gen. Min Aung Hlaing at the residence of Yangon Archbishop on November 27, 2017. During the visit, Pope is referring the Rohingya crisis in a more general term, avoiding the word “Rohingya”, partly due to suggestion from the small Catholic community in Myanmar.

Pope Meets Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi; Avoids Taking the Name of “Rohingya”
Pope Francis on November 28, 2017 met with the most powerful political figure of Myanmar, Aung San Suu Kyi, at Naypyidaw, and stressed on the need of a future Myanmar that would have a “peace based on respect for the dignity and rights of each member of society, respect for each ethnic group and its identity”. However, Pope continued to avoid using the word “Rohingya”, raising concern among the rights group over papal avoidance of the root cause persecution.

Pope Pivots away from Rohingya Issue
During his last full day of trip in Myanmar, Pope Francis avoided one more time referring the “wounds of conflict that through the years have divided the people of different cultures, ethnicities and religious convictions” to the word “Rohingya” and, instead focused on healing this deep division. On November 29, 2017, Pope Francis addressed tens of thousands of Catholics at Yangon’s Kyaikkasan Ground.

Pope Arrives at Bangladesh; Sharpens RhetoricPope Francis, upon arrival at Dhaka on November 30, 2017 from Myanmar, harped his focus with sharper tongue on the plight of Rohingya refugees, and praised Bangladesh government for its generosity in helping the “refugees from the Rakhine State”, a sharp departure in tone he had used in Myanmar. Addressing at the reception hosted by Bangladesh’s president, Abdul Hamid, and attended by officials and foreign dignitaries, Pope called for international community to lend hands to Bangladesh in helping out hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslim refugees.

Pope Francis Asks Forgiveness from Rohingyas
At an all-religion gathering in Dhaka on December 1, 2017, Pope Francis sought forgiveness from 16 Rohingya refugees–12 men, two women and two girls–brought to Pope specifically for the occasion. Pope pronounced that the “presence of God today is also called the ‘Rohingya'”.

************************ PAPAL VISIT TO MYANMAR AND BANGLADESH**********

U.N. HRC: Likely Crimes against Humanity Might Have Happened

U.N. Human Rights Council

overwhelmingly passed a resolution on

December 5, 2017

at a session in Geneva, saying that most likely, “crimes against humanity” might have been committed against

Rohingya

people in the western

Rakhine

State, leading to about

626,000

to flee to neighboring Bangladesh. U.N. human rights chief,

Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein

, challenged the 47-nation council to do something concrete in

Rohingya

crisis.

Marzuki Darusman

, who had led a fact-finding mission, but denied access to places and victims he had sought after, gave a chilling report to the U.N. HRC, but Myanmar’s envoy to Geneva,

Htin Lynn

, rejected the allegation and said that government was doing all it could to foster peace.

Doctors Without Borders Estimates 6,700 Rohingya Killings
Renowned doctors’ group, Doctors Without Borders, issued an estimate on December 14, 2017 on the violent deaths of Rohingya Muslims in the western Rakhine state in a campaign that U.S. and U.N. called as “text book example of ethnic cleansing”. According to the group’s December 14, 2017, report, 6,700 Muslims were killed, including 730 children below the age of five.

Myanmar Denies that any Genocide Has Ever Happened
Myanmar government’s point-person for Rohingya crisis, Aung Tun Thet, on March 14, 2018 dismissed international outcry of Rohingya genocide, a day after U.N. Special Adviser on the prevention of genocide, Adama Dieng, met with Rohingya refugees at sprawling camps in neighboring Bangladesh and spoke of “horrifying stories” of the persecuted Rohingya population and international community’s nonchalance and burying its “head in the sand”.

U.N. Security Council Urges Myanmar to Punish the Rohingya PerpetratorsU.N. Security Council on May 9, 2018 urged the Myanmar government to bring the perpetrators of Rohingya to justice without specifying how it would monitor such action. However, the august U.N. body was reluctant to refer Naypyidaw to International Criminal Court as demanded by the four international human-rights groups–Human Rights Watch, the Global Center for the Responsibility to Protect, Amnesty International and Fortify Rights. Instead the Security Council reiterated the November 6, 2017, Presidential Statement, a significantly milder rebuke.

Myanmar Fires General Responsible for Rohingya Purge for Wrong Reason
Under pressure from Canada and the European Union, Myanmar on June 25, 2018 dismissed Maj. Gen. Maung Maung Soe, who had led the ruthless crackdown on Rohingya people last year that had forced hundreds of thousands to flee the western Rakhine State. However, the reason cited to fire the general could be as flimsy as possible as he was accused of showing “weak” leadership in the face of Rohingya guerrilla attack instead of perpetrating an entire civilian population.

Two Reporters who Covered Rohingya Operation Sentenced

Two Reuters journalists–

Wa Lone

and

Kyaw Soe Oo

–were on

September 3, 2018

hauled out of a Yangon court after sentenced to seven years in prison after charging them with a colonial-era law,

Official Secrets Act

, for covering the military’s campaign in the Rakhine State that had forced 700,000 Rohingya people to flee to adjoining Bangladesh. Both reporters were taken to custody in December 2017. Reuters Editor-in-Chief Stephen J. Adler reacted to the verdict with a statement that read: “today is a sad day for Myanmar, Reuters journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo and the press everywhere”.

Pence, Haley Back Journalists
The harsh sentencing meted out to Reuters journalists—-for covering the atrocities in the western Rakhine state that had forced 700,000 Rohingya people to flee to Bangladesh attracted international condemnation as the U.S. Vice President Mike Pence on September 5, 2018 defended Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo in a tweet, saying that they had been jailed for “doing their job reporting on the atrocities committed on the Rohingya people”. Another high-ranking U.S. official, Ambassador Nikki Haley, also chimed in on September 5, 2018, echoing Pence’s sentiment that the journalists had been thrown to prison for “telling the truth”.

U.N. Panel Refers Myanmar to International Criminal Court
In a searing rebuke, a three-member U.N. panel on September 18, 2018 held Myanmar’s authority accountable for scorched-earth campaign against Rohingyas in Rakhine state that had led to “widespread, systematic and brutal” killings and about 750,000 people fleeing to neighboring Bangladesh. The 444-page report, submitted to the U.N. Human Rights Council, asked the U.N. Security Council to refer Myanmar to The Hague-based International Criminal Court. Last month, three-member panel named Myanmar Army chief Gen. Min Aung Hlaing and five other top military officials guilty in perpetrating and subjugating Rohingya people in Rakhine state and recommended that they should stand in trial. The panel head, Marzuki Darusman, talking with the journalists in Geneva on September 18, 2018 said that “at the core of every incident and every human rights violation we examined was the extreme brutality of the Myanmar military”.

Canada Labels Myanmar’s Action as Genocide
Two days after a blistering report was issued by a U.N. panel asking the U.N. Security Council to refer Myanmar to The Hague-based International Criminal Court, Canadian parliament on September 20, 2018 unanimously passed a resolution condemning the South Asian country for carrying out genocide against its Rohingya population in the western Rakhine state.

An Ill-Conceived Repatriation Plan Called off
It was a plan that had been hatched out of nowhere, leave alone even a semblance of input from the very people who would be impacted by it. A repatriation plan to return an initial batch of 2,251 people, with 150 per day, beginning on November 15, 2018 was called off before it was even begun. Approximately 770,000 Rohingya refugees fled to Bangladesh at the height of Myanmar’s scorched-earth campaign that had begun in August 2017, and nobody knew how the initial list was formulated. To make it hard for Bangladeshi authorities, the people listed as a repatriation group melted among the sprawling population and they were not willing to return despite assurance from Naypyitaw. Bangladesh’s foreign minister, A.H. Mahmood Ali, told correspondents on November 15, 2018 that “there is no question of forcible repatriation”.

Two Reuter Reporters Freed
Two Reuter journalists under detention since December 2017 for covering Myanmar army’s atrocities in the western Rakhine state was released on May 7, 2019. Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo emerged from Yangon’s notorious Insein Prison with a victor’s smile and a gentleman’s grace.

Rohingya Repatriation Talks Held
Myanmar sent a 10-member delegation to Bangladesh to hold talks with Rohingya representatives to begin the repatriation process for hundreds of thousands of refugees in Bangladesh. The Myanmar delegation held talks at Cox’s Bazaar on July 28, 2019 with representatives of Rohingya refugees. The government delegation head, U Myint Thu, said afterward that he would bring an ASEAN delegation in the next round of talks.

Rohingyas Reject RepatriationBangladesh Refugee Commissioner Abul Kalam said on August 22, 2019 that none of 295 families interviewed by the Hasina government and the U.N. since August 20, 2019 had agreed to return to Myanmar. Myanmar said earlier that about 3,000 refugees from 1,000 families would begin returning to Myanmar beginning August 22, 2019.

U.N. Fact-finding Mission Holds Myanmar’s Army of Sexual Violence
A three-member fact-finding mission formed by the U.N. has submitted its thorough report and U.N. has released it on August 22, 2019 at New York. The report details a web of events that involve Myanmar’s army’s brutal campaign, using sexual violence in an unprecedented scale, to suppress and subjugate the Rohingyas. One of the members of the U.N. Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar, Radhika Coomerswamy, a Sri Lankan lawyer, said that the U.N. had yet to hear back from the Myanmar’s government on the report.

NEPAL

********************************** NEPAL EARTHQUAKE ***********************

Worst Earthquake in More than 80 Years Kills Thousands
A 7.8 measure earthquake struck Nepal on early April 25, 2015 that had razed tens of thousands of homes, destroyed dozens of centuries-old historic shrines and structures, killed, based on preliminary estimates which are sure to swell many times, at least 1,865 people and forces tens of thousands homeless. The epicenter of the quake was centered in Lamjung, 50 miles northwest of the capital of Kathmandu. Throughout the day, several aftershocks rattled the landlocked Himalayan nation and sent scare through of the spine of the people. Many people left their homes, and slept outside in a cool night. The earthquakes were also felt in neighboring India and Tibet, killing more than 60 people in those neighbors. The earthquake led to a catastrophic avalanche in the Himalayas Mountains, killing at least 17 hikers–many of them were foreigners–and their Nepali guides at the basement camp. Prime Minister Sushil Koirala, who was in an official visit to Indonesia when the earthquake had struck Nepal, cut short his visit and returned to Kathmandu.

Death Toll Escalates, Relief Paltry, Frustration Rises
The death toll rose by the hour on April 26, 2015, a day after a 7.8-measure earthquake jolted the Himalayan nation, eventually exceeding 3,200 by the end of the day. On April 26, 2015 afternoon, an aftershock of 6.7-measure in Richter scale rattled the people of Nepal. The number of wounded people exceeded 5,900.

Neighbors Rush to Provide Relief
Soon after the severest earthquake in more than 80 years struck Nepal, region’s two powerhouses India and China launched rescue and relief operations. India sent 500 rescuers and deployed 13 aircraft in the tiny Himalayan nation as part of its Operation Friendship campaign. China sent 62 rescuers, blankets, tents and generators, and announced that it would send four planes and an additional 170 soldiers. Pakistan sent four cargo planes full of supplies, including concrete cutters and sniffer dogs. As of April 27, 2015, the death toll exceeded 4,400.

Logistical Challenges Remain, U.N. Humanitarian Chief Says
U.N. Humanitarian Chief Valerie Amos said on May 1, 2015 at Kathmandu that “immense logistical challenges” still persisted a week after a 7.8-magnitude earthquake had killed more than 6,200 people. On May 1, 2015, Nepalese government announced $1,000 per person killed to be disbursed to the family along with $400 in funeral expenses.

Runway Damage Hinders Relief Supplies
As the runway of the only international airport in the capital, Kathmandu, was damaged significantly by a massive earthquake eight days ago, it had been a nightmare for outside world to ferry relief supplies as large aircraft had been all but ruled out to land on the Tribuwan International Airport. On May 3, 2015, a large C-17 US cargo plane arrived at the airport despite airport damage, and unloaded a UH-17 helicopter. Separately, four Osprey tilt-rotor helicopters arrived at the country too. Helicopters will be used to ship relief supplies to remote areas, which are not easily accessible even in the normal time, cut off by the quake. Meanwhile, the death toll from the quake rose to 7,276 as of May 3, 2015. Nepal’s Tourist Police reported that 57 foreigners were killed in April 25, 2015, earthquake, and 109–including 12 Russians and 9 Americans–remained missing. At least 70 aftershocks hit Nepal in the days following April 25, 2015, 7.8-measure earthquake that had impacted about 8.1 million people, almost a quarter of the tiny Himalayan nation’s 28 million population.

A Second Earthquake Sends Shudder in Nepal, a US Helicopter Gone Missing
A 7.3-magnitude earthquake struck Nepal on May 12, 2015, 17 days after a massive 7.8-magnitude earthquake had hit the nation on April 25, 2015 killing more than 8,150 people, this time the epicenter being in mountainous foothill regions east and north-east of Kathmandu. Actually the May 12, 2015, 7.3-magnitude earthquake was an aftershock–and thus far the biggest one–to the April 25, 2015, 7.8-magnitude earthquake. At least 42 people were reported killed in Nepal, at least 16 in India and one in Tibet on May 12, 2015 by the 7.3-magnitude temblor. Meanwhile, a US UH-1Y Huey helicopter on a relief mission, and carrying six Marines and two Nepalese soldiers, went missing on May 12, 2015 in the Charikot area of Nepal.

Premier Visits the Epicenter Area of the Second Temblor
Acknowledging the overwhelming challenges that lie ahead in the context of two 7+-magnitude quakes in a span of less than three weeks, Nepal’s Prime Minister Sushil Koirala said on May 14, 2015 that his country direly needed tents, food, medicines and drinkable water. His visit during the day to Charikot, the nearest large town close to the epicenter of the second earthquake that had killed more than 96 people, was chaotic as thousands of people thronged the streets to seek help.

Marine Copter Wreckage Found
After three days of massive search in a rugged mountainous area, rescuers on May 15, 2015 found the wreckage of US UH-1Y Huey helicopter that was on a relief mission and carrying six Marines along with two Nepalese soldiers. Rescuers found at least three charred bodies from wreckage site, 8 miles north of Charikot.

Bodies of Six Marines Found
US Army said on May 16, 2015 that the bodies of six Marines and two Nepalese soldiers were recovered.

First Anniversary of Deadly Earthquake Marked
Nepal on April 24, 2016 marked the first anniversary of the deadly earthquake that had killed about 9,000 people and left millions homeless. The main event was held at the footstep of a landmark Kathmandu tower that had crumbled in the earthquake and killed at least 132 people. Country’s Prime Minister Khadga Prasad Oli paid rich tribute to the victims at the Dharahara tower. In April 25, 2015, earthquake, 8,856 people had been officially reported to have died.

********************************** NEPAL EARTHQUAKE ***********************

Nepal’s New Constitution Crates Chaos, Confusion

Nepal’s new constitution exposed a long suppressed fault line in this Himalayan country’s ethnic fabric, with

Madhesis

protesting against what they saw a discriminatory consequence of the new constitution homes and ancestral properties of many of them were divided by the proposed borders of some of newly formed seven states. The ensuing violence killed at least 50 people since

August 2015

.

Madhesis

, who maintain close cultural ties with India, have blocked the southern borders, causing disruption in fuel and food supplies from India and spiking prices of essential commodities. Kathmandu has also accused India of complicity with

Madhesis

and choking off the supply to the landlocked tiny Himalayan nation, an allegation New Delhi has refuted. On

November 27, 2015

, students have formed a massive human chain along the Ring Road that surrounds Kathmandu to protest against the blockade of the country’s southern borders.

Nepalese Premier Resigns
Ahead of a confidence vote in parliament which he is sure to lose, Nepal’s Prime Minister Khadga Prasad Oli on July 24, 2016 has submitted his resignation, paving the way for a ninth premier in 10 years to take the helm of the tiny mountainous nation.

NORTH KOREA
In a new year olive branch to the North, South Korean President Park Geun-hye, addressing her first press conference since assuming office in February 2013,  on January 6, 2014 called for family reunions around the Lunar New Year’s day on January 31, 2014. A reunion was planned before, but cancelled later. South Korean president’s offer came five days after North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in a New Year’s address urged both Koreas to create “a favorable climate for improved relations”. The latest offer of Park came after two other previous political gestures from her that included:

* An offer to increase humanitarian aid to the impoverished neighbor in the north

* Allowing South Korean civic groups to reach out to North Korea as part of an effort to help farmers and ranchers.

Three days after the South Korean President Park Geun-hye proposed a reunion of families, North Korea on January 9, 2014 turned down the proposal.

On January 16, 2014, North Korea floated a new proposal as part of an effort to ease up the tension in Korean Peninsula that called for Seoul to stop vilification against the North effective January 30, 2014 and cancel the joint military exercise with the USA.

On January 17, 2014, South Korea rejected the proposal made by North Korea’s National Defense Commission  a day earlier to call of the joint military drill with the USA, and instead suggested that North should take “practical” actions for nuclear disarmament.

A jailed Korean-American, Kenneth Bae, who had been under detention since November 2012 appeared for the first time on January 20, 2014 at a news conference attended by AP, Xinhua and a few other foreign media, and pleaded for US to negotiate with North Korea for his release. Bae entered the country through the northeastern city of Rason for missionary purpose.

Reversing the earlier stance taken on January 9, 2014, North Korea on January 24, 2014 agreed to a January 6, 2014, proposal floated by South Korean President Park Geun-hye for reunion of families. North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency said that the reunion might happen in the Diamond Mountains as per South’s schedule “when the weather thaws”. In response, South Korea’s Unification Ministry welcomed Pyongyang’s reversal of stand though the proposed time of reunion was a little late. South Korean President Park Geun-hye proposed that reunion take place sometime at the end of January.

North Korea on February 3, 2014 agreed to hold talks later this week with South Korea on family reunions.

Family Reunion Scheduled and Subsequently Threatened to be Jeopardized

North and South Korean negotiators on

February 5, 2014

agreed to hold family reunion for relatives and loved ones who didn’t see each other for more than six decades. The proposed reunion will take place in Diamond Mountains in the southeastern part of North Korea from

February 20, 2014

to

February 25, 2014

. On

December 6, 2014

, Pyongyang threatened to suspend the February 20-25, 2014, reunion over flying of an American B-52 bomber over Korean Peninsula a day earlier as part of a training mission.

North, South to Go Ahead with Family Reunions
After a February 12, 2014, talks produced little headway, negotiators from North and South Koreas again met on February 14, 2014 at a border village, and decided to stop hurling insults against each other and go ahead with a family reunion from February 20, 2014 to February 25, 2014.

U.N. Warns North Korea on Rights Violation
A three-member U.N. panel commissioned by the U.N. Human Rights Council on February 17, 2014 issued a scathing report on the plight of human rights in the reclusive North Korea, warning its leader Kim Jong Un that he might be held responsible for torture and crimes against humanity. The panel was led by former Australian Judge Michael Kirby, and also included Sonja Biserko of Serbia and Marzuki Darusman of Indonesia. The investigative panel’s 372-page report portrayed a grim picture of prison camps that held 80,000 to 120,000, abduction of people from within North Korea as well as from Japan, and lifelong indoctrination. Four public hearings were held, each at Washington, Tokyo, London and Seoul, and 80 eyewitnesses had participated in those hearings. In addition, the panel took into account of confidential interviews from victims and others.

Emotional Family Reunions Begin on Diamond Mountains
After decades of separation and months of frustrated wait, dozens of families were reunited with their separated loved ones from the other side of the great Korean divide at a Diamond Mountain resort on February 20, 2014. For many, this marked the first such reunion in decades, and most likely, the last reunion too as the average age of the participants was 84.

A Jailed South Korean Missionary Appears at a Press ConferenceKim Jong-uk, a 50-year-old South Korean missionary jailed since November 2013–described by Pyongyang at that time to have arrested a spy from the South without identifying him–appeared at press conference on February 27, 2014 and apologized for his “anti-state crime”.

North Korea Test-fires Missiles
Days after test-firing four rockets, Pyongyang carried out two short-range missile tests on March 2, 2014, thus firing off a total of six rockets and missiles since February 27, 2014 to the sea off its eastern coast in response to upcoming joint US-South Korea naval exercises.

Two Koreas Again on the Brink
North Korea and South Korea traded volleys of shells against each other’s waters in the Yellow Sea on March 31, 2014 in a sudden escalation of force and brinkmanship. However, no one was injured and live-fire drills were limited to the Seas only without pressing a panic button by any accidental or deliberate aiming at any targets on land.

North Korea to Launch Inquiry into where-about of Japanese Abductees
After three days of secret negotiation at Stockholm last week, Japan and North Korea agreed on a deal that would shed light on missing Japanese citizens who were kidnapped by North Korean agents in 70s and 80s as part of an effort to train North Korean security forces in Japanese language and culture, according to an announcement made by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on June 5, 2014 in Tokyo. In exchange for Pyongyang’s re-opening of the missing case files, Japan will ease its sanctions on the reclusive Communist nation. North Korea first admitted the kidnappings during a summit between Kim Jong Il, the late father of current leader Kim Jong Un, and the then-Japanese premier Junichiro Koizumi in 2002. At that time, Pyongyang admitted that it had kidnapped only 13 Japanese, let 5 of them to return to Japan in the same year (2002) while saying the remaining eight had already died. Meanwhile, Tokyo reneged its promise to return the 5 to North Korea, thus breaking off what was seen as promising new beginning. After several false starts, re-investigation was launched in 2008 into any remaining Japanese abductees still in North Korea. However, the process had ground to halt as geo-political situation in the Korean Peninsula took precedent, thus dimming any hope for progress in decades-old abduction cases that had come to define bilateral relationship between the two nations.

Three Americans Under Detention in North Korea
As of June 6, 2014, three Americans were known to have been under detention by the regime of Kim Jong Un, according to The Associated Press, The New York Times and The Dallas Morning News. Kenneth Bae, a Korean-American detained since November 2012, was sentenced to 15 years in prison for what North called the hostile acts. The other two, hitherto unknown, are Jeffrey Edward Fowle, who had entered the reclusive country on April 29, 2014, and Mathew Miller, who had entered on April 10, 2014, respectively. Fowle was detained because he had “perpetrated activities that violated the laws of our republic”, according to the official Korean Central News Agency. Miller was detailed because of what North accused of improper behavior.

North Korea Threatens Over a Controversial Film, Test-fires Projectiles
On June 25, 2014, North Korea issued a stern warning against an upcoming film The Interview in which co-stars Seth Rogen and James Franco played the role of a producer and talk-show host would go to take interview North’s supreme leader, but with a mission blessed by the CIA to kill him. The film to be released in October 2014 rankled Pyongyang so much that it had carried out test-fire of three projectiles from its east coast very next day (June 26, 2014). The short-range projectiles fell in the sea between North Korea and Japan.

North’s Continuing Test-firings Heat up Tension
Although nothing new, this year’s more than 90 test-firings of rockets, missiles, artillery and projectiles (recorded by South Korea’s Yonhap news agency during the period of February 21-July 13, 2014) by North Korea were very unusual even by North’s standard. At least 10 of them were ballistic launches.

American Sentenced to Hard Prison Terms
An American, Mathew Todd Miller, who was arrested in April 2014 upon arrival, was sentenced on September 14, 2014 by the North Korean Supreme Court to six years of imprisonment for committing hostile act against the nation.

American Released in a Surprise Move
American Jeffrey Edward Fowle, who had arrived at the reclusive nation on April 29, 2014 and was arrested for placing a bible at a night club, was released by Pyongyang in a swift and sudden move on October 21, 2014. Later in the day, Fowle arrived at Guam before heading back to the USA to be reunited with his wife and three children at Miamisburg, Ohio.

Two Americans Released

Two remaining Americans captive in North Korea,

Kenneth Bae

and

Mathew Todd Miller

, were released on

November 8, 2014

, and both of them arrived at Lewis-McChord Airbase in Washington late in the evening on

November 8

. Director of National Intelligence

James Clapper

made an undisclosed trip to the reclusive Communist nation, and brought the two Americans back less than three weeks before Thanksgiving.

Kim’s Sister Awarded Prominent Role in the Party
In a move seen as an effort to consolidate his power, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un promoted his sister, Kim Yo Jong, as a departmental vice director of the Central Committee of the ruling Workers’ Party. The North Korean state media, Korean Central News Agency, reported the promotion on November 27, 2014, and came less than a year after once-influential uncle of Kim Jong Un, Jang Song Thaek, had been executed on treason charges.

****************************** SONY PICTURES HACKING ************************North Korea Denies Hacking Sony
North Korea’s state media Korean Central News Agency said on December 7, 2014 that the country had no role in play behind the November 24, 2014, hacking of Sony Pictures’ computer systems, but applauded the act by describing the hacking as “righteous deed”. Sony Pictures Entertainment is scheduled to release the controversial film The Interview, a comedy movie starring James Franco and Seth Rogen playing the role of journalists–who have been recruited by the CIA to kill the North Korean leader Kim Jong Un–have gone to interview the North Korean leader, on December 25, 2014.

North Korean Spy Indicted in Sony Pictures Hacking
A North Korean spy, believed to be working for North Korea’s Reconnaissance General Bureau, CIA’s equivalent agency, was on September 6, 2018 indicted by the U.S. Justice Department in Washington for carrying out the cyberattack against Sony Pictures Entertainment in 2014 that had wiped out 70 percent of the studio’s computer capability, erasing files from personal computers and company’s servers. Park Jin Hyok was also accused to have played a role in WannaCry 2.0 ransomware, according to the indictment. It’s unlikely that Park is ever to face the U.S. justice. North Korea’s Reconnaissance General Bureau was reportedly behind the other cyberattacks including the theft to the tune of multimillion dollars from a Bangladeshi bank and original WannaCry ransomware.

****************************** SONY PICTURES HACKING ************************

American with Reported Bipolar Symptom Seeks Amnesty in North KoreaArturo Pierre Martinez, who had been recently released from a California psychiatric facility, appeared before reporters in the reclusive nation of North Korea on December 14, 2014 and assailed the US policies toward Pyongyang. Martinez, who reported to have hailed from El Paso, swam the Yalu River to enter North Korea from China in November.

Sony Cancels Release of the Controversial Film
Hours after four largest theater chains–AMC Theatres, Regal Entertainment, Plano-based Cinemark and Carmike Cinemas–announced their decision not to show the controversial film The Interview, scheduled to debut on December 25, 2014, Sony Pictures Entertainment on December 17, 2014 canceled its release. A day earlier, December 16, 2014, there were online threats reported threatening to attack and hack movie theaters which would show the film.

President Criticizes the Sony Move to Cancel Movie Screening; FBI Links North to Sony Hacking
Weighing in the controversy and subsequent cancellation of the screening of the satirical film The Interview, President Barack Obama, addressing the last press conference of the year, said on December 19, 2014 that Sony’s move to cancel the screening was a “mistake”.  President Obama also said that US would launch a “proportional response” to the hacking of Sony’s computer system. However, Sony’s CEO Michael Lynton stood his ground, defending the company’s action and saying that it was the president who was mistaken.

Meanwhile, on

December 19, 2014

, FBI officially blamed North Korea for the

November 24, 2014

, hacking of the Sony’s corporate computer system. North Korea vehemently denied that it had any role to play with the Sony computer system hacking although praised the act, and called for a joint US-North Korea investigation into the hacking episode to clear its name.

North Korea’s Internet Goes Blank
On the same day FBI officially blamed North Korea for hacking of the Sony’s computer system and President Obama vowed for a “proportional response”, North Korea’s internet system, which is available only to privileged party, government and military officials beside foreigners, started to falter on December 19, and deteriorated significantly during the weekend, resulting in total failure by December 22, 2014. It’s not clear how had it happened or who was behind it.

U.N. Security Council Takes up North Korea’s Human Rights Record
As a follow-up to a February 17, 2014, report issued by a three-member U.N. panel on North Korea’s human rights abuses, the U.N. Security Council on December 22, 2014 took up the issue of Pyongyang’s human rights records in the midst of a separate controversy over the hacking of Sony’s computer system. Earlier the U.N. inquiry panel and U.N. General Assembly urged the 15-nation U.N. Security Council to refer North Korea to International Criminal Court for the alleged excesses including forced starvation, wide-spread persecution and ruthless suppression of political dissent perpetrated by the Kim Jong Un regime.

Release of Film Back on Track
After intense pressure from Hollywood, President Obama and Americans, Sony on December 23, 2014 backtracked on holding off the controversial comedy film The Interview and instead announced that it would release the film on the Christmas Day at dozens of movie theaters as well as on alternative platforms such as online streaming.

Comedy Film Released on Various Media Platforms
The drama surrounding the Christmas release of The Interview had yielded anything but consequential outcome in terms of potential how a future blockbuster or short of that, as is the case of The Interview, would be released to the public. The movie was released in hundreds, instead of thousands, of movie theater on December 25, 2014. However, the bigger prize for Sony was to release the movie a night before on several online platforms such as Google Play, YouTube Movies, Microsoft’s XBOX Video anda separate Sony website.

North Korea Blames USA for Internet Outage
On December 27, 2014, North Korea’s state-run Korean Central News Agency, or KCNA, blamed USA for widespread outage of its internet, and again reiterated that it had no role to play in hacking of Sony’s computer system in November.

U.S. Slaps Sanctions on Key Targets in North Korea
Responding to the recent hacking of Sony’s computer system, Obama administration on January 2, 2015 imposed excruciating sanctions on three entities and ten individuals.

North Korea Threatens to Take Unspecified Action for a Conference in New York
A day before a scheduled conference at the New York City to be organized by the Center for Strategic and International Studies and attended by Robert King, USA’s special envoy on North Korea’s human rights issues, Pyongyang warned on February 16, 2015 against going forward with the conference that would discuss on North’s alleged human rights abuses. North was especially irked because Washington had refused its request to defend its record at the conference.

North Korea Fires Missiles as a Two-Month U.S.-South Korea Joint Sea Drill Begins
North Korea on March 2, 2015 fired a pair of short-range missiles into the sea and threatened to launch “merciless strikes” against its enemies as U.S. and South Korea had begun (on March 2) the annual war exercises that would last through the end of April.

North Korea Arrests a NYU Student
North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency said on May 2, 2015 that it had arrested a NYU student, Won Moon Joo, 21, on April 22, 2015 after he had crossed the Yalu River from Dandong, China. Joo is said to be a US Green Card holder of South Korean descent. According to official KCNA, Won Moon Joo admitted that he had violated the North Korean law. Won Moon Joo’s arrest came after March 2015 arrest of two other South Koreans, who were accused of espionage.

North Korea Test-Fires First Underwater Missile
In a sign of ever growing militarization of Korean Peninsula, North Korea on May 9, 2015 successfully test-fired a KN-11 missile from an underwater submarine. The state-owned Korean Central News Agency reported that the successful test-fire of the underwater missile marked a new chapter in bringing deterrence capability to “world-level strategic” class. However, the KCNA was mum on exact location or range of the missile test. The mouthpiece of the Korean Workers’ Party, Rodong Sinmun, reported that North’s leader Kim Jong Un had witnessed the test from a nearby ship.

North Korea Executes an Official for Dozing off in the Meeting, says South Korean Spy Agency
A South Korean lawmaker, Shin Kyoung-min, said on May 13, 2015 that, earlier in the day, country’s not-so-reliable spy agency National Intelligence Service officials briefed a closed-door parliamentary committee that North Korean Armed Forces Minister Hyon Yong Chol was shot dead in late April by an anti-aircraft gun at a public square with hundreds watching the execution. The spy agency officials said that Yong Chol was caught sleeping and turning behind to talk during a meeting that was attended by Kim Jong Un.

Women Cross North-South Borders to Promote Peace
A group of world-renowned women made a symbolic and significant overture on May 24, 2015 by crossing the North-South borders from the South Korean side under the auspices of a group, WomenCrossDMZ, that promotes world peace. The group included octogenarian American feminist activist Gloria Steinem, Liberian Nobel Peace Laureate Leymah Gbowee and Mairead Maguire, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1976 for her work to bring peace to Northern Ireland. Many South Korean conservatives blamed the group for giving legitimacy to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and his iron-clad rule.

North Korea Sentences two South Koreans to Life in Prison
On June 23, 2015, North Korea’s Supreme Court sentenced two South Koreans–Kim Kuk-gi, 60, and Choe Chun-gil, 55–to life in prison on charges of spying. Both of them were detained last year.

Historic Visit by Former First Lady of South Korea to Promote Normalcy
Former First Lady Lee Hee-ho, 92, whose husband Kim Dae-jung was a catalyst in normalizing relations between two Koreas by reaching out to the then-North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, began her historic four-day trip to North Korea on August 5, 2015. Lee’s visit at the invitation of Kim Jong Un will take her to a maternity clinic, children’s hospital and an orphanage, among others. However, it’s not yet known whether she will meet with Kim Jong Un.

North-South Talks: Talks to Continue despite Saber-Rattling
The first high-level talks between North Korea and South Korea in more than a year resumed at Panmunjom on August 22, 2015 evening and stretched into the early morning of August 23, 2015. The talks are being held amidst under the conditions anything but normal. A landmine planted just south of the demarcation line and blamed on the North maimed two South Korean soldiers on August 4, 2015, and South had begun in earnest to blare propaganda campaign through loud speakers. North Korea in turn declared the borders in the “semi-war state”, and gave Seoul an ultimatum to end the propaganda campaign through loud speakers on the demarcation line by August 22, 2015 evening. However, South Korea demanded apology from Pyongyang for the landmine incident. Despite back-and-forth, two Koreas resumed talks at Panmunjom on August 22, 2015 evening, with

*

North Korea represented by Hwang Pyong So, top

political officer for the

Korean People’s Army;

and

Kim Yang Gon,

a senior North Korean official responsible for South Korean affairs among others

*

South Korea represented by Kim Kwan-jin, National Security Director; Unification Minister Hong Yong-pyo

among others

North-South Talks: Marathon Talks Continue for the Third Day
After 10 hours of continuous talks in the first session (August 22-23, 2015), the second session began on August 23, 2015 and lasted for more than 18 hours through August 24, 2015. However, there was no obvious progress amid South Korean President Park Geun-hye’s comments that her country won’t stop blaring the anti-North Korean propaganda until Pyongyang apologized for the landmine explosion on the south of De-Militarized Zone (DMZ) that had maimed two South Korean soldiers.

North, South Reach Agreement
After marathon talks that had begun on August 22, 2015, both Koreas on August 25, 2015 agreed on deescalating tension in the border. As part of it, North Korea withdrew the so-called “semi-war state” and expressed “regrets”, not an apology demanded by the South Korean President, for a August 4, 2015, landmine explosion on the south of DMZ that had seriously maimed two South Korean soldiers. South Korea on its part agreed to end its propaganda campaign that it had launched after 11 years in response to landmine explosion. South Korea and North Korea also agreed to hold a dialogue as early as possible and resume family reunion at the earliest convenient date.

North, South Koreas to Hold Family Reunion
After a marathon 24-hour negotiation, North Korean and South Korean officials on September 8, 2015 agreed to hold first family re-union in almost two years between October 20, 2015 and October 26, 2015. 100 people from each side will gather in North Korea’s Mount Geumgang Resort to meet their estranged family members.

North Marks 70th Anniversary of Ruling Party with Pomp and Parade
North Korean regime threw a lavish party with tens of thousands of people attending events at Pyongyang on October 10, 2015 to mark the 70th anniversary of the founding of the ruling Workers’ Party. However, there was no foreign dignitary, barring Liu Yunshan, China’s official representative. In his first public speech in almost three years, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said that his country was ready for “any form of war” with the USA.

Two Koreas Begin Re-union of Long-Separated Families
It was emotionally drenching as frail once-spouses had met for the first time–and most likely, for the last time–after several decades at North Korea’s Diamond Mountain as 389 South Koreans were allowed to meet with 96 North Koreans as part of a three-day reunion October 20-22, 2015. A second, three-day reunion will be held at the Diamond Mountain from October 22, 2015 in which 90 elderly South Koreans will cross the border to meet with 188 relatives from North Korea.

North Korea Claims to Have Hydrogen BombNorth Korea’s Yonhap News Agency said on December 10, 2015 that Pyongyang would use Hydrogen bomb, if needed, to defend itself against an outside aggression. Many in the west and South Korea called it out a bluff.

North, South Koreas Hold Talks
In a small, but significant, gesture, negotiators from both Koreas at the vice-ministerial level held talks at the border village of Kaesong, North Korea, on December 11, 2015. The talks dealt with bilateral issues.

North Korea Sentences a Canadian Pastor to Life Imprisonment
A South Korea-born, Canadian was sentenced by North Korea’s Supreme Court on December 16, 2015 to hard labor for life after convicting Lim Hyeon-soo, the pastor of the Light Korean Presbyterian Church in Toronto, on charges of “subversive plots” and committing “activities against” North Korea. Lim Hyeon-soo visited North Korea more than 100 times, but during his last visit to North in January 2015, his church had lost contact with him. In July 2015, a teary eyed, remorseful Lim appeared in a government-held, televised news conference in which he confessed in trying to overthrow the government.

North Korea Claims to Have Tested Hydrogen Bomb
North Korea on January 6, 2016 conducted its fourth nuclear test, but its claim that it was a hydrogen bomb found few takers among nuclear experts and the western nations. White House press secretary Josh Earnest said later in the day that the evidence collected by U.S.-led monitoring agencies found results “not consistent” with that of a hydrogen bomb. On the diplomatic front, China issued a rare rebuke by joining other members of the U.N. Security Council in condemning Pyongyang’s fourth nuclear test and stating that the body would explore whether further sanctions could be imposed. A spokeswoman with the Chinese Foreign Ministry, Hua Chunying, said on January 6, 2016 that her country was “strongly against this act”. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe called the test “totally unacceptable” and “a grave threat to Japan’s security”. In Seoul, South Korean President Park Guen-hye convened a national security cabinet meeting to discuss the new “security landscape of Northeast Asia” stemming from Pyongyang’s January 6, 2016, test three years after its third test in February 2013.

U.S. Flies B-52 Bomber Over South Korea
In a show defiance to North Korea and support for Seoul, U.S. on January 10, 2016 flew a B-52 bomber, which took off from an American airbase at Guam, over South Korea.

****************************** DETENTION OF KIM DONG-CHUL****************North Reported to be a Holding an American Citizen
A man reported to be held by North Korea since October 2015 said to CNN in an interview on January 11, 2016 that he was an American citizen and had lived in Fairfax, Virginia. Kim Dong-chul, 62, moved to Yanji, a Chinese town near the North Korean border, in 2001, and later began a trade and hotel services business at Rason, a special economic zone (SEZ) in North Korea near its border with China and Russia. Kim Dong-chul admitted during the interview with CNN that he had begun to spy for South Korea in 2013.

Kim Seeks Mercy
Appearing at a government-held news conference on March 25, 2016, Kim Dong-chul apologized for the crimes he had committed against DPRK, and sought mercy.

Kim Sent to 10-Year Prison TermKim Dong-chul was convicted of “perpetrating the state subversive plots and espionage against DPRK” and sentenced to 10 years of imprisonment, according to a state-owned KCNA (Korean Central News Agency) report on April 29, 2016.

****************************** DETENTION OF KIM DONG-CHUL****************House Imposes Stronger Sanctions on North Korea for Conducting Nuclear Test
On January 12, 2016, House of Representatives passed the North Korea Sanctions Enforcement Act by a vote of 418-2 to punish the reclusive nation for conducting its fourth nuclear test six days earlier.

South Korea, U.S. Ask China to Rein in North Korea
A week after what Pyongyang had claimed to have carried out a hydrogen bomb test, South Korean President Park Geun-hye urged China in a nationally televised address on January 13, 2016 to do more to rein in North Korea and prevent Pyongyang from carrying out “fifth or sixth nuclear tests by the North or guarantee real peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula”. After last week’s nuclear test, China joined other nations to condemn North Korea. However, there is concerted demand from the international community for China to match its words with action as an American diplomat, Sung Kim, a special envoy to North Korea, on January 13, 2016 put it: “we simply can’t take a business-as-usual approach to this latest provocation”.

******************************* DETENTION OF UV STUDENT *********************An American Student Detained in North Korea
A University of Virginia student, Otto Frederick Warmbier, 21, was detained on January 2, 2016 at the end of his five-day tour of the reclusive nation. The news of Warmbier’s arrest was divulged twenty days later on January 22, 2016 by Korean Central News Agency, North’s official mouthpiece that had accused the student of “hostile act” for pursuing an intent of “bringing down the foundation of its single minded unity”.

Student Apologizes for Stealing Political Banner
The University of Virginia student Otto Frederick Warmbier, 21, detained by North Korean authorities since January 2, 2016 appeared on the national TV on February 29, 2016, and apologized for stealing a political banner. Warmbier, from Cincinnati,  went to North Korea for an organized trip, and was about to begin homeward journey when he was arrested. His parents, Fred and Cindy Warmbier, expressed hope later in the day that their son’s apology might help his chance for release.

Student Sentenced to 15-Year Term
The University of Virginia student Otto Frederick Warmbier, 21, was sentenced to 15 years of rigorous imprisonment by a North Korean court on March 16, 2016. During his court appearance during the day, officials from the Swedish embassy, which represents American interests in the country, were present.

Warmbier Returns in a State of ComaOtto Warmbier was brought to the USA on June 13, 2017 after a series of secret negotiations led by former Clinton administration official and New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson. Warmbier was in a state of coma and was brought out of a plane on a wheel chair at Lunken Airport in Cincinnati. He was rushed to a waiting ambulance and transferred to a hospital. A few days later, Warmbier passed away.

Warmbier’s Family Sues North Korea in U.S. Court
The family of Otto Warmbier on April 26, 2018 filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court in Washington D.C., accusing North Korea of torture and murder of the former University of Virginia student, complicating the diplomatic push to hold the first ever summit between North Korean and American leaders.

North Korea Hands a $2 million Bill to U.S. during Warmbier’s ReleaseThe Washington Post reported on April 25, 2019 that North Korea had handed a $2 million bill for medical care to the U.S. official at the time of transferring Otto Warmbier. Warmbier was in coma in North Korea. The official signed the bill, and brought back Warmbier. The invoice remained unpaid in the State Department throughout 2017. The existence of the invoice, hitherto unknown, shows the level of high-handedness that Pyongyang has demonstrated during the release of American student.

Trump says No Money PaidPresident Donald Trump said in a tweet on April 27, 2019 that U.S. didn’t pay anything for Otto Warmbier’s medical cost borne by North Korea. The invoice of $2 million was handed to a U.S. official at the time of Warmbier’s handover.

******************************* DETENTION OF UV STUDENT *********************North Korea to Launch a Rocket
North Korea on February 2, 2016 declared its intent to launch a rocket in the coming days to put an earth observing satellite into orbit. The U.S. State Department’s top official for East Asian affairs, Daniel Russel, said at Washington on February 2, 2016 that North’s proposed plan warranted tougher sanctions. North Korea informed many international groups such as International Maritime Organization during the day that it would launch the rocket between February 8 and February 25. Another organization, International Telecommunication Union, said that North had informed it that the satellite would be of a version of Kwangmyonsong, Bright Star, Earth observation satellite. However, no body was sure what type of rocket would be used to launch the satellite into orbit, and that’s why, many guessed that it would be an upgraded version of Unha 3 booster used to put a satellite into orbit in 2012. In September 2015, South Korea reported that North had completed a 220-foot-tall tower at the country’s western military facility of Sohae rocket-launch facility in Dongchang-ri.

North Korea Launches Rocket to Put Satellite into Orbit
Long anticipated rocket launch was carried out by North Korea on February 7, 2016 when it had put an earth observing satellite, Kwangmyonsong 4, or Shining Star 4, into orbit. The long-range rocket blasted off the North’s main rocket-launching site of Dongchang-ri, near the North Korea-China border, and within 10 minutes, put the earth-observing satellite into orbit. The United States, Japan and South Korea immediately condemned the rocket launch, and the U.N. Security Council on February 6, 2016 called an emergency meeting on February 7, 2016.

U.N. Security Council Takes a Hard Look at North’s Rocket Launch
Hours after North Korea launched a rocket to put an earth observing satellite into orbit, the U.N. Security Council on February 7, 2016 condemned the action, and pledged to adopt a resolution shortly to impose further sanctions. Speaking at the Security Council, the U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Samatha Power told that it couldn’t be “business as usual” given the provocation by North Korea. Japan’s U.N. ambassador Motohide Yoshikawa said that North’s test had put the lives of millions of people at stake. However, such strong sentiment was not shared by others, especially China and Russia. China’s U.N. ambassador Liu Jieyi said that crippling sanctions against North Korea were not China’s priority, while his Russian counterpart, Vitaly Churkin, called for proportionate measures against Pyongyang.

South’s Navy Fires against North’s Transgression
South Korean naval vessels fired warning shots on February 8, 2016 against a North Korean patrol boat that had veered into South’s waters.

North’s Progress on Rocket Technology Modest
South Korea’s Defense Ministry said on February 9, 2016 that the rocket launched and the satellite it had delivered into orbit two days earlier were moderately more sophisticated than those of launched in 2012. If re-configured as a missile, the rocket technology used in February 7, 2016, launch may be successfully leveraged to develop long-range missile with range 7,400 miles with a warhead of 1,100 to 1,300 pounds.

South Korea Pulls the Plug off the Industrial Park
Rattled by Pyongyang’s fourth nuclear test and launching a rocket to put a satellite into orbit, a frustrated South Korea on February 10, 2016 announced that it would withdraw from a jointly run industrial park in North Korea. South Korea’s Unification Minister Hong Yong-pyo said on February 10, 2016 at Seoul that his country didn’t want to fund the Pyongyang’s nuclear program through this joint venture that helped North Korean workers to earn more than $560 million, including $120 million in the last year alone, and a capital infusion of $852 million in factories, roads and other facilities since the opening of the industrial park at Kaesong in 2004. This is the first time South Korea has taken such a drastic action. It has not taken an action like this even in 2010 when 50 of its sailors were killed. In 2013, the industrial park at Kaesong was temporarily shut down, but it was initiated at that time by North Korea to protest against the joint U.S-South Korea military exercises.

U.S. Senate Votes to Approve a Stricter Sanctions on North Korea
On February 10, 2016, U.S. Senate voted 96-0 to impose a stricter sanction regime on Pyongyang to punish the rogue nation for its recent nuclear test and a rocket launch. A similar bill sailed through the House last month. However, House may need to pass the Senate version.

North Korea Ups the Ante over Industrial Park
A day after South Korea announced withdrawal from a border industrial park at Kaesong in North Korea, North Korea’s Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea issued a statement on February 11, 2016, calling the South Korean action as “a dangerous declaration of war” and a “declaration of an end to the last lifeline of the North-South relations”. It also said that North Korea would pull all of the country’s workers from the park and country’s military would take it over.

U.S. House Passes the North Korea Sanctions BillU.S. House of Representatives on February 12, 2016 passed the Senate version of an economic sanctions measure passed by the U.S. Senate two days earlier. The bill, approved by the House with an overwhelming margin of 408-2, now goes to President Barack Obama for his signature.

South Korea Warns a Possible Collapse of North Korea
In a televised address justifying her decision to shut down a border industrial park, South Korean President Park Geun-hye warned on February 16, 2016 that Pyongyang risked a possible collapse if it didn’t abandon its nuclear program, leading to more crippling economic and trade sanctions.

U.S., China Work together to Craft Tough U.N. Sanctions against North Korea
Lately Beijing seems to have been at the receiving end of unilateralism and belligerence shown by North Korean regime. Especially what had more than just irked China in recent days were Pyongyang’s fourth nuclear test and following up with the launch of a satellite that many western experts saw a cover for missile testing. After days of intense negotiations, diplomats from China and the USA on February 25, 2016 were closer than ever before on coming up with a tough new regime of U.N. sanctions on North Korea.

Security Council Slaps Strict Sanctions on North Korea
Reflecting a unison in responding to North Korea’s frequent provocations on behalf of international community, the U.N. Security Council on March 2, 2016 unanimously approved a resolution to impose one of strictest regimes of sanctions on North Korea. Both Russia and China, North Korea’s patron and main benefactor, joined hands with other members of 15-nation Security Council, sending an unmistakable message to Pyongyang that international community’s patience with North Korean tantrums were wearing thin by day. According to March 2, 2016, U.N. Security Council resolution on North Korea:

* All cargoes going to, or coming from, North Korea by sea, land, or air will have mandatory inspections

* Pyongyang will be barred from imports of aviation fuel, which will ground its flights, and strictly limited in exports of coal, iron, gold and titanium

* Overseas assets of 16 individuals and 12 government agencies and banks will be frozen

North Korea launched

six short-range

projectiles on

March 3, 2016

from its eastern coast to coincide with the timing of the U.N. Security Council resolution to show its disgust and displeasure.

U.S. Slaps Sanctions on North Koreans
In addition to March 2, 2016, U.N. Security Council resolution on North Korea: that called for, among others, mandatory sanctions of all incoming, or outgoing, cargoes, USA separately announced on March 2, 2016 at Washington sanctions on a dozen individuals and five organizations linked to country’s nuclear program and proliferation.

North Korean Army Ordered to Get Its Nuke Ready
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on March 4, 2016 ordered country’s military to get its nuclear arsenal ready to deploy in a moment’s notice, according to the official Korean Central News Agency, KCNA. Although there was no official reaction so far from Pyongyang to the March 2, 2016, U.N. Security Council resolution on North Korea, North took the issue seriously and fired half-a-dozen short-range projectiles into sea off the North’s east coast about the same time the U.N.S.C. announced the sanctions.

South Korea Imposes Sanctions on Its Northern Neighbor
Six days after the U.N. Security Council clamped Pyongyang with a set of harsh new sanctions, South Korea on March 8, 2016 imposed its own tightening sanctions on North Korea for its recent provocative action, including a fourth nuclear test and a ballistic missile test, according to South and its western allies, in the guise of sending a satellite into orbit. Among the targets of Seoul’s sanctions are:

*

38 North Koreans

*

2 Foreigners

Leonard Lai, president of Singapore-based Senat Shipping,

and

Lyou Jen-yi, Taiwanese president of Royal Team Corporation

* 30 Companies with link to North’s nuclear program

* Ships which have made a port call in North Korea in the past 180 days to be banned from entering South Korean waters

North Korea Responds South’s Sanctions Announcement with Rockets
Barely after two days had passed since South Korea announced its harsh regime of sanctions on North Korea, Pyongyang responded in its belligerent way on March 10, 2016 by launching short-range ballistic missiles into the sea. In addition to launching the missiles into the sea, North Korea’s Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea said on March 10, 2016 that North Korea would “liquidate” all assets in a jointly run industrial park and abandoned industrial facility in the Diamond Mountain.

North Korea Carries out Missile Test off the Submarine
Hours after North Korea test-fired a ballistic missile on April 23, 2016 from a submarine in the waters off the country’s eastern coast, South Korea confirmed it and said that it was carried out near the coastal town of Sinpo. A day later on April 24, 2016, North Korea claimed to have carried out a successful test-fire of a sub-launched missile and gained added nuclear attack capability. However, it’s still not clear whether April 23, 2016, sub missile test was a success. Last time on December 25, 2016, when North Korea launched a sub missile test, it was deemed as a complete failure.

North Almost Ready for a Nuclear and Missile Tests, South Says
South Korean President Park Geun-hye said on April 26, 2016 that North Korea was getting ready to conduct its fifth nuclear test. Geun-hye also said that North had deployed a mid-range missile to carry out a test-launch very soon.

********************************* SEVENTH PARTY CONGRESS *******************North Korea Plans Party Congress after 36 Years
North Korea on April 27, 2016 announced that its ruling Workers Party would have seventh party congress beginning May 6, 2016. The announcement by party’s Politburo came amid heightened tension in Korean Peninsula and growing mistrust between the reclusive nation and the west. The sixth party Congress took place in 1980 under the leadership of country’s founding leader, Kim Il Sung, grandfather of the current president, Kim Jong Un. There was no party congress held during 17-year tenure (1994-2011) of Kim Jong Il.

Party Congress Begins with Pomp
36 years after the last party congress was held in 1980, the Seventh Party Congress of the ruling Workers’ Party began on May 6, 2016 at the ornate April 25 House of Culture in Pyongyang. 100, or so, foreign journalists, who made the trek to cover the historic Congress aimed at consolidating the leadership and leverage of the party leader Kim Jong Un, were not allowed inside the venue during opening of the Congress.

Kim Hails Nuclear, Missile Tests at Party Congress
Opening the Seventh Congress of the Workers Party at the grandiose April 25 House of Culture in Pyongyang on May 6, 2016, President Kim Jong Un lauded the country’s fourth nuclear test and the recent missile test, hailing them as harbingers to the “final victory”. The audience of 3,467 delegates and 1,387 observers frequently cheered the leader as he delivered a bellicose address.

Kim Given the Post of Party Chairman
Completing the consolidation and grip over the party organization, the Seventh Party Congress of the ruling Workers Party wrapped up the political jamboree on May 9, 2016 with the elevation of Kim Jong Un as the chairman of the party.

********************************* SEVENTH PARTY CONGRESS *******************North’s Missile Test a Flop
North Korea’s two test-fires of intermediate ballistic missiles on April 28, 2016 turned out to be a cropper, according to South Korean defense officials. Both of the tests–one from its northeastern coast and the second one from a site near Wonsan–involved Musudan class of missiles, and they had crashed into waters minutes after their launch. This marked the second and third failed tries after a failed April 15, 2016, test in which a Musudan class missile might have been used too.

North Korea Test-fires Two Rockets
North Korea on June 22, 2016 test-fired two Musudan class rockets, its fifth and sixth since April 2016, but one had failed while the second one traversed only 250 miles. Out of six launches, five had failed.

North Korea to Snap Diplomatic Channel with the USA
North Korea on July 11, 2016 announced that it would sever the diplomatic communication through U.N. channel in New York in response to the Obama administration’s decision last week to impose penalties against North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and 10 other top officials for gross violation in human rights. The announcement was carried by the official Korean Central News Agency three days after South Korea and the U.S. disclosed that they were close to choosing a site in South Korea to host the THAAD (Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense) system.

Missile Fired by North Lands near Japan’s Territorial Waters
A medium-range Rodong missile fired by North Korea on August 3, 2016 landed near the Japan’s maritime boundary. The missile launched from Hwanghae province on North Korea’s western coast flew eastward over the reclusive nation and sea for about 620 miles before falling near the Japan’s territorial waters, according to Japan and South Korea. The U.S. Strategic Command reported actually two, not one, Rodong missile launches, out of which one exploded right after the launch.

High Profile Diplomat Defects to South Korea
Inter-Korean relations took another bizarre, if not adversarial, turn on August 17, 2016 when South Korea disclosed that the second-highest ranking diplomat in DPRK Embassy in London, Thae Yong Ho, had defected to South Korea with his immediate family. Seoul didn’t say when, or how, Thae had defected to South Korea, but apparently he and his family had already set their feet in South Korean soil.

North Labels the Defector a “Human Scum”
North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency launched a diplomatic fusillade on August 20, 2016 against Thae Yong Ho, the second-highest ranking official of DPRK’s embassy in London, calling him a “human scum”. Korean Central News Agency also alleged that the diplomat was responsible for assault on a minor and other irregularities, including embezzlement of funds, and had been ordered in June 2016 to return to homeland. However, instead of returning home, according to Korean Central News Agency, Thae “proved himself to be human scum who betrayed the fatherland”.

North Fires Missile off a SubmarineNorth Korea on August 24, 2016 launched a missile off a submarine near the eastern coastal town of Sinpo. South Korea’s Joint Chief of Staffs issued a statement during the day, saying that the missile flew about 310 miles, the longest ever by any North Korean missile. The U.S. Strategic Command issued a statement too, saying that KN-11 missile had landed into the Sea of Japan. Political analysts have been speculating over the past several days of any surprise action by Pyongyang in response to a joint U.S-South Korea annual military drill that has begun on August 22, 2016.

North Korea Boasts of Missile Launch
North Korea on August 25, 2016 bragged about the successful launch of a missile that had been fired off a submarine and had flown about 310 miles, longest on record.  North’s official mouthpiece Korean Central News Agency called it a “success of all successes” that would put the U.S. mainland within striking distance. The launch of KN-11 missile from a submarine near the coast of Sinpo took place two days after August 22, 2016, start of joint annual U.S.-South Korean military drill dubbed as Ulchi Freedom Guardian exercises.

Vice Premier Executed
The sheer ruthlessness and rapid-speed punishment that had become a hallmark of Kim Jong Un regime to purge even the slightest form of dissidence was evident one more time this week as South Korean officials disclosed on August 31, 2016 that Pyongyang had carried out execution of a vice premier, Kim Yong Jin, and sent two other top officials for rigorous rectification training to country’s rural areas.

North Korea Fires Three Missiles
As G-20 summit was being wrapped up at Hangzhou, China, North Korea used the occasion on September 5, 2016 to fire three missiles that flew nearly 620 miles and landed near Japan.

North Korea Carries out Nuclear Test
North Korea on September 9, 2016 conducted its fifth and most potent nuclear test, sending an alarming message to its neighbors. North Korea bragged after the test that it [nuclear test] would help Pyongyang produce “a variety of smaller, lighter and diversified warheads of higher strike power with a firm hold on production of various fissile materials”. South Korean President Park Geun-hye called the nuclear test, Pyongyang’s fifth and second in eight months, as “fanatic recklessness”. The test conducted in northeastern parts of North Korea yielded radioactivity of strength 5.0, its most powerful test ever.

U.N. Body Pans North Korea for Nuclear Test
As world leaders continued assailing North Korea in the aftermath of its fifth and the most potent nuclear test, U.N. Security Council on September 9, 2016 condemned, in the words of U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power, the “brazen defiance” of Pyongyang. The statement issued jointly by all 15 member nations also said that the council would work diligently in the coming days to come up with a “new resolution” that would further tighten sanctions on North Korea. However, to get China, Pyongyang’s chief benefactor, and Russia on board, the statement also stressed that the new resolution would be formulated under Article 41 of the U.N. Charter, paving the way for non-military measures.

U.S. Flexes Muscles by Flying a Pair of Supersonic Bombers
In response to Pyongyang’s September 9, 2016, nuclear test, U.S. didn’t stop just by pushing the U.N. Security Council to move toward considering a new resolution against North Korea in the coming days, Washington on September 13, 2016 displayed its military prowess in order to wreck the nerve of the reclusive regime by flying two supersonic B-1B bombers from Guam over South Korea. The bombers returned to their base without making any stop in South Korea. The bombers were sighted by an Associated Press photographer 75 miles south of the border.

North Korea Reports of Carrying out Rocket Engine Test
North Korea’s official mouthpiece, Korean Central News Agency, reported on September 20, 2016 that Pyongyang had carried out a rocket engine test at the Sohae Space Center, country’s satellite launch site in the northwest near the borders with China. According to the KCNA, North Korea’s supreme leader Kim Jong Un was present during the single-engine test although it was mum when the test had been carried out. The test came seven months after North Korea’s February 7, 2016, launch of a satellite, Kwangmyonsong 4, or Shining Star 4, to the orbit.

Prominent Female Activists Press for Peace Initiative
An organization of world’s renowned females under the auspices of WomenCrossDMZ wrote a letter to the U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on September 27, 2016, pressing him to seek a peace deal between North and South Koreas and bring their state of war to an immediate end. The letter has implored the U.N.S.G. to lead the initiative before his term expires at the end of year. The group WomenCrossDMZ includes several eminent activists such as  octogenarian American feminist activist Gloria Steinem, Liberian Nobel Peace Laureate Leymah Gbowee and Mairead Maguire, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1976 for her work to bring peace to Northern Ireland.

Most Biting Sanctions Waiting for North Korea
How North Korea’s irresponsible September 9, 2016, nuclear test had ruffled the feather of the  international community that had galvanized the resolve of the world to give a unified message to Pyongyang was underscored by the upcoming resolution calling for the most stringent economic sanctions ever to be introduced at–and most likely approved by–the U.N. Security Council, according to a November 28, 2016, report carried by The Associated Press. Under the proposed resolution, North Korea’s primary source of hard currency will be targeted. North Korea’s coal exports will be capped at 7.5 million tons, or $400 million, a 62 percent decrease from an estimated $1 billion in coal exports, almost all of them to China, this year.

U.N. Security Council Slaps Far-reaching Sanctions against North Korea
U.N. Security Council on November 30, 2016 approved a resolution that would clamp strictest of  the sanctions ever on Pyongyang by placing a hard cap on coal exports, a key revenue generator for the reclusive Communist nation. On November 30, 2016, Pyongyang didn’t even get its primary benefactor China on its side as Chinese representative to the U.N. Liu Jieyi had implored North Korea to stop any further nuclear tests as they posed serious threat to China’s “strategic interests”.

North to Fire First ICBM

In the New Year’s televised address on

January 1, 2017

,

North Korean President Kim Jong Un

boasted about the nation’s nuclear program and claimed that Pyongyang was getting ready to test its first intercontinental ballistic missile.

President-Elect Calls out North’s Bluff
President-elect Donald Trump’s never-ending twitter feed lighted up within 24 hours of North Korean President Kim Jong Un’s declaration that Pyongyang would carry out its first ICBM test as Trump wrote on January 2, 2017 that the test would never happen.

************************** ASSASSINATION OF KIM JONG NAM *******************Leader’s Half Brother Killed in Airport Attack
In a brazen open daylight attack, two women rubbed a passenger’s face with some deadly chemical at the international departure lounge in Kuala Lumpur on February 13, 2017. The passenger, who was waiting to board on a flight to Macau, was pronounced dead. Hours later, his identity was known, and the world was shocked to know that the passenger was a half brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Kim Jong Nam fell out of favor in the eyes of North Korean leader and was reported to be hiding in exile.

Two Women Suspected of Murder Arrested
Authorities on February 15, 2017 arrested two women suspected of spraying a fatal chemical on the face of Kim Jong Nam, estranged half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Police arrested Doan Thin Wang, 28, carrying a Vietnamese passport, and a second woman early February 15, 2017 from the Terminal 2 of the Kuala Lumpur International Airport. South Korea’s acting president, Hwang Kyo-ahn, said on February 15, 2017 that his government was working with Malaysian authorities to get into bottom of the incident.

Death of Leader’s Half-Brother Leads to a Potential Diplomatic Crisis
The circumstance and cause of February 13, 2017, assassination of Kim Jong Nam at Kuala Lumpur’s international airport drove the bilateral relations between Malaysia and North Korea to the spiral of new lows. North Korean ambassador to Malaysia on February 20, 2017 demanded that the investigation into the assassination should be conducted jointly by two nations because of potential improprieties. Malaysian Foreign Ministry called the ambassador’s statement as “delusions, lies and half-truths”.

Malaysia Seeks North Korean Diplomat for Interrogation
Malaysian authorities on February 22, 2017 sought seven North Koreans in relation with February 13, 2017, killing of Kim Jong Nam at the Kuala Lumpur Airport. Four of the sought are believed to have fled Malaysia while two others–a second secretary at the North Korean Embassy and an employee of Air Koryo, North’s state-owned airline–are believed to be hiding in Malaysia.

Second Woman IdentifiedThe New York Times reported on February 22, 2017 that in addition to Doan Thin Wang, 28, a second woman of Indonesian origin, Siti Aisyah, 25, was under custody.

VX used to Kill Leader’s Estranged Half-BrotherMalaysia’s Inspector-General of Police Khalid Abu Bakar made public on February 24, 2017 that one of the women used VX nerve agent to rub the face of Kim Jong Nam on February 13, 2017 at a departure lounge of Kuala Lumpur’s international airport. A day earlier, North Korea denied any role in February 13, 2017, assassination of Kim Jong Nam. A statement attributed to the North Korean Jurists Committee read that the responsibility for Nam’s death “rests with the government of Malaysia” and reminded Kuala Lumpur that North Korea was “a nuclear state”.

Two Women Charged
On March 1, 2017, two women–Doan Thin Wang and Siti Aisyah–were charged by Malaysian authorities in the February 13, 2017, assassination of Kim Jong Nam.

North Korea Dismisses Autopsy Report, Malaysia Scraps Visa-free Travel

A North Korean envoy,

Ri Tong Il

, on

March 2, 2017

rejected Malaysian autopsy report that

Kim Jong Nam’s February 13, 2017

, death was the result of VX nerve agent that had been seared on his face allegedly by two women,

Doan Thin Wang and Siti Aisyah

, at the departure lounge of Kuala Lumpur International Airport. Meanwhile, the bilateral relations between

Pyongyang

and

Putrajaya

took another nosedive on

March 2, 2017

as Malaysian authorities scrapped the visa-free travel of North Korean citizens.

Malaysia Deports Only North Korean Held in Connection with the Murder
Since the audacious assassination of Kim Jong Nam on February 13, 2017, Malaysian authorities were seeking seven North Koreans and detained an eighth one, Ri Jong Chol, on February 17, 2017. Out of seven being pursued by the Malaysian authorities, four were thought to have fled the country while the remaining three, including an Air Koryo employee, Kim Uk Il, were still assumed to be in Malaysia. On March 3, 2017, Malaysian authorities deported Ri as there was not enough evidence against him and blacklisted him from entering Malaysia. During the day, Malaysian authorities issued arrest warrant against Kim Uk Il, the Air Koryo employee.

Assassinated Half-Brother’s Son Appears in a Video
A YouTube video surfaced on March 9, 2017 in which a man, claiming to be a son of Kim Jong Nam, who was killed at the Kuala Lumpur Airport on February 13, 2017 allegedly by the VX nerve agent, introduced himself Kim Han Sol and said that his dad had been killed. The young man also proclaimed that he along with his mother and sister was in hiding. Hours later, South Korea’s National Intelligence Service and the head of the Citizens’ Coalition for the Human Rights of Abductees and North Korean Refugees, Do Hee-youn, confirmed the identity of the young man as the son of Kim Jong Nam.

Ruler’s Half-Brother’s Body Returned in Exchange of 9 Jailed Malaysians
Ending a tense and sordid chapter of bilateral diplomacy, North Korea on March 31, 2017 released 9 Malaysians held in the reclusive nation in exchange for handing over the body of Kim Jong Nam, poisoned half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, and two other North Koreans, holed inside North Korean embassy in Kuala Lumpur, sought by Malaysian authorities.

One of the Women Returns Home after Charges have been Dropped
Two women that authorities accused of assassinating Kim Jong Nam, half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, at Kuala Lumpur international airport on February 13, 2017 appeared at Malaysian court on March 11, 2019, and the court had dropped all charges against Indonesian Siti Aisyah. Siti Aisyah was back to Indonesia within hours. Indonesian government lobbied for Siti’s release. A second defendant in this case, Doan Thin Wang, remained in Malaysian jail.

Second Woman ReleasedVietnamese Doan Thin Wang was released on May 3, 2019 and she immediately flew to Hanoi.

************************** ASSASSINATION OF KIM JONG NAM *******************Spurt of Missile Launches Lead Call for Early Deployment of U.S. Missile Defense Shield
On March 6, 2017, North Korea fired four ballistic missiles from its main missile launch base, Tongchang-ri, and they were reported to have traveled about 620 miles. Three of the four had landed within 200-nautical miles off Japan’s coast. The launch threatened to upend an already fragile political equilibrium in Korean Peninsula. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe accused Pyongyang of aggression and acting with “a new kind of threat”. During a meeting on March 6, 2017 of the South Korea’s National Security Council, acting President Hwang Kyo-ahn pressed for early deployment of THAAD, or Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense, missile defense system. However, deploying THAAD will not be a simple Korean political issue as China has become increasingly critical of THAAD deployment. Reiterating its stand, Beijing said that THAAD  undermined its own nuclear deterrent and hinted that it would take unforeseen economic measures against Seoul if South Korea went ahead with the planned deployment of THAAD. North Korea’s latest missile launch came in the midst of a joint war drill by U.S. and South Korean Navies. North Korea on March 2, 2017 called the joint naval exercises as part of “nuclear war”. Pyongyang’s official newspaper Rodong Sinmun said the following day, March 3, 2017, that North Korea would have “new strategic weapons of our own style” soaring into the sky.

Tillerson Threatens to Take Military Action against North KoreaU.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on March 17, 2017 visited the DMZ near the North Korean borders as part of his Asia tour and consolidating a strategic alliance with South Korea. Tillerson said that Washington’s “policy of strategic patience” was wearing thin and all options were on the table.

North Korea Conducts a High-Thruster Rocket Engine Test
In another high stakes saber-rattling act of defiance, North Korea on March 19, 2017 conducted a high-thruster rocket engine test at its Sohae launch site. The test was declared as successful, according to the Korean Central News Agency, Pyongyang’s official mouthpiece. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un was present at the test site. According to the KCNA, the goal of the test was to assess the capability and capacity of a key engine that is at the core of mastering the intercontinental missile technology.

North Korea Test-Launches Ballistic Missile
North Korea on April 5, 2017 tested a ballistic missile by launching it from a test-range near the eastern city of Sinpo, according to the U.S. Pacific Command. South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff on April 5, 2017 issued an identical assessment, saying the missile to have flown only 37 miles.

U.S. Aircraft Carrier Sail toward Korean Peninsula in a Pointed Message to North Korea’s Kim
Buoyed by a series of Tomahawk strikes against Syria, Trump administration sent a not-so-subtle message to Pyongyang on April 9, 2017 that the reclusive nation could be its next target. The U.S. Navy’s Third Fleet announced on April 9, 2017 that a Nimitz class aircraft carrier, USS Carl Vinson, accompanied by two destroyers and a guided-missile cruiser had been diverted from its original destination of port calls in Australia to north to “maintain readiness and presence in the western Pacific”. U.S. President Donald Trump had a telephone conversation with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on April 9, 2017 about “a range of regional issues, including the threat posed by North Korea”. Trump had a similar phone conversation with South Korea’s acting President Hwang Kyo-ahn on April 7, 2017.

North Korea Blasts U.S. Move to Send Aircraft Carrier to the RegionNorth Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency on April 10, 2017 condemned the U.S. action to divert USS Carl Vinson and its battle group to the waters off Korean Peninsula, calling it “outrageous”.

Chine Customs Data Shows Significant Bite to North Korean Coal Export
Chine Customs data released on April 13, 2017 showed almost 52 percent drop in coal imports from North Korea during the first quarter in 2017 compared to the same period in 2016. China imposed suspension of coal imports in mid-February 2017.

North Korea Displays Massive Show of Force on the Founder’s Day Parade
North Korea on April 15, 2017 marked the 105th birthday of its founder, Kim Il Sung, with a mix of pride, pomp and power, with military parade snaking through the Kim Il Sung Square that included display of both submarine- and land-based ballistic missiles. Pyongyang tested the first ballistic missile (submarine-based) last year and the second ballistic missile (land-based) last month. A day before, April 14, 2017, China issued a stern warning to North Korea, the USA and South Korea to refrain from brinkmanship as the official Xinhua news agency quoted Foreign Minister Wang Yi that severe “storm clouds” were gathering over the Korean Peninsula.  On April 14, 2017, North Korea accused the U.S. President Donald Trump of “making trouble” with “maniacal military provocations” and “aggressive tweets”.

North Korea’s Missile Test Fails
A day after showcasing the military might to mark North Korean founder Kim Il Sung’s 105th birthday, North Korea on April 16, 2017 test-fired a missile from the eastern coast. According to the U.S. and South Korea, the missile had crashed within minutes of its launch from the launch site in the city of Sinpo. Meanwhile, a U.S. naval strike group led by the USS Carl Vinson was on its way to the waters off the Korean Peninsula.

USS Battleship Headed in the Opposite Direction to What Was SaidThe New York Times and Los Angeles Times on April 18, 2017 reported that contrary to April 9, 2017, press statement attributed to Navy’s 3rd Fleet that Admiral Harry Harris Jr., the Pacific Commander, had ordered the Nimitz-class nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson and its strike force of two destroyers and one cruiser to sail toward Sea of Japan, the naval armada had actually headed to 3,500 miles southwest to hold joint exercises with Australian Navy in the Indian Ocean.

American Professor Detained
An American professor, Tony Kim, who had taught at the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology for a month had been detained at the airport as he had been headed out to china, bringing the total number of Americans detained in North Korea to three, according to reports carried by The Associated Press on April 23, 2017. In addition to Tony Kim, Otto Warmbier, a University of Virginia student, is serving a 15-year imprisonment, and Kim Dong Chul is serving a 10-year-term.

Rash of Military Exercises in the Waters off the Korean Peninsula
To mark the 85th anniversary of founding of its army, North Korea on April 25, 2017 conducted one of the largest live-fire drills. At the same time, U.S. Navy’s one of the biggest guided-missile submarines, USS Michigan, showed up for a “regularly scheduled port” call at Busan. Meanwhile, a U.S. destroyer, USS Wayne Meyer, began maritime exercises with the South Korean Navy in the Yellow Sea on April 25, 2017. A second U.S. destroyer, USS Fitzgerald, is now conducting a maritime drill with a Japanese destroyer in the Sea of Japan. To cap them all, an aircraft carrier, USS Carl Vinson, and its strike force of two destroyers and one cruiser will arrive at the region in the coming days. However, not all was lost on diplomatic front as the U.S. special representative for the North Korea policy, Joseph Yun, met with his Japanese and South Korean counterparts at Tokyo on April 25, 2017. The Chinese point-person for Korean affairs was also at hand in Tokyo. Later addressing the reporters, Yun said on April 25, 2017 that “China has a very, very important role to play” in defusing the tension.

U.S. Talks Tough in U.N., North Korea Launches Another Missile
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson took Pyongyang to the task at the U.N. Security Council on April 28, 2017, and said that North Korea, without being checked, would push the region to the point of  “catastrophic consequences”. Tillerson’s comments came a day after his boss, President Donald Trump, told Reuters that there was a possibility of having a “major, major conflict” with North Korea. Meanwhile, North Korea on April 28, 2017 (April 29, 2017 local time) launched a missile that was reported to have crashed shortly.

Duterte, Pope Urge Patience, Prudence in North Korea Crisis
A day after a failed missile test by North Korea, Philippines’ President Rodrigo Duterte, wrapping up a summit of Association of Southeast Asian Nation, or ASEAN, at Manila, said on April 30, 2017 that U.S. had a bigger stick in the stake and it needed to use more caution, patience and prudence while dealing with North Korea. Half a world away, Pope Francis on April 29, 2017 said during his flight back home from a visit to Egypt that if escalation went out of control, a good chunk of humanity might just disappear. At the same time, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe expressed his disappointment on April 19, 2017 at London over North Korea’s latest missile test. Meanwhile, Trump administration is still putting faith in China in to rein in North Korea’s nuclear ambition as the president said during an interview to be aired in April 30, 2017, edition of CBS’ Face the Nation that Chinese President Xi Jingping would not be happy if North went further with its nuclear program.

North Korea Launches Missile Four Days after New President Takes Office in Seoul
Hardly four days passed by since Moon Jae-in was sworn in as the new president of South Korea and had extended an olive branch to Pyongyang, North Korea on May 14, 2017 tested the patience of the new leader by launching a missile that landed in the Sea of Japan.

North Korea Fires Medium-Range Missile
North Korea on May 21, 2017 fired a medium-range missile, similar to the one that it had tested in February 2017, that was launched from an area near Pukchang County in the South Phyongan Province and flew 500 kilometers (310 miles) eastward before crashing to sea. Similarly, in February 2017, North Korea launched a solid-fuel missile, Pukguksong (Polaris)-2, a land-based version of submarine-propelled missile, from a launch truck. Pukguksong flew about 500 kilometers before falling into the sea.

U.N. Body Condemns North Korea’s Missile Test
A day before U.N. Security Council was to huddle at a closed-door session to formulate what the France’s U.N. Ambassador Francois Delattre called the tough sixth-round of U.N. sanction regime, the 15-nation body on May 22, 2017 adopted a unanimous resolution condemning Pyongyang’s May 21, 2017, test of a medium-range ballistic missile. The tough-worded statement came three days after North Korea’s U.N. envoy, Kim In Ryong, told the U.N. correspondents on May 19, 2017 that his country would accelerate the nuclear capability of its arsenals as long as the USA maintained its “hostile policy”.

North Korea Launches Scud-type Missile; U.S. Sends Supersonic Bombers
North Korea was reported to have launched a scud-type missile on May 29, 2017 that flew about 280 miles before landing into waters off Japan. Hours later, U.S. responded by sending two B-1B Lancer bombers over South Korea.

North Korea Successfully Tests ICBM
North Korea on July 4, 2017 attained an admirable milestone in missile capability as it has demonstrated its growing prowess by launching a Hwasong-14 missile, an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), from an undisclosed location. According to the U.S. intelligence, the missile was in the flight for about 37 minutes. On July 5, 2017 (U.S. time July 4, 2017), North Korean leader Kim Jong In exuded confidence after a successful test-launch of Hwasong-14 missile, doubling down on his threat that Pyongyang would never abandon nuclear weapons and keep sending Washington more “gift packages” of missile and nuclear tests. Hours after the test, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called the North’s action “a new escalation of the threat” to the U.S.

Haley Blasts Russia, China for Blocking U.N. Measure against North Korea
Taking the pulpit of the U.N. Security Council, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley on July 5, 2017 condemned Russia and China for opposing a resolution that condemned Pyongyang for carrying out an ICBM test a day earlier and aimed to impose stricter sanctions. Meanwhile, taking to Twitter, U.S. President Donald Trump criticized China for flourishing trade with the reclusive nation that grew “almost 40% in the first quarter”. In April 2017, Chinese authorities made public that the trade between nations in the first quarter had grown 37.4 percent. The back-and-forth and the unusual harsh words by Haley came a couple of days before the G-20 summit at Hamburg, Germany where Presidents Xi Jinping, Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump would share table.

Family Reunions ProposedSouth Korean President Moon Jae-in on July 6, 2017 proposed family reunion of older people separated by the Korean War (1950-53) during a speech in Hamburg, Germany, where he had been to attend the G-20 summit.

North Korea Tests Second ICBM
North Korea on July 28, 2017 test-fired a second intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) in 24 days, raising the tension in Korean Peninsula to an alarming height. According to The New York Times and Associated Press, quoting U.S., Japanese and South Korean officials, the missile was in flight for 47 minutes and traversed 2,300 miles before crashing into the see near the northernmost Japanese island of Hokkaido.

Security Council Imposes Tough Export Sanctions
Responding to two ICBM tests in a span of 24 days (July 4 and July 28), U.N. Security Council on August 5, 2017 unanimously approved a package of stiff sanctions, targeting almost $1 billion of $3 billion in exports. Praising the U.N.S.C. resolution, U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley said that the measure was the “single largest economic package ever leveled against the North Korean regime”. The measure also:

* Prohibits other nations from giving additional permits for North Korean migrant laborers

* Bans all new ventures with North Korean companies

* Bans new investment in the existing projects

China Delivers Stern Message to North Korea
China on August 6, 2017 made sure that North Korea heard it loud and clear from its much bigger neighbor that Pyongyang had to put a halt to its missile and nuclear testing. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi issued a statement during the day after meeting with his North Korean counterpart, Ri Yong Ho, on the sidelines of the ASEAN security forum in Philippines. The statement urged the North Korea not to “violate the U.N.’s decision or provoke international society’s goodwill my conducting missile launching or nuclear tests”. The statement added: “Of course, we would like to urge other parties like the U.S. and South Korea to stop increasing tensions”. Although the U.S. tried hard to suspend North Korea’s membership from 28-nation ASEAN, other 27 nations respectfully declined to oblige.

North Korea Threatens U.S. with Attacks
North Korea on August 7, 2017 mounted a three-pronged attack on the U.S. by threatening to strike the USA. North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency, country’s U.N. Mission and North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho issued statements during the day, threatening Washington of taking punitive measures. The official Korean Central News Agency threatened the USA of retaliation of “thousands of times in a reference to August 5, 2017, U.N. sanctions pushed by Washington. North Korea’s U.N. Mission also issued a statement, blasting the August 5, 2017, U.N. resolution that imposed sanctions on $1 billion of exports of coal, iron and seafood as “a flagrant infringement of its sovereignty”. Also, during the day, North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho, attending an ASEAN security forum in Manila issued a statement, threatening to “teach the U.S. a severe lesson with its nuclear strategic force”.

Trump, Kim Trade Threats amid Reports of North Korea having Miniaturized a Nuclear Warhead

It was a day hurling long-distance threats and counter-threats between U.S. and North Korea. Talking to reporters at his

Bedminster, New Jersey

golf club,

President Donald Trump said on August 8, 2017

that North Korea better not make any more threats to the USA as “they will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen before”. Hours later, North Korea issued its own counter-threat by striking Guam and creating an “enveloping fire”. In a related article,

The Washington Post

reported on

August 8, 2017

that the

Defense Intelligence Agency

had concluded last month in an assessment that North Korea had attained a nuclear capability milestone by achieving technical knowhow how to fit a nuclear miniature at the tip of a missile.

Canadian-Korean Pastor Released
A Canadian pastor, Lim Hyeon-soo, sentenced to hard labor for life in December 2015 by the North Korea’s Supreme Court was released on August 9, 2017 on health grounds. The same Supreme court ordered the release of Lim Hyeon-soo, a South Korean-born pastor of Toronto’s Light Korean Presbyterian Church who had been accused of trying to carry out “subversive plots” against Pyongyang.

Trump Doubles down on Threats against North Korea
President Donald Trump did not stop only at his now-infamous “fire and fury” comments against North Korea, but extended the rhetoric and rancor of his threat to a new level. First on August 10, 2017, he said at his Bedminster Golf Club that his “fire and fury” comments might not be harsh enough. On August 11, 2017, Trump notched up the vehemence to a new level, saying that the U.S. military had been “locked and loaded” to take action against North Korea although there was no visible uptick of U.S. military activity in the region.

Mattis, Tillerson Try to Lower Tension
In the aftermath of U.N. Security Council sanctions that had targeted about $1 billion of $3 billion in North Korean exports, Pyongyang upped the ante by saying that it would respond “ruthlessly”, provoking Trump to say: “North Korea best not make any more threats”, or it would be “met with fire and fury and, frankly, power the likes of which this world has never seen before”. Then Pyongyang threatened to launch attack against Guam, leading Trump to tweet that U.S. military was “locked and loaded”. In the height of enveloping tension because of brinkmanship on the both sides, Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford, Jr. was making rounds through the region to sense the “temperature”. He emphasized on diplomacy and sanctions as means to achieve denuclearization of Korean Peninsula. On August 17, 2017, U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson stressed on the same theme, and said, alongside their Japanese counterparts in Washington, D.C., that U.S. would not strike first.

North Korea Launches Three Short-range Missiles
Defying U.S. and its regional allies, North Korea on August 25, 2017 launched three short-range missiles that fell into the sea after flying northeast about 155 miles. The August 25, 2017, missile launches might be in response to twice-a-year joint drill by U.S. and South Korea that had begun on August 21, 2017.

North Korea’s Missile Flies over Japan
For the first time since 2009, North Korea launched a missile from a site near capital, Pyongyang, on August 29, 2017 that flew almost 1,700 miles over Japan’s northern-most island of Hokkaido before crashing into water. In 1998 and 2009, Pyongyang launched rockets that flew over Japan, and both times, claimed North, the rockets carried satellites. North Korea’s latest test came four days after three short-range missiles were launched.

U.S.-South Korea Joint Drill Ends with a Bang
U.S. and South Korea concluded their twice a year military drill with thunderous display of military prowess on August 31, 2017, two days after North Korea fired a ballistic missile over Japan. On the concluding day, two U.S. B1-B supersonic bombers and four F-35 joined four South Korean f-15 fighter jets in the military range in eastern South Korea in a show of, what U.S. Pacific Air Forces commander, Gen. Terrence O’Shaughnessy, called as a “broadening cooperation to defend against this common regional threat”, referring to North Korea.

North Korea Tests Sixth Nuclear Test
North Korea on September 3, 2017 carried out its sixth underground nuclear test, defying the threats by Trump and his administration. Responding to the September 3, 2017, nuclear test, Trump reacted in bareknuckle manner unbecoming of the President of the USA. Trump lashed out at South Korea and accused it of pursuing the so-called “appeasement” policy.

North Korea’s Kim Escalates Personal Feud with Trump
Responding to President Donald Trump’s threat to Kim Jong Un whom the president mockingly called the “rocket man”, North Korea’s leader shot back on September 22, 2017 in a more personal term, calling Trump the “mentally deranged U.S. dotard” amid heightened tension given that Pyongyang was preparing a hydrogen bomb test in the Pacific. Meanwhile, at an Alabama rally, President Trump on September 22, 2017 doubled down his disparage of Kim by calling him the “little rocket man”.

North Korean Foreign Minister Calls the U.S. Attack “Inevitable”
North Korea’s foreign minister, Ri Yong Ho, said at the U.N. on September 23, 2017 that given Trump’s personal attack on the North Korean leader, Pyongyang’s tough response against the U.S. mainland was all but “inevitable”.

U.S., North Korea had Talked, Tillerson saysU.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told the journalists at the Beijing residence of U.S. Ambassador to China on September 30, 2017 that U.S. had held talks with North Korea to probe into reclusive country’s missile and nuclear program.

North Korea Launches Third, Most Advanced to Date, ICBMNorth Korea on November 29, 2017 (local time) ratcheted up tension in Korean Peninsula by launching a Hwasong-15 ICBM that flew higher and longer than previous such launches. What is concerning this time was that the missile could theoretically reach Washington D.C. U.S. President Donald Trump said, hours after the successful test, that “we will take care of it”. According to The Washington Post and The New York Times, the missile flew for 54 minutes (more than 37 minutes and 47 minutes in earlier two similar launches in July 2017) and to a peak height of 2,800 miles before crashing off the coast of Japan, about 620 miles from the take-off site.

North Korea also issued a statement after its

November 29, 2017

,

Hwasong-15 ICBM

launch, pronouncing itself a “nuclear state”.

Tillerson Open to Talks with North KoreaU.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on December 12, 2017 opened a pathway of conciliation with North Korea as the former ExxonMobil CEO said that he was ready to talk to North Korea on almost anything, including “weather”. White House immediately distanced itself from Tillerson’s comments.

Tillerson Somersaults on North Korea Talks
In a typical political backtracking and retreat, Rex Tillerson, addressing the U.N. Security Council, played tough on December 15, 2017, saying that North Korea had to earn its “way back to the table” by adopting to a policy of “sustained cessation” of its “threatening behavior”.

U.S. Slaps Sanctions on Two Key North Korea Figures
The U.S. Treasury Department on December 26, 2017 announced sanctions against two North Koreans–Kim Jong Sik, a veteran rocket scientist, and Ri Pyong Chol, a former senior Air Force commander–closely involved in the country’s nuclear program and often seen with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un after any nuclear test or missile launches. The sanctions include freezing their assets, if any, in the USA and prohibition of any American to do business with them.

North Korea’s Kim Calls for Dialogue in New Year’s Message
Making a strategic change both in message and policy, North Korea’s Kim Jong Un called for dialogue with South Korea in his New Year’s Day message. Although Kim said during his address that he had a “nuclear button” in his office that could be used against anywhere in the U.S., he waved olive branch to South Korea and agreed to send a North Korean delegation to Pyeongchang Winter Olympics in South Korea. Hours after Kim’s speech on January 1, 2018, South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s office welcomed it. Seizing the opening for thawing of the inter-Korean ties, South Korea’s Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon proposed early January 2, 2018 a bilateral meet at the border village of Panmunjom on January 9, 2018 to discuss on North Korea’s participation in the winter Olympic and ways to improve overall relationship between two Koreas.

Trump Taunts Kim in a Tweet
In response to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s New Year’s Day message that he had a nuclear button on his desk, U.S. President Donald Trump on January 2, 2018 tweeted: “I too have a Nuclear Button, but it is a much bigger” and “more powerful one than his, and my Button works”.

North Korea Restores Border Hotline
North Korea on January 3, 2018 restored a hotline at the village of Panmunjom to facilitate co-operation that was suddenly made possible by an optimistic New Year’s Day address by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

U.S., South Korea to Delay Joint Military Exercises
At a telephone call between U.S. President Donald Trump and South Korean President Moon Jae-in, both nations on January 4, 2018 agreed to delay the joint military exercise, dubbed as Foal Eagle, until after the PyeongChang Winter Olympics was over. The cancellation of Foal Eagle, expected to involve about 30,000 U.S. soldiers and 200,000 South Korean troops, was meant to de-escalate the tension in the wake of the Winter Olympics.

North Korea to Participate in Winter Olympics
North Korean and South Korean negotiators met at the border village of Panmunjom on January 9, 2018, and North agreed to send a delegation to PyongChang Winter Olympics as well as a cheering squad and a performance-art troupe. After the agreement was reached, the photo of a smiling South Korean Re-unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon shaking hands with his North Korean counterpart, Ri Son Kwon, went on wide circulation across the world.

North Korea to Send Arts Troupe to Winter Olympics
North Korea on January 15, 2018 announced that it would send a 140-member orchestra team as part of the so-called good will trip during PyongChang Winter Olympics. The art troupe is scheduled to perform at Seoul and another Olympics-hosting city, Gangneung. This will be the first  performance of the North’s artists south of the highly-volatile and -contested borders in 16 years and raises hope for further thawing of relationship.

North and South Koreas to Participate Jointly in the Opening Ceremony
Amid the escalating tension that had precipitated one crisis after one in the Korean Peninsula last year, the New Year has been shaping up, at least for now, for optimism and hope for peace. January 17, 2018 marked another bright spot on the calendar as both South and North Korean negotiators–led by South Korea’s Vice Unification Minister Chun Hae-sung and North’s delegation head, Jon Jong Su–met at the truce village of Panmunjom and arrived at a historic deal for the next month’s PyongChang Winter Olympics. Under the deal, athletes from both Koreas will walk under the one Korean flag at the opening ceremony and the women’s ice hockey team will consist of players from the both sides of the border, underscoring the first time of a unified Korean team since both nations had played under single teams in both table tennis and youth soccer tournaments in 1991. Both nations also agreed that their respective skiing teams would practice in the Masikryong Skiing Resort in North Korea that was opened in 2013.

North Scraps Cultural Event
In protest against adverse South Korean media, North Korea on January 29, 2018 abrogated plan to hold joint cultural event at Mount Kumgang resort in North Korea on February 4, 2018. However, the plan to send 22 North Korean athletes to the PyongChang Winter Olympics as well as other joint events in the South Korean soil remained unchanged.

North Korea Accused of Violating U.N. Sanctions and Nuclear Program Procurement in Germany
Two bombshells were dropped in as many days accusing North Korea of cheating the U.N. sanctions and using German soil as procurement site to advance its nuclear program. U.N. experts submitted a report on February 2, 2018 to the U.N. Security Council that alleged Pyongyang for violating U.N. sanctions by clandestinely exporting oil and coal that had netted the reclusive nation as high as $200 million in the first nine months of 2017 alone. According to the report, North Korea continued cooperation on its ballistic missile program with Syria and Myanmar while exporting coal to China, Vietnam, Malaysia and South Korea.

On

February 3, 2018

, a second serious allegation emerged against North Korea as the head of Germany’s domestic intelligence agency, or

BfV

,

Hans-Georg Maassen

, told the

NDR

public TV station in an interview that North Korea had used its Berlin embassy for procurement activity in materials related to its nuclear program.

************ PYONGCHANG WINTER OLYMPICS AND DIPLOMACY****************North to Send High-Level Delegation to OlympicsThe New York Times quoted South Korean officials on February 4, 2018 that a 22-official North Korean government delegation would visit South Korea during PyongChang Winter Olympics. The 3-day official trip will be led by the chairman of North Korea’s parliament, Kim Yong Nam, 90. Nam led a North Korean delegation to the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics.

Kim’s Sister to Visit South Korea during GamesThe Associated Press reported February 7, 2018 that Kim Jong Un’s sister, Kim Yo Jong, would attend the PyongChang Winter Olympics, raising promising signs of further thawing of inter-Korean relations.

South Korean President Moon Holds Luncheon with Kim’s Sister

South Korean President Moon Jae-in

bestowed high-profile diplomatic honor on visiting

Kim Yo Jong, sister of Kim Jong Un

and the first vice director of the Central Committee of the ruling Workers’ Party, as he had luncheon on

February 10, 2018

at the

Blue House

, South Korea’s equivalent to the White House, with Yo Jong and other North Korean officials.

North Korea Invites Moon for a SummitThe New York Times reported on February 10, 2018 that Kim Yo Jong, sister of Kim Jong Un, had delivered a personal invitation by the North Korean leader to South Korean President Moon Jae-in during the day’s luncheon at the Blue House for visit to North for a summit. The invitation was seen by South Korea both with caution and optimism. It has some risks too as any rapprochement between North Korea and South Korea without a semblance of improvement in ties between Pyongyang and Washington may weaken, however trivial it might be, the decades-old bond between two allies especially in the backdrop that U.S. Vice President Mike Pence was ready to meet with Kim Yo Jong during the PyongChang Olympics, only to be snubbed and used some unusually harsh language against North Korean regime during his interview circuit with the media.

North Willing to Talk to Washington, South Korea Says
As PyongChang Winter Olympics came to a glittering and glamorous close on February 25, 2018, with a host of world leaders present from opposing political spectrum, among them North Korean General Kim Yong Chol, who had been slapped with U.S. sanctions, U.S. President Donald Trump’s daughter, Ivanka Trump, head of the U.S. delegation who sat adjacent to Chol, and U.S. Gen. Vincent Brooks, top commander of U.S. forces stationed in South Korea, who wore a full military uniform. At the closing ceremony, South Korean President Moon Jae-in personally greeted North Korean General Kim Yong Chol, with a smiling Ivanka looking on. The South Korean presidential palace, known as Blue House, issued a statement on February 25, 2018 that North Korea was willing to hold direct talks with USA, a significant shift in political events in the tense Korean Peninsula.

************ PYONGCHANG WINTER OLYMPICS AND DIPLOMACY****************

U.N. REPORTPanel Accuses North Korea of Supplying Syria Materials for Chemical Weapons
An eight-member U.N. panel submitted a report to U.N. Security Council that gave a chilling account on how North Korea was able to get around one of the strictest sanction measures U.N. had ever imposed to supply Syrian government materials, including acid-resistant tiles, valves and thermometers, for chemical weapons, The New York Times reported on February 27, 2018. The report, 200-page-long, also reported that North Korean weapons and missile experts had been working alongside Syrian experts at the country’s missile and weapons facilities. Although the existence or content of the report has been leaked to the media, it’s not known when or whether the report will be officially released.

Moon, Trump Hold Talks over Plan to Send Officials to North Korea

As the tension in Korean Peninsula appeared to thaw during the

PyongChang Winter Olympics

that brought high-level U.S., North Korean and South Korean officials, including President

Moon Jae-in

, to the same venue, and paved the way for inter-Korean talks,

South Korean President Moon Jae-in

didn’t want to lose the momentum and seized the opportunity to facilitate talks between U.S. and North Korea. On

March 1, 2018

, Moon called up his U.S. counterpart,

Donald Trump

, to brief his plan to send a high-level delegation to Pyongyang to hold talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and other officials as part of effort to clear the road for talks between Pyongyang and Washington.

North Open to Talks with the U.S.
North Korea’s official news agency, Korean Central News Agency, said on March 3, 2018 that Pyongyang would enter into talks with the U.S., but without any pre-condition and based on “an equal footing between states” to address the “issues of mutual concern”. The March 3, 2018, official statement was issued days after February 26, 2018, comment by U.S. President Donald Trump that U.S. could open negotiation with North Korea “only under the right conditions”, implying the denuclearization to be an issue on the table.

South Names Two Officials for North Korea Visit

South Korea on March 4, 2018 named two South Korean officials who would visit Pyongyang to hold talks with Kim Jong Un as part of creating a way-forward plan for talks between North Korea and USA. South Korea’s National Security Adviser Chung Eui-yong and the country’s National Intelligence Service Director Suh Hoon will embark on a two-day (March 5-6, 2018) historic trip of North Korea.

North Korean Leader Holds “Open-Hearted Talks” with South’s Envoys

In a major diplomatic victory, North Korea on March 5, 2018 emerged from diplomatic isolation by hosting two high-ranking South Korean officials, South Korea’s National Security Adviser Chung Eui-yong and the country’s National Intelligence Service Director Suh Hoon. North Korea called the four-hour meeting over dinner on March 5, 2018 between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and South Korean envoys as “open-hearted” and “co-patriotic”.

Kim Ready to Talk to Trump

South Korea said on March 6, 2018 at the end of a two-day North Korea visit by two President Moon Jae-in’s two envoys, South Korea’s National Security Adviser Chung Eui-yong and the country’s National Intelligence Service Director Suh Hoon, that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un had told the South’s officials that he was ready to talk to U.S. President Donald Trump on de-nuclearization of Korean Peninsula. South Korea also said that while such discussions were underway, Pyongyang would suspend its nuclear and missile testing program. Also, an additional hopeful sign of thawing relationship emerged during two-day (March 5-6, 2018) historic talks as both sides had agreed to hold an inter-Korean summit in late April 2018.

Trump Agrees to Talk to Kim
In an unimaginable turn of events and underscoring the unpredictability of his approach toward global policies of importance, President Donald Trump on March 8, 2018 agreed to talk to North Korean leader Kim Jong UnSouth Korea’s National Security Adviser Chung Eui-yong met with President Donald Trump at the White House on March 8, 2018, and then, held an unprecedented press conference at the White House unaccompanied by any U.S. official where Chung said that the policy of maximum pressure had yielded the desired results with Kim now willing to talk to Trump and during the talks, North would pause on any nuclear or missile test. What’s galling is absolute absence of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in the process related to North Korea.

North, South Koreas, U.S. Hold Talks–Unofficially–in Finland
In an effort to prepare ground for North-South summit dialogue as well as North Korea-U.S. summit, a two-day (March 20-21, 2018) tripartite unofficial meeting was held in Finland. Six officials from each nation participated in the deliberation, out of which media was locked out, along with observers from the U.N. and E.U. The meeting was kicked off with a formal dinner on March 19, 2018 night at a Helsinki restaurant by Finnish Foreign Minister Timo Soini, and then formal meeting got shifted to a 19th-century manor house outside Helsinki.  The U.S. delegation was headed by former ambassador to South Korea, Kathleen Stephens, and the North Korean delegation by Choe Kang Il, chief point-person of matters related to the U.S.

On

March 21, 2018

, Finnish Foreign Ministry issued a terse statement calling the just-concluded unofficial tripartite meeting as “constructive”.

North, South Officials to Meet at Panmunjom on Inter-Korean Summit 

After North Korea on March 24, 2018 accepted South Korean offer of Panmunjom as a venue, South Korea announced that the March 29, 2018, meeting that would discuss planning of an April 2018 summit meeting between Koreas would be headed by Cho Myoung-gyon, South Korea’s unification minister, on behalf of Seoul. North Korean side will be headed by veteran official Ri Son-kwon.

KIM’S VISIT TO CHINA

Kim Visits China Unannounced, Meets with Xi

China’s official Xinhua said on March 28, 2018 that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and his wife, Ri Sol Ju, made an unannounced China trip from March 24, 2018 to March 28, 2018. Kim arrived at Beijing in a special train in his first foreign trip since becoming the leader of North Korea after his father Kim Jong Il’s death. Xinhua also said that Kim had met with Chinese President Xi Jinping at the sprawling Great Hall of People, and Chinese First Lady Peng Liyuan hosted a banquet for Kim and his wife.

Inter-Korean Summit to Take Place on April 27, 2018

Officials from both Koreas met at Panmunjom on March 29, 2018 to discuss the date, venue and logistics of inter-Korean summit. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and South’s president, Moon Jae-in, will meet at Peace House, on the South’s side of the border at Panmunjom. This will be the first inter-Korean summit since Roh Moo-hyun has met with the then-North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, father of Kim Jong Un, in 2007 at Pyongyang. Before that, Kim Dae-jung met with Kim Jong Il in 2000, this time at the North Korean capital too.

U.N. Slaps North Korea with Sanctions 
Although recent indications all pointed to thawing of the tension that had brewed almost greater parts of the last year, U.N. still hit North Korea on March 31, 2018 with additional sanctions, including blacklisting 27 ships, 21 shipping companies and one individual. Most of the targets were already included in the U.S. blacklist.

North Korea Agrees to Hold Nuclear TalksThe Washington Post reported on April 8, 2018 that North Korea informed the USA through direct channel its willingness to hold talks with Washington that would include Pyongyang’s nuclear program.

North Embraces Chinese Diplomat in Contrast to His Treatment Six Months Ago
A high-ranking Chinese official, Song Tao, received highest level of honor and embrace from North Korea, according to an April 15, 2018, Korean Central News Agency report. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, fresh from a state visit to China, had a meeting with Song, a sharp contrast to the Chinese diplomat’s November 2017 visit to North Korea when Kim refused to meet with him as tension was running high amid a series of nuclear and missile tests that had pushed the Korean Peninsula into brink and strained relations between Pyongyang and China, North Korea’s largest benefactor.  

CIA Head Met with KimThe New York Times reported on April 17, 2018 that CIA head Mike Pompeo took a secret visit to North Korea and met with Kim Jong Un on Easter Sunday, April 1, 2018. President Donald Trump during the day alluded to this diplomatic tryst, saying that U.S. was at the highest level of contacts with North Korea.

North Korea Relents on U.S. Troops Withdrawal from South Korean Soil
Barely a week before the first summit between two Koreas on the South’s soil, South Korean President Moon Jae-in on April 19, 2018 publicly delivered a positive message to Washington as he told reporters in Seoul that North did not demand anymore for withdrawal of 28,500 U.S. troops from the South Korean soil. The presence of U.S. troops on the South was always a sticking point, and Pyongyang exploited it to justify the country’s nuclear program.

Hotline between Two Koreas Established
In another feather to the inter-Korean diplomatic cap, both Koreas on April 20, 2018 established the hotline for the first time between two Koreas.

North Korea to Suspend Nuclear, Missile Testing, Plans to Shut down Nuclear Testing Site
After a meeting of the ruling party’s Central Committee, Korean Central News Agency carried a statement issued from Kim Jong Un, saying that DPRK had already mastered the nuclear and missile technology and, thus, did not need to pursue any more test. The April 21, 2018, KCNA statement implied that the reclusive nation would suspend all nuclear and missile tests. The statement also said that it [DPRK] would close down its only nuclear test site. However, there was no indication whether North Korea would give up its existing cache of nuclear weapons and missiles.

************************** INTER-KOREAN SUMMIT *****************************

Historic Korean Summit Held

For the first time, a North Korean leader stepped onto South’s soil, implying a significant symbolism in the history of inter-Korean relationship. On April 27, 2018, Kim Jong Un crossed the border for few yards to shake hands with South Korean President Moon Jae-in at the Peace House in the border village of Panmunjom. Moon Jae-in gracefully embraced Kim, and then, both leaders sat down for a historic negotiation. Both leaders agreed to work with the U.S., within the year, for a peace treaty–that would replace an uneasy truce that had been in place since 1953–and pursue the goal of denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula, according to a joint statement issued by the leaders at the end of the summit.

More Details about the Summit Emerge

South Korea’s presidential office on

April 29, 2018

said that

Kim jong Un

told Moon during the

April 27, 2018

, summit at

Panmunjom

that North Korea would shut down its only nuclear test site in

Punggye-ri

in the country’s northeast and invite journalists to witness the dismantling of the test site. In addition, North Korean authorities will re-adjust its time zone to that of South Korea as part of the agreement between two leaders. In 2015, North Korea dialed back the time zone by half-an-hour than what it used to be the same time zone for Koreas and Japan as a form of protest against Japan’s colonial past.

Second, Impromptu Inter-Korean SummitSouth Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un met in an impromptu, hastily set-up meeting at Panmunjom on May 26, 2018 to discuss cordially issues that might be bottleneck in the holding of June 12, 2018, Trump-Kim Summit in Singapore, a high-profile summit that South Korean president had put significant degree of political and diplomatic stakes to thaw tension in Korean Peninsula. The meeting was held on the northern side of Line of Control at Panmunjom. Both leaders hugged and exchanged pleasantries in a show of their personal bond, and President Moon Jae-in said on May 27, 2018 that, in future, they would meet as frequently as needed without any constraint.

Third Summit Planned
North and South Koreas issued a joint statement on August 13, 2018, promoting the message of good will that had been generated in recent months and announcing the third summit between Kim Jong Un and Moon Jae-in in September 2018. The joint statement was issued in the aftermath of an official level between two Koreas. Now, it’s to be seen whether Moon Jae-in takes a trip to North Korea around September 9, 2018, 70th anniversary of the founding of DPRK. Last week, North Korea’s foreign ministry accused Washington of pressuring foreign nations not to send delegation to mark the event.

Third Summit at Pyongyang Held
A historic third summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae In began at Pyongyang on September 18, 2018. The motorcade of both leaders was greeted at the Pyongyang streets with chants favoring re-unification of Korean Peninsula. During the meeting, Kim was reported to have told Moon that North was willing to permanently dismantle North Korea’s main nuclear complex, Nyongbyon Nuclear Facility, provided U.S. took complementary measures. North Korean leaders also pledged to dismantle a missile engine test site and launch pad at Dongchang-ri in presence of outside inspectors. Both Koreas are apparently interested in jointly hosting the 2032 Summer Olympics.

Kim, Moon Wrap up Third Summit with an Expansive AgreementKim Jong Un and Moon Jae-in on September 20, 2018 concluded a productive summit at Pyongyang with an agreement aimed at eliminating all dangers in Korean Peninsula and raising hope for a second summit between Donald Trump and Kim.

Second Trump-Kim Summit Proposed
After a successful three-day inter-Korean summit, South Korean President Moon Jae-in returned to Seoul on September 20, 2018, and said that Kim Jong Un expressed a desire to meet with U.S. President Donald Trump for a second summit to hasten the de-nuclearization process.

************************* INTER-KOREAN SUMMIT ******************************

Koreas Dismantle Propaganda Broadcast; Moon Talks to U.N.S.G.

In a move in the right direction as part of the fruitful outcome of the first ever inter-Korean summit on the South’s soil, two nations on May 1, 2018 dismantled the towering microphones along the 154-mile border, putting to an end to the propaganda that had come to define their relationship over past several decades. On a different note, South Korean President Moon Jae-in on May 1, 2018 asked the U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres during a phone conversation to oversee the dismantling process of the Punggye-ri nuclear testing site in North Korea.

North Adjusts Its Time Zone

North Korea on

May 5, 2018

re-adjusted its time zone to the pre-2015 clock, matching that of Japan and South Korea and expressing hope for this “early” step to serve as a small precursor to the eventual re-unification in future.

Pompeo Arrives at North Korea to Work on Summit Details
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on May 9, 2018 arrived at Pyongyang to work on details and parameters of the June 2018 summit between Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un. Reports emerged that Pompeo might return home with three American hostages.

North Korea Releases Three Americans
In a welcoming gesture that would create a conducing climate for a U.S.-North Korea summit in June, Pyongyang on May 9, 2018 released three Korean-Americans, and they were headed home with the Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. South Korea lauded the release of American prisoners Kim Dong-chul, Tony Kim and Kim Hak-song.

Trump Receives Three Released Prisoners; Summit Date Announced
In a series of whirlwind of events, President Donald Trump in the wee hours of May 10, 2018 received three Americans–Kim Dong-chul, Tony Kim and Kim Hak-song–released by Kim Jong Un just hours earlier at the Joint Base Andrews just outside Washington, followed by an announcement that summit between Trump and Kim would take place on June 12, 2018, most likely in Singapore. Vice President Mike Pence, First Lady Melania Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo were at the airbase with the president to greet the three released prisoners.

Testing Site to be Dismantled this Month
For the first time, North Korea on May 12, 2018 outlined a timetable to dismantle its Punggye-ri nuclear testing site. North’s Foreign Ministry issued a statement during the day that the test site would be dismantled between May 23 and May 25, 2018.

U.N. Food Chief Optimistic about Future of North KoreaU.N. World Food Program head David Beasley said on May 12, 2018 that his current trip to North Korea was an eye-opener as people in the North felt “optimistic” about their future, and Beasley asked the donors to match their contributions with this heightened sense of optimism. He also said that the direct beneficiary of the upcoming June 12, 2018, summit between Donald trump and Kim Jong Un would be North Korean children.

North Threatens to Cancel Summit over Bolton’s Comments, Joint Military Drill
North Korea on May 16, 2018 threatened to pull the plug on the proposed June 12, 2018, Singapore Summit between Kim Jong Un and Donald Trump after Pyongyang expressed strong reservation over the upcoming joint military exercises, dubbed as “Max Thunder“, calling them a “deliberate military provocation”. In addition, North Korea’s Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye Kwen took exception during the day to the U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton’s recent comment that North Korea would be required to follow the so-called “Libya Model” and dismantle its nuclear weapons in a verifiable way quickly. Kim Kye’s May 16, 2018, statement made it clear that Pyongyang could not be pushed around with a “unilateral abandonment” demand.

Trump Expresses Doubt on Summit
At a joint press conference with South Korean President Moon Jae-in at the White House, President Donald Trump said on May 22, 2018 that the proposed June 12, 2018, summit between him and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un might not take place, throwing water on the rising optimism in the world diplomatic circle. 

Trump Cancels the Summit for Now, North Extends Olive BranchPresident Donald Trump surprised the world with his impulsive decision on May 24, 2018 as he decided to cancel the June 12, 2018, summit at least, for now, citing tremendous anger and open hostility on the part of North Korea. U.S.’ key ally South Korea was blindsided by Trump’s decision, and South Korean President Moon Jae-in, just back from his Washington visit when all stars looked aligned with a historic summit, was back on track of flurry of phone calls and diplomacy to avoid the collapse of June 12, 2018, summit. Hours after Trump canceled the summit, on May 25, 2018 (local time) North Korea expressed sincere hope for the summit to take place “at any time, at any format”. North’s official statement was issued by the Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye Gwan, a longtime nuclear negotiator and a senior diplomat, that called for the U.S. to take its own “time and opportunities” to reconsider talks. Trump canceled the summit on May 24, 2018 after North Korean officials did not show up in Singapore for a meeting with the U.S. counterparts for a [summit] planning session and Pyongyang issued a statement, calling Vice President Mike Pence a “political dummy” after he had said that Kim might face the same grisly outcome as Libya’s Moammar Gadhafi.

Effort to Put Summit on Track again
Apparently pleased by the cordial response from North Korea, President Donald Trump issued another tweet on May 25, 2018 that the summit might go ahead as scheduled and pricked Democrats for “obviously rooting against us in our negotiation with North Korea”.

Moon Holds an Impromptu Inter-Korean Summit to Revive Trump-Kim Meeting

South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un met in an impromptu, hastily set-up meeting at Panmunjom on May 26, 2018 to discuss cordially issues that might be bottleneck in the holding of June 12, 2018, Trump-Kim Summit in Singapore, a high-profile summit that South Korean president had put significant degree of political and diplomatic stakes to thaw tension in Korean Peninsula. The meeting was held on the northern side of Line of Control at Panmunjom. Both leaders hugged and exchanged pleasantries in a show of their personal bond, and President Moon Jae-in said on May 27, 2018 that, in future, they would meet as frequently as needed without any constraint. 

Hectic Three-track Diplomacy to Set the Stage for Trump-Kim Summit

A day after

South Korea’s Moon Jae-in

held an impromptu summit with North Korea’s

Kim Jong Un

on the northern side of border at the truce village of

Panmunjom

, Trump administration’s technical and diplomatic corps were in

North Korea

on

May 27, 2018

to prepare the grounds for

June 12, 2018

,

Singapore Summit

. One of the Korea veterans in the State Department,

Sung Kim

, was in the North Korean side of the DMZ to meet with North’s officials to seek commitment from

Kim Jong Un

regime on the country’s nuclear weapons program.

Sung Kim’s

visit to DMZ was part of a

three-track

diplomacy undertaken by U.S. diplomatic, technical, intelligence and logistical teams to scale up the preparations in the run-up to

June 12, 2018

summit. A

second track

, kept largely under wrap, was opened by

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo

, involving officials from the CIA, an agency he had led recently. A

third track

involves talks over logistics and security that will begin on

May 29, 2018

in

Singapore

. The negotiators for the third track talks involve teams led by

White House Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations Joe Hagin

and North Korea’s top logistics and protocol officer

Kim Chang Son

, and both nations’ teams have arrived at Singapore by

May 28, 2018

night, according to South Korean news agency

Yonhap

.

Trump-Kim Summit: Efforts Gear up; Kim Meets Russian Official
As part of the three-track diplomacy that both nations had embarked upon, the first track that had begun with talks at the border village of Panmunjom, involving North Korea specialist in the U.S. State Department, Sung Kim, now moved on to New York with Kim Jong Un’s high-level emissary, Kim Yong Chol, opening talks with Mike Pompeo to put the summit back on track. May 30-31, 2018, discussions between Pompeo and Chol failed to put any new opening in terms of any new concessions on behalf of Pyongyang, but helped make the path smoother for the June 12, 2018, summit. After a 2-and-1/2-hour-meeting at New York City, Mike Pompeo on May 31, 2018 expressed hope that it would be nothing “short of tragic to let this opportunity go to waste”.

Meanwhile, in sign of his elevated international profile,

Kim Jong Un on May 31, 2018

met with

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Pyongyang

, Kim regime’s first public visit by any foreign leader to North Korea, and received an invitation from Vladimir Putin for a visit to Russia. Lavrov called for the economic sanctions on North Korea to be lifted, singing the very choir of North Korean leader.

Kim-Trump Summit Back on TrackKim Jong Un’s special emissary, Kim Yong Chol, who had met with Mike Pompeo over the past two days in New York City now made his way straight to the White House despite being on the U.S. sanctions list. On June 1, 2018, Kim Yong Chol hand-delivered a letter written by Kim to Trump in the White House. Later Trump told correspondents that the summit was back on track as originally planned for June 12, 2018 in Singapore and he demurred on using the phrase “maximum pressure” that his administration’s officials often used in the past to what they called the primary motivators for North Korea to meet with U.S.

Summit Schedule Announced
White House on June 5, 2018 made the Kim-Trump Singapore Summit schedule public. The summit will be held on June 12, 2018 9AM (local time) at the scenic Sentosa Island’s renowned Capella Hotel.

****************************** TRUMP-KIM HISTORIC SUMMIT ******************Trump Arrives, Says that He will Know “within the first minute” if the Summit will be Successful U.S. President Donald Trump following a chaotic G-7 summit in Canada arrived at Singapore on June 10, 2018 evening. Trump raised the expectation as he reiterated that he would know “within the first minute” whether the summit with Kim would be productive. Four hours earlier, Kim Jong Un arrived at the island nation.

Hectic Preparations afoot for a Joint Statement
In a bid to showcase the success of Kim-Trump summit, or at least an appearance of success of it, diplomats from both nations worked overtime on June 11, 2018 in Singapore to come up with a palatable language for joint communique to be issued at the end of the summit. Veteran U.S. diplomat Sung Kim had been huddling with Choe Son Hui, a vice foreign minister with prior experience of dealing with the USA, to formulate the joint statement that reflected sufficient coverage of denuclearization. Denuclearization has different import and meaning, according to Korea experts, to North Korea vis-à-vis to US and its allies. Two weeks ago, Sung Kim went to Panmunjom to meet with North’s officials on May 27, 2018 after Pyongyang powerholders, including Choe, strongly stated that de-nuclearization was not part of the summit agenda, and told clearly that de-nuclearization would be central to discussion topic. Since North Korean negotiators were non-committal, the Panmunjom talks remained in limbo and Sung Kim waited for two days without meeting North’s officials as they were talking to their superiors in Pyongyang.  Sung Kim again met with North Korean officials on May 30, 2018, but little progress was made. Meanwhile, Kim Yong Chol, North Korea’s former spy chief, went to New York, and met with the U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on May 31, 2018. Again, the denuclearization issue was discussed, but not much progress was made, leaving it to Sung Kim and Choe Son Hui to work it out at the eleventh hour in Singapore.

Trump-Kim Historic Meeting, Towering Handshakes, Pleasantry Exchanges Wow the World
It seemed like a surreal unfurling of events straight from a movie setting. Two leaders who months ago were intent to plunge the world into nuclear abyss smiled broadly, shook hands and exchanged complementary words at a historic summit on June 12, 2018 in the ornate hall of Capella Hotel in Sentosa Island, Singapore. The meeting gave Kim Jong Un a larger than life profile on the international stage and elevated North Korea with the prestige that no other world leaders were willing to bestow upon. While the North Korean and American flags were hoisted side by side, President Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un made the historic handshake at the outset of their private meeting. After less than an hour of private discussions, Kim and Trump were joined by their top advisers for an aggregate of five hours of meeting. Both leaders expressed optimism about the meeting, with Trump thanking Kim “for taking the first bold step toward a bright new future for his people”. Kim said that leaders had decided to “leave the past behind”. What might be the greatest concession and came to surprise of South Korea and Pentagon, Trump announced at the conclusion of the summit the suspension of joint military drills by USA and South Korea, calling them “provoking” and “expensive”. The joint communique, a lean one-and-half page, was very skimpy in details. Although the communique called for “complete de-nuclearization” of Korean Peninsula, it was vague on timeline or what it actually meant, leave alone something more concrete that Mike Pompeo and John Bolton had pushed for: “complete, irreversible and verifiable“. The official communique was noncommittal about North Korea’s missile program.

North Korea Paints the Summit with Color; Pompeo Foresees De-Nuclearization in 2-1/2 Years
North Korea wasted no time in portraying the June 12, 2018, Singapore summit in the best possible light, showcasing the meet between leaders of “equal” stature. On June 13, 2018, the state-run Rodong Sinmun carried a full-blown first page with pictures of both leaders, showcasing the meeting to [North] Korean people as proof of heightened stature of their leader. North Korea made sure that world knew that Donald Trump had rescinded joint drills with South Korea, an accomplishment that itself propagated the victory message across the reclusive nation. The Korean Central News Agency said on June 13, 2018: “Kim Jong Un and Trump had the shared recognition to the effect that it is important to abide by the principle of step-by-step and simultaneous action in achieving peace, stability and denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula”.

Meanwhile,

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo

flew straight to Seoul for a meeting with

U.S. Pacific Command chief Gen. Vincent Brooks

to apprise him on the summit at the end of which President Donald Trump made a surprising announcement to postpone annual South Korea-U.S. military drills, sending shock waves to U.S. military establishment. Pompeo followed up his meeting with

Gen. Brooks

on

June 13, 2018

with separate meetings with his counterparts from Japan and South Korea. He will meet with

South Korean President Moon Jae-in

on

June 14, 2018

before heading to Beijing to give an update to Chinese officials, including President

Xi Jinping

, who was especially pleased with the turn of the summit. Pompeo also expressed his hope that the “complete denuclearization” could be achieved in 30 months. Meanwhile, on

June 13, 2018

,

President Trump

issued a self-congratulatory message on twitter, saying that “there is no longer a Nuclear Threat from North Korea”.

Pompeo Sings the Tune of “Success”; North Floods TV with Picture of Trump SalutingU.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on June 14, 2018 briefed Chinese officials the outcome of historic summit between Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un in Singapore couple of days ago. Later on June 14, 2018, Pompeo told correspondents that there would not be any lifting of sanctions until a “complete de-nuclearization” was concluded by North Korea. Meanwhile, North Korean state TV was on hyper-broadcast mode of U.S. President Donald Trump’s an apparent protocol misfire as Trump was seen saluting back to a North Korean army officer, military chief No Kwang Cho.

****************************** TRUMP-KIM HISTORIC SUMMIT ******************

Kushner Reported to have been Sought after by North Korea for RapportThe New York Times reported on June 17, 2018 that North Korean officials had tried to establish a backdoor channel to connect with Jared Kushner, Donald Trump’s son-in-law. They had first engaged with an American financier in Singapore, Gabriel Schulze, who would then reach out to Trump administration officials last summer in the midst of a charged environment of threats and counterthreats. By trying to establish a backdoor relationship with Kushner, North Korea tried to follow the same diplomatic footprint that China had cultivated at the beginning of the Trump administration to engage with the “princeling” Jared Kushner.

Kim’s Second Visit to China a Week after Summit with Trump
A week after Kim Jong Un held historic summit with Donald Trump, the North Korean leader visited Beijing on June 19, 2018, and held a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping at the Great Hall of People. Kim’s China visit came in the backdrop of U.S. President Donald Trump’s threat to slap tariff on $200 billion of Chinese imports. Xi and his wife, Peng Liyuan, hosted a state dinner in honor of Kim and his wife, Ri Sol Ju.

Family Reunions to Take Place after Three Years
Red Cross officials from South and North Koreas on June 22, 2018 announced after a meeting in the North that family reunions would be held August 20-25, 2018 at the Mount Kumgang resort, about 10 miles north of the border. About 100 people from both sides will participate in the family reunions. Since 2000, 20 rounds of family reunions had taken place, the last being in 2015, involving about 20,000 people. In 2004, at one such reunion, South Korean President Moon Jae-in, then a cabinet minister with another liberal administration, took his mom to meet with their North Korean relatives.

North Korea Dubs Trump Administration’s Attitude Gangster-like
After two days of talks on July 6 and July 7, 2018 in North Korea and hours after the U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo left Pyongyang, dubbing the two-day talks as “productive”, North Korea had its own version of how talks had proceeded, and it was not pretty diplomatically favorable. North on July 7, 2018 blamed the U.S. insistence of denuclearization as a spoiler and called the talks reflective of “deeply regrettable” and “gangster-like” behavior of Trump administration.

U.S., North Korea Hold Talks on Returning Remains of U.S. Soldiers
For the first time in 9 years, U.S. and North Korea on July 15, 2018 held a generals-level meeting at the border village of Panmunjom to help recover the remains of some of the 5,300 U.S. soldiers who had remained missing after the Korean War had ended with a truce, not a cease-fire, 65 years ago. The meeting is the direct outcome of Trump-Kim summit on June 12, 2018 at Singapore. The negotiators had decided that North would begin transferring the identified remains within days and resume searching for traces for missing U.S. soldiers in specific former war regions.

55 Set of Remains Returned to U.S.
As a very positive outcome of the Trump-Kim summit, handover of remains of 55 U.S. service personnel took place on July 27, 2018 as a U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster cargo plane took off with the remains from North Korea to Osan Air Base south of Seoul. From Osan, the remains were on the way to Hawaii for painstaking forensic work to identify them at the POW/MIA Accounting Agency.

President Moon Calls for Strengthening Ties with North Korea

In what could be a signal for going ahead of the USA in pushing for fostering a more cordial relationship with North Korea,

South Korean President Moon Jae-in

on

August 15, 2018

called for creating a joint economic zone along the North-South border as part of overcoming the “division for our survival and prosperity”. President Moon’s bold proposal came during a speech to mark the

National Liberation Day

, a historic occasion underlining the end of Japanese occupation of the then-unified Korea.

******************************* FAMILY REUNION *************************20th Round of Family Reunions Begins amid Emotion
In an emotion-drenched atmosphere, the 20th round of family reunions began in earnest at the Diamond Mountain resort on the northern side of Korean borders on August 20, 2018. Many of the elderly people are seeing their loved ones for the first times in several decades, and probably it is their last time too before they say final good-bye. Over the next three days, they are going to spend the next three days over a span of 11 hours, including a three-hour private meeting and lunch. On August 24, 2018, another batch of 83 elderly North Koreans will arrive at the Diamond Mountain for a three-day re-union. About 20,000 elderly Koreans have participated in 20 rounds of re-unions since they began in 1985.

First Batch Returns Home after a Tearful Goodbye
After three days of emotion-filled reunion, about 200 South Koreans on August 22, 2018 have returned home as another batch of 337 South Korean elderly people–selected via lottery–are to begin their three-day re-union with their North Koreans loved ones the following day. 

******************************* FAMILY REUNION *************************

Trump Nixes Pompeo Visit

President Donald Trump on August 24, 2018 put on hold his secretary of state’s fourth North Korea visit, all in a tweet, saying that “we are not making sufficient progress with respect to denuclearization”. Pompeo is scheduled to head to Pyongyang with his newly named special envoy for North Korea, Stephen Biegun. The postponement of Pompeo’s North Korea visit is a setback to  one of the pillars of Trump’s foreign policies. Trump also pointed finger at China for not being supportive to denuclearization of Korean Peninsula over its trade dispute with Washington.

China Lashes out against Trump; South Korea Sees China Playing Constructive Role

China on

August 25, 2018

rebutted Trump administration for the president’s pointing finger at Beijing for lack of progress in denuclearization process of North Korea. A day after President Donald Trump accused China of not being supportive of pushing North Korea for progress on de-nuclearization, Chinese Foreign Ministry issued a statement, calling Trump’s statement as violation of “basic facts and is irresponsible”. The Foreign Ministry statement reiterated in “advancing the process of a political settlement”. Meanwhile, South Korean Foreign Ministry issued its own statement reposing faith in China for playing a “constructive role” in advancing peace in Korean Peninsula.

Kim Recommits to Denuclearization, Trump-Moon Summit SetNorth Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency on September 6, 2018 said that Kim Jong Un had recommitted to get rid of his weapons in a meeting a day earlier with the visiting South Korea’s special envoy, Chung Eui-yong. Both Koreas also set September 18-20, 2018 for a third summit between Kim and Moon Jae-in in North Korea.

North Korea Marks 70th Anniversary of Founding without Showing Ballistic Missiles
North Korea held a colorful military parade in the heart of Pyongyang on September 9, 2018 to mark the 70th anniversary of the founding of the Communist nation, but one source of provocation was missing–showcasing its indigent ballistic missiles such as Hwasong-14 and Hwasong-15, a must-present stable of weapons in previous parades.

16 Hidden Nuclear Sites ReportedThe New York Times reported on November 11, 2018 that North Korea had kept 16 sites hidden from the watchful eyes of the world where Pyongyang might be pursuing ballistic missile and nuclear program, thus undermining the repeated claims by the Trump administration that his June 2018 meeting with Kim Jong Un had ensured that North Korea won’t work on its nuclear program anymore.

South Korea Explodes One Front-line Guard Post, North Carries out Tactical Weapons Test
In a quick succession, South Korea on November 15, 2018 carried out one of the guard post’s destruction on the front line by dynamite explosion, creating a dramatic scene of plume and photographs, following last week’s withdrawal of troops and firearms by both sides from some of their guard posts. In the past, Seoul destroyed its guard posts by using heavy equipment, but this time it used a more dramatic dynamite explosion in front of TV cameras. The next day, November 16, 2018, North Korea carried out a tactical weapons test at the Academy of National Defense Science. The test seemed to be limited to tactical weapons testing, not related to any nuclear or fissile material-linked testing. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un was present during November 16, 2018, testing, and he seemed to be all elated by the success of testing.

North Korea to Deport an American Detained in October 2018
An American, Bruce Byron Lowrance, detained since October 16, 2018 as he tried to enter North Korea by crossing the border from China is likely to be deported soon, according to a November 16, 2018, report by the official Korean Central News Agency. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo issued a statement on November 16, 2018 and thanked Pyongyang for the gesture.

IAEA Calls for Return of Inspectors to North Korea
At the International Atomic Energy Agency’s board meeting at Vienna on November 22, 2018, Director-General Yukiya Amano apprised the members on the present state of North Korea’s nuclear program. According to Amano, although North had promised in September 2018 to work towards “permanent dismantlement of nuclear facilities in Yongbyon“, there was evidence in recent months contrary to what had been promised. The board called for IAEA inspectors to be back in the country to take stock of the situation, especially at Yongbyon, North Korea’s primary plutonium processing site. North Korea expelled IAEA inspectors in 2009.

Report Reveals Expanding Missile Bases in North KoreaThe New York Times reported on December 6, 2018 based on the research of two North Korea experts–Jeffrey Lewis and David Schmerler of the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey in California–that North Korea had recently expanded its two key missile bases that would be needed as a potential launching pad for ICBM. The bases are Yeongjeo-dong, near Chinese border, and another facility 7 miles away. The report disputes President Trump’s repeated claims that North Korea has begun the denuclearization process since his meeting with Kim Jong Un in the summer of 2018.

Pyongyang Hardens Stand against Trump Administration after Three North Koreans Blacklisted
Six days after the U.S. Treasury Department on December 10, 2018 blacklisted three key aides to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un for serious human rights abuses, North Korean Foreign Ministry on December 16, 2018 threatened that the normalization process would be in jeopardy if the U.S. continued its sanctions and “human rights racket to an unprecedented level”.

North Will not Relinquish Nuclear Deterrent until Threat from U.S. Eliminated
In what could be a divergence of how one interprets what “denuclearization” means to U.S. and North Korea, the official Korean Central News Agency published a commentary on December 20, 2018, saying that Pyongyang meant “denuclearization of Korean Peninsula” as “removal of all sources of nuclear threat not only from the North and the South but also from the neighboring areas targeting the Peninsula”. Unless and until that happens, the KCNA has continued with the commentary, Pyongyang will not relinquish its nuclear deterrent.

Rail Link Work Begun
North Korea and South Korea on December 26, 2018 broke grounds to work on modernizing the North Korea’s dilapidated rail network and linking North Korea and South Korea through a unified rail and road network. The ceremony was held at the border town of Kaesong on the North’s side.

Kim Assures Chinese Leader to Commit to Effort to “Achieve Results” with the U.S.
In the fourth visit to his country’s primary benefactor, China, in the last 10 months, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un was reported to have assured Chinese President Xi Jinping that he was committed to make push to “achieve results” in the second summit with Donald Trump. Both Chinese and North Korean state media reported about Kim’s willingness to “achieve results” after he had left on January 10, 2019 Beijing in an armored train after a two-day visit.

*************************** SECOND TRUMP-KIM SUMMIT ***********************Second Trump-Kim Summit Planned for February
After a 90-minute meeting at the White House between President Donald Trump and former North Korean spy chief, Kim Yong Chol, White House announced on January 18, 2019 that a second summit between the leaders of North Korea and the U.S. would take place in Vietnam in the last week of February 2019.

Chief U.S. Envoy for North Korea Holds Three-day Talks before Second Summit
In preparation of the second summit between Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un on February 27 and February 28, 2019 in Vietnam, top U.S. envoy, Stephen Biegun held three-day talks with Kim Hyok Chol, North Korea’s special representative for the American affairs, in Pyongyang. The State Department issued a statement on February 9, 2019 that the talks held February 7-9, 2019 covered areas to promote and advance “Singapore summit commitments” and take it to the next level in Vietnam.

Kim Arrives by Train
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and his entourage on February 26, 2019 arrived at the Vietnamese border station of Dong Dang by armored train that North Korea’s official delegation had taken from Pyongyang for a days-long ride through China to enter Vietnam. At Dong Dang, Kim disembarked off the train, and took a limousine for a long ride to Hanoi.

Trump Walks away from Summit
An exasperated Trump broke off talks with Kim Jong In on February 28, 2019, and returned home as the talks were going nowhere and both side dug heels in.

*************************** SECOND TRUMP-KIM SUMMIT *********************** Scientists Propose an Alternative Containment Strategy for North Korea

Federation of American Scientists, or FAS

, issued a comprehensive report on

March 7, 2019

, a week after

President Donald Trump

had walked out of a summit with

Kim Jong Un in Vietnam

, calling for a new American strategy toward North Korea that would strive toward enhancing a policy to contain, engage and transform instead of denuclearization of the North. The

FAS report

that described the denuclearization “an unrealistic goal” was compiled by 14 North Korea experts after a year of debate and analysis. The “North Korea challenge is much broader than the nuclear threat”, said Adam Mount, director of the

Defense Posture Project at FAS

.

North Korea Reported to be Working in Rocket Project
Even before Hanoi Summit, North Korea was working secretly on a space rocket project, according to a March 9, 2019, article carried by The Washington Post. A satellite image shows full-fledged activity at the Second Academy of Natural Sciences, just outside Pyongyang, primary site for country’s research in ballistic missiles and space launch vehicle. February 22, 2019, images corroborated many experts’ belief that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un had followed on his threat issued during this year’s New Year’s Day speech, warning U.S. against delaying suspension of sanctions and country’s running out of patience. Other images show that North Korea has rebuilt launch pad and other facilities at the country’s main rocket launching site at the Sohae Satellite Launching Station.

Trump Overturns Additional Sanctions Imposed a Day Earlier by Treasury
In a hard-hitting snub to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who had just a day earlier announced with much fanfare imposition of economic sanctions on two Chinese shipping companies for helping North Korea, President Donald Trump on March 22, 2019 overturned the measure in a tweet. Critics called Trump’s action an outlandish coddling of a dictator at the expense of his own cabinet member.

North Tests “New-Type Tactical Guided Weapon”North Korea’s state-owned Korean Central News Agency announced on April 18, 2019 that country’s supreme leader Kim Jong Un was on hand to witness the successful test of a “new-type of tactical guided weapon” by the Academy of Defense Science. Though the testing might not have violated the ban on North Korea’s ballistic missile program, it underscored the frustration of Pyongyang over stalled process of any deal with the U.S. that would ease sanctions that had choked North’s economy.

North Demands Removal of Pompeo from Talks
Hours after testing “new-type tactical guided” projectiles, North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency on April 18, 2019 demanded that U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo be removed from any future talks because of his lack of maturity. In July 2018, North Korea slammed Pompeo for his “gangster-like demand” for Pyongyang to get rid of its weapons.

Pompeo says that He’s still in Charge of North Korean Negotiation
A day after humiliating comment made by North Korea and demand that he be replaced by a “more careful and mature” person at the helms of negotiation, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on April 19, 2019 that he was still in charge of negotiation, brushing aside the slight by Pyongyang.

North Launches Several Short-range ProjectilesNorth Korea on May 4, 2019 launched several short-range projectiles from its eastern coast, according to Joint Chiefs of Staff of South Korea. The May 4, 2019, firings of several short-range projectiles flew in the face of a September 2018 détente between two Koreas that called for cessation of “all hostile acts” in land, air and sea.

Kim Oversees Rocket Launcher Drills
A day after a series of short-range projectile launches, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on May 5, 2019 attended a live-fire drill that showcased Pyongyang’s military might with long-range multiple rocket-launchers and tactical guided weapons. North’s official Korean Central News Agency reported that Kim had attended the drill and “expressed great satisfaction” with the country’s military readiness and “high-alert posture”.

North Fires Two Short-range MissilesSouth Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said on May 9, 2019 that North Korea had launched two short-range missiles earlier in the day that landed in the Pacific. The missiles apparently launched off the Kusong facility in western part of the reclusive nation and traversed respectively 260 miles and 167 miles, respectively. Kusong is the facility used to successfully test intermediate-range Hwasong-12 missile and intercontinental ballistic Hwasong-14 missile, both in 2017. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un observed the short-range missile launches at Kusong, five days after he had observed projectile launches from a facility in the country’s east coast.

Experts See Similarity between Russian and North Korean Missiles
A day after successful launches of a pair of short-range missiles from the Kusong facility, The Associated Press reported on May 10, 2019 that experts believed that there was Russian imprints all over in North Korean short-range missile launches as they resembled Russian Iskander short-range missile.

Xi-Kim Meeting a Message to Trump
For the first time in 14 years, a Chinese president visits North Korea, and a June 20, 2019, meeting between Xi Jinping and Kim Jong Un at Pyongyang is more about sending a message to USA than reiterating the strengthening the two nations’ bond.

Trump Steps Foot in North Korea
In a historic move, U.S. President Donald Trump crossed the border between North Kora and South Korea at the de-militarized zone (DMZ) on June 30, 2019, becoming the first U.S. president to step foot in the reclusive nation of North Korea. The 50-minute impromptu session between Kim Jong Un and Trump was organized in haste as he was returning to Washington D.C. from G-20 summit at Osaka, Japan and it showed the unpredictable and unconventional trajectory that Trump liked to take in the stage of international diplomacy. The photo between Kim and Trump was beamed across the globe. In a tweet message on his flight back from South Korea to Washington, a visibly pleased Trump said things such as  “Stood on the soil of North Korea”, “a great honor” and “a wonderful meeting” with Kim.

Deported Australian Student a Spy, North Korea Says
An Australian student, Alek Sigley, “caught red-handed” on June 25, 2019 for abusing his status as a student by “a relevant institution”, was a spy, Korean Central News Agency, North Korean government mouthpiece, said on July 6, 2019. The commentary was the first official statement coming out of the DPRK regime after Sigley had been deported on July 4, 2019.

North Korea Launches Short-range Missiles
North Korea on July 25, 2019 launched two short-range missiles into the sea from the eastern coast city of Wonsan, according to South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff. The missiles flew about 267 miles. North Korea’s July 25, 2019, launch of two short-range missiles marked the first time in two months and underlined the fragile calm that had prevailed in the region amid stalled talks between Washington and Pyongyang.

North Korea Launches Two ProjectilesSouth Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff issued a statement on August 24, 2019 and said that North Korea had test-fired two unidentified projectiles from its eastern coast in the province of Hamgyong earlier in the day. The projectile test-fires came days after a joint U.S.-South Korea drill had ended earlier in the week.

North Korea Offers Talks with the U.S., Follows up with Projectile Launches
North Korea on September 10, 2019 proposed fresh talks with Washington to help ease on sanctions that west had put together. Hours after the September 10, 2019, offer, Pyongyang test-fired two projectiles from its eastern coast.

North Korea Launches Sub-fired Ballistic Missile as U.S., North Ready for Talks
As negotiators from the U.S. and North Korean governments are getting for October 5, 2019, talks at Stockholm, North Korea on October 2, 2019 test-fired a ballistic missile from Wonsan Bay. The range of the missile, a Pukguksong-3, is 280 miles in horizontal direction that has landed in Japanese waters. However, the worrying part was that the missile rose as high as 565 miles.

PAKISTAN

In response to a rapidly deteriorating situation, Pakistan’s Air Force carried out aerial strikes in North Waziristan region on late January 20, 2014 and January 21, 2014 after a January 19, 2014, bombing claimed by Pakistani Taliban killed 26 soldiers inside an army compound in the nearby garrison city of Bannu and a suicide bomber killed 13 people, including eight security personnel, in Rawalpindi on January 20, 2014. The conflicting reports emerged on casualty figures from January 20-21, 2014 aerial attacks by Pak air force. While a military official said on January 21, 2014, on condition of anonymity, that 40 insurgents were killed, two residents said that many civilians were also killed.

Also, on January 21, 2014, a car bomb in Baluchistan struck a bus returning with Shiite pilgrims from Iran, killing 20 people and wounding dozens. (Source:

The Dallas Morning News

)

Attack of Sufi Shrine Kills 8
In another incident of sectarian killings, attack on a Sufi shrine in Karachi killed at least eight people on February 10, 2014, weeks after a similar attack on another Sufi shrine of this vibrant city killed six people in January.

Baluch Separatists Attack on Pak Rail
A bomb blast in Kashmore region in Sindh province, close to the borders of volatile Baluchistan region, derailed a train, mangled several of its cars, and killed eight people, beside wounding more than 200 on February 16, 2014. A Baluchistan-based separatist group, Baluch Republican Army, claimed responsibility for detonating bomb, saying that it was in protest against Islamabad’s continuous operation in Baluchistan’s Dera Bugti region. The group also blew up three pipelines last week, suspending electricity supply to millions of customers for two days.

Pak Government Suspends Talks with Pakistani Taliban
A day after a faction of Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility of executing 23 Frontier Corps’ personnel, Pakistani government on February 17, 2014 suspended the ongoing negotiation between the government and Pakistani Taliban. The Associated Press reported in June 2010 that militants had seized 35 Frontier Corps’ personnel in Mohmand Agency tribal region. However, it’s not clear if the 23 security personnel claimed to have been executed by the militants on February 16, 2014 were from the same group of 35 seized in 2010.

Pak Operations in Tribal Areas Killed dozens of Militants
After gruesome execution of 23 paramilitary troops who were under Pakistani Taliban control since 2010, it became apparent that Nawaz Sharif’s government lost appetite for negotiation with Taliban, leading to suspension of talks and preparation for military campaign in the country’s northwest. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif approved military strikes on late February 19, 2014, and soon after, Pak Air Force carried out aerial strikes against several militant targets in North Wazirstan and Khyber Agency. As of February 20, 2014, at least 23 suspected militants were killed in Pak airstrikes.

Pak Government Issues New Guidelines for Pak Taliban; Former Cricketer’s Party Withdraws Road Blockade
On February 26, 2014, Nawaz Sharif regime’s Interior Minister Nisar Ali Khan submitted a 110-page policy document in Pak parliament that outlines what would be a get-tough approach with the Tehrik-I-Taliban, or Pakistani Taliban, with

* Snapping the reconciliation effort with the group which was initiated by Sharif

* Pak security forces reacting with security strikes to respond to any attack by the

group in the Pak soil

What was missing in the policy document was any resolve to go after groups such as Haqqani network and Afghan Taliban who were based in Pak tribal areas, but attacked Afghan and international forces across the border. In a nutshell, the policy document, according to many international observers, is tantamount to only responding attacks that were only perpetrated in Pak soil.

On

February 27, 2014

, cricketer Imran Khan’s political party announced that it would lift 3-month-old NATO convoy blockade in the

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa

province two days after a Peshawar judge ruled (on

February 25, 2014

) that the blockade was unconstitutional. Khan’s

Movement for the Justice Party

, which is also the ruling party of

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa

province, said that it was doing it in respect for judiciary as well as sharp drop of recent U.S. drone attacks in the Pakistan’s western tribal region, which was the primary driver of blockade that had begun on

November 24, 2013

. Even Nawaz Sharif’s government declared this blockade as illegal as the Pak government signed a deal with the U.S. in 2013 that would ensure NATO road shipment through Pakistan through 2015. After the

Movement for the Justice Party

established 24-hour checkpoints, NATO rerouted its road shipment through Baluchistan and Uzbekistan on the northern side.

Pak Taliban Declares Cease-fire
Pak Taliban, sensing the hardening of stand by the Nawaz Sharif regime, called a unilateral cease-fire on March 1, 2014, and requested the government to revive the peace dialogue that had begun on January 29, 2014 and suspended on February 17, 2014. Hours before the ceasefire announcement, a convoy of aid professionals and their guards on polio prevention mission was ambushed in the town of Jamrud in Khyber region, killing at least 13.

Sharif Government Returns the Favor to Ceasefire Announcement by Suspending Airstrikes
Pakistani Interior Minister Nisar Ali Khan on March 2, 2014 said that the Nawaz Sharif regime would suspend airstrikes on tribal areas in the country’s northwest as a goodwill gesture to Pakistani Taliban’s unilateral ceasefire announcement a day earlier.

Attack in Capital Shatters Hope for Peace Talks with Taliban
Within 24 hours of the government announcement of suspension of airstrikes on targets in tribal region in the country’s northwest, gunmen stormed the main court complex in the heart of capital, Islamabad, on March 3, 2014, and killed at least 11 people. Pakistani Taliban denied that it was behind the attack, thus exposing a possible rift in the group where one faction doesn’t heed to the cease-fire call by other faction or emergence of one of country’s many numerous militant groups into prominence.

Peace Talks with Pak Taliban Resumes
Pakistani government on March 5, 2014 resumed peace talks with Pak Taliban that was suspended on February 17, 2014, a day after 23 Pak security personnel, who were under detention by insurgents, were reported to have been executed.

Baluch Separatists Attack Railways
In a continuing trend of going after the so-called soft target, a bomb blast killed 14 and wounded 35 on April 8, 2014 in the western province Baluchistan. A hitherto unknown separatist group, United Baluch Liberation Army, claimed responsibility for the explosion that took place at a station in a small town in Sibi, just east of the provincial capital of Quetta, and said that it was in response to a military operation in the region on April 7, 2014 that had killed 30 separatists.

Most Fatal Attack in Islamabad in Six Years Kills Nearly Two Dozens
In the most devastating attack since 2008 at a fruit market in the capital, a powerful explosion killed at least 22 people on April 9, 2014 and wounding more than 100. This was the worst attack since a September 2008 bomb blast at the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad had killed 54 people.

FBI Agent’s Arrest and Subsequent Release Creates Bilateral Tension
An FBI agent from Miami Office, Joel Cox, was arrested on May 5, 2014 as he was about to board a plane from Karachi to Islamabad and caught with carrying ammunition. The incident evoked past memories of tense relations between two uneasy allies caused by incidents such as CIA contractor Raymond Davis’ killing of two Pakistanis in Lahore in January 2011, unilateral US Special Operations Forces’ foray in Abbottabad in May 2011 to kill terrorist mastermind Osama bin-Laden and errant strike by US that had killed 24 Pakistani troops near Afghan borders in late 2011. Cox was released on bail on May 8, 2014.

Pak Taliban Attack on Key Airport sends Fear Psychosis
In the wee hours of June 9, 2014, 10 militants alleged to have ties to Pakistani Taliban movement launched attack on Karachi’s Jinnah International Airport, leading to hours-long standoff and shutting down the airport for hours. At least 36 people were killed. All 10 militants were killed too. Throughout the night, plume of smokes billowed over the airport and silhouette of aircraft taking off were seen from distance in the fire.

Pak Military’s Offensive in the Restive Tribal Areas
After June 9, 2014, attack on the Karachi’s Jinnah International Airport, the patience of the Pakistani military began to wear thin. Within a week, Pakistani military launched an aerial strike on the North Wazirstan’s tribal region. At least 200 militants were killed in the military operation that began on June 15, 2014. The campaign launched by Pakistan’s military is dubbed as “Operation Zarb-e-Azb”.

Controversial Cleric Charged in Murder of Policeman
A controversial cleric who had returned from Canada in June 2014 was charged on August 10, 2014 in the murder of a Lahore policeman. The backdrop of the current unrest was set in stage in June as 14 followers of Tahirul Qadri were killed in clashes with security forces prior to his return from Canada in June 2014. Hundreds of his supporters started to remove roadblocks around his residential area in the Model Town of Lahore on August 8, 2014, resulting in the melee that had killed two policemen. On August 9, 2014, the violence continued in Lahore, resulting in the deaths of 7 more protesters.

Parallel Rallies to Demand Pak Premier Creates Traffic Gridlock in Islamabad
Two parallel rallies were held on August 16, 2014 in Islamabad with almost the same demand: resignation  of premier Nawaz Sharif over allegation of vote fraud in 2013 elections, which Sharif had refuted. One rally was held by the followers of former Pak cricket star Imran Khan, and the other by Imam Tahirul Qadri. Both camps planned to continue sit-in indefinitely to force Sharif out of power.

Demonstrators Break the barriers, Lay Siege of Parliament, Army Chief Favors Talks
On August 19, 2014, tens of thousands of demonstrators, who had descended on Islamabad and started an indefinite sit-it at the urging of their leaders–Imran Khan and Tahirul Qadri–demanding the ouster of PM Nawaz Sharif, broke in the barbed wire and barricades erected by the security forces in the Red Zone, site to government building and diplomatic missions, without an iota of resistance. Meanwhile it’s widely speculated that the army chief Gen. Rasheel Sharif favors talks to resolve the stalemate.

Sharif Wins Backing of Parliament and US
In a significant show of support, Pakistan’s besieged premier Nawaz Sharif won a parliamentary vote on August 21, 2014 against the call of his resignation. Even the mainstream opposition parties rallied behind Sharif in dismissing the demand by the followers of Imran Khan and Tahirul Qadri that Sharif resign. Also in a show of support for the democratic process of Pakistan, the U.S. embassy put a statement on its website on August 21, 2014 calling for resolving the “differences through peaceful dialogue” while opposing any effort to “impose extra-constitutional change”. One of the key figures behind anti-Sharif campaign, former cricket star Imran Khan, decried US stand and asked Washington not to support corrupt “stooges like Nawaz Sharif”.

Parliamentarians from Khan’s Party Resign

A day after mainstream opposition parties stood behind

Nawaz Sharif

, lawmakers from Imran Khan’s political party submitted their resignations en masse on

August 22, 2014

.

Protest Violence Kills 3 in Islamabad
After days of peaceful sit-ins and demonstrations, anti-government protest led by Imran Khan and Tahirul Qadri turned violent as their followers set sight on the official residence of PM Nawaz Sharif on August 31, 2014 and encountered resistance from security personnel on their way, leading to violent confrontation and death of three protesters.

Pak Military Gives Estimate on Its Operation in Tribal Belt
Pakistan’s military said on September 3, 2014 that it had killed at least 910 militants since the beginning of an offensive in mid-June in the country’s tribal region bordering Afghanistan. The military also suffered 82 in its ranks and 269 were injured.

Suicide Bomber Strikes a Pak-India Border Crossing
A suicide bomber mingling amongst the people who had assembled on the Pak side of a border crossing, Wagah Border Crossing, with India to witness the daily ritual of lowering the flag in the afternoon blew up on November 2, 2014, killing at least 48 people.

Pak Military Scores a Big Victory with the Death of A Notorious al-Qaeda Figure
Pak military on December 6, 2014 said that it had killed a key al-Qaeda figure, who was accused in 2010 of masterminding and planning of a never-happened New York subway attack, in the hinterland of South Wazirstan. The Saudi-born, naturalized American citizen, Adnan el-Shukrijumah, might have been killed either on December 5, or early December 6.  The revelation of el-Shukrijumah’s death occurred on the same day as Pakistan’s military chief Gen. Raheel Sharif was meeting with US Secretary of State John Kerry and other officials at Washington as part of fence-mending and strategic cooperation exercise between the two nations. US-Pak relationship was on the mend, after years of strains, in recent months helped largely by an aggressive Pakistani military campaign in North Wazirstan. The campaign in the North Wazirstan pushed out many militants, including el-Shukrijumah to seek shelter in South Wazirstan.

Audacious Attack on Military School Shakes Pakistan
Pakistan on December 16, 2014 suffered the worst terrorist attack as seven militants dressed in army uniform scaled the walls of Army school in Peshawar, and systematically gunned down at least 132 students and 16 staff members before being killed by security forces in an hours-long gun battle. Pakistani Taliban claimed the responsibility for the mayhem as a revenge for army’s operation in North Wazirstan. The latest attack on the army school evoked strong reaction from within and spontaneous condemnation from all around the world. The US President Barack Obama termed the attack reflection of pure “depravity”. Country’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif reached at Peshawar during the day, and reiterated his determination to defeat terrorism. The Peshawar school siege evoked the memory of another tragic school siege a decade ago as Islamic rebels had seized a school in Beslan, Russia in 2004 that ended up with deaths of 385 people, including 186 children.

Premier Lifts Moratorium on Death Penalty
A day after a shocking and shameless attack killed 132 students and 16 staff members of the Army School at Peshawar, Pakistan’s political and military establishments took a hardline in dealing with terrorism suspects and brewing danger of Pakistani Taliban. Pak government led by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on December 17, 2014 lifted suspension on death penalty against the terrorism suspects while the Pak military carried out 20 airstrikes in the rugged mountainous areas, killing dozens of militants. Pak military chief Gen. Raheel Sharif visited Kabul on December 17 to press Afghan authorities to do more to nab the head of Pakistani Taliban, Mullah Fazlullah, believed to be hiding in the rugged terrain in Eastern Afghanistan.

Mumbai Attack Mastermind Gets BailZakiur Rehman Lakhvi, a top leader of the terrorist outfit responsible for November 2008 Mumbai attack, Lashkar-e-Taiba, that had killed 166 people got bail on December 18, 2014 despite objection by Pakistan’s primary law enforcement agency, Federal Investigation Agency. Lakhvi has been on trial since 2009.

Pakistan Hangs Two Terrorism Suspects
Two days after lifting a moratorium on death sentences against the terrorism suspects, Pakistan on December 19, 2014 executed two people, one of which, Mohammed Aqueel, was convicted of a 2009 attack on the army headquarters and the other, Arshad Mahmood, of plotting to assassinate former President Pervez Musharraf.

Mumbai Attack Mastermind Back in Jail
A day after going free, Mumbai attack mastermind and LeT leader Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi was back in prison on December 19, 2014.

Civilians Allowed to be Tried in Military Courts
Pakistan’s parliament, responding to the December 16, 2014, grisly massacre of school children, voted unanimously on January 6, 2015 to allow civilians to be tried in military courts on terrorism charges. The statute will expire in two years until renewed by the parliament.

56 Killed in Pak Shiite Mosque Attack
In a sign of sectarian escalation, an explosion on January 30, 2015 at a Shiite mosque in Sindh province killed at least 56 devotees who attended the Friday prayer. The initial suspicion behind the explosion at the mosque in Shikarpur’s Lakhi Dar district fell on Jundullah, a splinter group of Pakistani Taliban. The death toll subsequently rose to 61.

Anti-Shiite Attack Kills 20 at a Pak Mosque
Gunmen stormed a Shiite mosque near tribal region in Northwest Pakistan on February 13, 2015 and opened fire, killing at least 20 people and wounding more than 45. The attack on the Imamiya Mosque at Hayatabad, an upscale suburb of Peshawar, came almost a month-and-half after an explosion at a Shiite mosque in Sindh province had killed 61 people.

Pakistan Passes with Flying Color in Testing Long-Range Missile
Pakistan on March 9, 2015 successfully test-fired 1,720-mile range Shaheen III surface-to-surface missile. The missile splashed down in the Arabian Sea, adding another feather to Islamabad’s cap of success.

Apex Court Blasts Government for Continuing Detention of Suspected Mumbai Attack Mastermind
Pakistan’s Supreme Court on March 13, 2015 ordered the government to immediately release Lashkar leader Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi as a terrorism court had already set him free on December 18, 2014.

Two Churches Attacked, a Splinter Taliban Group Claims Responsibility
Suicide bombers on March 15, 2015 attacked two churches at Lahore during Sunday service, killing at least 15 people. An enraged crowd afterward lynched two accomplices in broad daylight. A splinter group of Pakistani Taliban, Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, took responsibility for twin suicide bombings.

Pak Judge Orders Government to Bring Charges against Two American Officials for Drone DeathsIslamabad High Court Judge Saukat Aziz Siddiqui on April 7, 2015 issued a far-reaching verdict in the deaths of two people in US drone strike in 2009. The verdict touched off a diplomatic scrambling and mend-fencing. Judge Siddiqui, hearing a case filed by Kareem Khan, ordered Pak government to bring charges against the CIA lawyer John Rizzo, who had overseen the drone program, and the then-CIA station chief at Islamabad Jonathan Bank for the deaths of Khan’s 18-year-old son, Zaenullah Khan and his brother, Asif Iqbal, in a December 31, 2009, drone strike in North Wazirstan. None of the defendants are now in Pakistan.

Mumbai Attack Mastermind Freed on Bail
The off-again, on-again drama surrounding the bail of Lashkar-e-Taiba leader Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi took an interesting turn on April 10, 2015 as a Pak judge asked the government to set him free on bail. He was first freed in December 2014, but detained within days. On March 13, 2015, a Pak court ordered his release again.

Twenty Workers Killed
A separatist outfit based in the country’s largest province, Baluchistan, was blamed for the April 11, 2015, nighttime attack and killing of 20 workers, who were sleeping at a construction site in Turbat district. Baluchistan Liberation Front took up arms in mid-2000s against the central government in Islamabad, demanding autonomy, an end to discriminatory policies toward the natives of the province and more economic opportunities.

American, Italian Killed in Drone Strikes, Obama Admits
President Barack Obama on April 23, 2015 admitted that US drone strike in Pakistan’s remote tribal area on January 15, 2015 had killed two western hostages: an American, Warren Weinstein, 73, an employee of U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), and Italian aid worker Giovanni Lo Porto. President Obama, who announced the deaths somberly more than three months after the drone strike, said that he took full responsibility and offered his “grief and condolences” to the families of hostages. Obama said that the mistake was made during the “fog of war”. The drone strike was targeted against two Americans who had aligned themselves with al-Qaeda, Ahmed Farouq, a U.S.-Pakistani national, and Adam Gadahn, who had served as a senior spokesman of al-Qaeda before his death. Weinstein, a passionate globe-trotter and kind hearted individual who had made serving people in less fortunate parts of the world as his life’s mission, was kidnapped in 2011 in Lahore and taken to remote tribal areas by his kidnappers.

Pakistani Female Activist Assassinated
A renowned Pakistani female activist, Sabeen Mahmud, was assassinated on April 25, 2015 at  Karachi just hours after a symposium on human rights in Baluchistan. She was returning in a car from the symposium, and her car, carrying her mother, Mehnaz, too, stood at a traffic light when assassins opened fire on them. The U.S. Embassy in Islamabad condemned the slaying, calling Mahmud “a courageous voice of Pakistani people”.

Pak Court Sentences 10 to Life Term for Assassination Attempt on Malala

A Pak anti-terrorism court on

April 30, 2015

sentenced 10 people to life in prison for the unsuccessful attempt to kill

Malala Yousafzai

, who rose to prominence by championing girls’ right for education, in

October 2012

in

Swat Valley

.

Sectarian Attack Kills 43 in the Port City
At least half-a-dozen gunmen, riding pillions, on May 13, 2015 opened fire on a bus at a Karachi neighborhood where a significant number of residents hailed from Ismaili sect, a heretic considered by many conservative Sunnis, killing 43, including 16 women. A sectarian group, Jundullah, claimed responsibility for the bus attack.

Try to Flee from Captivity Leads to Death for Pak Sectarian Leader’s Killing
A pro-Sunni sectarian leader whose banned outfit, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, was responsible for attacking on Shiite targets was killed in a police shootout as his supporters attacked a prison van in Punjab province on July 29, 2015 to forcibly secure his release. Malik Ishaq, his two sons and three aides were arrested on July 25, 2015 in a related case of sectarian conflict. In the police shootout, thirteen of his supporters were killed in addition to Malik Ishaq and his two sons.

Taliban Wreak Havoc in a Pak Airbase
At least 13 attackers disguised in Pak Paramilitary uniform sneaked past the security of Badaber Air Base near Peshawar on September 18, 2015, and engaged with the security, killing at least 30 people, including 16 in a mosque within the base, before being killed. The base built in the late 1950s served as reconnaissance platform for the USA during Cold War, and in recent days, was serving as training and residential facility. Pakistani Taliban claimed the responsibility for the attack.

Suicide Bomber Kills 22 at a Shiite Commemoration
A suicide bomber wreaked havoc on October 23, 2015 as he blew himself up at a Muharram procession at Jacobabad in Sindh province, killing at least 22 and wounding 20 others.

*********** Massive Earthquake in Pakistan-Afghanistan Borders Kills Hundreds *********Hundreds Killed in a Devastating Earthquake
A 7.5-scale earthquake centered 132 miles beneath the Hindu Kush Mountain range and 160 miles northeast of Kabul on October 26, 2015 jolted buildings, high rises, bridges and structures, creating panic and chaos in much of the region. The tremor was felt as far as New Delhi. According to preliminary reports, 103 districts in 14 Afghan provinces were seriously affected, with at least 4,000 collapsed, destroyed or damaged. At least 208 were reported killed.

Rescue Operations Begin

A day after a 7.5-scale earthquake struck the

Badakhshan

province, a sparsely populated region bordering Pakistan, China and Tajikistan, search-and-rescue operation began with workers digging the rubble, relief supplies being supplied to remote areas and aid organizations mobilizing relief operations in one of the world’s most violent regions. As of

October 27, 2015

, the death toll rose to 376, including 258 in Pakistan, 115 in Afghanistan and 3 in Indian side of Kashmir.

*********** Massive Earthquake in Pakistan-Afghanistan Borders Kills Hundreds *********Sectarian Group Behind Bombing at a Pak Marketplace
A bomb tore through Eidgah Bazaar at Parachinar, capital of the Kurram tribal belt close to Afghan border in northwestern Pakistan, on December 13, 2015, killing at least 22 people and wounding more than 50. The bazaar is often frequented by Shiite shoppers, who mostly belong to Turi tribe. Kurram tribal belt is a delicately balanced area with population equally divided between Shiite and Sunni people. After the bombing of the Eidgah Bazaar at Parachinar on December 13, 2015, a banned Sunni extremist group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi took responsibility, claiming that the bombing was in retaliation of “the crime of taking side with Iran and Bashar al-Assad”.

First Anniversary of Army School Massacre Marked
Pakistan paid rich tribute to slain children and their teachers on December 16, 2015 to mark the first anniversary of Army School massacre in Peshawar in which 151, including 134 students, were killed. A 4-and-1/2-minute video released by military was played by all TV stations to invoke patriotism. However, the omnipresence and public assertiveness of Pak military was not lost. After the December 16, 2014, massacre, Pak military and lawmakers agreed on a 20-point agenda to combat terrorism that included measures such as establishment of military courts, registration of madrasas, or religious seminaries, and effort to end violence in Karachi, nation’s commercial hub. Meanwhile, the army chief Raheel Sharif has taken a more prominent role in internal security and foreign affairs as part of combating terrorism that had taken more than 50,000 lives since 2001. Average Pakistani citizen is not unhappy over military’s prominence in national politics as the country’s main stock index had doubled since 2012 and China had decided to pour in $45 billion into the southeast Asian nation’s insufficient infrastructure and power generation projects, much desired in light of chronic electricity outage.

Modi’s Unannounced Visit to Pakistan Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s unconventional diplomacy received a new round of applause as, en route to New Delhi from a foreign trip, Mr. Modi called on his Pakistani counterpart, Nawaz Sharif, on December 25, 2015 to wish him a happy birthday and expressed his desire to pay a visit to Sharif’s house in Lahore. Modi’s plane landed at the Lahore International Airport, and he was cordially received by Sharif. From the airport, both Sharif and Modi went to Sharif’s house where the Indian premier stayed for about two hours. The visit was “suddenly planned” and the meeting at Sharif’s house was cordial and friendly, according to Pak Foreign Minister Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry. Beside being Nawaz Sharif’s birthday, it was also the wedding day for Sharif’s granddaughter.

Suicide Bombing Kills 26 in Northwestern PakistanA suicide bomber blew himself up outside a government office at Peshawar on December 29, 2015, killing 26 people and wounding more than 45. Militant group Jamaat-ul-Ahrar claimed responsibility for bombing at the National Database and Registration Authority, or NADRA, office at Peshawar as the office, the militant group alleged, served the security officials.

Islamic State Gunmen Attack Pak Consulate in Afghanistan
Islamic State on January 13, 2016 claimed to have attacked the Pakistani consulate at Jalalabad in Nangarhar province, only three days after Afghan President Ashraf Ghani visited the Jalalabad and said that Islamic State had no room in his country. All three attackers, alleged to be members of the so-called Islamic State of Khorosan, were killed by the Afghan security forces, but not before seven of their comrades were killed. Islamic State, hitherto known to have only a meager presence, has found some footing in the Nangarhar province with the help of Taliban deserters.

Polio Vaccination Center Targeted, 16 Killed
A suicide bomber blew up at a polio vaccination center on January 13, 2016 in Quetta, killing 16 people, including 13 police personnel. Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack.

 

Gunmen Attack Pak University; Kill 20
In a gruesome replay of the massacre at a military school in Peshawar in December 2014, four gunmen turned a University named after one of the most respected secular leaders, Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, also known as Bacha Khan, into a bloodbath on January 20, 2016, on the day of Khan’s 28th death anniversary (Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan died on January 20, 1988). The hours-long standoff was to an end after all four gunmen were killed by security forces. There were stories of heroic deeds emerged during the time of attack on the Bacha Khan University at Charsadda, near Peshawar. One Chemistry professor, Syed Hamid Hussein, shielded his class by standing on the front and opening fire on gunmen. Professor Syed Hamid Hussein was one of the two teachers killed among 20 people. In addition to 20 deaths, 23 people were reported to have been wounded. The gruesome attack on the Bacha Khan University also brought fore a deep division in Pakistani Taliban ranks as a spokesman for Tehrik-e-Taliban sent an e-mailed statement to media disowning and condemning the attack, while the commander of a breakaway Taliban faction, Khalifa Omar Mansoor, who was also blamed for the Peshawar attack in December 2014, claimed responsibility for January 20, 2016, attack on the Bacha Khan University in Charsadda, adding that it was in revenge for army’s crackdown in the northwestern tribal belt.

Easter Sunday Suicide Bombing Kills more than 72
A suicide bomber on March 27, 2016 targeted Christians who were celebrating Easter Sunday at a Children’s park in Lahore, killing at least 72 people and wounding more than 100. The bomber blew up at the parking lot of Gulshan-e-Iqbal Park near the entrance. Although the intended targets were Christians, most of the casualties were Muslims. The breakaway Taliban faction Jamaat-ul-Ahrar claimed responsibility for this heinous crime.

Mastermind in Military School Attack Killed in Drone Strike
The Pakistani Taliban leader, Khalifa Umar Mansoor, who had planned, coordinated  and directed the December 16, 2014, attack on a military school in Peshawar that had killed 151 people, was killed in a drone strike, according to a Pak Army spokesperson. However, Lt. Gen. Asim Bajwa, the spokesperson, did not say where or when Mansoor was killed.

Militants Target Lawyers, Kill 70 in Hospital Attack in Baluchistan

A breakaway faction of Pakistani Taliban,

Jamaat ul-Ahrar

, on

August 8, 2016

took responsibility first for killing an eminent

Quetta

lawyer,

Bilal Kasi

, president of

Baluchistan Bar Association

, and then doubling down with a suicide bombing at a local hospital where lawyers had assembled. The

August 8, 2016

, twin attacks killed at least

70 people

, most of them lawyers, and struck a raw nerve of the country’s judicial establishment.

Bilal Kasi

was killed as he on his way to work early on

August 8, 2016

. When his body was brought to the

Quetta’s Civil Hospital

and about 100 local lawyers rushed to hospital and assembled there, a suicide bomber blew up. Two of the Pakistan TV journalists were also killed.

Baluchistan’s Capital Observes Shutdown, Lawyers Protest allover Pakistan
A day after a dastardly suicide bombing at a local hospital preceded by assassination of the president of the provincial lawyers’ body, Quetta, the provincial capital of Baluchistan, came to a grinding halt on August 9, 2016, with shops shuttered, transportation all but disappeared and roads wearing a deserting look. Across Pakistan, lawyers observed strike, and held demonstrations to honor the lawyers killed a day earlier in a suicide bombing at Quetta’s Civil Hospital. Although the claim by a breakaway faction of Pakistani Taliban, Jamaat ul-Ahrar, for carrying out the August 8, 2016, Quetta attack was more credible, the competing claim a day later was made by the Islamic State. Many think the claim as nothing but an opportunistic move on behalf of Islamic State.

Attack on Police Training College Kills 48
Gunmen on October 24, 2016 wreaked havoc at a police training college at Quetta, provincial capital of Baluchistan, triggering explosion and gunning down people, mostly students. At least 48 people were killed and more than 116 were injured. Authorities reported that the banned organization Lashkar-e-Jangvi was behind the attack.

Pakistan Awakens with Grim Toll of Police Institute Attack
As Pakistanis woke up on October 25, 2016 to the news of October 24 night attack on the police training institute at Quetta carried out by three gunmen, it was clear that the country had to do a lot more to checkmate the menace of terrorism determined to tear apart country’s social and religious fabric. The death toll have stood at more than 61 and at least 120 were injured, almost all of the dead and wounded are police cadets. Two gunmen blew up their suicide vests while the third one was shot dead by the security forces. Meanwhile, Islamic State laid claim to the attack while the authorities blamed an al-Qaeda-linked banned outfit, Lashkar-e-Jangvi.

Islamic State behind Shrine Attack in Pakistan
Two days before Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaj Sharif was scheduled to visit the Baluchistan’s Gwadar Port to showcase the strengthened Sino-Pak partnership by flagging off a Chinese ship for an African consignment mission, his mission was overshadowed by an explosion at a Sufi Shrine, Shah Bilal Noorani Shrine, on November 12, 2016. The shrine, located some 217 miles south of capital city of Quetta, was teeming with pilgrims–including a large number of women and children–during the so-called “dhamal” dance at the courtyard when a bomb exploded, leading to a total chaos and pandemonium and killing at least 50 people. Rescuers and first responders took time to reach the shrine due to the remoteness of the location in a mountainous terrain. ISIL later claimed responsibility for the blast.

Indian Shelling Kills 10 in Pakistan
Pakistan accused India on November 23, 2016 of shelling a passenger bus on the Pakistan side of Kashmir Valley that had killed 10 civilians. Pakistani premier Nawaz Sharif called the Indian shelling as a “naked aggression” and Pakistan foreign ministry summoned an Indian embassy official to lodge formal protest. Pakistani Army also released a statement, saying that Islamabad reserved the “right to respond at the place and time of our choosing”. Pakistani Army said that it had fired back and killed 7 Indian soldiers, a claim refuted by Indian military. Since a snap and surprise attack in September 2016 by militants on an Indian Army base in Kashmir killed 17 soldiers, the bilateral relationship took a tailspin.

New Army Chief in PakistanPakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on November 26, 2016 named Lt. Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa as the country’s new army chief to replace the outgoing chief Raheel Sharif.

Pakistan Observes Second Anniversary of School Massacre

Dignitaries, families of victims, teachers and students on

December 16, 2016

marked the second anniversary of Peshawar Army School massacre that had killed

154

, many of them were students.

Pakistan’s Army

chief

Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa

called the massacre as “attack on humanity”.

Explosion Kills at least 22 in Tribal Region in the Northwest
An explosion ripped a busy marketplace in a predominantly Shiite area in Kurram tribal region on January 21, 2017, killing at least 22 people. Many of the severely wounded were brought to the main hospital at Parachinar, administrative seat of Kurram tribal region, and the death toll would likely be higher. Later in the day, the sectarian banned group Lashkar-e-Janghvi, which branded Shiites and other Muslim groups as heretic, claimed responsibility for the explosion.

Suicide Bomber Kills 13
A suicide bomber on February 13, 2017 attacked one of the softest targets, a protest rally by pharmacists, in Lahore, and killed at least 13. The pharmacists were protesting against government-introduced amendments to a law covering drug sales. Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack.

Suicide Attack on Sufi Shrine Caps Four-day Violence, Pak Army Closes Afghan Borders
A string of violence rocked all four provinces and two tribal areas of Pakistan from February 13 to February 15, 2017 that had killed at least 25 lives and wounded dozens. Responding to the spurt of attacks, Pak army closed the Afghan borders on February 16, 2017, the same day a suicide bomber struck a deadly blow to a religious dance celebration at a Sufi shrine, Lal Shahbaz Qalandar, in Sindh province. The explosion at the shrine located in the city of Sehwan killed at least 75 and wounded more than 250.

Afghan-Pak Border Clashes Kill Dozens
The past weekend (May 5-7, 2017) was bloody and battered in relationship between Afghanistan and Pakistan as soldiers of the both nations fired each other near the Durand Line at Spin Boldak in southern Kandahar. Pakistan accused the Afghan soldiers of opening fire on census workers who went to border villages, but Kabul denied the allegation and said that Pakistanis were the ones who had crossed the borders. Pakistani authorities on May 7, 2017 said that at least 50 Afghan soldiers had been killed in border melee, a figure that Kabul called inflated.

U.S. Airstrike Kills the Terrorist Mastermind behind Pakistan AttacksThe Associated Press reported on March 25, 2017 that a U.S. airstrike on March 19, 2017 in Afghanistan’s eastern Paktika Province killed Qari Yasin, an al-Qaeda leader, accused of masterminding the September 2008 truck bombing at Marriott Hotel in Islamabad that had killed dozens, including two U.S. service personnel, U.S. Air Force Major Rodolfo Rodriguez and Mathew J. O’Bryant, a Navy cryptologic technician and 3rd Class Petty Officer, and  a second, 2009 attack in Islamabad on a bus that was ferrying Sri Lankan cricket teams, killing six Pak policemen and two civilians in addition to wounding half a dozen cricketers.

Attack on Shiite Mosque Kills at least Two Dozens
A breakaway faction of Pakistani Taliban carried out a bomb attack on a Shiite mosque at the main town, Parachinar, in the northwestern tribal region of Kurram on March 31, 2017, killing at least 24 people and wounding more than 100. Hours later, Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, the breakaway faction identified the suicide bomber as Abul Durda. Reacting to the Parachinar bombing, Pak premier Nawaz Sharif said that the fight against extremists and terrorists would continue until they faced “complete annihilation”. Meanwhile, Pakistani Army announced during the day that it had killed a high-value Pakistani Taliban leader, Mehmood ul Hassan, and one of his associates in the South Waziristan region.

At Least 57 Killed in Three Separate Incidents of Attacks
In the worst single-day of mayhems in weeks, attackers left a blood trail at three separate places on the day of Jumu’atul-Widaa, the last Friday before Eid al-Fitr. One of the three deadly attacks of June 23, 2017 took place in Quetta, capital of Baluchistan, as a suicide attacker blew up after his vehicle had been stopped, killing at least 13 people–including seven police personnel–and wounding more than 19. A splinter group of Pak Taliban, Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, claimed responsibility for the Quetta attack as did the Islamic State group. The second attack of the day shattered a Eid market at Turi Market of Parachinar, the capital of the Kurram tribal region, killing at least 40 people and wounding more than 200. Two back-to-back bombings at Turi Market raised the specter of sectarian fighting. The third incident took place in the port city of Karachi when gunmen opened fire at a roadside restaurant, killing four people.

Death Toll in Trio of Attacks Rise to 85
The death toll from June 23, 2017, trio of bombings at Quetta, Parachinar and Karachi rose to 85 as the number of deaths were revised to 14, 67, and five, respectively in those three places a day after the attacks. Also on June 24, 2017, Lashkar-e-Jangvi claimed responsibility for carrying out back-to-back double bombings at the Turi Market of Parachinar, the capital of the Kurram tribal region, raising the prospect of sectarian strife by targeting a Shiite majority area.

Pak Prime Minister Removed from Job
Pak Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on July 28, 2017 was removed from power by the country’s Supreme Court on charges of corruption that had been brought to the public knowledge by the so-called Panama Papers.

Sharif Chooses His Brother to Succeed
Just few months before PML (Nawaz) faces a restive electorate, Nawaz Sharif-led political party on July 29, 2017 named ousted premier’s brother and Punjab Chief Minister, Shahbaz Sharif, as the replacement. Now, in the next 45 days, Sharif has to quit his job as the Chief Minister of the country’s most populous state and get elected to parliament while, in the interim, the current Petroleum Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi will serve as the stopgap head of state.

A New Cabinet Sworn in
A week after Nawaz Sharif was removed from power by a damaging Supreme Court ruling, a 43-member cabinet was sworn in on August 4, 2017 led by the petroleum minister of the outgoing cabinet, Shahid Khaqan Abbasi. President Mamnoon Hussain administered the oath of office to Abbasi and his team.

Suicide Attack Kills 15
A pillion rider blew up near a security forces vehicle near Quetta, Baluchistan, killing 15 people and wounding dozens more on August 12, 2017.

ISIL Puts Its Footprint in Baluchistan
A suicide bomber blew up at a Shiite mosque at a remote village, Jhal Masgi, in southwestern Pakistan on October 5, 2017 as he was blocked at the entrance of the shrine by guards, killing at least 20 people and wounding more than 25. Islamic State claimed the responsibility for the blast at the mosque about 240 miles east of Quetta.

Release of Militant Leader Decried
Pakistan High Court’s order to release founder of banned Lashkar-e-Taiba, Hafiz Saeed, from house-arrest evoked a strong criticism from the U.S. on November 24, 2017. The U.S. State Department released a statement during the day, expressing deep concern over the fact that “Saeed had been released from the house arrest”. Hafiz Saeed now heads an Islamic charity, Jamaat-ud-Dawa, an alleged front for banned Lashkar-e-Taiba.

Pak Taliban Kill 12 at University Dorm
Four or five gunmen seized a dormitory of the Agricultural Training Institute in Peshawar on December 1, 2017, and killed a dozen residents prior to being killed by security forces after a 2-hour-long firefight. Pakistani Taliban claimed the responsibility for the attack, saying that it had targeted an ISI safe house.

Suicide Bombers Kill 9 at a Pak Church
Two suicide bombers on December 17, 2017 turned the Bethel Memorial Methodist Church, teeming with about 400 congregants during morning prayer, at Quetta, the capital of Baluchistan Province into a place of orgy. One suicide bomber blew himself up at the entrance of the church, while the second bomber failed to activate his explosive vest and was shot to death by security forces. At least nine worshippers were killed and more than 50 injured in December 17, 2017, attack on the church, the responsibility for which was subsequently claimed by Islamic State.

Trump’s anti-Pak Tweets Provokes Anger
A New Year’s Day tweet by President Donald Trump that the U.S. had “foolishly” given Pakistan more than $33 billion in aid over the past 15 years and gotten nothing in return but “lies” and “deceit” provoked outrage and anger among political establishment in Islamabad and general populace. Pakistan government’s National Security Committee met on January 2, 2018 to discuss the matter and issued a hard-hitting statement that the U.S. was trying to scapegoat Pakistan for its failure to bring peace to Afghanistan. The administration also summoned the U.S. Ambassador to register its protest.

U.S. Squeezes Pak Aid in a Two-Pronged Diplomatic Attack
In a two-pronged tightening of the diplomatic noose around Pakistan, Trump administration on January 4, 2018 froze significant amount of security aid to Pakistan and also placed the country on a watch list of nations with “severe violations of religious freedom” under the 1998 International Religious Freedom Act. Just five years ago, Pakistan received nearly $3.5 billion in U.S. aid. Trump administration asked for $350 million in aid for Pakistan from Congress in 2018 budget. The U.S. State Department said that the aid freeze would continue until the Pak government took the decisive action against militant groups who attacked U.S. and Afghan forces in neighboring Afghanistan.

Islamabad Calls the Aid Freeze “Counterproductive”, but Vows to Fight Terror
Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry on January 5, 2018 called the January 4, 2018, Washington’s security aid freeze “counterproductive”, but vowed to continue to fight against the terror groups.

India-Pakistan Clash Raises Border Tension

The latest flare-up began on

January 17, 2018

as the armies from Southeast rivals clashed along the LOC in Kashmir, and as of

January 19, 2018

, two civilians and two military personnel on the Indian side were killed.

Twin Attacks Leave 9 Dead in Baluchistan
Apparently two uncoordinated attacks at Quetta on April 2, 2018 killed nine people, including four Christians. Islamic State claimed responsibility for killing the Christians from the same family.

Assassination Attempt on Pak Interior Minister Sows Fears among Minorities
One of the most pro-minority Pakistani officials, Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal, on May 6, 2018 narrowly escaped an assassination attempt as a man shot at him while the minister was confabulating with a group of people after a public meeting in his constituency in Punjab’s Narowal District. He was shot, but his injury was not life-threatening and he was recuperating in hospital. The attacker was apprehended.

India, Pakistan to Stop Exchanging Fire
Indian and Pak military officials on May 30, 2018 announced that they would immediately halt trading fire on each other, a step welcomed by many on both sides of the border as a positive gesture in the Holy Month of Ramadan.

Pakistani Taliban Leader Killed by U.S. Drone Strike
Pakistani Intelligence authority on June 15, 2018 announced that Pakistani Taliban leader Mullah Fazlullah and four senior commanders had been killed in a U.S. drone strike two days ago in Afghanistan’s Kunar province. The spokesman for the U.S. military in Afghanistan, Lt. Col. Martin O’Donnell, on June 15, 2018 confirmed the June 13, 2018, drone strike without elaborating its target. Pakistani Taliban, or Tehrik-i-Taliban, is an umbrella organization of 30 militant groups. It was founded in 2007, but began to splinter in 2013 under ferocious assault by Pakistani military. In November 2013, Mullah Fazlullah became the leader of the group after its supreme leader Hakimullah Mehshud was killed in a drone strike in North Waziristan. Days before June 13, 2018, drone strike in Kunar province, Pakistani military chief, Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa, visited Kabul and held discussion with Afghan officials on reviving peace talks with Taliban and counterterrorism measures.

Pak Taliban Names Its New Leader
In a statement issued on June 23, 2018 Pakistan Taliban acknowledged the death of Pak Taliban leader Mullah Fazlullah in a drone strike, and called his death as a “matter of pride”. Pakistani Taliban named Mufti Noor Wali Mehsud, also known as Abu Mansur Asim, a ruthless extorter, as the new chief of Taliban and elevated Mufti Hazarat, an obscure leader, as his deputy to fill in the position that remained vacant since the former deputy leader Khan Sayed, also known as Khalid Sajna, had been killed in a February 2018 airstrike.

Former Premier Sentenced to 10-year Imprisonment

A Pak anti-corruption court on July 6, 2018 handed down a 10-year-sentence and $10.6 million in fine to former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif implicated in huge corruption exposed by the so-called “Panama Papers”. The court also sentenced his daughter, Maryam, and his son-in-law, Muhammad Safdar, to seven years and a year, respectively. The July 6, 2018, anti-corruption court ruling that also ordered his London’s four apartments at Avenfield House, next to Hyde Park, to be seized came almost a year after Pakistan’s supreme court had removed Nawaz Sharif from premiership. The July 6, 2018, ruling was issued in absentia and it’s not clear that Sharif would return to Pakistan anytime soon. 

Suicide Bombing at a Campaign Rally Kills 21

On late

July 10, 2018

, a suicide bombing targeted a campaign rally of

Awami National Party

at Peshawar, killing at least

21 people

, including a candidate for provincial legislative seat,

Ahmed Bilour

. On

July 11, 2018

, Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for the Peshawar attack 15 days before parliamentary polls.

Suicide Bombing Kills 128 in Southwest; Nawaz Sharif Arrested upon Arriving at Lahore
Twin political earthquakes shook Pakistan’s election season on July 13, 2018. One involved bloodying a political rally in Baluchistan Province as a suicide bomber blew up, killing at least 128, including a state legislative candidate, Siraj Raisani, in the town of Mastung, near Afghan border. The scale of devastation and death toll underlined the degree of violence that accompanied the election campaign in the run-up to July 25, 2018 parliamentary polls in which military was seen favoring Imran Khan’s political party.

The second significant event of the day was arrival of former premier

Nawaz Sharif

at Lahore from London along with his daughter,

Maryam

.  Hundreds of ML(N) supporters assembled before the Lahore airport to show support for and solidarity with

Nawaz Sharif

. Sharif and Maryam were ordered arrested by a Pak anti-corruption court in a

July 6, 2018

, ruling. Father and daughter were arrested after their Etihad Airways touched down on Lahore International Airport’s tarmac, and subsequently flown to Islamabad in a small aircraft.

Pak Political Parties Demand Security in the Run-up to Crucial Election
As violence intensified days before July 25, 2018, parliamentary election in which Imran Khan’s fortune seemed brighter to become the premier, political parties were unnerved by July 13, 2018, suicide bombing in Baluchistan attributed to Islamic State that had killed at least 128 people and wounded more than 500. On July 14, 2018, many political parties demanded that government strengthen the security, and PPP leader Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, son of deceased leader Benazir Bhutto, suspended his party’s campaign for two days as a tribute to those killed a day earlier by suicide bombing in Baluchistan. Pakistani government on July 14 declared that July 15, 2018 would be observed a day of national mourning.

Violence Mars Pak Polls
As the parliamentary election to transfer power from one civilian government to another for the second time in Pakistan’s history began in the earnest from the early morning on July 25, 2018, reports of violence, voter intimidation and vote fraud started to pour in from various parts of the nuclear armed country. A suicide bomber blew up at a polling booth in Quetta, Baluchistan, killing at least 31 people. On the eve of the election, tight security was clamped across the nation, with 350,000 troops manning various poll stations and checkpoints.

Imran Khan Leads the Field
As vote tallying began on July 26, 2018, Imran Khan’s political party seemed to have been racing ahead as the day wore in. Later in the evening, former cricket star’s supporters poured on the streets in large numbers to celebrate his almost certain ascension to premiership of the country of 200 million. Addressing the nation, Imran Khan vowed to fight against corruption, reset the relationship with the USA on the “mutually beneficial” terms and improve the relationship with China. Khan also emphasized that he would work to create a just society along the line of Prophet Muhammad’s teaching. As of late night on July 26, 2018, it became apparent that Imran Khan had to depend on small parties to secure a majority and form a coalition government. Khan’s party received 120 seats, PML(N) 61 and PPP 40, respectively.

Pompeo, Imran Khan Hold Talks in Pursuit of NormalizationSecretary of State Mike Pompeo and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford spent about 6 hours in Pakistan on September 5, 2018, meeting with Pak officials, including a 30-minute session with the country’s recently elected premier, Imran Khan. In recent months, the bilateral relationship soured, leading to postponing tens of millions of dollars U.S. aid, and Pompeo and Pak officials tried to smooth out some of the rough edges during meetings. Pompeo also took with him former Ambassador to Afghanistan and Pakistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, who would be Trump administration’s special envoy to Afghanistan.

Pak Court Frees Sharif
A Pakistani court on September 19, 2018 ordered the release of Nawaz Sharif, his daughter and son-in-law on bail as their appeals went through.

********************************** ASIA BIBI SAGA ****************************Acquittal of Christian Woman Sparks Violent Protest
A peasant Christian woman, Asia Bibi, charged and sentenced to death in 2010 for blasphemy over her argument with fellow Muslim women in a field was acquitted on October 31, 2018 by the Pak Supreme Court, leading to chorus of outbursts by country’s significantly large Islamic political base. They resorted to blocking traffic on highways, holding rallies and demanding the resignation of justices.

Pak Supreme Court Upholds Its Acquittal Verdict
Pakistan’s supreme court on January 29, 2019 upheld the acquittal of Asia Bibi, a Christian who had spent eight years behind the bar on death row for allegedly using blasphemy against Prophet Muhammad. Asia Bibi’s daughter lives in Canada, and the plan is to re-unite her with her daughter.

********************************** ASIA BIBI SAGA ****************************

Father of Taliban Movement Killed
As the strident protest against October 31, 2018, acquittal of Asia Bibi continued for the third day on November 2, 2018 in Pakistan, the so called “Father of Taliban” movement was assassinated at his home outside Islamabad. It’s still unclear whether the killing of Maulana Sami ul-Haq, 82, is related to ongoing violent protest against Asia Bibi’s acquittal from blasphemy charges.

Twin Attacks Kill Three Dozens
On a particular fatal day, blood spilled on at two different corner of this Southeast Asian nation. First around 9AM on November 23, 2018, gunmen attacked Chinese consulate at Karachi, but guards had repelled the attack, killing two police personnel, two civilians and gunmen killed. Later in the day, a separatist group based in Baluchistan, Baluchistan Liberation Army, claimed responsibility for the attack. There is strong feeling in Baluchistan against Chinese development projects in the province, encompassing around the $62 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, a conduit aimed at integrating China with southern ports through landlocked region.

Hours after the Karachi attack, a pillion rider blew up at a weekly market at the town of

Kalaya in the northern Orakzai

district, killing at least

30

people.

Sharif Sentenced on Corruption Charges
Former three-term premier, Nawaz Sharif, was sentenced on December 24, 2018 to seven years of imprisonment in disproportionate asset accumulation charges. He was free on bail, and the same Islamabad court earlier acquitted him on the second set of money laundering, tax evasion and kickbacks charges.

Pakistan Arrests 44, including Brother and Son of India Attack Group’s Founder

Following a list handed by Indian authorities, Pakistan carried out a security sweep, netting

44

militants from various outlawed groups,

Pak Interior Minister Shehryar Afridi said on March 5, 2019

. Among the arrestees were a brother and son of

Masood Azhar

, the founder of

Jaish-e-Mohammad,

responsible for

February 14, 2019

, Kashmir attack that had killed

40

Indian soldiers.

Baluch Separatists Attack an Upscale Resort Hotel
The separatist war in Baluchistan seems to have become intractable, and five months after November 2018 attack on Chinese consulate in Karachi, Baluchistan Liberation Army has claimed another audacious attack on May 11, 2019, this time targeting the resort Pearl Continental Hotel on the Baluchistan’s coast. Three gunmen entered the upscale hotel on May 11, 2019, and began an eight-hour siege that had killed a Special Ops soldier, a hotel security guard and three hotel employees. After a fierce gun battle, the situation in the Pearl Continental Hotel was brought under control and all three gunmen had been shot to death. The May 11, 2019, attack that had killed six people and three attackers and wounded six, including two soldiers, came weeks after a group of militants allied with a separatist Baluch separatist group, Raji AajoiSangar, crossed the Iranian border and ambushed a security convoy, killing 14 security personnel.

Imran Khan’s White House Visit Marred by Trump Comments on Afghanistan
U.S. President Donald Trump received Pak Prime Minister Imran Khan at the Oval Office on July 22, 2019. At the end of bilateral discussion, both leaders faced reporters, and Trump said that Indian premier Narendra Modi had requested him to mediate between India and Pakistan on Kashmir issue. Trump’s comments immediately tormented Indian political landscape with opposition Congress and other political parties asking the premier to come clean. However, Trump’s most irresponsible comment was about Afghanistan when he said that “I could win that war in a week. I just don’t want to kill 10 million people”. Trump added “if I want to win that war, Afghanistan would be wiped off the face of the earth”. 


PHILLIPPINES Deal to End Insurgency in South
After a years-long, drawn out negotiations at neighboring Malaysian capital of Kuala Lumpur, Filipino government negotiators and their Moro Islamic Liberation Front counterparts on January 25, 2014 reached a key agreement, fourth and final deal that was part of a broader peace agreement after three such deals were signed last year (2013) in a regional effort to end four-decade old insurgency that had cost tens of thousands of lives in the island nation and brewed a new generation of Islamic insurgency in the region, that called for, among others:

* Creation of an autonomous region in country’s south

* Disarmament of insurgents and their subsequent integration in the region’s security forces

* Devolution of security authority to locals

* Sharing significant portion of region’s revenue with the local autonomous governing body

The final, broader agreement will be signed at Manila in the coming month.

Obama Makes the Case for US to Defend Japan
In a week-long visit to Japan, South Korea, Malaysia and the Philippines, the country that’s likely to overshadow President Barack Obama’s most of the official programs is the country he is not visiting: China. A case in point: as President Obama arrived at Japan on April 23, 2014, country’s media was awash over President’s written statement to Yumiuri Shimbhun that if Japan was attacked over dispute related to a chain of uninhabited islands, known as Diaoyu in Chinese and Senkaku in Japanese, in the East China Sea, US would come to defend Japan under the Article V of the U.S.-Japan Treaty of Mutual Co-operation and Security. President Obama also stressed on advancing the long-delayed Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement.

Landmark Agreement Signed with Philippines
US President Barack Obama and Filipino President Benigno Aquino III on April 28, 2014 signed a landmark maritime security and cooperation agreement at Manila. The 10-year deal, dubbed as Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, will allow the US forces to have limited access to Filipino military bases.

China Locks Horn with Vietnam and Philippines

In a new escalation, Chinese ships on

May 7, 2014

rammed through Vietnamese vessels trying to block Chinese effort to place an oil rig in South China Sea. Although no injuries or damages were reported, the incident 120 nautical miles off the coast off Vietnam marked a new level of provocation and power-play by Beijing. Also, on

May 7, 2014

, Philippines detained Chinese fishermen hunting for sea turtles.

Autonomy for Muslims in the South Proposed
As part of an agreement with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, President Benigno Aquino III on September 10, 2014 submitted a draft law in the Filipino Congress that would create an autonomous region, to be called the Bangsamoro Region, in country’s south to address and assuage the grievances of a restive Muslim population.

******************************** TYPHOON HAGUPIT ************************

Deadly Typhoon Slams PhilippinesTyphoon Hagupit made landfall on the central island of Eastern Samar on December 6, 2014. Three people were killed. However, death toll from Typhoon Hagupit turned out to be lower than that of Typhoon Haiyan because of timely evacuation and overall readiness of government agencies. As of December 8, 2014, Typhoon Hagupit was packing a sustained winds of 65 mph and gusts of 84 mph. The typhoon has so far killed at least 22 people, out of which 19 had perished in Samar Island and three had died in the central province of Iloilo on Panay Island.

******************************** TYPHOON HAGUPIT ************************70 Years Later, Battle of Manila Revives Old Wound
Many aged Filipinos still tremble at the slightest memory of Japanese occupation and oppression of their island nation. They still suffer from their psychological pain and grief over the loss of their own. Their pain is so fresh and vivid that, for many of them, it has inflicted their life not seven decades ago, but yesterday. They also remember American military’s bravery and boldness in liberating Manila after a fierce battle, known as the Battle of Manila, waged for a month from February 3 through March 3, 1945. Manila was eventually liberated, but not before it was thoroughly destroyed and 100,000 people were killed. In the Battle of Manila, about 16,000 Japanese soldiers and 1,000 U.S. soldiers were also killed.

***************************** APEC SUMMIT 2015 ********************************2015 APEC Conference at Manila
This year’s Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit (November 18-19, 2015) at Manila, Philippines is being overshadowed by a string of terrorist attacks, including downing of a Russian airliner in Sinai Peninsula, Egypt, suicide bombing at Beirut and terrorist attacks in Paris. So, the 21-nation group that includes USA and China will end up spending more time on a common approach to fight terrorism and less time on issues relevant to this group: trade, tariff, commerce, economy and environment. President Barack Obama flew to Manila straight from Turkey on November 17, 2015 where he had attended a G-20 summit. Upon arrival, Obama paid a visit to Philippine harbor and boarded a Filipino Navy ship BRP Gregorio del Pilar to show his symbolic support for free navigation and rights to international water. From the 378-foot ship, president said that it was the right of all nations in the region to have access to navigation free from intimidation, a swipe at China’s recent activities in South China Sea. Obama also announced a $250 million package for the nations in this region which were feeling intimidated by China’s new aggressiveness over numerous islands, islets and reefs in the international water of South China Sea. As part of that package, Philippines, already the largest recipient of the U.S. maritime assistance, will get a Coast Guard cutter and a research vessel.

APEC Summit Opens as President Obama Call for China to Halt Construction
The two-day APEC summit opened on November 18, 2015 at Manila amidst a massive protest by Leftists and opposition parties against the group’s anti-labor bias. The U.S. President Barack Obama called for China to halt construction activities in Spratly Islands claimed by China, but rejected by rest of the international community. At the end of the summit, the bloc that accounts for roughly 60 percent of the global economy issued a joint statement, condemning “all acts, methods, and practices of terrorism”.

***************************** APEC SUMMIT 2015 ********************************Filipino Supreme Court Okays Return Of U.S. Military to the Island Nation
Two decades after Filipino lawmakers voted to end the Cold War-era U.S. military presence in Philippines, a fractured Supreme Court on January 12, 2016 approved an agreement signed in 2014 that would facilitate US to return troops and weapons to the island nation under a much changed regional political scenario made possible, to a large extent, by a dominant and assertive China. The 10-4 Filipino Supreme Court verdict was issued on the same day of the country’s defense and foreign ministers meeting with the U.S. officials, including the U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, at Washington. The 10-year accord will give the U.S. a firmer foothold in the region where China was ramping up its military presence in the submerged islets and islands just 500 miles away.

Tough-Talking, Brash Mayor to Become Country’s President
In May 9, 2016, presidential polls, a brash, no-holds-barred mayor from a southern Filipino city scored a surprising win, throwing this island nation into an international spotlight. Rodrigo Duterte was the mayor of the southern city of Davao for 22 years, taking a tough stance against lawlessness that had earned him both reputation as well as notoriety. Under Duterte’s stewardship, Davao witnessed more than 1,000 extrajudicial killings, and during campaign speeches, the Trump-styled politician often boasted of personally killing criminals. With 92 percent vote counted as of May 10, 2016, Rodrigo Duterte won 39 percent vote, ahead of his nearest rival. Some of the foreign policy comments by Rodrigo Duterte were also disconcerting to Obama administration as he had often mentioned to reach out to China to hash out any differences over competing territorial claims in the South China Sea.

Duterte Officially Declared Winner
On May 27, 2016, Philippines’ lawmakers completed the electoral process by officially approving Rodrigo Duterte–who had received more than 16.6 million votes, thus edging his nearest rival, Mar Roxas, a former Interior Minister by about 6.6 million votes–as the winner of May 9, 2016, presidential polls.

Tough Politician Sworn in as President
The 71-year-old Mayor of southern Davao City, Rodrigo Duterte, who had earned a “tough guy” reputation and often boasted of killing criminals by himself, was sworn in Philippines’ president on June 30, 2016.

******** FILIPINO SUIT TO ARBITRATION PANEL OVER SOUTH CHINA SEA********International Panel Rejects China’s Claim over South China Sea
An international arbitration panel ruling in response to a petition filed by Philippines on July 12, 2016 rejected Beijing’s expansive claim over vast parts of energy-rich South China Sea. The five-member panel of the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague also ruled that China had violated Manila’s maritime rights by building artificial islands that had destroyed coral reefs and disrupted fishing and oil exploration. Former Filipino Foreign Minister Albert del Rosario, who had filed the legal brief in 2013 under a U.N. treaty governing the rights of seas, lauded the ruling as a verdict that could play as a “great equalizer among the states”. The White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest called China to respect the ruling, and the U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter put it more through the prism of diplomacy, saying while in a visit to Afghanistan that it (the ruling) had created an opportunity for various parties in the region for constructive engagement. However, China was livid after the ruling was issued, and called it a “farce”. It’s not clear what will happen now as the panel has no enforcement power. China has boycotted the panel’s proceedings all along.

Beijing Admonishes against Meddling
A day after a five-member panel of the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague ruled against China’s expansive claims over South China Sea, China warned on July 13, 2016 against any outside interference and said that the panel had no jurisdiction over what it called the country’s sovereign matters. China’s Vice Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin also threatened that, if push came to shove, Beijing would invoke air defense identification zone. However, Chinese officials, cognizant of the fact that the new Filipino administration of Rodrigo Duterte was friendlier to Beijing than the preceding administration, extended the olive branch, stressing that there was more benefit that might come out of cooperation and normalized relations between the nations.

******** FILIPINO SUIT TO ARBITRATION PANEL OVER SOUTH CHINA SEA********Former Filipino President Freed
Former Filipino President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo on July 21, 2016 was freed from long detention and whisked away in a car from a veterans’ hospital at Quezon city to a villa at a posh Manila neighborhood. Philippines’ Supreme Court on July 19, 2016 cleared in 11-4 vote the former president of plunder charges, paving the way for her release. Now, there is no bar for Arroyo to return to the House of Representatives where she was elected in May 2016 while under detention. Her predecessor, Joseph Estrada, had to quit power in 2001 after a massive uprising, and he was jailed too on corruption charges. Estrada was pardoned in 2007 by the then-President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, a decision criticized by many anti-corruption advocates.

President Gives First State of the Nation Address, Calls for Unilateral Cease-fire

Addressing his first state of the nation address,

Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte

on

July 25, 2016

portrayed himself as a leader of common man with sleeves rolled up, showing distaste for teleprompter and displaying a pretty casual style. He offered an olive branch to one of the longest-running insurgencies in the world by announcing unilateral cease-fire with the Communist guerrillas of

New People’s Army

that had waged a decades-old ferocious battle against the government and cost nearly

150,000

lives. It is now believed that the NPA leader 

Jose Maria Sison

will soon return to his homeland from exile in Europe to meet his former Manila University student

Rodrigo Duterte

, now the president of

Philippines

.

Unilateral Truce Called off
A unilateral truce the Rodrigo Duterte administration had announced five days ago was off the table on July 30, 2016 as a key deadline expired without any positive gesture from the Communist guerilla group New People’s Army and a government militiaman was assassinated by the rebels. It’s not clear whether the negotiators from both sides will meet at Oslo next month as planned.

Filipino President Ups the Ante on “Corrupt” Officials
Philippines’s president intensified his campaign against drug dealers and handlers, corrupt officials and judges. Since taking office on June 30, 2016, at least 400 people linked to drug had been killed, more than 4400 were arrested and nearly 600,000 people surrendered fearing their lives as President Rodrigo Duterte openly called for killing drug sellers, handlers, addicts and users. The latest action came on August 7, 2016 as President Rodrigo Duterte issued an order for scores of public officials–including eight judges and five retired and current military generals–to surrender within 24 hours. The public callout of so many public servants were unprecedented and added to the growing alarm expressed by the human rights groups and Catholic Church alike.

Public Officials Heed Warning, Surrender

Two days after

President Rodrigo Duterte

named about

150 officials

 implicated in corruption and ordered them to surrender within 24 hours, dozens of officials–including

18 mayors

and

31 police

officials–surrendered as of

August 9, 2016

.

Filipino War on Drug Taking Astronomical Toll on Human Lives
Since assuming presidency on June 30, 2016, Rodrigo Duterto’s war on drug was increasingly taking a turn toward meeting out vigilante-style punishment with impunity. Since July 1, 2016, 525 people were killed by law enforcement as part of war on drug, with more than 7,600 suspects taken to custody involving a total of more than 5,400 anti-narcotics assaults, according to report issued on August 11, 2016 by Philippine’s National Police Directorate for Investigation and Detective Management.

************************** MARCOS’ BURIAL CONTROVERSY ********************1,500 Turn out to Protest the Decision for Hero’s Burial of MarcosPresident Rodrigo Duterte’s recent controversial decision–one of many since assuming office on June 30, 2016–to allow former dictator Ferdinand Marcos to be reburied in Hero’s Cemetery caused old wounds to fester again. Many opposition leaders and activists are not buying Duterte’s argument that Marcos deserved burial at the Hero’s cemetery as a former president and soldier. About 1500 people braved wind and rain to show up at a rally at Manila’s seaside Rizal Park on August 14, 2016.



Apex Court Clears Marcos’ Burial at Hero’s Cemetery

Tossing out a legal brief filed by human rights activists and opposition leaders, Philippines’ Supreme Court on

November 8, 2016

ruled by

9-5

that the former dictator

Ferdinand Marcos

could be accorded burial at the cemetery. The verdict brought cheers to the family and supporters of Marcos.

Marcos Buried at Hero’s Cemetery
Ten days after a deeply controversial and unpopular ruling by the country’s Supreme Court paving the way for Ferdinand Marcos’ burial at the hero’s cemetery, the long-dead dictator’s body was brought to the cemetery on November 18, 2016 in a hush-hush atmosphere to avoid attracting attention and laid to rest at the cemetery.

************************** MARCOS’ BURIAL CONTROVERSY ********************Filipino Communists are to Give Cease-fire a Chance
Three days before negotiators from the Rodrigo Duterte regime and Communist Party of the Philippines are to open talks at Oslo, Communists and their armed wing, New People’s Army, on August 19, 2016 declared a unilateral week-long cease-fire with immediate effect.

President’s Hometown Hit by Bomb
A bomb detonated near a Jesuit university at Davao, Ateneo de Davao University, in the southern Mindanao region on September 2, 2016, killing 14 people and wounding more than 70. Islamic extremist group Abu Sayyaf was suspected to have carried out the attack, and President Rodrigo Duterte rushed to his hometown, Davao. On September 3, 2016, he imposed a “state of lawlessness” in Mindanao region.

Filipino President Draws Fire for Militarizing the Response against Bomb Blast at His Home Town
Human rights groups and opposition on September 3, 2016 took issues with President Rodrigo Duterte’s declaration of “state of lawlessness” for all of Mindanao region in response to a blast a day earlier near a Jesuit university at Davao, president’s hometown, that had killed 14 people. They see the declaration as an unnecessary escalation by basically handing over the security from the local authority to the country’s military.

Obama Calls off Meeting with Duterte
To ensure that Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte learns his lesson for lacking diplomatic nicety expected of a head of state over his use of a derogatory term to describe President Barack Obama, Obama on September 5, 2016 called off a planned meeting scheduled later in the afternoon at Vientiane, Laos on the sideline of an ASEAN Summit.

Duterte Regrets his Comments
After being shunned by President Barack Obama, Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte on September 6, 2016 regretted for using the vulgar words against President Barack Obama.

Pro-Duterte Lawmakers Oust an Important Senator
In a political witch-hunt, Senators loyal to President Rodrigo Duterte’s political party on September 20, 2016 voted to remove a respected opposition senator, Senator Leila de Lima, who was leading an investigation into president’s war on drug, from a powerful Senate panel, Committee on Justice and Human Rights, thus scuttling severely any meaningful investigation into state excesses in the name of weeding out the menace of drug. Ratcheting up the pressure on anyone opposed to president’s campaign against drug use, the lower House of Representative opened hearings on allegations that Senator Lima had taken bribes from drug cartel. Responding to ruling party’s heavy-handedness, Senator Leila de Lima called it a “new McCarthyism”.

Filipino President Throws another Tantrum, Announces Distance from Washington
During a visit to Vietnam, Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte,  who had earned notoriety for making outlandish and, often boorish, statement, said on late September 28, 2016 that he would end joint U.S.-Philippines military exercises, like the ones scheduled to start next week, effective next year (2017). No body knows what does that mean in practical terms such as long-standing alliance between Washington and Manila. Even his own defense minister, Delfin Lorenzana, seemed confused and said on September 29, 2016 that he was seeking clarification.

Philippines’ President Apologizes for Hitler Comments
In another bizarre comments absolutely irrelevant to governance, Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte on September 30, 2016 boasted his anti-drug campaign as something akin to Holocaust targeting all the drug addicts. Piling on his ignorance, Duterte said that he would love to kill 3 million people if they were all addict, underestimating by almost 50 percent the number of Holocaust victims. Sensing that he might have exceeded all lines of decency and protocol, Duterte on October 2, 2016 apologized for his comments two days ago.

Filipino President Announces Separation from the U.S.
Addressing a Beijing economic forum attended by business executives, diplomats and officials, Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte on October 20, 2016 displayed his fickle leadership acumen one more time by announcing that he was separating from the U.S., without divulging what that actually meant. However, his comment and commitment earlier to resolve the South China Sea dispute with Beijing amicably through negotiation brought plenty of smiles to the face of Chinese officials. Reflecting the growing friendship under Duterte, China’s vice foreign minister, Liu Zhenmin, added that the “South China Sea is not the sum total of the bilateral relationship”. On the trade front, both nations used the opportunity of Rodrigo Duterte’s state visit to China to unveil economic deals worth $13.5 billion this week.

After Beijing, It’s in Tokyo for Duterte’s Another Bombshell to Drop

Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte’s

often bizarre, off-the-cup anti-American pronouncements on  foreign soil took its latest turn on

October 26, 2016

as he said in Tokyo that he was willing to scrap a 2014 defense deal allowing Pentagon to use five Filipino military bases.

Filipino Mayor Killed in Police Custody
Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drug campaign using harsh tactics, including hundreds of  extrajudicial killings, entered into a new brutal and monstrous phase, now targeting the elected officials suspected of drug link. The latest was the brutal killing of a mayor of a town in the central Leyte Province in police custody on November 5, 2016. Rolando Espinosa Sr., the mayor of Albuera, was killed under controversial circumstances on November 5, 2016 along with his cellmate as firefighting broke out with security forces. Rolando Espinosa Sr. was arrested in October several weeks after President Rodrigo Duterte named him one of about 150 officials suspected of having drug ties. Rolando Espinosa Sr.’s custody death came eight days after another mayor from southern Philippines, Samsudin Dimaukom, also a suspect of drug involvement, was killed in a police shootout at a checkpoint.

Joint Military Exercises to Continue
After creating much of diplomatic confusion by President Rodrigo Duterte’s non-stop cavalier and controversial statements such as  discontinuing joint U.S.-Philippines military drills and abrogating a 2014 deal that had allowed U.S. to use five Filipino military bases temporarily, Filipino government on November 9, 2016 just made a U-turn on both joint drills as well as the 2014 agreement. Filipino Defense Minister Delfin Lorenzana said on November 9, 2016 that the joint military drills would continue, but their scope and scale would be limited. According to Lorenzana, the number of drills will be reduced and mock assault as part of the drill will be eliminated. Lorenzana also added that the 2014 agreement allowing Washington to use temporarily five Filipino military bases would continue to be upheld by the Duterte regime.

Filipino Vice President Quits Cabinet Post
Philippines’ Vice President Leni Robredo on December 5, 2016 quit her cabinet post as the head of Housing Ministry citing irreconcilable difference with the country’s often impulsive President Rodrigo Duterte. However, Ms. Robredo has decided to continue as the country’s vice president until elections in May 2017 as President Duterte is rumored to be backing Sen. Fredinand Bongbong Marcos Jr.

U.S. to Hold off Aid to Philippines

Concerned over the direction and disastrous effect of President

Rodrigo Duterte’s

war on drug, Obama administration on

December 15, 2016

announced that it would hold off hundreds of millions of dollars in economic aid earmarked for Manila.

Filipino President Goes Fiery on USA
Two days after the Obama administration suspended hundreds of million in direct aid to Philippines, President Rodrigo Duterte on December 17, 2016 blasted Washington for deferring on the aid package and retorted that American troops should get ready to leave his country. Duterte said that he would abrogate the so-called 1998 Visiting Forces Agreement, a deal that has become a standard-bearer for U.S. troops deployment in the Philippines.

U.N. Official Calls for Investigation into President
The chief U.N. human rights official, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, said on December 20, 2016 that appropriate authorities in Philippines should investigate into President Rodrigo Duterte’s recent claim that he had himself killed drug criminals in the past. The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights was responding to Duterte’s statement at a December 16, 2016, news conference that he had killed “about three” men when he was Davao’s Mayor.

Political Vengeance Suspected to be Behind Opposition Leader’s Arrest
As the global condemnation and national concern mounted over President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drug campaign, the scale of political vengeance rose to a new level on February 23, 2017 as the Regional Trial Court in Muntinlupa issued arrest warrant against a Duterte critic and opposition senator, Sen. Leila de Lima, on charges of receiving drug money. On February 24, 2017, Filipino authorities announced that Sen. Leila had been arrested.

A Brief on Sen. Leila’s Background
* As Chairwoman of the Philippines’ Commission on Human Rights in 2008, she had investigated the extrajudicial killings under the watch of the then-Davao Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, now the Filipino president.

*

Sen. Leila de Lima

later became the Secretary of Justice, and recently launched as Chairwoman of the Senate Justice Committee  an investigation into President Duterte’s war on drug campaign.

* She was sent to prison in February 2017 at Camp Crame, inside the National Police Headquarters in Quezon City, north of Manila.

* The EU and Human Rights Watch called for her immediate release.

Filipino President Brings More Embarrassment
As if there is not enough of drama and embarrassment, President Rodrigo Duterte is fast becoming an international object of condemnation and denunciation. The latest came on March 27, 2017 as Philippines’ Charge d’Affaires Alan Deniega was summoned by EU’s external service to explain Duterte’s recent tirade that he would hang EU diplomats for opposing death penalty.

Duterte Declares Emergency in Country’s South to Quell ViolenceFilipino President Rodrigo Duterte cut short his Russia trip and returned to Manila on May 23, 2017 as a raid at a hideout of Abu Sayyaf extremist leader Isnilon Hapilon earlier in the day at the southern city of Marawai, 520 miles south of Manila, in the province of Lanao del Sur turned violent. President Duterte declared a state of emergency in and around Marawai for 60 days as an Islamic State-allied group, the Maute, joined to fight against the security forces. Defense Minister Delfin Lorenzana said during the day that several dozens Maute fighters took positions at Marawai and fierce fighting was going on. The militants occupied city hall, burned down a Catholic Church, a jail and a college. At least 2 soldiers and several militants were reported to have been killed.

IS-Linked Militants Sweep Southern City
IS-linked Maute fighters took near-total control over the southern city of Marawai on May 24, 2017, and left a trail of horror in the wake, by decapitating police chief, seizing a Catholic priest and his worshippers, and burning down several buildings. An exasperated Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte responded by threatening to extend the state of national emergency to the rest of the nation. The latest escalation erupted when Filipino military struck the hideout of Abu Sayyaf commander Isnilon Hapilon in Marawai on May 23, 2017.

Video of Priest’s Appeal Appears in the Social Media
A video purported to be of Catholic Priest Rev. Teresito Suganob, seized by the Maute guerrillas last week in Marawai, appeared in the social media on May 30, 2017 in which the priest appealed to President Rodrigo Duterte to stop military operation in and around Marawai.

Fighting Continues, City Lays in Ruins
After four weeks of fierce fighting, there remained isolated, but significant pockets, of resistance in Marawai with Maute guerrillas still controlling the southwest parts of the city. The city is on the shore of Lake Lanao, and a river, Agus River,  that originates at the lake flows through the city, dividing it into two sections. As of June 13, 2017, at least 200 people were killed in fighting.

Battle against ISIL over, Philippines Declares
Addressing an annual defense meeting, Filipino Defense Minister Delfin Lorenzo announced on October 23, 2017, five months to the day of eruption of violence, the end of battle with ISIL militants in and around the city of Marawi.

Philippines Extends Emergency in Restive Region
Filipino Congress on December 13, 2017 voted overwhelmingly to extend an emergency in Mindanao region that had been clamped in May 2017 after insurgents had launched multi-pronged attacks on Marawi and led to a fierce months-long battle between government forces and insurgents before bringing the insurgency to an end in October 2017.

Duterte Withdraws Philippines from International Criminal Court
Underscoring his proclivity to rule by whims and whips, Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte said on March 14, 2018 to withdraw his country from the statute, Rome Statute, that had established the International Criminal Court with immediate effect. However, the withdrawal process is not a simple announce and annul action. The U.N. Secretary-General needs to be notified first, followed by a year-long waiting period.

Chief Justice, a Duterte Foe, Ousted from Supreme CourtFilipino President Rodrigo Duterte’s crusade against anyone who’s even a remotely critic of his way of running government reached a new low on May 11, 2018 as an apparently coerced Supreme Court voted 8-6 to expel the Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, a constant voice against Duterte’s autocratic style of functioning, after the government moved with a motion to dismiss her on charges that she was not transparent with her wealth. In a parallel measure, ruling party in the 292-seat House of Representatives was planning to impeach Sereno, whom the president had called an “enemy” and called for her removal by Congress, on corruption charges.

Duterto Signs Landmark Law for Pre-dominantly Muslim Region’s Autonomy
Four years after Aquino government signed an agreement with one of the largest insurgent groups in the south, Mori Islamic Liberation Front, after the secessionists abandoned the demand for full-fledged independence for a regional autonomy, Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte on July 26, 2018 signed a landmark law that had eventually built a more robust autonomy plan on the provisions of 2014 agreement to include broader areas and offer benefit of self-determination to a larger population of the region. The law, formally known as Bangsamoro Organic Law, calls for

* Expansion of an autonomous region that will be led initially by a “transitional authority” composed mostly of MILF rebels before a democratic election is held

* Interim body to supersede the existing autonomous body that has jurisdiction over five provinces

* Rebels to lay down arms

* Police and military in the Bangsamoro region to remain under federal control

The Moro Islamic Liberation Front leader Al Haj Murad Ebrahim also added that, under the new law, the six of the rebel camps would be converted to “productive civilian communities”. MILF took up arms against the Filipino state in 1978 that had killed more than 120,000 people, wounded hundreds of thousands and displaced millions.

Opposition Senator Hauled from Senate Office
An opposition senator, Antonio Trillanes, who vociferously objected to President Rodrigo Duterte’s anti-narcotics crackdown and ordered detained by the president earlier this month, was arrested at his Senate office, where he had been holed in for days, on September 25, 2018. President Duterte also revoked his immunity from prosecution in leading to two mutinies. Trillanes, then a naval officer, led a group of 300 military officers in 2003 in a failed coup against the then-President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, now the speaker of parliament and a Duterte ally, regime for alleged corruption, and seized a luxury hotel in Makati. The uprising was put down quickly without spilling blood. Trillanes four years later walked free of a Manila courtroom and led a siege of another hotel. In 2011, Antonio Trillanes was given amnesty by the then-President Benigno Acquino.

A Prominent Duterte Critic Assassinated
In a shocking incident, one of the prominent members of a nationally renowned lawyers group, National Union of People’s Lawyers, that earned international praise for defending people who had been ensnared in President Rodrigo Duterte’s anti-drug drive was killed on November 6, 2018 as Benjamin Ramos, 56, was leaving office, becoming the 34th lawyer killed in the battle against narcotics.

Marcos Widow Receives 42 Years
A Filipino court on November 9, 2018 handed a 42-year imprisonment to Imelda Marcos, 92, on seven counts of graft charges, but it’s unlikely that the widow of the former dictator would ever face any jail time. However, the ruling is going to bar Ms. Marcos, a sitting legislator, from running for any public office.

Time Magazine’s Person of the Year Arrested
A well-known journalist whose dogged pursuit to unmask many of the controversial events had earned her Time magazine’s Person of the Year award in 2018 was taken into custody on February 13, 2019 by plainclothes personnel from Philippines’ National Bureau of Investigation. Maria Ressa, who had already been facing tax evasion charges, was arrested on libel charges for a story she had penned in 2012, four months before the libel law went into effect. Ressa, who is the chief executive and executive editor of the news site Rappler, has been arrested along with Rappler researcher Reynaldo Santos Jr. Rappler took front and center in hot pursuit of excesses perpetrated by Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte.

Journalist Arrested for Second Time in As Many Months
The Filipino journalist who had earned an accolade last year from the Time magazine, Maria Ressa, was arrested on March 29, 2019 as she had just arrived at the Manila airport from an overseas trip, this time over foreign ownership of her news site, Rappler. Later in the day, she had posted bail and was released. She was arrested on February 13, 2019 on separate charges.

SINGAPOREFounder of Modern City-State Dies
Tens of thousands of people on March 29, 2015 paid their tribute to the strongman and visionary Lee Kuan Yew, 91, who had passed away on March 23, 2015. Lee Kuan Yew transformed a sleepy fishing island into an industrial, financial and technological hub, and put the city-state on the global map in a prominent way. While Lee Kuan Yew was credited for the meteoric rise of Singapore, he was also accused of tolerating no dissent. Among the dignitaries who had attended the funeral of were former US President Bill Clinton, former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, the premiers of India, Australia and Japan, Vice President Li Yuanchao and South Korean President Park Geun-hye.

Ruling Party Faces Electorate without Charismatic Founding Father
Singapore’s ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) is sure to win convincingly in the September 11, 2015, parliamentary polls, but the question is whether the opposition will be able to increase its seats in absence of the founder, visionary and legendary leader of modern Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew, who had passed away at the age of 91 on March 23, 2015. PAP is fighting the election under the leadership of premier Lee Hsien Loong, the son of Lee Kuan Yew, and it’s to be seen how junior Lee guides the party in the polls to elect to all 89 parliamentary seats. In 2011 elections, PAP won 81 of 87 seats, and the opposition Workers’ Party won 6 seats. Workers’ Party chief Low Thia Khiang asked the voters to send a clear message that would check ruling party’s “whims and fancies”. Workers’ Party is campaigning on issues such as minimum wage, improvement of poor and marginal people and transparency. PAP ruled Singapore since it won independence in 1965.

Ruling Party Wins Land sliding Victory
Ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) scored an impressive victory in September 11, 2015, polls by winning 83 of 89 seats. Workers’ Party, which expected to fare better, remained content with only six seats. In terms of percentage of vote, PAP garnered 69.86 percent vote compared to 60 percent it had received in 2011. Workers’ Party said that primary reason for its poor performance was the polls’ timing: it was called right after Singapore’s 50th anniversary on August 9 and eight months after the passing away of the island-nation’s founder Lee Kuan Yew. Yew ruled the island-nation with strong hand from since independence in 1965 to 1990. During Yew’s 25 years of premiership, Singapore transformed itself from a backwater fishing island into an industrial and economic hub. However, that transformation came amid compromise with democratic principles and individual freedom, according to many political analysts. After Yew’s tenure, another PAP leader Goh Chok Tong became premier and ruled Singapore from 1990 to 2004. Yew’s son Lee Hsien Loong has been ruling since 2004 and is set to form the PAP government for the 12th time.

SOUTH KOREA
In a new year olive branch to the North, South Korean President Park Geun-hye, addressing her first press conference since assuming office in February 2013,  on January 6, 2014 called for family reunions around the Lunar New Year’s day on January 31, 2014. A reunion was planned before, but cancelled later. South Korean president’s offer came five days after North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in a New Year’s address urged both Koreas to create “a favorable climate for improved relations”. The latest offer of Park came after two other previous political gestures from her that included:

* An offer to increase humanitarian aid to the impoverished neighbor in the north

* Allowing South Korean civic groups to reach out to North Korea as part of an effort to help farmers and ranchers.

Three days after the South Korean President Park Geun-hye proposed a reunion of families, North Korea on January 9, 2014 turned down the proposal.

On January 16, 2014, North Korea floated a new proposal as part of an effort to ease up the tension in Korean Peninsula that called for Seoul to stop vilification against the North effective January 30, 2014 and cancel the joint military exercise with the USA.

On January 17, 2014, South Korea rejected the proposal made by North Korea’s National Defense Commission  a day earlier to call of the joint military drill with the USA, and instead suggested that North should take “practical” actions for nuclear disarmament.

Reversing the earlier stance taken on January 9, 2014, North Korea on January 24, 2014 agreed to a January 6, 2014, proposal floated by South Korean President Park Geun-hye for reunion of families. North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency said that the reunion might happen in the Diamond Mountains as per South’s schedule “when the weather thaws”. In response, South Korea’s Unification Ministry welcomed Pyongyang’s reversal of stand though the proposed time of reunion was a little late. South Korean President Park Geun-hye proposed that reunion take place sometime at the end of January.

North Agrees to Talk for Reunions
North Korea on February 3, 2014 agreed to hold talks later this week with South Korea on family reunions.

Family Reunion Scheduled and Subsequently Threatened to be Jeopardized

North and South Korean negotiators on

February 5, 2014

agreed to hold family reunion for relatives and loved ones who didn’t see each other for more than six decades. The proposed reunion will take place in Diamond Mountains in the southeastern part of North Korea from

February 20, 2014

to

February 25, 2014

. On

December 6, 2014

, Pyongyang threatened to suspend the February 20-25, 2014, reunion over flying of an American B-52 bomber over Korean Peninsula a day earlier as part of a training mission.

North, South to Go Ahead with Family Reunions
After a February 12, 2014, talks produced little headway, negotiators from North and South Koreas again met on February 14, 2014 at a border village, and decided to stop hurling insults against each other and go ahead with a family reunion from February 20, 2014 to February 25, 2014.

Emotional Family Reunions Begin on Diamond Mountains
After decades of separation and months of frustrated wait, dozens of families were reunited with their separated loved ones from the other side of the great Korean divide at a Diamond Mountain resort on February 20, 2014. For many, this marked the first such reunion in decades, and most likely, the last reunion too as the average age of the participants was 84.

A Jailed South Korean Missionary Appears at a Press ConferenceKim Jong-uk, a 50-year-old South Korean missionary jailed since November 2013–described by Pyongyang at that time to have arrested a spy from the South without identifying him–appeared at press conference on February 27, 2014 and apologized for his “anti-state crime”.

South Korean President Blasts Japanese Premier
Addressing a key uprising on March 1, 1919, in which Korean resistance against Japanese occupation (1910-45) had erupted that later inspired a generation of Koreans, South Korean President Park Geun-hye  blasted Japanese premier Shinzo Abe’s regime for issuing an order a day earlier to re-examine a formal apology statement issued in 1993 for the practice of using Korean women as “comfort woman” in Japanese army bases during the time of occupation.

Two Koreas Again on the Brink
North Korea and South Korea traded volleys of shells against each other’s waters in the Yellow Sea on March 31, 2014 in a sudden escalation of force and brinkmanship. However, no one was injured and live-fire drills were limited to the Seas only without pressing a panic button by any accidental or deliberate aiming at any targets on land.

******************** Ferry Sinking May Have Killed Hundreds **********************
A high school excursion to Jeju Island turned fatal on April 16, 2014 as the ferry, named Sewol, a 480-foot vessel that can carry more than 900 people, began listing dangerously and sank in the East China Sea. The vessel was carrying about 475 people, of which 325 were high school students from Inchion, south of Seoul, and began 14-hour journey on April 15, 2014. Rescue operation couldn’t begin early as the captain was late in calling for support and the first to leave the vessel. Captain ordered many students to take refuge in the hull and many remained there.

The total death toll remained 295, with nine people still missing as of October 28, 2014.

South Korea’s Supreme Court Upholds 7-Year Sentence for Head of Ferry Operator
South Korean Supreme Court on October 28, 2015 upheld a lower court ruling to sentence Kim Han-sik, the president of Chonghaejin Marine Co., operator of the fateful ferry that had sunk on April 16, 2014, killing 304 people, mostly school students.

******************** Ferry Sinking May Have Killed Hundreds **********************Obama Makes the Case for US to Defend Japan
In a week-long visit to Japan, South Korea, Malaysia and the Philippines, the country that’s likely to overshadow President Barack Obama’s most of the official programs is the country he is not visiting: China. A case in point: as President Obama arrived at Japan on April 23, 2014, country’s media was awash over President’s written statement to Yumiuri Shimbhun that if Japan was attacked over dispute related to a chain of uninhabited islands, known as Diaoyu in Chinese and Senkaku in Japanese, in the East China Sea, US would come to defend Japan under the Article V of the U.S.-Japan Treaty of Mutual Co-operation and Security. President Obama also stressed on advancing the long-delayed Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement.

Obama Mourns the Dead in Ferry AccidentPresident Barack Obama on April 24, 2014, standing aside South Korean President Park Guen-hye, mourned the victims of the April 16, 2014, ferry accident. Also, during the state visit to South Korea, President Obama stressed the bond of friendship between South Korea and USA, and warned North Korea to refrain from any provocation such as a new nuclear test or missile test. South Korea Revises the Figure of Ferry Dead
South Korea on May 7, 2014 revised the figure of rescued passengers of Sewol from 174 to 172. That would make the total number of passengers feared dead to 304. So far, 269 bodies have been recovered.

China Plays History to Wedge Distance Between South Korea and Japan
A visiting Chinese President used history to draw a line between South Korea and Japan. Chinese President Xi Jingping, addressing students at the Seoul National University, said on July 4, 2014 that China and South Korea shared history in their common fight to survive and prosper. Jingping referred to Ming Dynasty, which sent Chinese troops in 1590s to Korea to fight against Japanese aggression and 20th century fight against Japanese imperialism.

Pope Arrives at South Korea, North Greets Holy See with Test-Fires
Pope Francis on August 14, 2014 arrived at South Korea for a five-day papal visit. The Holy See was greeted at the airport by President Park Guen-hye, and the pope shook hands with four relatives of victims of a ferry sinking in which more than 300 South Korean students had perished in April 2014. Pope’s schedule in South Korea is packed with myriad of events, including beatifying 124 martyrs, who were killed for their faith from 1791 to 1888. Historians believe that about 10,000 Korean Catholics were executed during the Joseon Dynasty that had ended in 1910, when Japan colonized the Peninsula. Hours before his arrival, North Korea test-fired three projectiles to the sea east off its coast.

USA to Act as Go-Between for Intel Sharing between Japan and South Korea
Two colonial-era Asian foes turned US allies on December 29, 2014 signed a memorandum of understanding to share intelligence on North Korea’s missile and nuclear program through the USA. The limited, non-binding MOU between Japan and South Korea, though limited, heralded a likely new era of co-operation between Washington’s two loyal allies in the region and calibrating a cohesive US-led policies in the face of an assertive China.

************************ NUT RAGE BY KOREAN AIR EXECUTIVE *****************Nut Rage Sends Airline Executive to an One-Year Jail Term
An on-board “nut rage” on December 5, 2014 aboard an Korean Air flight, which had just left a gate at JFK International Airport in New York,  that had come to symbolize the excesses and tantrum of young Asian executives and affluent class had its final chapter written at a South Korean court on February 12, 2015 as the court sentenced 40-year-old Korean Air executive Cho Hyun-ah, daughter of the airline’s chairman Cho Yang-ho, to a year in prison. Cho had been behind the bar since December 30, 2014. The episode that triggered the scandal was a trivial brawl when Cho, whose grand father had founded the airline, on December 5, 2014, angered that she was served macadamia nuts in a bag instead of being served in a dish, began fighting with the flight crew and forced the plane back to the tarmac.

Executive Leaves Court House without Fielding Questions from Reporters
The Korean Air executive Cho Hyun-ah, daughter of the airline’s chairman Cho Yang-ho, left a Seoul court on May 22, 2015 without talking to journalists. A lower court sentenced Cho to 1 year in prison, and the upper court shortened the sentence to 10 months and then suspended it altogether in a travesty of justice.

************************ NUT RAGE BY KOREAN AIR EXECUTIVE *****************South Korean Prime Minister Resigns
South Korea’s titular premier, Lee Wan-koo, who assumed the office in February 2015, resigned on April 27, 2015 over a growing bribery scandal.

Women Cross North-South Borders to Promote Peace
A group of world-renowned women made a symbolic and significant overture on May 24, 2015 by crossing the North-South borders from the South Korean side under the auspices of a group, WomenCrossDMZ, that promotes world peace. The group included octogenarian American feminist activist Gloria Steinem, Liberian Nobel Peace Laureate Leymah Gbowee and Mairead Maguire, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1976 for her work to bring peace to Northern Ireland. Many South Korean conservatives blamed the group for giving legitimacy to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and his iron-clad rule.

North-South Talks: Talks to Continue despite Saber-Rattling
The first high-level talks between North Korea and South Korea in more than a year resumed at Panmunjom on August 22, 2015 evening and stretched into the early morning of August 23, 2015. The talks are being held amidst under the conditions anything but normal. A landmine planted just south of the demarcation line and blamed on the North maimed two South Korean soldiers on August 4, 2015, and South had begun in earnest to blare propaganda campaign through loud speakers. North Korea in turn declared the borders in the “semi-war state”, and gave Seoul an ultimatum to end the propaganda campaign through loud speakers on the demarcation line by August 22, 2015 evening. However, South Korea demanded apology from Pyongyang for the landmine incident. Despite back-and-forth, two Koreas resumed talks at Panmunjom on August 22, 2015 evening, with

*

North Korea represented by Hwang Pyong So, top

political officer for the

Korean People’s Army;

and

Kim Yang Gon,

a senior North Korean official responsible for South Korean affairs among others

*

South Korea represented by Kim Kwan-jin, National Security Director; Unification Minister Hong Yong-pyo

among others

North-South Talks: Marathon Talks Continue for the Third Day
After 10 hours of continuous talks in the first session (August 22-23, 2015), the second session began on August 23, 2015 and lasted for more than 18 hours through August 24, 2015. However, there was no obvious progress amid South Korean President Park Geun-hye’s comments that her country won’t stop blaring the anti-North Korean propaganda until Pyongyang apologized for the landmine explosion on the south of De-Militarized Zone (DMZ) that had maimed two South Korean soldiers.

North, South Reach Agreement
After marathon talks that had begun on August 22, 2015, both Koreas on August 25, 2015 agreed on deescalating tension in the border. As part of it, North Korea withdrew the so-called “semi-war state” and expressed “regrets”, not an apology demanded by the South Korean President, for a August 4, 2015, landmine explosion on the south of DMZ that had seriously maimed two South Korean soldiers. South Korea on its part agreed to end its propaganda campaign that it had launched after 11 years in response to landmine explosion. South Korea and North Korea also agreed to hold a dialogue as early as possible and resume family reunion at the earliest convenient date.

North, South Koreas to Hold Family Reunion
After a marathon 24-hour negotiation, North Korean and South Korean officials on September 8, 2015 agreed to hold first family re-union in almost two years between October 20, 2015 and October 26, 2015. 100 people from each side will gather in North Korea’s Mount Geumgang Resort to meet their estranged family members.

Two Koreas Begin Re-union of Long-Separated Families
It was emotionally drenching as frail once-spouses had met for the first time–and most likely, for the last time–after several decades at North Korea’s Diamond Mountain as 389 South Koreans were allowed to meet with 96 North Koreans as part of a three-day reunion October 20-22, 2015. A second, three-day reunion will be held at the Diamond Mountain from October 22, 2015 in which 90 elderly South Koreans will cross the border to meet with 188 relatives from North Korea.

First Summit Among Three Asian Powerhouses in More than Three Years
In a ray of hope for thawing of relationship between Japan on one hand and its one-time colonies China and South Korea on the other, South Korean President Park Geun-hye on November 1, 2015 hosted Japanese premier Shinzo Abe and Chinese premier Li Keqiang for discussion that was symbolic in nature, but short on specifics. Last time such session was held in May 2012 when Abe was not in power. After Abe’s election as the prime minister of Japan in late 2012, the relationship between Tokyo and its neighbors nosedived because of Abe’s more assertive stand, including the recent passage of a defense package that would change Japan’s pacifist role.

Remains of More than 3,000 South Koreans Found in Japan
As part of search for remains of South Koreans who were enslaved under the imperial Japan, 2,745 sets of remains were found in 340 sites across Japan, according to a report issued on November 4, 2015 by a South Korean government commission on missing South Korean laborers. During the era of Japan’s dominance in the continent, about 1.2 million South Koreans were thought to have worked for Japanese industries under inhuman and harsh conditions. A commission was formed in 2004 as part of an agreement between then-President and -premier of South Korea and Japan, Roh Moo-hyun and Junichiro Koizumi, respectively, to search for the remains of South Korean laborers. The report that was issued on November 4, 2015 came from this commission.

North, South Koreas Hold Talks
In a small, but significant, gesture, negotiators from both Koreas at the vice-ministerial level held talks at the border village of Kaesong, North Korea, on December 11, 2015. The talks dealt with bilateral issues.

Historic Deal Announced to Pull Curtain on “Comfort Woman” Dispute
Japan, intent on closing the chapters from its brutal colonial-era past, announced a deal with South Korea on December 28, 2015 aimed at ending the controversy over the sex-slave dispute for once and all. Under the deal, announced at Seoul by foreign ministers of Japan and South Korea. Imperial Japan during its occupation of Korean Peninsula ran despicable “comfort woman” ring in which Korean, Dutch and Chinese women and girls were forced to have sex with Japanese soldiers. The practice left a long-lasting scar on relations between Japan and its regional neighbors. As per the deal announced by the foreign ministers of Japan and South Korea, Japan has

* Apologized for its part in this sordid episode

* Committed to create a $8.3 million fund for compensation

So far, 238 victims came forward, but only 46 are still living with frail health at ages 80s and 90s. For them, this came as too late, too small, and too insincere. The reaction to this historic deal was almost on expected line: supporters and members of President

Park Geun-hye

expressed support, while the opposition decried the deal.

North Korea Claims to Have Tested Hydrogen Bomb
North Korea on January 6, 2016 conducted its fourth nuclear test, but its claim that it was a hydrogen bomb found few takers among nuclear experts and the western nations. White House press secretary Josh Earnest said later in the day that the evidence collected by U.S.-led monitoring agencies found results “not consistent” with that of a hydrogen bomb. On the diplomatic front, China issued a rare rebuke by joining other members of the U.N. Security Council in condemning Pyongyang’s fourth nuclear test and stating that the body would explore whether further sanctions could be imposed. A spokeswoman with the Chinese Foreign Ministry, Hua Chunying, said on January 6, 2016 that her country was “strongly against this act”. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe called the test “totally unacceptable” and “a grave threat to Japan’s security”. In Seoul, South Korean President Park Guen-hye convened a national security cabinet meeting to discuss the new “security landscape of Northeast Asia” stemming from Pyongyang’s January 6, 2016, test three years after its third test in February 2013.

South Korea to Begin Propaganda Broadcast in Response to North Korea’s Nuclear Test
Rattled by Pyongyang’s fourth nuclear test–claimed by North Korea, but disputed by other nations and nuclear experts, to be a hydrogen bomb–a day earlier, South Korea on January 7, 2016 responded with announcement that it would begin blaring propaganda campaign against North Korea and its leader on January 8, 2016, believed to be Kim Jong Un’s birthday. In August 2015,South briefly broadcast propaganda campaign against the North over loud speakers along the borders before agreeing to end it. On the diplomatic front, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on January 7, 2016 called his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi to press on working together on this issue. Separately, the White House issued a statement saying that President Barack Obama had spoken with Japanese premier Shinzo Abe and South Korean President Park Guen-hye. The statement said that Obama had emphasized to work on this issue closely and collaboratively “to forge a united and strong international response to North Korea’s latest reckless behavior”.

U.S. Flies B-52 Bomber Over South Korea
In a show defiance to North Korea and support for Seoul, U.S. on January 10, 2016 flew a B-52 bomber, which took off from an American airbase at Guam, over South Korea.

South Korea, U.S. Ask China to Rein in North Korea
A week after what Pyongyang had claimed to have carried out a hydrogen bomb test, South Korean President Park Geun-hye urged China in a nationally televised address on January 13, 2016 to do more to rein in North Korea and prevent Pyongyang from carrying out “fifth or sixth nuclear tests by the North or guarantee real peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula”. After last week’s nuclear test, China joined other nations to condemn North Korea. However, there is concerted demand from the international community for China to match its words with action as an American diplomat, Sung Kim, a special envoy to North Korea, on January 13, 2016 put it: “we simply can’t take a business-as-usual approach to this latest provocation”.

South Korea Pulls the Plug off the Industrial Park
Rattled by Pyongyang’s fourth nuclear test and launching a rocket to put a satellite into orbit, a frustrated South Korea on February 10, 2016 announced that it would withdraw from a jointly run industrial park in North Korea. South Korea’s Unification Minister Hong Yong-pyo said on February 10, 2016 at Seoul that his country didn’t want to fund the Pyongyang’s nuclear program through this joint venture that helped North Korean workers to earn more than $560 million, including $120 million in the last year alone, and a capital infusion of $852 million in factories, roads and other facilities since the opening of the industrial park at Kaesong in 2004. This is the first time South Korea has taken such a drastic action. It has not taken an action like this even in 2010 when 50 of its sailors were killed. In 2013, the industrial park at Kaesong was temporarily shut down, but it was initiated at that time by North Korea to protest against the joint U.S-South Korea military exercises.

North Korea Ups the Ante over Industrial Park
A day after South Korea announced withdrawal from a border industrial park at Kaesong in North Korea, North Korea’s Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea issued a statement on February 11, 2016, calling the South Korean action as “a dangerous declaration of war” and a “declaration of an end to the last lifeline of the North-South relations”. It also said that North Korea would pull all of the country’s workers from the park and country’s military would take it over.

South Korea Warns a Possible Collapse of North Korea
In a televised address justifying her decision to shut down a border industrial park, South Korean President Park Geun-hye warned on February 16, 2016 that Pyongyang risked a possible collapse if it didn’t abandon its nuclear program, leading to more crippling economic and trade sanctions.

South Korea Imposes Sanctions on Its Northern Neighbor
Six days after the U.N. Security Council clamped Pyongyang with a set of harsh new sanctions, South Korea on March 8, 2016 imposed its own tightening sanctions on North Korea for its recent provocative action, including a fourth nuclear test and a ballistic missile test, according to South and its western allies, in the guise of sending a satellite into orbit. Among the targets of Seoul’s sanctions are:

*

38 North Koreans

*

2 Foreigners

Leonard Lai, president of Singapore-based Senat Shipping,

and

Lyou Jen-yi, Taiwanese president of Royal Team Corporation

* 30 Companies with link to North’s nuclear program

* Ships which have made a port call in North Korea in the past 180 days to be banned from entering South Korean waters

North Korea Responds South’s Sanctions Announcement with Rockets
Barely after two days had passed since South Korea announced its harsh regime of sanctions on North Korea, Pyongyang responded in its belligerent way on March 10, 2016 by launching short-range ballistic missiles into the sea. In addition to launching the missiles into the sea, North Korea’s Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea said on March 10, 2016 that North Korea would “liquidate” all assets in a jointly run industrial park and abandoned industrial facility in the Diamond Mountain.

North Almost Ready for a Nuclear and Missile Tests, South Says
South Korean President Park Geun-hye said on April 26, 2016 that North Korea was getting ready to conduct its fifth nuclear test. Geun-hye also said that North had deployed a mid-range missile to carry out a test-launch very soon.

South Korea-U.S. Close to Choosing a Location for Missile System
On July 8, 2016, U.S. and South Korea said that they were close to choosing a site to host THAAD (Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense) missile system to better protect against any possible North Korean attack. However, there is no unanimity in South Korea about hosting the THAAD system, and protesters voiced their opposition outside the U.S. Embassy at Seoul on July 11, 2016.

South Korea Picks the Missile Site
On July 13, 2016, the South Korean authorities chose a rural county, Seongju, 135 miles southeast of Seoul, as the proposed THAAD (Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense) missile system hosting site. However, the announcement has come as a surprise to about 50,000 people who call the county  their home, and it has immediately stoked resentment and anger.

South Korean President Calls for an End to Controversy over Missile Site
Sensing a firestorm over selection of a rural county, Seongju, 135 miles southeast of Seoul, as the proposed THAAD (Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense) missile system hosting site without adequate, if not any, consultation with most of the county resident, South Korean President Park Geun-hye on July 14, 2016 got into damage-control action and called for an end to endless controversy for the sake of national security.

Missile Site Selection Fallout: South Korean Premier Flees from Angry Villagers

South Korean Prime minister Hwang Kyo-ahn

faced violent protests when he visited the county headquarters on

July 15, 2016

to explain the rationale and benefit of

THAAD (Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense)

missile system deployment by the end of

2017

in 

Seongju

county. Instead of persuading the locals, Kyo-ahn had to retreat after being pelted with eggs and water bottles. Since the July 13, 2016, announcement of the

Park Geun-hye

regime to select

Seongju

, 135 miles southeast of Seoul, as the proposed

THAAD (Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense)

missile system hosting site, protests of various magnitudes had flared up in numerous South Korean cities, including Seoul, where a small demonstration was held on daily basis in front of the defense ministry building. Meanwhile, international opposition to the proposed deployment of

THAAD (Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense)

missile system mounted with China calling that it, not the North Korea, was the target and Russia saying that it [deployment] would compromise Moscow’s security. North Korea even threatened to take unspecified “physical counteraction”.

Prominent Female Activists Press for Peace Initiative
An organization of world’s renowned females under the auspices of WomenCrossDMZ wrote a letter to the U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on September 27, 2016, pressing him to seek a peace deal between North and South Koreas and bring their state of war to an immediate end. The letter has implored the U.N.S.G. to lead the initiative before his term expires at the end of year. The group WomenCrossDMZ includes several eminent activists such as  octogenarian American feminist activist Gloria Steinem, Liberian Nobel Peace Laureate Leymah Gbowee and Mairead Maguire, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1976 for her work to bring peace to Northern Ireland.

********* CORRUPTION ALLEGATION HAUNTS PARK GEUN-HYE REGIME ********South Korean President Faces Massive Unrest, Calls to Step down
In what is likely the most difficult political situation of her life, South Korean President Park Geun-hye is facing widespread popular anger and scorn over the poisonous influence of Choi Soon-sil, the daughter of a mystical South Korean figure, on the working and decision-making of the South Korean government. Choi’s father was a family friend of Park and her dad, who was a former South Korean dictator. Choi Soon-sil was alleged to have influenced government decisions on regular basis, and often Park would give Choi drafts of her speech for edit. The acknowledgement of Choi’s extra-constitutional authority and undue leverage over the Park administration came from Park herself on October 25, 2016. On October 29, 2016, Park ordered 10 of her cabinet officials to resign over the scandal, but that didn’t pacify an angry mob of protesters numbering 12,000 to show up on Seoul streets, demanding Park’s resignation. The opposition Justice Party called for Park’s resignation although larger opposition Minjoo Party desisted from seeking the president’s ouster, instead calling  the resignation of cabinet officials too late, too limited and urging the president for broader cabinet reshuffle.

Prosecutors Likely to Charge Mysterious Presidential Confidante
South Korean prosecutors said on November 2, 2016 that they were likely to bring charges against a mysterious woman, Choi Soon-sil–daughter of a cult leader who decades ago was a father figure to President Park Geun-hye–alleged to have wielded undue influence in the Park Geun-hye’s administration and used the government influence to force businessmen to donate to her foundation. Prosecutors were questioning Choi since October 31, 2016. Prosecutors also believed that Choi had been helped by a former presidential aide, Ahn Chongbum, who had resigned the past weekend and submitted himself for questioning on November 2, 2016. As South Korean people are coming to the grip of this evolving scandal that has all the features of a Hollywood-style drama, South Korean President Park Geun-hye tried to steady her sinking boat on November 2, 2016 by replacing her premier.

Tens of Thousands Demand President’s Ouster
Tens of thousands of South Koreans on November 5, 2016 filled the streets of capital Seoul to demand that President Park Geun-hye resign immediately over what could be the biggest scandal South Korea had ever experienced. The largest demonstration demanding Park’s resignation came a day after President went on public and apologized to the nation in a televised address. But that helped little to tame the fury of demonstrators as a large throng of protesters crowded in front of an old palace gate and nearby streets. Earlier in the week, prosecutors arrested Choi Soon-sil, daughter of a late cultist leader and a long-time confidante of the president, and detained two former presidential aides for pressuring businesses to donate about $70 million to two foundations controlled by Choi.

Largest Rally in Eight Years Calls for President’s Resignation
As large demonstrations at the capital became almost a routine for the past few Saturdays, November 12, 2016 was no exception with more than a quarter million demonstrators filling the streets of Seoul and chanting demands that President Park Geun-hye step down. According to the media reports, at least 260,000 people walked from the City Hall to a large square in front of an old palace gate, carrying placards and banners decrying the corruption now haunting the government. The November 12, 2016, protest rally was the largest since about 700,000 people had attended a June 10, 2008, protest rally to condemn the lifting of import ban on the U.S. beef. In the recent memory, a summer 1987 rally went down in the South Korean history as the largest rally when more than a million people had participated to demand democracy, forcing the junta to give in and pave the way for free polls.

Prosecutors Link President to Criminal Activities
Opening legal volleys against President Park Geun-hye and her inner circle, South Korean prosecutors on November 20, 2016 said that president had committed conspiracy in criminal activities with her long-time friend Choi Soon-sil, daughter of a mystical figure who was close to Park family. Since presidents enjoy the immunity from prosecution while in office, no charges have been brought against Park. “Because of the president’s impunity from prosecution” under Article 84 of the constitution, according to Lee Young-ryeol, chief prosecutor of the Seoul Central Prosecutors’ Office, “we cannot indict the president”. However, prosecutors were unflinching on the culpability of Park, stating that “the president was involved as a conspirator in a considerable part of the criminal activities by suspects Choi Soon-sil, Ahn Jong-beom and Jung Ho-sung”. Prosecutors though formally charged Choi Soon-sil on November 20, 2016 for influence-peddling, meddling in government affairs and pressuring companies to donate tens of millions of dollars to foundations she controlled. Prosecutors also charged Ahn Jong-beom and Jung Ho-sung during the day. Ahn Jong-beom, Park’s former secretary for policy coordination, was indicted on charges for pressuring companies to donate tens of millions of dollars to foundations controlled by Choi, while another presidential aide, Jung Ho-sung, was charged for passing confidential information to Choi. Prosecutors are also seeking to charge Cha Eun-tack, a famous music video director who has used his close relationship with Choi to get lucrative government cultural project contracts, and a former vice sports minister, Kim Chong, to curry favor to sports organizations preferred by Choi. Park’s term lasts until February 24, 2018, and if she resigns before the next scheduled presidential vote on December 17, 2017, snap polls will be held within 60 days.

Call for President to Quit Grows
After prosecutors linked President Park Geun-hye on November 20, 2016 to her involvement as “a conspirator in a considerable part of the criminal activities” to further the interest of Choi Soon-sil, an influence-peddler and daughter of a mystical figure close to Park family, calls grew louder and broader for Park to step down from the office.

Fifth Saturday of Anti-Park Protest Rocks Seoul
Largest crowd ever showed up on the fifth Saturday on November 26, 2016 since demand for President Park Geun-hye’s resignation grew louder and Saturday had become a weekly rallying focal point for the demonstrators. On November 26, 2016, people from all walks of life joined the protest at Seoul, with Buddhist monks now joining the chorus along with mothers accompanying little kids. Organizers gave a figure of 1.5 million, but there was dispute to that number. Nonetheless, the November 26, 2016, demonstration was the largest since weekly Saturday demonstrations had begun on October 29, 2016. The demonstration took more spontaneous turn with every Saturday. The National Assembly is going to have an impeachment hearing of Park, who can not be prosecuted while in office, on December 9, 2016.

Park Offers to Resign to Avoid Impeachment, but Gives No Timeline
In an offer that’s too late, too little for opposition, President Park Geun-hye on November 29, 2016 apologized to the nation in a televised address for the third time and for the first time since her last apology on November 4, 2016, and offered to step down for the nation. However, Park’s offer fell short of opposition demand to resign with immediate effect. Although dramatic, Park’s November 29, 2016, televised address did not include any wrongdoing and any definitive timeline to step down.

Opposition to Press for President’s Impeachment
Since the embattled President Park Geun-hye apologized to the nation in a televised address on November 29, 2016 and offered to step down while leaving the details, including the time, of resignation to National Assembly, a sharp division had erupted between the opposition and ruling party. While the ruling party, Saenuri, is reluctant to join the impeachment drive and ready to wait out if Park announces by December 7, 2016 that she will step down by April 2017, three opposition parties with 172 lawmakers under their fold–still short of two-third needed of the 300-member National Assembly–on December 2, 2016 have decided to go forward with the impeachment drive.

South Korean President ImpeachedSouth Korean President Park Geun-hye was impeached on December 9, 2016 by South Korean parliament on charges that included “extensive and serious violations of the constitution and the law”. Under the impeachment motion, Park’s authority was suspended, and the Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn assumed Park’s administrative functions. Now, Park’s fate rests in the Constitutional Court. If the Constitutional Court rules for permanent removal of Park, presidential vote will ensue in the next 60 days.

Largest Gathering to Date Greets President’s Impeachment
Last time when a South Korean President was impeached by country’s parliament on minor poll laws breach and incompetence, tens of thousands held a candle light vigil to save the then-President Roh Moo-hyun. Eventually the Constitutional Court restored Roh to power in 2004. However, this time turned out to absolutely different. A day after the country’s parliament impeached President Park Geun-hye and suspended her powers, an estimated 600,000 people flooded Seoul’s streets on December 10, 2016 and demanded president’s immediate resignation.

Daughter of Central Corruption Figure Detained

The daughter of

Choi Soon-sil

, the mystical figure and a confidante of

South Korean President Park Geun-hye

,

Chung Yoo-ra

, who was sought by the South Korean law enforcement agencies on the ever-growing corruption charges and ordered to return to the country, was detained by Danish police on

January 2, 2017

.

Trial for President Begins

The corruption trial of

President Park Geun-hye began on January 5, 2016

at the Constitutional Court at Seoul where one of president’s lawyers compared her with Christ.

Court Removes the PresidentSouth Korea’s Constitutional Court on March 10, 2017 removed Park Geun-hye from presidency, marking a stunning fall for the country’s first female president and worsening the political divide of the country. The unanimous decision by the eight-member panel of the constitutional court now exposes the disgraced Park to face criminal charges and a possible jail time. Her removal will trigger a presidential election in the next two moths and complicate relations with the USA at a time when tensions are mounting in the Korean Peninsula because of provocative actions by North Korea.

Pro- and Anti-Park Supporters Flood Capital
A day after the country’s Constitutional Court removed Park Geun-hye, her supporters flocked to rally behind her at several South Korean cities in violent protest that had led to skirmishes with security forces and death of three Park supporters. Meanwhile, anti-Park demonstrators who had been flooding the capital’s streets since late last year rejoiced on March 11, 2017. The group, known as Candle Force, was a bulwark of resistance against Park and her conservative government. Park is yet to vacate the Blue House, the presidential palace.

Former President Heads to Prison
Disgraced, impeached and removed from presidency on charges of bribery, corruption and abuse of power, South Korea’s former leader Park Geun-hye was arrested on March 31, 2017 hours after Seoul Central Court Judge Kang Bu-young issued arrest warrant.

Thousands Protest Park’s Arrest
Thousands of conservatives poured on Seoul’s streets on April 1, 2017 to protest against Park Geun-hye’s arrest a day earlier.

Ex-President’s Trial Begins
Disgraced former President Park Geun-hye appeared at Seoul court on May 22, 2017 with hands in a cuff, mood somber and eyes downcast in what was beginning of a bribery trial that could send her to life in prison. The burgeoning scandal brought several indictments against former government officials, political leaders and billionaire Samsung scion Lee Jae-yong.

Confidante of Ex-President Sentenced to Three Years
The mystical figure and presidential confidante Choi Soon-sil was sentenced on June 23, 2017 by a Seoul court on charges of corruption in getting her daughter, Chung Yoo-ra, admitted into a prestigious woman’s college, Ewha Woman’s College in Seoul, in 2015 despite having less than required credentials. In the same case, the former president of the university, Choi Kyung-hii, and a former dean received two-year term each.

Former President Sentenced to 24 Years
Bringing a sad chapter of corruption and disgrace to near end, a court on April 6, 2018 handed down a 24-year-sentence to former President Park Geun-hye on bribery and other corruption charges. The same court panel on February 13, 2018 sentenced former president’s confidante, cult-like figure Choi Soon-sil to 20-year jail time on charges of extortion, bribery and other criminal charges. The two women were accused of pressuring 18 businesses to donate $72 million to two foundations controlled by Choi, a revelation that had stunned the nation because of sheer degree of salacity that had underpinned the relationship between country’s political and business establishments. Park was not on hand to hear the verdict as she had been boycotting the proceeding since it had begun in October 2017. Her lawyers are expected to appeal the verdict.

********* CORRUPTION ALLEGATION HAUNTS PARK GEUN-HYE REGIME ********

Park’s Government Eases on History Book Requirement
Under pressure from allies and opposition to resign over the growing nepotism allegation, President Park Geun-hye on November 28, 2016 backpedaled on a major topic that was dear to the nation’s conservatives. The Education Ministry issued drafts of the new history textbooks for Middle and High school students, but relaxed the requirement that schools only use the state-issued books. Under the November 28, 2016, rules, schools are free to choose any history books irrespective of whether they are government-issued or not. The government-issued new history book is much more appreciative to Park’s father, Park Chung-hee, who had captured power in a coup in 1961 and stayed in power for 18 years. History books published under the Chung-hee rule included laudatory comments of the 1961 military takeover.

Spurt of Missile Launches Lead Call for Early Deployment of U.S. Missile Defense Shield
On March 6, 2017, North Korea fired four ballistic missiles from its main missile launch base, Tongchang-ri, and they were reported to have traveled about 620 miles. Three of the four had landed within 200-nautical miles off Japan’s coast. The launch threatened to upend an already fragile political equilibrium in Korean Peninsula. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe accused Pyongyang of aggression and acting with “a new kind of threat”. During a meeting on March 6, 2017 of the South Korea’s National Security Council, acting President Hwang Kyo-ahn pressed for early deployment of THAAD, or Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense, missile defense system. However, deploying THAAD will not be a simple Korean political issue as China has become increasingly critical of THAAD deployment. Reiterating its stand, Beijing said that THAAD  undermined its own nuclear deterrent and hinted that it would take unforeseen economic measures against Seoul if South Korea went ahead with the planned deployment of THAAD. North Korea’s latest missile launch came in the midst of a joint war drill by U.S. and South Korean Navies. North Korea on March 2, 2017 called the joint naval exercises as part of “nuclear war”. Pyongyang’s official newspaper Rodong Sinmun said the following day, March 3, 2017, that North Korea would have “new strategic weapons of our own style” soaring into the sky.

South Korea Hikes Cash Awards for North Korean Defectors
In a move that would possibly further deteriorate inter-Korean relations, South Korea’s Unification Ministry on March 5, 2017 increased the cash award for the future defectors. In addition to re-settlement, job training, housing and other help, South Korea also give cash payment to the defectors, providing a magnet for at least 30,000 North Koreans to defect since mid-1990s. Under the new cash payment plan:

* A defector with sensitive information will receive $860,000 from the current level of $217,000

* A defector who flees with a warship, or a fighter jet, will receive $860,000 instead of the current $130,000

* All low-level defectors will receive $260,000 from the current $43,000

The new cash plan will be effective in April 2017

Missile Defense System Equipment Arrive at South Korea
The U.S. Pacific Command head Admiral Harry Harris said on March 7, 2017 that the parts for THAAD, or Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense, missile defense system had arrived at South Korea a day after North Korea launched four ballistic missiles.

Tillerson Threatens to Take Military Action against North KoreaU.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on March 17, 2017 visited the DMZ near the North Korean borders as part of his Asia tour and consolidating a strategic alliance with South Korea. Tillerson said that Washington’s “policy of strategic patience” was wearing thin and all options were on the table.

****************** SOUTH KOREAN PRESIDENTIAL POLLS ***********************Trump’s Comment Jolts South Korean Election CampaignU.S. President Donald Trump’s April 27, 2017, airing of his view to Reuters that South Korea would eventually foot in the tab for deploying the THAAD to protect from North Korean missiles had put the conservatives on the defensive and added to an already sharp brick-batting in the campaign for the presidential polls. The leading opposition candidate Moon Jae-in voiced his reservation over the $1 billion tag for the THAAD deployment.

Son of a Former Refugee Wins Presidency
Opposition candidate Moon Jae-in won the South Korean presidential elections held on May 9, 2017 by receiving 41 percent of the popular vote and banking on the wave of disenchantment over the corruption of jailed former President Park Geun-hye. Moon’s parents arrived from North Korea years ago as refugees, and Moon took strikingly different positions on issues compared to the outgoing administration of Park, ranging from THAAD missile shield deployment to relationship with North Korea. Moon favored normalization effort with Pyongyang and initially was lukewarm to THAAD deployment. Conservative candidate Hong Joon-pyo received 24 percent and centrist Ahn Chel-soo received 21 percent, respectively. Since this offseason election was held under an awkward political circumstances, Moon’s election was more like a replacement and he had to continue with the Park’s remainder of the cabinet until Moon announced a new premier, expected in days, to shepherd transitioning into a new administration.

New President Resets Expectation on Inter-Korean Relations
Addressing the parliament on May 10, 2017 hours after being sworn in as the nation’s president, Moon Jae-in called for a renewed vision on approach toward North Korea and saying that he was ready to visit the reclusive neighbor in the north if right circumstance arose. Moon also reiterated in the strength and sustainability in the U.S.-South Korean relations that would always, according to the new president, remain as the foundation for South Korean security. However, Moon also wanted an improved Sino-Korean relationship. If Moon visits North Korea, that will mark the first such visit at the highest level since the then-South Korean President Roh Moon-hyun has visited in 2007 to meet with the then-North Korean leader Kim Jong Il. During the parliamentary address, Moon set the ball rolling for forming his administration by naming a provincial governor, Lee Nak-yon, as the country’s new prime minister and Suh Hoon, a former intelligence official, as director of the National Intelligence Service.

****************** SOUTH KOREAN PRESIDENTIAL POLLS ***********************South Korean President Orders Inquiry into Parts of Missile Defense SystemSouth Korean President Moon Jae-in on May 30, 2017 ordered an  investigation into why he had been kept in dark over buying four additional launchers as part of THAAD deployment.

Family Reunions ProposedSouth Korean President Moon Jae-in on July 6, 2017 proposed family reunion of older people separated by the Korean War (1950-53) during a speech in Hamburg, Germany, where he had been to attend the G-20 summit.

South Korea Carries out Military Drill
Two days after North Korea carried out its first ICBM test, South Korea on July 6, 2017 conducted military drill of its own that included 15 warships, helicopters and fighter jets.

South Korea Seeks U.S. Nod to Grow Its Nuclear Arsenal

In a significant shift of stand compelled by North Korea’s

July 28, 2017

, second ICBM test in 24 days, South Korean government led by dovish

President Moon Jae-in

on

July 29, 2017

sought U.S. approval to grow and empower its nuclear arsenal with more lethal weapons payloads. According to a bilateral treaty between South Korea and the U.S., Seoul is constrained in enlarging its nuclear arsenal and required to receive Washington’s approval for enhancing its arsenal. On

July 29, 2017

(July 30 South Korean time), Moon’s top national security adviser,

Chung Eui-yong

, called his U.S. counterpart

Gen. H.R. McMaster

to discuss on issues related to scaling up its nuclear arsenal.

Former Spy Chief Receives Four Years in Election Manipulation
The former director of National Intelligence Service, Won Sei-hoon, who was at the helms of affair of the country’s spy agency from 2009 to 2013, was on August 30, 2017 sentenced to a four-year prison term for orchestrating an illegal online campaign to help the conservative Park Geun-hye win the 2012 South Korean presidential election.

U.S.-South Korea Joint Drill Ends with a Bang
U.S. and South Korea concluded their twice a year military drill with thunderous display of military prowess on August 31, 2017, two days after North Korea fired a ballistic missile over Japan. On the concluding day, two U.S. B1-B supersonic bombers and four F-35 joined four South Korean f-15 fighter jets in the military range in eastern South Korea in a show of, what U.S. Pacific Air Forces commander, Gen. Terrence O’Shaughnessy, called as a “broadening cooperation to defend against this common regional threat”, referring to North Korea.

South Korea, China Resets Bilateral Relationship Button
A beaming Moon Jae-in was greeted by his Chinese counterpart, President Xi Jinping, on December 14, 2017 in what was dubbed as a potential “re-set” of bilateral relationship between China and South Korea. The relationship was frayed under Moon’s predecessor, Park Geun-hye, over deployment of THAAD missile defense system. The betterment of Sino-Korean relationship augers well for a diplomatic push to resolve the North Korea’s nuclear program crisis.

************ PYONGCHANG WINTER OLYMPICS AND DIPLOMACY****************

North to Send High-Level Delegation to Olympics

The New York Times quoted South Korean officials on February 4, 2018 that a 22-official North Korean government delegation would visit South Korea during PyongChang Winter Olympics. The 3-day official trip will be led by the chairman of North Korea’s parliament, Kim Yong Nam, 90. Nam led a North Korean delegation to the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics.

Kim’s Sister to Visit South Korea during Games

The Associated Press reported February 7, 2018 that Kim Jong Un’s sister, Kim Yo Jong, would attend the PyongChang Winter Olympics, raising promising signs of further thawing of inter-Korean relations.

South Korean President Moon Holds Luncheon with Kim’s Sister

South Korean President Moon Jae-in bestowed high-profile diplomatic honor on visiting Kim Yo Jong, sister of Kim Jong Un and the first vice director of the Central Committee of the ruling Workers’ Party, as he had luncheon on February 10, 2018 at the Blue House, South Korea’s equivalent to the White House, with Yo Jong and other North Korean officials.

North Korea Invites Moon for a Summit

The New York Times reported on February 10, 2018 that Kim Yo Jong, sister of Kim Jong Un, had delivered a personal invitation by the North Korean leader to South Korean President Moon Jae-in during the day’s luncheon at the Blue House for visit to North for a summit. The invitation was seen by South Korea both with caution and optimism. It has some risks too as any rapprochement between North Korea and South Korea without a semblance of improvement in ties between Pyongyang and Washington may weaken, however trivial it might be, the decades-old bond between two allies especially in the backdrop that U.S. Vice President Mike Pence was ready to meet with Kim Yo Jong during the PyongChang Olympics, only to be snubbed and used some unusually harsh language against North Korean regime during his interview circuit with the media. 

North Willing to Talk to Washington, South Korea Says

As PyongChang Winter Olympics came to a glittering and glamorous close on February 25, 2018, with a host of world leaders present from opposing political spectrum, among them North Korean General Kim Yong Chol, who had been slapped with U.S. sanctions, U.S. President Donald Trump’s daughter, Ivanka Trump, head of the U.S. delegation who sat adjacent to Chol, and U.S. Gen. Vincent Brooks, top commander of U.S. forces stationed in South Korea, who wore a full military uniform. At the closing ceremony, South Korean President Moon Jae-in personally greeted North Korean General Kim Yong Chol, with a smiling Ivanka looking on. The South Korean presidential palace, known as Blue House, issued a statement on February 25, 2018 that North Korea was willing to hold direct talks with USA, a significant shift in political events in the tense Korean Peninsula. 

************ PYONGCHANG WINTER OLYMPICS AND DIPLOMACY****************

Moon, Trump Hold Talks over Plan to Send Officials to North Korea

As the tension in Korean Peninsula appeared to thaw during the

PyongChang Winter Olympics

that brought high-level U.S., North Korean and South Korean officials, including President

Moon Jae-in

, to the same venue, and paved the way for inter-Korean talks,

South Korean President Moon Jae-in

didn’t want to lose the momentum and seized the opportunity to facilitate talks between U.S. and North Korea. On

March 1, 2018

, Moon called up his U.S. counterpart,

Donald Trump

, to brief his plan to send a high-level delegation to Pyongyang to hold talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and other officials as part of effort to clear the road for talks between Pyongyang and Washington.

South Names Two Officials for North Korea Visit

South Korea on March 4, 2018 named two South Korean officials who would visit Pyongyang to hold talks with Kim Jong Un as part of creating a way-forward plan for talks between North Korea and USA. South Korea’s National Security Adviser Chung Eui-yong and the country’s National Intelligence Service Director Suh Hoon will embark on a two-day (March 5-6, 2018) historic trip of North Korea. 

North Korean Leader Holds “Open-Hearted Talks” with South’s Envoys

In a major diplomatic victory, North Korea on March 5, 2018 emerged from diplomatic isolation by hosting two high-ranking South Korean officials, South Korea’s National Security Adviser Chung Eui-yong and the country’s National Intelligence Service Director Suh Hoon. North Korea called the four-hour meeting over dinner on March 5, 2018 between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and South Korean envoys as “open-hearted” and “co-patriotic”. 

Kim Ready to Talk to Trump

South Korea said on

March 6, 2018

at the end of a two-day North Korea visit by two

President Moon Jae-in’s

two envoys,

South Korea’s National Security Adviser Chung Eui-yong and the country’s National Intelligence Service Director Suh Hoon

, that

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un

had told the South’s officials that he was ready to talk to

U.S. President Donald Trump

on de-nuclearization of Korean Peninsula. South Korea also said that while such discussions were underway, Pyongyang would suspend its nuclear and missile testing program. Also, an additional hopeful sign of thawing relationship emerged during two-day (

March 5-6, 2018

) historic talks as both sides had agreed to hold an inter-Korean summit in late April 2018.

Former President Arrested on Corruption Charges
South Korea’s Conservatives are getting whipsawed by massive corruption allegations all over the place. Already Park Geun-hye was in jail, but not lest it’s enough, now her conservative predecessor, Lee Myung-bak, was in the soup. Hours after Seoul Central District Court greenlighted his arrest, Lee was taken into custody early morning on March 23, 2018. Prosecutors have up to 20 days to keep him in jail without charging. He faces a phalanx of charges, including $10 million in bribes from his own intelligence agencies and creating a slush fund of $32.5 million in ill-gotten wealth. Although in the past, he alleged that Moon Jae-in regime was after him to settle score for the 2009 suicide of former President Roh Moo-hyun, a liberal icon who had leapt to death as his family was being investigated, on March 23, 2018, Lee Myung-bak‘s comment portrayed a repentant man as he said that he was only himself to blame. 

North, South Officials to Meet at Panmunjom on Inter-Korean Summit 

After North Korea on

March 24, 2018

accepted South Korean offer of

Panmunjom

as a venue, South Korea announced that the

March 29, 2018

, meeting that would discuss planning of an April 2018 summit meeting between Koreas would be headed by

Cho Myoung-gyon

, South Korea’s unification minister, on behalf of Seoul. North Korean side will be headed by veteran official

Ri Son-kwon

.

Inter-Korean Summit to Take Place on April 27, 2018
Officials from both Koreas met at Panmunjom on March 29, 2018 to discuss the date, venue and logistics of inter-Korean summit. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and South’s president, Moon Jae-in, will meet at Peace House, on the South’s side of the border at Panmunjom. This will be the first inter-Korean summit since Roh Moo-hyun has met with the then-North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, father of Kim Jong Un, in 2007 at Pyongyang. Before that, Kim Dae-jung met with Kim Jong Il in 2000, this time at the North Korean capital too.

************************** INTER-KOREAN SUMMIT *****************************

Historic Korean Summit Held

For the first time, a North Korean leader stepped onto South’s soil, implying a significant symbolism in the history of inter-Korean relationship. On April 27, 2018, Kim Jong Un crossed the border for few yards to shake hands with South Korean President Moon Jae-in at the Peace House in the border village of Panmunjom. Moon Jae-in gracefully embraced Kim, and then, both leaders sat down for a historic negotiation. Both leaders agreed to work with the U.S., within the year, for a peace treaty–that would replace an uneasy truce that had been in place since 1953–and pursue the goal of denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula, according to a joint statement issued by the leaders at the end of the summit.

More Details about the Summit Emerge

South Korea’s presidential office on April 29, 2018 said that Kim jong Un told Moon during the April 27, 2018, summit at Panmunjom that North Korea would shut down its only nuclear test site in Punggye-ri in the country’s northeast and invite journalists to witness the dismantling of the test site. In addition, North Korean authorities will re-adjust its time zone to that of South Korea as part of the agreement between two leaders. In 2015, North Korea dialed back the time zone by half-an-hour than what it used to be the same time zone for Koreas and Japan as a form of protest against Japan’s colonial past.

Second, Impromptu Inter-Korean Summit

South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un met in an impromptu, hastily set-up meeting at Panmunjom on May 26, 2018 to discuss cordially issues that might be bottleneck in the holding of June 12, 2018, Trump-Kim Summit in Singapore, a high-profile summit that South Korean president had put significant degree of political and diplomatic stakes to thaw tension in Korean Peninsula. The meeting was held on the northern side of Line of Control at Panmunjom. Both leaders hugged and exchanged pleasantries in a show of their personal bond, and President Moon Jae-in said on May 27, 2018 that, in future, they would meet as frequently as needed without any constraint.

Third Summit Planned

North and South Koreas issued a joint statement on August 13, 2018, promoting the message of good will that had been generated in recent months and announcing the third summit between Kim Jong Un and Moon Jae-in in September 2018. The joint statement was issued in the aftermath of an official level between two Koreas. Now, it’s to be seen whether Moon Jae-in takes a trip to North Korea around September 9, 2018, 70th anniversary of the founding of DPRK. Last week, North Korea’s foreign ministry accused Washington of pressuring foreign nations not to send delegation to mark the event.

Third Summit at Pyongyang Held

A historic third summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae In began at Pyongyang on September 18, 2018. The motorcade of both leaders was greeted at the Pyongyang streets with chants favoring re-unification of Korean Peninsula. During the meeting, Kim was reported to have told Moon that North was willing to permanently dismantle North Korea’s main nuclear complex, Nyongbyon Nuclear Facility, provided U.S. took complementary measures. North Korean leaders also pledged to dismantle a missile engine test site and launch pad at Dongchang-ri in presence of outside inspectors. Both Koreas are apparently interested in jointly hosting the 2032 Summer Olympics.

Kim, Moon Wrap up Third Summit with an Expansive Agreement

Kim Jong Un and Moon Jae-in on September 20, 2018 concluded a productive summit at Pyongyang with an agreement aimed at eliminating all dangers in Korean Peninsula and raising hope for a second summit between Donald Trump and Kim.

Second Trump-Kim Summit Proposed

After a successful three-day inter-Korean summit, South Korean President Moon Jae-in returned to Seoul on September 20, 2018, and said that Kim Jong Un expressed a desire to meet with U.S. President Donald Trump for a second summit to hasten the de-nuclearization process.

Pope’s Visit Sought by Kim

South Korean government said on October 9, 2018 that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un had sought visiting South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s help during the latter’s third summit with Kim held during third week of September 2018 in relaying the North Korean leader’s request to Pope Francis to visit North Korea that would help ease tension in the Korean Peninsula. South Korean President Moon Jae-in, a Catholic, is scheduled to visit Vatican and meet with Pope next week.

************************* INTER-KOREAN SUMMIT ******************************

President Moon Calls for Strengthening Ties with North Korea
In what could be a signal for going ahead of the USA in pushing for fostering a more cordial relationship with North Korea, South Korean President Moon Jae-in on August 15, 2018 called for creating a joint economic zone along the North-South border as part of overcoming the “division for our survival and prosperity”. President Moon’s bold proposal came during a speech to mark the National Liberation Day, a historic occasion underlining the end of Japanese occupation of the then-unified Korea. 

Family Reunions to Take Place after Three Years

Red Cross officials from South and North Koreas on June 22, 2018 announced after a meeting in the North that family reunions would be held August 20-25, 2018 at the Mount Kumgang resort, about 10 miles north of the border. About 100 people from both sides will participate in the family reunions. Since 2000, 20 rounds of family reunions had taken place, the last being in 2015, involving about 20,000 people. In 2004, at one such reunion, South Korean President Moon Jae-in, then a cabinet minister with another liberal administration, took his mom to meet with their North Korean relatives. 

Former President Sentenced to 15 Years

Former President Lee Myung-bak,

who had ruled

South Korea from 2008 to 2013

, was sentenced to

15 years

of imprisonment on

October 5, 2018

on charges of taking bribes from various sources, including

$5.4 million

from Samsung, in exchange for pardoning Samsung executives, including the company’s chairman,

Lee Kun-hee

, who had been convicted on embezzlement and tax evasion.

South Korea-Japan Tension Raises Possibility of Regional Instability
The current tension between Japan and South Korea over Japan’s colonial-era occupation of Korean Peninsula is raising concern in Washington as America’s two regional allies are increasingly engaging in the brinkmanship. On July 23, 2019, lawyers of former South Korean workers of Japanese company Mitsubishi asked a district court in South Korea to order the Japanese firm to sell its assets to pay compensation to the former slave workers. Last year (2018), the South Korean Supreme Court ordered Mitsubishi and another Japanese company to pay compensation to South Korean workers who had worked as bonded labors in these two companies. Both companies refused to pay compensation, and Japanese government sided with the companies, saying that the question of compensation didn’t arise as Japan and South Korea had signed agreement to normalize bilateral ties in 1965, resolving the issues of compensation. Japan didn’t sit idle. In response to South Korea’s supreme court’s ruling and rising anti-Japanese sentiment in Korean Peninsula, Shinzo Abe’s government tightened the approval process for hi-tech Japanese exports to South Korea.

South Korea to Hold off Intel Sharing with Japan
South Korea on August 22, 2019 played the so called tit-for-tat game with Japan by announcing that it would not share any intelligence information about North Korea with Japan over a trade policy announced by Japan in recent months that had restricted hi-tech exports to South Korea. Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono expressed regret over Seoul’s decision and linking of a vital regional intel issue to a bilateral trade dispute.

SRI LANKA

A New President Sworn in
Maithripala Sirisena

, who scored an upset victory over a formidable incumbent,

Mahinda

, were sworn in on

January 9, 2015

amid high expectation and numerous challenges.

Sirisena

, who advocates return to parliamentary democracy, was an ally even a few weeks ago, started the presidential campaign as a long-shot candidate, but sunk Rajapaksa in

January 8, 2015

, presidential polls as the minority discontent, popular anger at the president because of cronyism and political high-handedness grew as elections neared.

A U.N. Report Seeks International Panel to Investigate 26-Year Civil WarTwo days after Colombo announced that it would form a truth and reconciliation commission to investigate into excesses committed during Sri Lankan Civil War (1983-2009), the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Raad Al Hussein submitted a report on September 16,  2015, calling for an international commission, instead of an internal panel, to carry out such investigation to make it more credible and objective.

Political Crisis Brews over Presidential Action, Country at the Throe of Instability

Sri Lanka’s political landscape got muddier as the conflict between the country’s president and prime minister erupted in the open, with personal attacks and counter-attacks in open display, leading to

President Maithripala Srisena

sacking the entire cabinet of

Prime Minister Wickremesinghe on October 26, 2018

, accusing them of hatching conspiracy to assassinate him. The action precipitated a political crisis for the nation as the dismissed premier demanded immediate re-convening of the parliament as he claimed to have been enjoying the majority support in the poarliament. Srisena replaced Wicremesinghe by former

President Mahinda Rajapaksa

, who had earned renown for his strong-armed rule to put down Tamil secessionism, and suspended the parliament until

November 16, 2018

to help Rajapksa to buy time to win no-confidence vote in the parliament. The

Srisena-Wickeremesinghe

duel took nastier and personal turn after the premier from

United National Front

adopted economic reforms that president had opposed and opening inquiries into military abuses in the campaign to put down a long-running Tamil secessionism that ended in 2009. After

October 26, 2018

, sacking of Wickremesinghe cabinet, first burst of violence erupted on

October 27, 2018

as a shooting near petroleum ministry left two people dead. On

October 30, 2018

, tens of thousands of UNF supporters protested at the capital, Colombo, demanding immediate convening of parliament. As pressure is mounting from inside and outside, including the United States, President Maithripala Srisena on October 31, 2018 met with parliament’s speaker,

Karu Jayasuriya

, who bluntly told the president that barring immediate convening of parliament, there would be violence on the streets. Sensing that buying time for Rajapaksa might not be a good political strategy,

President Srisena on November 1, 2018

recalled parliament next week.

Sri Lankan Parliament DissolvedSri Lankan President Maithripala Srisena on November 9, 2018 dissolved the parliament and set January 5, 2019 for new parliamentary polls, with the new parliament to convene a fortnight later.

Lawmakers Vote against President’s Choice for Premier
Sri Lankan parliament on November 14, 2018 ousted Mahinda Rajapaksa, with 122 lawmakers in 225-seat parliament voting in a no-confidence motion against the strongman who had been appointed by President Maithripala Srisena to replace Ranil Wickremesinghe, whose October 26, 2018, dismissal had plunged the island nation into a political crisis.

Worst Terrorist Attack in Years Kills more than 200, Exposes Intel Failure
A series of Easter Sunday bombings targeting churches, luxury hotels and other sites in Sri Lanka shattered the relative peace that the people of the small island nation came to get used to since the end of a devastating civil war a decade ago. There were nine bombings, especially targeting churches and luxury hotels, on April 21, 2019 that had killed at least, by the latest estimate, 200 people and wounded more than 500. The blasts damaged buildings, soaked the houses of worship with blood, broken glass and mangled items and ruined interiors and exteriors of the buildings. The posh hotel of Shangri-La Hotel was hit badly and several people were killed there. Six near simultaneous blasts rocked Colombo in the morning of Easter Sunday (April 21, 2019):

* St. Anthony’s Shrine in Colombo that’s frequented by many foreigners

*

Three upscale hotels

Cinnamon Grand, Shangri-La and Kingsbury Hotels

*

Two churches

outside Colombo, with

St. Sebastian Church

, an anchor of

Negombo

,  a community outside Colombo, taking the brunt of most devastation with about 150 worshippers killed. A Protestant church in the eastern city of Batticaloa was also attacked.

A few hours later two more blasts happened. One happened at a guest house and the second one near an overpass. The ninth blast took place as police surrounded a safe house in the outskirt of Colombo to nab suspects and there was a suicide blast that had killed three police personnel.

The bombings in and around Colombo took lives of several nationalities, including Americans, Indians, Portugal’s, Chinese, British and Japanese. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said that he feared that attack might trigger instability in the island nation. Colombo’s top Roman Catholic priest, the Archbishop of Colombo, Cardinal Malcom Ranjith, used harsher than normal forgiving Catholic tone used under similar tragedies to demand that culprits must be punished “mercilessly” because “only animals can behave like that”.

Meanwhile, reports of possible failure to heed warnings given by the country’s intel agencies that attacks might be launched on the houses of worship exposed a gaping hole in communication within government and highlighted the rift between

President Maithripala Srisena

and

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe

. At least two government ministers–

Telecommunication Minister Harin Fernando and Mano Ganeshan, minister of national integration

—said that there were prior intel information about an impending attack and they had heard it from unofficial channels.

Sri Lanka’s Criminal Investigation Department

that’s probing the bombings will investigate into lapse in intel communication within the government agencies. Government immediately imposed censorship on social media to block spreading of rumor and false news.

Sri Lankan Military Gets New Power as Intel Failures Come to Fore
Sri Lankan President Maithripala Srisena on April 22, 2019 gave a sweeping mandate to the country’s military in the wake of April 21, 2019, Easter Sunday bombings that had killed about 300 people in nine separate blasts targeting houses of worship, upscale hotels and other sites. The government imposed curfew and blocked social media, and Colombo’s streets on April 22, 2019 looked forlorn and deserted. To add to the rising tension, three bombs exploded on April 22, 2019 near of the sites attacked a day earlier, but no injuries were reported. Anti-bomb squad defused detonators too. Sri Lanka’s tourism minister, John Amaratunga, gave estimate of foreigners killed in April 21, 2019, attack. As of April 22, 2019, 39 foreigners have been accounted for–at least four Americans and others from India, U.K., Bangladesh, Nepal, China, France, Japan, the Netherlands, Portugal, Saudi Arabia, Spain, Turkey and Australia.

Meanwhile, clarity around missed intel information began to crystallize on

April 22, 2019

as media reports portrayed a multi-layer lapse of communication of vital national security information.

Sri Lankan Health Minister Rajitha Senaratne

said that intel agencies began issuing warnings on

April 4, 2019

based on international intelligence agencies report on a hitherto unknown group,

National Thowfeek Jamaath

, and the defense ministry forwarded the warnings to the police chief. Police alerted the Judiciary and diplomatic security division on

April 11, 2019

, a week after Sri Lanka’s intel agencies had issued warnings. The lapse in communication and sharing intelligence was exacerbated, if not directly caused, by the bitter political fight between president and premier. President Srisena fired Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe on October 26, 2018, but the country’s Supreme Court later reversed the firing and restored the premier. But, Wickremesinghe was not allowed to attend the Security Council. As a result, the Wickremesinghe cabinet was in dark about any potential national security briefing.

During

April 21, 2019

, Easter Sunday attack,

President Maithripala Srisena

was out of the country, and he returned promptly.

Islamic State Claims Responsibility for Sri Lanka Attacks
The April 21, 2019, attacks in Sri Lanka are now established to have indirect–if not direct–link to international terrorism as Islamic State on April 23, 2019 has staked claim for the nine bombings on the Easter Sunday that had killed close to 300 people. Islamic State said that the bombings were meant to exact a revenge against recent killings of Muslims in New Zealand. Sri Lankan authorities also acknowledged during the day that seven suicide bombers might be members of National Towfeek Jamaath and they might be inspired by the Islamic State. Since the Easter Sunday bombings, dozens of suspects and accomplices were arrested. Authorities also identified the leader of the National Towfeek Jamaath as one of the suicide bombers. The leader, Mohammad Zahran, or Zahran Hashmi, issued explosive speeches before. Meanwhile, President Maithripala Srisena imposed during the day a partial state of emergency to give Sri Lankan military an unprecedented level of powers, not seen since the end of Tamil insurgence a decade ago.

More Information about Attacker Surfaces; Two High-Ranking Officials Ousted
Authorities on April 24, 2019 put more light on the nature and composition of the nine suicide bombers of the April 21, 2019, attacks on churches, upscale hotels and other sites. At least three attackers came from the same extended family headed by a wealthy patriarch spice trader, Y.M. Ibrahim. Ibrahim was among at least five dozens arrested since the attack. His daughter-in-law also blew up as police surrounded her house later on the Easter Sunday, killing three police personnel. Authorities said during the day that they had identified eight of the nine suicide bomber, including Towfeek’s top leader, Mohammad Zahran, who had carried out the attack in the Shangri-La Hotel. Meanwhile, President Maithripala Srisena during the day ordered two top-ranking officials to resign. The ousted leaders are police chief, Pujith Jayasunadara, and top civil servant in the defense department, Hemasiri Fernando.

Death Toll Lowered
Sri Lankan authorities on April 25, 2019 lowered the death toll to 253, significant revision downward from about 350 earlier reported. Meanwhile, The U.S. Embassy in Colombo in an unusually dire warning issued during the day said that there might be possibilities of further attacks on the places of worships in the coming weekend (April 26-28, 2019). So far, 58 people had been arrested by the authorities.

Catholic Diocese Cancels Sunday Masses Indefinitely amid Shootout in the EastColombo’s Catholic Cardinal Malcom Ranjith on April 26, 2019 cancelled all Sunday masses and Sunday schools indefinitely based on the security scenario and a U.S. Embassy missive that militants were to attack places of worships in the weekend. The Catholic Church’s unprecedented measure came hours before a fierce shootout between Sri Lanka’s security forces and militants in the country’s east. The shootout near the town of Sammanthurai had killed 15 people, including six children.

Mass Cancelled IndefinitelyColombo Archbishop Cardinal Malcom Ranjith on May 2, 2019 cancelled all upcoming public masses and Sunday schools for indefinite period, without elaborating what security conditions had led the church to take this drastic action.

Sri Lankan Government Imposes Curfew to Stop Communal Violence
After a daylong spree of attacks on Muslim-owned shops and businesses on May 12, 2019 in northern Sri Lankan city Kuliyapitiya and rising communal tension in other parts of the island nation, Sri Lankan authorities on May 13, 2019 announced imposition of nationwide curfew and temporarily blocked the access to social media to prevent the spread of rumor. 

TAIWANFirst Direct Talks between China and Taiwan
In a sign of thawing of relationship in the days to come, Chinese and Taiwanese officials held first direct talks on February 11, 2014 at the Chinese city of Nanjing, once the capital of Chiang Kai-shek’s Republic of China before Chiang’s defeat at the hand of Mao Ze-dong and his eventual fleeing to Taiwan. The talks, although more symbolic than substance, also marked a turnaround in the cross-strait relations that had soured during pro-independence Chen Shui-bian’s 2000-2008 rule in Taiwan. After being elected as Taiwan’s president in 2008, Ma Ying-jeou, current president of the island nation, emphasized on normalization in trade and cultural bonds between two nations and deepened the economic ties with the Main Land. Under the watch of President Ma Ying-jeou, cross-strait trade ballooned to $197 billion in 2013 and nearly 3 million Chinese had visited Taiwan in 2013.

Proposal to Strengthen Trade Ties with Mainland Created Furor
A landmark trade deal between China and President Ma Ying-jeou’s regime that would open many service areas on both side of the Strait created fury and fear among a large swath of Taiwan’s conservatives. College students occupied the legislative chamber since March 18, 2014 as the lawmakers pushed the trade deal to the floor for voting instead of taking piecemeal measures included in the pact as promised. The opposition protest reached a new high on March 30, 2014 as more than 350,000 demonstrators massed around the Presidential Office Building in a show of support for the occupying students and disapproval for Beijing-Taipei trade deal.

Leaders of China and Taiwan to Meet in Singapore for the First Time in 66 Years
Once unthinkable, the presidents of China and Taiwan will meet on November 7, 2015 in Singapore for the first time since Kuomintang loyalists led by Chiang Kai-shek have fled the mainland and founded the Republic of China in Taiwan in 1949. Although it’s almost certain that there will not be any substantive progress on any of the topics that have divided the governments across the Taiwan Strait, the meeting between Xi Jingping and Ma Ying-jeou has the potential of opening a new, but rare, window of opportunity for increasing cross-strait trade, commerce and cultural exchanges.

Leaders’ Meeting for the First Time in 66 Years Attracts Worldwide Interest
In a historic meeting, presidents of China and Taiwan had held a closed door session in a neutral nation, Singapore, on November 7, 2015, underscoring the value of bilateral relationship both nations attached to. However, the meeting between Xi Jingping of China and Ma Ying-jeou of Taiwan was more symbolic in nature and of a photo-op showcase.

Major Loss of Ruling Party in Local Polls
In a setback to President Ma Ying-jeou’s pro-China policy of stronger trade, cultural, business, economic, social and political ties with Beijing, Taiwanese voters sent the ruling Nationalist Party packing in November 29, 2014, local elections. Nationalists lost majority of cities and municipalties, including capital, Taipei, and the major central city of Taichung. Taking the responsibility for the ruling party’s poor showing in local polls, island’s premier Jiang Yi-huah tendered his resignation on November 29, 2014, and the president, who faces elections in 2016, accepted it.

Taiwan to See its First Female LeaderTaiwan is all set to leap forward on political empowerment of women after January 2016 presidential polls as the key contenders of  two major political parties are females. What’s unique about Tsai Ingwen, 59, of the opposition Democratic Progressive Party and Hung Hsiuchu, 67, of the Kuomintang, or the Nationalist Party is that none of them have come from politically prominent families unlike other past and present female leaders of Asia. China Angry over US Military Aid to TaiwanChinese Assistant Foreign Minister Zheng Zeguang summoned a U.S. diplomat, Kaye Lee, on December 16, 2015 and lodged a strong official protest over the recent US decision to give a $1.83 billion military aid package, including two warships and antitank missiles, to Taiwan. China also threatened to take unspecified measures against the companies involved such as Lockheed Martin, saying that Taiwan was “an inalienable part of China’s territory”.

Taiwan Elects First Female President
The sweeping victory of Democratic Progressive Party over Kuomintang in January 16, 2016, presidential and parliamentary polls is not something Washington rejoices about as the president-elect Tsai Ing-wen is known to harbor hard stance against Beijing that considers the island as part of Mainland. Tsai Ing-wen won an impressive victory by garnering 56 percent of votes, while her primary opponent and Kuomintang candidate Eric Chu received only 31 percent. In the parliamentary polls, DPP won 68 of 113 seats, while the Kuomintang won 36. Addressing her followers, Tsai Ing-wen said that she would seek a normalized relation with China “based on dignity and reciprocity”. China’s Taiwan Affairs Office issued a statement, saying that “we are willing to strengthen contact and exchange with any parties and groups that recognize that the two sides belong to one China”.

Taiwanese President’s Visit to South China Sea Island Draws U.S. Condemnation
Taiwan’s outgoing president, Ma Ying-jeou, received a mild rebuke from the USA on January 28, 2016 hours after making an official visit to the contested island of Taiping in the South China Sea. As Ma’s plane was landing on the 0.2-square-mile outcropping, USA called the trip “extremely unhelpful” for resolving the dispute over the ownership of the island among China, Vietnam, the Philippines and Malaysia. Taiping is the largest natural mass in the Spratly Islands, and claimed by China, Taiwan, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam. However, Taiwan administers day-to-day operation and upkeep of the island that had become a halting point for passing vessels under inclement weather. Taiwan also runs a 10-bed hospital in the Taiping Island that hosts a lighthouse, $129 million worth of solar panels and a small airport. Ma requested the President-elect Tsai Ing-wen to accompany him to Taiping, but Tsai didn’t oblige Ma and thus avoided the political controversy altogether. Ma Ying-jeou reiterated what he had said last year that the contesting nations

set aside their individual claims, work toward reconciliation and on endeavors to share the resources of the disputed 1.35-million-square miles of South China Sea which holds rich cache of fishes, possibility of vast amount energy and convenient shipping lanes.

China to Cut off Talks with Taiwan

As Taiwan’s new president,

Tsai Ing-wen

, had taken a harder line against Beijing, China responded in kind by severing the diplomatic cordiality that not only existed, but blossomed, between the mainland and the breakaway island under her predecessor,

Ma Ying-jeou

. A spokesman of the China’s

Taiwan Affairs Office

,

An Fengshan

, issued a statement on

June 25, 2016

, suspending the talks with Taiwan because of President

Tsai Ing-wen

‘s stand on

1992 Consensus

, political basis for One China Policy.

Chinese President Meets with Taiwan’s Opposition Leader
As a show of snub to Taiwan’s hawkish President Tsai Ing-wen, Chinese President Xi Jinping on November 1, 2016 met with Taiwan’s opposition Kuomintang Party leader Hung Hsiu-chu at the Great Hall of People. China cut off talks with Taiwan’s government in June 2016 after President Tsai Ing-wen had taken a hardline stance against Beijing, including a vow that Taiwan would remain an independent nation. The meeting between Xi and Hung has a subliminal message for Tsai: the warm embrace will not be accorded to Tsai as long as she harbors such a strong pro-secessionist agenda.

Taiwanese Court Strikes Down Ban on Same-Sex Marriage
Taiwan’s Constitutional Court on May 24, 2017 struck down the country’s civil code that defined a marriage between a man and a woman. Taiwan’s legislature now has a two-year time to revise the civil code or address how to accentuate the civil marriage between same-sex couples.

Taiwanese President Angry over Panama’s Decision to Cut Ties to Please Beijing
Irate over Panamanian President Juan Carlos Varela’s June 12, 2017, national televised announcement to sever diplomatic ties with Taiwan and switch to China on the ground that it was the “correct path for our country”, Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen denounced the action on June 13, 2017 and vowed never to acquiesce to pressure and intimidation.

China Berates Trump Administration for Arms Sales to Taiwan
A day after the U.S. State Department okayed arms sales worth of $1.4 billion to Taiwan, Chinese Foreign Ministry on June 30, 2017 demanded the deal to be canceled. The arms approved to be sold include torpedoes, technical support for early warning radar, anti-radiation missiles and missile components.

Taiwan-U.S. Warming Relations Create Another Twist in the Region
A series of actions aimed at warming up the bilateral relationship between Taiwan and the U.S. have added additional strains to the already deteriorating relationship between Washington and Beijing. On March 16, 2018, President Donald Trump signed the Taiwan Travel Act to foster a conducive environ to grow bilateral visits of academic, business and cultural professionals. 

Responding to the signing of

Taiwan Travel Act, Chinese President Xi Jinping

issued a veiled threat during an address to National People’s Congress on

March 20, 2018

that “any actions and tricks to split China are doomed to failure” and would be met with “the people’s condemnation and punishment of history”.

U.S. upped the ante on

March 21, 2018

as the

U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Alex Wong

retorted in unwavering terms at a function in

Taipei

organized by the

American Chamber of Commerce

and attended by about 700 people, including Taiwanese officials–including

President Tsai Ing-wen

and others–and U.S. corporate executives, that the “aim of U.S. policy is to ensure that Taiwan’s people can continue along their chosen path, free of coercion”.

U.S. Opens its Unofficial Embassy
In another twist to an already deteriorating bilateral relationship between U.S. and China, U.S. on June 12, 2018 further inflamed a diplomatic flashpoint as Washington inaugurated its unofficial embassy at Taipei during the day. Although $250 million palatial building is called as American Institute in Taiwan (AIT), in all its looks and feels, it is going to be diplomatic provocation to Beijing as American officials may stay there during their visit to Taiwan. Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen was there on hand at the inauguration ceremony although the Trump administration was discrete on its level of support as it sent Marie Royce, the assistant secretary of state for education and cultural affairs, to lead the U.S. delegation that included chairman of Virginia-based institute, James Moriarty, and Rep. Gregg Harper, R-Miss. Speaking at the opening ceremony, the career diplomat of the U.S. State Department who heads the AIT, Kin Moy, has stated that the facility signifies the “unshakable” support to Taiwan by the US. Reacting the opening of de facto embassy in Taipei, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said on June 12, 2018 that the event would “have a negative impact” on China’s ties with the U.S., which had severed ties with Taiwan in 1979 and recognized Communist government in China.

El Salvador Severs Ties with TaiwanEl Salvador on August 21, 2018 severed diplomatic ties with Taiwan, apparently under pressure from China. El Salvador’s action left only 17 nations with diplomatic ties with Taipei. Beijing upped its game of “maximum pressure” on few nations–mostly Caribbean and African–still maintaining diplomatic relationship with Taiwan since the election pro-independence Tsai Ing-wen as Taiwan’s president in 2016.

Trump Administration Blasts Chinese Interference in Western Hemisphere
Two days after El Salvador ditched Taiwan to establish diplomatic relationship with China, Trump White House shot back on August 23, 2018 against China’s interference “in the domestic politics of a Western Hemisphere country” and threatened to carry out a “re-evaluation of our relationship with El Salvador”. U.S. snapped the diplomatic relationship with Taiwan in 1979, and established formal ties with Beijing, but it continued to maintain an informal, strong bond with Taiwan.

Trump Administration Recalls Top Diplomats to Three Latin American Nations
Enraged by their withdrawal of recognition for Taiwan, Trump administration on September 8, 2018 announced that it would recall three top diplomats–Ambassador Robin Bernstein, Ambassador Jean Manes and Charge D’Affaires Roxanne Cabral–from Dominican Republic, El Salvador and Panama, respectively, for further discussion and they would return by September 14, 2018. Only 17 nations recognize Taiwan, and beside Swaziland and Vatican, they are either from Latin America or Pacific Island nations.

President Quits as a Party Leader after Stunning Loss in Local Polls
Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen resigned as the head of Democratic Progressive Party hours after the ruling party was routed in the local polls on November 24, 2018. Kuomintang made a spectacular comeback in local polls, including winning mayoral polls in all three large cities–New Taipei, Taichung and Kaohsiung.

President Signs Law, Taiwan Makes History as First in Asia to Allow Same-sex MarriageMay 17, 2019 will go down in Taiwanese history as a historic day after country’s legislature, feeling the heat of LGBTQ community, passed a bill to allow same-sex marriage and President Tsai Ing-wen, a passionate supporter of the same-sex marriage, tweeted: “Love Won”.

Trump Administration Notifies F-16 Sales to Taiwan
Upping the ante in the midst of a swirling trade war that’s sure to rankle Beijing and worsen the tension between the two largest world economies, Trump administration said on late August 15, 2019 that it would send notification to Congress that it was planning to sell $8 billion worth of F-16 fighter jets. Since 2008, White House notified Congress to sell about $24 billion in military hardware to Taiwan, including 108 MIA2 Abrams tanks delivered over the past two months and 250 stinger missiles, values $2.2 billion.

The State Department formally notified Congress on

August 20, 2019

.

THAILANDAs protest against PM Yingluck Shinawatra began to brew, culminating in siege of finance and foreign ministry buildings by protesters, the administration became active and declared a state of emergency in parts of Bangkok on November 25, 2013. However, instead of tamping down the protest movement, the action by Shinawatra regime did just the opposite as the protesters, who accused Yingluck as a puppet of her brother, Thakshin Shinawatra, a former premier who was deposed by a military coup in 2006, swarmed into Bangkok on November 26, 2013, defying the emergency declaration.

o       On November 29, 2013, protesters tested the patience of country’s military by marching into the country’s military headquarters and demanding the all-powerful military take side. The protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban, a former deputy premier, asked Thai military chief Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha to intervene.

o       Meanwhile, PM Yingluck called parliamentary elections on February 2, 2014 to defuse a brewing crisis. However, protesters have been adamant that any elections must be held after Yingluck resigns and overseen by a neutral administration.

o       On December 21, 2013, opposition leader Abhisit Vejjajiva announced that his party, Thailand Democratic Party, would boycott the February 2, 2014, parliamentary elections.

December 26, 2013 turned out to be a bloody Thursday as several thousands protesters ran over a Bangkok stadium where candidates gathered to draw lots for their positions on the ballots in February 2, 2014, parliamentary polls, resulting in fierce clash with police that killed 2 people, including one police personnel, and wounded more than hundred. The situation turned so bad that four commissioners of the Election Commission had to be evacuated from the stadium in a helicopter. Hours after the clash, Commission head Somchai Srisutthiyakorn appealed the government on December 26, 2013 to delay the February 2, 2014, parliamentary polls. However, the appeal fell on the deaf ear of the Yingluck Shinawatra government as Deputy PM Pongthep Thepkanchana categorically said that the administration didn’t have authority to delay the vote.

Thailand’s powerful army chief Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha on December 27, 2013 requested the country’s warring political parties not to drag military into their squabbles and also didn’t rule out possibility for military intervention.

On January 13, 2014, anti-government protesters took the boldest step of bringing the Thai capital’s business district to total halt as a pressure tactic on the government to call off the February 2, 2014, parliamentary elections. As of January 17, 2014, anti-government protesters seized seven key roads and overpasses in Bangkok, blocking them with sandbags, tires and steel barricades. 

On

January 17, 2014

, an explosion at an anti-government procession through the capital killed one person and wounded at least 30.

On January 21, 2014, Thai government declared a state of emergency in Bangkok and surrounding areas to head off occupation and chaos created by protesters in the run-up to February 2, 2014, parliamentary polls called by PM Yingluck Shinawatra, and being boycotted by most of the main opposition parties.

A day after a state of emergency in Bangkok and surrounding areas was declared, protesters on January 22, 2014 remained ever defiant, rallying on the streets of Bangkok, and audaciously, defaced the walls of National Police Headquarters with graffiti.

 Responding to a petition filed by the Thai Election Commission to delay the February 2, 2014, parliamentary elections, country’s Constitutional Court on January 24, 2014 ruled that it was possible to delay the polls. However, the Deputy Prime Minister of the caretaker government, Varathep Rattanakorn, said that the government was reviewing the Constitutional Court’s ruling.

Thai Elections Proceed Amid Violence
Amid blocking of poll stations and preventing voters from casting their votes, elections were held to elect a new parliament on February 2, 2014. Opposition held various techniques to prevent polls to go smoothly in Bangkok, southern and eastern parts of Thailand, while the government stronghold of northern Thailand witnessed peaceful and smooth polls. Protesters vowed to continue their protest movement and challenge the bona fide of the polls in courts.

Violence Erupts; 4 Die; PM Shinawatra Charged in Corruption
Events took a serious turn on February 18, 2014 in Bangkok as police moved to clear out protesters from their encampments, leading to fierce fighting that had killed five people, including one policeman. Sixty-four people were wounded too in the melee. Also during the day (February 18, 2014), country’s anti-corruption commission, National Anti-corruption Commission, charged PM Yingluck Shinawatra on corruption and nepotism of a much-maligned rice subsidy scheme, and summoned her to appear before the commission on February 27, 2014.

Judiciary Intervenes in Favor of Protesters
A Bangkok Civil Court on February 19, 2014 ruled that the protests were peaceful and the government lacked authority to remove the protesters from the encamped protest sites. The ruling signifies all but a proactive judicial intervention in the current political tumult, thus making things hard for Shinawatra regime.

Grenade Attack Kills Two
In a gradual, but growing, turn of daily events toward violence, miscreants attacked demonstrators occupying a plaza near a posh Bangkok shopping center with grenade on February 23, 2014, killing two protesters. Over the past three months, non-stop protest movement has been taking a more militant forms, with violence slowly substituting peaceful nature of the protest movement, killing at least 18 people.

Court Removes the Premier
The Constitutional Court of Thailand ruled on May 7, 2014 that premier Yingluck Shinawatra  abused her power when she had transferred a civil servant from one position to another position three years ago, and removed her from office. The ruling party named Deputy Prime Minister Niwattumrong Boonsongpaisan as the acting premier.

Army Declares Martial Law
Hours after the acting premier reiterated on May 19, 2014 that he won’t resign, country’s military moved in on early May 20, 2014, declaring martial law and marking the twelveth time of military intervention since absolute monarchy had ended in 1932. However, Army chief Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha declined to call it a coup and referred to a 1914 law that gave military the authority to restore peace.

Army Dismisses the Government
Without much words and works, ruling junta led by Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha on May 22, 2014 overthrew the democratically elected government led by the acting premier Niwattumrong Boonsongpaisan. The overthrow marked the twelveth time of military intervention since absolute monarchy had ended in 1932. Also, Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha summoned 155 prominent politicians from ruling government party, including former premier Yingluck Shinawatra, opposition politicians and government officials to report to army barracks.

Shinawatra Turns herself in
Former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra  on May 23, 2014 turned herself in at a military facility at Bangkok as anti-junta demonstrations had begun, although at a small scale, and US announced freeze in $3.5 million in military aid to the country.

Junta Expands Crackdown; Dissolves Senate
In broadening its offensive against remaining vestiges of democratic institutions, ruling military council, formally known as National Council for Peace and Order, on May 24, 2014 dissolved upper house of parliament, Senate, and ordered prominent critics, academics and journalists to report to military authorities.

Junta Rule Endorsed by King; Army Chief Ordered Protests to be Stopped
On May 26, 2014, the ruling junta received the blessing from King Bhumibol Adulyadej, and Army chief Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha warned protesters with straight talking: “do not criticize, do not create new problems. It’s no use.”

General to Hold Elections Next Year
Eight days after a May 22, 2014, coup that didn’t require a single gunfire shot, the head of the junta, Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha on May 30, 2014 said that he would first bring peace and institute necessary reforms prior to holding elections. Given the timeline and requirements, the elections will be held next year at the earliest. After the bloodless coup, military summoned about 250 politicians, ruling party officials, journalists and academics, and gave them clear warning to steer away from violence. The junta is still holding about 70 people.

General to Become Next Premier
Thai parliament, handpicked by junta after the overthrow of the previous civilian government, on August 21, 2014 voted to choose the head of junta, Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha, as the next prime minister of the country. Gen. Prayuth is going to retire from military next month, and until then, will hold the both posts: premiership and that of army chief.

General Doles out Cabinet Posts to Military Officials
After receiving nod from the king to become country’s premier, Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha, on August 31, 2014 appointed 11 of his 32-member cabinet from military ranks, implying that his administration would chart future courses in close conjunction with country’s military establishment.

Democracy Dead in Thailand, former premier saysFormer Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, who was ousted by country’s military in May 2014, observed on January 23, 2015 that Thai democracy had been dead. A day before (January 22), Shinawatra appeared before the country’s parliament, and gave a spirited defense of her regime. The parliament barred her from politics for five years. The parliament also impeached her by 190-18 votes in corruption related to rice subsidy program during her rule. Separately, country’s Attorney-General brought charges of corruption against her that might send her to prison for a decade.  The moves by parliament and country’s law enforcement agency were seen as military’s growing influence in Thai politics and stifling of opposition political parties, especially Shinawatra’s Pheu Thai Party and the so-called Red Shirt Movement.

Martial Law Lifted
Former Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha-led administration on April 1, 2015 lifted 11-month-old martial law although retaining a firm grip on the country.

A Suspect Arrested in Bangkok Bombing
An explosion rocked Bangkok’s Erawan Shrine on August 17, 2015, killing 20 people and injuring more than 100. The worst attack in recent years sent a shudder through a nation that attracts more than 20 million tourists every year and, in a large part, depends on tourists for its economy. The government is also reluctant to call it a terrorist attack lest the characterization sends wrong message. On August 29, 2015, security forces swept through an apartment complex in Bangkok, and detained one suspect. Authorities also found fake Turkish passports from the apartment.

Thai Police Seizes Explosives in Connection with Bangkok Shrine Bombing
Thai police authorities announced on August 31, 2015 that they had seized a large quantity of explosives from an apartment that had direct connection with the plotters who had carried out the August 17, 2015, Erawan Shrine bombing and killed 20 people. Thai authorities said that there were plan to carry out more bombings. Meanwhile, a section of security analysts think that August 17, 2015, shrine bombing may be the handiwork of Uighur terrorists. In July 2015, Thailand forcibly repatriated many Uighurs to China to the dismay of U.N. and western governments, who had cried foul over the fate of Uighurs who would surely face, according to them, persecution in China.

A Second Suspect Arrested
A second suspect was arrested on September 1, 2015 in eastern Thailand near Cambodian border in connection with the August 17, 2015, Erawan Shrine bombing that had killed 20 people. Authorities didn’t give the suspect’s name or nationality, only said that he was a foreigner.

Uighur Link to Shrine Bombing Claimed by Thai Authorities
On September 2, 2015, Thai authorities said that they had strong evidence that the people who had carried out the August 17, 2015, Erawan Shrine bombing had links to Uighur causes in Xinjiang province of China.

Thai Authorities to Charge One Suspect
Thai authorities said on September 25, 2015 that they had collected enough evidence to charge a suspect, Adem Karadag, detained in a security sweep in Bangkok on August 29, 2015, in the August 17, 2015, Erawan Shrine bombing that had killed 20 people. Karadag was believed to be from Turkey.

Thailand Approves a Military-backed Constitution
Thai voters on August 7, 2016 approved a constitution that was crafted by the country’s military establishment in the guise of a nominally civilian government led by the premier Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha. The vote was an overwhelmingly 60 percent in favor of the new constitution that would severely restrict the voices of the people in the affairs of the country. Unlike the 2007 constitution that has mandated half of the Senate to be elected, the new constitution will let the ruling party to appoint the 250-member Senate. The premier will be selected by the 500-member lower house of parliament. However, in case elections produce a hung lower house of parliament, an unelected premier can also be selected. The document approved by the Thai voters marked the country’s 20th constitution since the monarchy has abdicated its absolute say in the country’s affairs in 1932, since when 13 military coups and 11 attempted coups had been orchestrated.

New King Enthroned

Thailand was in a state of mourning and feeling a national sense of having become an orphan since

October 13, 2016

, death of Thailand’s revered

King Bhumibol Adulyadej

. On

December 1, 2016

, King’s 64-year-old son,

Maha Vajiralongkorn Bodindradebaya

, accepted the National Assembly President’s formal invitation to take the job once held by his father at an ornate ceremony in Bangkok. The ceremony has been videotaped showing the prince, who will be formally known as

King Rama X

of the

Chakri Dynasty

, accepting the invitation. Afterwards, Thai Prime Minister

Prayuth Chan-ocha

said in a TV broadcast that the enthronement would be effective

October 13, 2016

, the day

King Bhumibol

had passed away. King Bhumibol’s official cremation will occur sometime in 2017 as well as official coronation of

Maha Vajiralongkorn Bodindradebaya

.

Six Killed by Separatist Muslim Militants
Thai authorities on December 7, 2016 reported that over the past 24 hours six civilians–two Muslim civilians, two village chiefs, a militia member and his wife–had been killed in separate incidents in two provinces of Pattani and Narathiwat by Muslim militants who had been fighting the central rule from Bangkok since the annexation of southern Muslim-dominated province of Malay about a century ago.

Former Premier Convicted on Corruption
The Supreme Court of Thailand on September 27, 2017 convicted former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra for mismanaging a rice subsidy program while in office that provided a generous payment to country’s farmers, but also raised widespread corruption allegation, and sentenced her for a five-year jail term. Sensing such a verdict, Shinawatra fled the country last month.

Thailand Seeks Yingluck’s ExtraditionBBC Thai Service on July 31, 2018 reported that Thai authorities on July 5, 2018 formally made a request for extradition of former premier Yingluck Shinawatra from Britain on the charges of mismanaging $8 billion in rice subsidy and had been subsequently convicted. Britain in May 2018 granted Yingluck a 10-year visa.

Thai Authorities’ Effort to Dissolve Political Party Floating Thai Princess as a Candidate
Thailand’s election commission on February 13, 2019 recommended that the Thai Raksa Chart Party be dissolved for nominating Thai Princess Ubolratna Mahidol as the prime ministerial candidate in the upcoming parliamentary election. Thai Raksa Chart Party shocked the nation on February 8, 2019 by the announcement that drew immediate rebuke from many, including princess’ elder brother, King Maha Vajiralongkorn, who issued an edict condemning the move of the party–allied with the deposed former premier Thaksin Shinawatra who had been ousted in a military coup in 2006 and, in general, loathed by royalists–as inappropriate.

Court Orders Dissolution of Political Party that Advocated Thai Princess as Premier Candidate
A Thai court on March 7, 2019 ordered the Thai Raksa Chart Party dissolvedfor naming Thai Princess Ubolratna Mahidol as a candidate for premiership in the March 24, 2019, parliamentary election. The party’s unusual move drew condemnation from Thai King Maha Vajiralongkorn who called it as “inappropriate”.

Official Coronation for Thai KingMaha Vajiralongkorn Bodindradebaya was officially coronated on May 4, 2019, two years into his reign.

VIETNAMChina Locks Horn with Vietnam and Philippines

In a new escalation, Chinese ships on

May 7, 2014

rammed through Vietnamese vessels trying to block Chinese effort to place an oil rig in South China Sea. Although no injuries or damages were reported, the incident 120 nautical miles off the coast off Vietnam marked a new level of provocation and power-play by Beijing. Also, on

May 7, 2014

, Philippines detained Chinese fishermen hunting for sea turtles.

Anti-Chinese Violence Sweeps Vietnam
Irate over Chinese action of unilateral deployment of an oil rig on May 1, 2104 in the South China Sea, protest mob attacked several Taiwanese factories in Vietnam which employ many Chinese migrant workers. Chinese move in South China Sea escalated the tension with Vietnam to a new high not seen since their last conflict in late-70s. The situation spiraled into such an abyss on May 7 that there was a tense standoff in the high seas as Chinese ships rammed through Vietnamese vessels and used water canons to intimidate the Vietnamese. The incident stoked nationalistic feelings in Vietnam, and scores of Vietnamese mobs began a spree of daily attacks on factories and industrial plants, operated by owners from Taiwan, a major foreign investor in Vietnam, but most of whose employees are from China. The daily violence took a fatal turn on May 15, 2014 at a mill at Ha Tinh province, 220 miles south of Hanoi, as one Chinese worker was killed.

Vietnamese Premier Calls for Mass Defense
In an innovative approach to reach out to millions of his countrymen, Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung on May 16, 2014 sent a mass text asking for defending the country’s sovereignty in the wake of China’s deployment of oil rig in South China Sea. However, the premier distanced himself from the recent violence perpetrated by “bad elements” that had swept the nation, destroyed at least 400 factories that was operated by Taiwanese owners and employed mostly Chinese laborers.

China Removes the Controversial Oil Rig from Disputed Region of South China Sea
China on July 15, 2014 removed the oil rig that created a naval war-like situation near the Paracel Islands in South China Sea in May, citing weather reason.

Vietnamese Communist Party Congress Convenes Amid Heightening Tension with China
Four days before an all-important party congress began, the same Chinese oil rig, Haiyang Shiyou 981, that had ignited the worst tension between China and Vietnam two years ago in the summer of 2014 entered into the disputed waters of the South China Sea on January 16, 2016. A Vietnamese government official met with a Chinese embassy official at Hanoi on January 18, 2016 to voice “concern” over the re-entry of Haiyang Shiyou 981 oil rig into the disputed waters of the South China Sea. A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said at a news conference at Beijing on January 20, 2016 that was “working in totally indisputable waters under China’s jurisdiction”. Amid this tense background reminiscent of atmosphere and context in the run-up to days of violence by anti-Chinese demonstrators on the Vietnamese streets, Vietnam’s Communist Party convened for a party Congress on January 20, 2016 to elect party leaders for the next five years.

Incumbent Re-elected Leader at Party Congress
In the backdrop of an assertive China and a pent-up hunger harbored by younger generation for internal political reform, the just-concluded Party Congress of Vietnam’s Communist Party played it safe and on January 27, 2016 re-elected Nguyen Phu Trong, 71, as party’s Secretary-General for five more years. Although part of the Communist Party’s old guard, Trong steered the country to Trans-Pacific Partnership and pursued the goal of bettering the relations with the old nemesis, the USA, including a state visit to Washington in July 2015. The Party Congress also re-elected a 19-member Politburo.

****************** PRESIDENT OBAMA’S MAY 2016 ASIA TRIP *********************Five GOP Senators Asks President on Vietnam’s Human Rights Records
As President Barack Obama on May 21, 2016 departed for a weeklong, high-profile Asia visit to drum up support for Trans-Pacific Pact, coalescing a loose alliance of the region’s nations in a unity to stand up to an asserting China and fostering a coherent policy against terrorism, five Republican senators–Marco Rubio of Florida, John Cornyn of Texas, John Boozman of Arkansas, James Lankford of Oklahoma and Bill Cassidy of Louisiana–wrote a letter to Obama to press Vietnamese leaders for more human and democratic rights, labeling the country as “one of the most repressive nations in the world”. Sensing a probable presidential nudge on its human rights record, Vietnam on May 20, 2016 released one of country’s most prominent Catholic priests, Rev. Nguyen Van Ly, 70, of the Catholic archdiocese of the central city of Hue, from jail.

Obama Writes a New Chapter on Vietnam
President Barack Obama arrived at Hanoi on late May 22, 2016 for a three-day visit that’s emblematic of President’s repeated call and action to make Asia the political “pivot”, especially in the light of an aggressive and assertive China. On May 23, 2016, the first full day of presidential itinerary, President Obama rescinded an almost half-century arms embargo on the country. Although President Obama was emphatic at a press conference during the day that the (lifting of arms embargo) action had nothing to do with China, but rather based “on our desire to complete what has been a lengthy process of moving toward normalization with Vietnam”, that rationale had few takers as there was no significant visible progress of Vietnamese human records over the past few years that would trigger the lifting of embargo. It’s widely believed that USA, in exchange for lifting of arms embargo, will gain access to the port of Cam Ranh Bay. although no announcement to this effect was made during the joint press conference of President Obama and the Vietnamese President Tran Dai Quang. One of the salient gains for Vietnam was President Obama’s announcement of $16 billion in commercial package involving sales of 100 Boeing aircraft and 135 Pratt and Whitney engines to the country’s low-cost carrier, VietJet.

Obama Meets Dissidents, Calls for more Openness
On May 24, 2016, President Obama met with about half-a-dozen prominent dissidents at a Hanoi hotel. However, many of the others, including a businessman, Nguyen Quang, 69, who had unsuccessfully tried to run for a parliamentary seat as an independent before being disqualified, and a prominent blogger and journalist, Pham Doan Trang, who had flown from Ho Chi Minh City, were barred from meeting the president at the hotel. Later touching on the obstructionist measure put forward by the government to bar dissidents from meeting the visiting president, Obama, addressing an auditorium full of crowd at the National Convention Center, said that it was important to have a society to promote human rights and free exchange of ideas in order to prosper. He also took a swipe at China for bullying “smaller” nations in the region.

****************** PRESIDENT OBAMA’S MAY 2016 ASIA TRIP *********************

U.S. Aircraft Carrier to Make Port Call in Vietnam

Underscoring how far the relationship between two former foes–Vietnam and USA–had evolved over the years, partly due to emerging threat by Asian powerhouse China,

USS Carl Vinson

made a port call at the central Vietnamese port of

Danang

on

March 5, 2018

, first time since the Vietnam War a U.S. aircraft carrier made such stop in Vietnam. The commander of

USS Carl Vinson, Rear Admiral John Fuller

, whose father had served in Vietnam, called the event “pretty big and historic”.

Vietnam Elevates First Woman to Presidency
After the passing away of Vietnamese President Tran Dai Quang on September 21, 2018, Vietnam’s parliament on September 24, 2018 elected Vice President Nguyen Thi Ngoc Thinh as the interim president, making her the first woman head of state.

Famous Vietnamese Blogger Freed
A renowned Vietnamese blogger who often critiqued the Communist government was released and reported to be on her way to the U.S. on October 18, 2018 with her mom and two young children. Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh had been detained in October 2016 and handed out a 10-year term. 

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