Year in review: International Affairs

From the unpredictable policy decisions of President Donald Trump to the growing rivalry between the U.S. and China, the year 2018 saw a host of developments that threatened world peace, political stability and trade and economy. The year was also marked by election upsets, street protests, diplomatic overtures, policy U-turns and violence. Here is the year in review

The big 10

1. Death in a consulate

Jamal Khashoggi, a dissident Saudi journalist who was living in the U.S., went to the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2 for some paperwork for his marriage. He never returned. Turkish prosecutors say Khashoggi was killed inside the consulate and dismembered and his body parts were dissolved in acid. Saudi Arabia admitted that he was killed inside the consulate, but hasn’t said what happened to the body,

Riyadh has blamed the incident on some rogue officials and claims to have arrested those involved and prosecuted them.

Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi spoke at an event hosted by a London think tank on September 29, three days before he disappeared during a consulate visit in Istanbul. Khashoggi was later named one of the Time ‘Persons of the Year’. A funeral prayer for journalist Jamal Khashoggi on November 16 in Istanbul.

2. Trump embraces Kim

On June 12, nearly nine months after Donald Trump threatened military action against North Korea, the U.S. President was shaking hands with the country’s leader Kim Jong-un, seeking a diplomatic solution to the nuclear crisis.

The roots of this detente can be traced back both to the engagement policy of South Korean President Moon Jae-in and the North’s positive response to it.

3. From deal to no deal

While Mr. Trump was preparing for his biggest diplomatic handshake with Mr. Kim, he was also intent on undoing the the Iran nuclear deal, a key achievement of his predecessor Barack Obama. Despite certifications by the IAEA that Iran was fully complying with the terms of the deal, on May 8, Mr. Trump pulled the U.S. out of the agreement.

Subsequently, the administration re-imposed sanctions on Iran that were lifted by the Obama administration after the deal was signed.

4. Elusive Brexit

Nearly two and a half years after the Brexit referendum, there is still no consensus on the modalities of how to carry out Britain’s divorce with the EU. In November, the U.K. and the EU reached a draft withdrawal agreement, but there is no agreement within Prime Minister Theresa May’s Cabinet on the deal.

In December, Ms. May survived a leadership challenge from within her party, but a bigger challenge would be a parliamentary vote on Brexit, which has to happen by January 21.

5. Electoral upsets

Malaysia: Mahathir Mohamad, a political veteran of more than 50 years, broke away from his own party, backed the main Opposition coalition and clinched a shock victory on May 9 against Prime Minister Najib Razak.

Maldives: Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, the candidate of the Maldives Democratic Party-led coalition, defeated President Abdulla Yameen, who faced allegations of stifling the country’s democracy, in the September 23 presidential election.

Year in review: international affairs

6. One President, Two PMs. No government

Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena ousted Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe on October 26 and appointed former President Mahinda Rajapaksa in the position, triggering a constitutional crisis.

But after Mr. Rajapaksa failed to prove majority in Parliament and the Supreme Court restrained him from functioning as the Prime Minister, the President reinstated Mr. Wickremesinghe on December 16.

7. Democrats make gains

On November 6, in an election marked by big turnout and a high number of women candidates, Democrats, by picking up 40 seats, gained control of the House of Representatives for the first time since 2010. However, the Republicans expanded their majority in the Senate, defeating Democratic incumbents in States like Indiana, Missouri and North Dakota.

Rashida Tlaib (Democrat-Michigan) in Washington in November.

Ilhan Omar (Democrat-Minnesota), the first Muslim-American Congresswomen.

Deb Haaland (Democrat-New Mexico), the first Native American Congresswoman

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (Democrat-New York)

8. To kill a spy

The Russia-West relations soured further this year when Sergei Skripal, a former Russian military officer and double agent for the U.K.’s intelligence services, and his daughter Yulia were found poisoned in Salisbury on March 4 with Novichok nerve agent.

In March, the U.K. accused Russia of attempted murder and ordered the expulsion of several diplomats, in which it found support from 28 other countries. A total of 153 diplomats were expelled. Russia denied the accusations and the pointed fingers back the U.K.

9. Trade war

In keeping with his ‘America First’ policy, President Trump launched a trade war with China.. Tariffs on about $250 million worth of Chinese goods take effect between July and September, forcing China to retaliate.

10. Leader for life?

China’s National People’s Congress passed a resolution on March 11 that eliminated presidential term limits set by the 1982 Constitution. This cleared the way for Xi Jinping, arguably the most powerful leader since Mao, to remain in power indefinitely. In the following week, he was appointed to a second five-year term.

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Other developments

Jan. 19: Turkey launches military offensive against U.S.-backed Kurdish forces in Syria’s Afrin region

Feb. 8: Bangladesh’s ex-Prime Minister and BNP Chairperson Khaleda Zia is jailed for five years in a corruption case. She is later barred from contesting the forthcoming general election.

Feb. 15: Cyril Ramaphosa becomes the new South African PM after Jacob Zuma resigns amidst corruption probe.

Feb. 23: Komaali Kings becomes the first Sri Lankan Tamil language film in 40 years to have a mainstream release, marking the rebirth of the Tamil film industry in the country.

April 19: Miguel Diaz-Canel succeeds Raul Castro as President of Cuba, ending almost 60 years of Castro rule.

July 9: Eritrea and Ethiopia officially declare an end to their twenty-year conflict.

Oct. 6: U.S. Senate votes to confirm Judge Brett Kavanaugh (208158366) as the 114th Supreme Court Justice. He replaced Justice Anthony Kennedy, who retired on June 27.

Oct. 29: Boeing 737 passenger jet, owned and operated by the low-cost Lion Air airline, crashes minutes after taking off from the capital Jakarta. All 189 people on board were feared killed, making it the second-deadliest air crash in Indonesia’s history.

Port officials stand near debris from Lion Air Flight 610 that crashed into Java Sea, at Tanjung Priok Port in Jakarta, Indonesia, Friday, Nov. 2, 2018.

Port officials stand near debris from Lion Air Flight 610 that crashed into Java Sea, at Tanjung Priok Port in Jakarta, Indonesia, Friday, Nov. 2, 2018.   | Photo Credit: AP

Oct. 31: Asia Bibi, a Pakistani Christian woman accused of blasphemy and sentenced in death in November 2010, is acquitted and ordered to be released by the country’s Supreme Court, sparking protests by Islamists

Dec. 1: ‘Yellow Vest’ protests against high living costs spar violent unrest in Paris.

Dec. 19: U.S. begins withdrawing troops from Syria after President Trump makes a surprise announcement.

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Farewells

Feb. 11: Asma Jehangir, 66: A voice for pluralism and a champion of democracy in Pakistan’s legal community.
March 14: Stephen Hawking, 76: world renowned British physicist and cosmologist
April 17: Barbara Bush, 92, former U.S. First Lady
Aug. 18: Kofi Annan, 80, former UN Secretary General. He served two terms as UN chief from 1997 to 2006, and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2001 for his humanitarian work
Aug. 25: John McCain, 81, the Vietnam war hero-turned-U.S. Senator and presidential candidate
Nov. 30: George H.W. Bush, 94, who served as the 41st U.S. President between 1989 and 1993, a term defined by the fall of the Berlin Wall, the collapse of the Soviet Union and U.S. war on Iraq following the latter’s invasion of Kuwait.

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Ballot power

Many countries, including three in India’s immediate neighbourhood, saw general elections this year

a) Right-turn in Europe

Italy’s election on March 4 to vote for 630 members of the Chamber of Deputies and 315 members of the Senate delivered a hung Parliament. The centre-right coalition, led by Matteo Salvini’s League, emerged with most number of seats in both the Houses, while the anti-establishment Five Star Movement led by Luigi Di Maio became the party with the largest number of votes.

About three months of negotiations led to the formation of a coalition between Five Star and League, whose leaders both became Deputy Prime Ministers, with an independent, Giuseppe Conte, taking over the position of the Premier.

In Hungary, the Viktor Orban-led anti-immigrant Fidesz-KDNP won a two-third majority on April 8. Orban was later chosen as Prime Minister for a fourth term.

b) Putin wins again

Incumbent Russian President Vladimir Putin won his second consecutive (fourth overall) term in office on March 18 with 77% of the votes, his highest victory margin. The most serious competitor Alexei Navalny having been barred from the race, Mr. Putin reportedly won 10 million more votes than in 2012.

c) The reign of Erdoğan

Following his victory in the June 24 Turkish presidential election, when he got 52.5% of the votes, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan assumed new executive powers. His new term would see him remain President till 2023 following which he can seek another term. He now has the powers to directly appoint top officials, like Ministers and Vice-Presidents, and also to intervene in the country’s legal system.

d) A left-turn in Mexico

On July 1, Andrés Manuel López Obrador won Mexico’s presidency in a landslide victory, setting the stage for the most left-wing government in the country’s democratic history.Mr. Obrador, 64, a former Mexico City Mayor, won by a margin of about 30 percentage points, the widest in a presidential election since the 1980s.

e) Mugabe 2.0?

Emmerson Mnangagwa, who became President of Zimbabwe following the 2017 coup against Robert Mugabe, defeated Opposition candidate Nelson Chamisa in the first round of presidential election held on July 30. The President won 50.8% of votes to Mr. Chamisa’s 44.3%, in results unsuccessfully challenged by the Opposition in the Supreme Court.

f) Captain’s turn

Cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan took oath as Prime Minister of Pakistan on August 18 after his party, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, emerged as the single-largest grouping in the July 25 election. PTI won 149 seats in the 372-member National Assembly and went on to form a coalition government.

g) Third front in Bhutan

The ruling People’s Democratic Party of Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay bowed out in the first round on September 15. The Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa party, which had no seats in the outgoing Assembly, won nearly 55% of the votes in the second round on October 18, securing 30 of the 47 seats.

h) The Trump of the Tropics

Brazil elected Jair Bolsonaro, a controversial former Army Captain, as its President on October 28. Called the ‘Trump of the Tropics’, Mr. Bolsonaro had attracted criticism in the past for insulting women and homosexuals and for praising the country’s former military dictatorships.

i) Hasina vs. Opposition front (December 30)

Bangladeshis on December 30 voted to elect 300 members of the country’s Jatiya Sangsad (Parliament). Sheikh Hasina’s government, seeking a third consecutive term, has been accused of turning authoritarian. With Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) leader Khaleda Zia being behind bars and disqualified from contesting, the 20-party Opposition alliance, Jatiya Oikya Front, fought under the leadership of veteran politician and lawyer Kamal Hossain.

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Wrath of nature

These were some of deadliest natural disasters in 2018

1) Quake in Papua New Guinea

A 7.5-magnitude earthquake hit the Southern Highlands province of Papua New Guinea in February, triggering a major aftershock and some landslides. Around 145 people died and close to half a million people were affected.

2) Heat wave in Pakistan

The heat wave, which killed more than 180 people in May, coincided with the month of Ramzan, when many Muslims fast during the daytime.

3) Floods in Nigeria

Flooding in Nigeria in September affected two million citizens, killing more than 200 persons, destroying more than 13,000 homes and displacing more than half a million people.

4) Volcanic eruption in Guatemala

Guatemala’s Fuego volcano erupted in early June, causing the surrounding areas to be filled with hot gas and volcanic rock that could move at speeds of up to 90 mile per hour. At least 425 people were killed.

5) Indonesia: Earthquake and Tsunami

In late September, a 7.5 magnitude earthquake and subsequent 20-foot tsunami brought destruction to Sulawesi island in Indonesia, leaving more than 3,30,000 people homeless. Around 2,250 people were killed.

Tracking terror

For the second consecutive year, the year 2018 saw a major reduction in the number of deaths due to terror attacks, to quote ESRI’s conservative estimates.

2016: 1490 attacks

14,801 casualties

2017: 1,370 attacks

8,439 fatalities

2018: 1,492 attacks

7,852 fatalities

These were the major terror attacks this year:

1) Attacks on Kabul

a) January 20, 21:

Gunmen launch an attack on Kabul’s Inter-Continental Hotel, killing at least 40. More than 100 people are freed from the hotel and the six attackers are gunned down.

b) January 27:

At least 103 people are killed and 235 injured as a Taliban suicide bomber explodes an ambulance laden with explosives near Sidarat Square in central Kabul, where several government offices are located.

c) April 22: A suicide bomb attack at a Kabul voter registration centre kills 69 people and injures 120 others

2) Pakistani elections targeted

a) July 10:

Suicide bombing at an election rally in Peshawar kills 22 people, including prominent local politician Haroon Bilour, and injures at least 75 people. The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan claims responsibility.

b) July 13:

At least 149 people, including the Balochistan Awami Party candidate Nawabzada Siraj Raisani, are killed and 186 others injured as a suicide bomber detonates his explosives in Mastung in Balochistan

3) IS attacks

a) July 25:

Islamic state militants carry out suicide bombings and gun attacks in the city of As-Suwayda, and the nearby areas in Syria, killing 255 people. At least 63 militants are also killed.

b) November 18:

Boko Haram fighters loyal to the IS attack a military base in the Nigerian town of Metele, killing at least 118.