Top of the Agenda: Deadly Attacks in Pakistan Highlight Sectarian Violence
Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, a Sunni Muslim extremist group, claimed responsibility for an attack targeting Shia Muslims (al-Jazeera) in the southwestern Pakistani city of Quetta that killed more than 100 people in four separate explosions. The neighborhood's residents are ethnic Hazaras, and the bombings underscored the myriad threats (Reuters) security forces face from homegrown Sunni extremist groups, the Pakistani Taliban insurgency in the northwest, and nationalist groups in resource-rich Balochistan province, of which Quetta is the capital.
"Sunni militant groups such as the ostensibly banned Lashkar-e Jhangvi have operated with widespread impunity across Pakistan while law enforcement officials have effectively turned a blind eye on attacks against Shia communities. Some Sunni extremist groups are known to be allies of the Pakistani military, its intelligence agencies, and affiliated paramilitaries, such as the Frontier Corps," writes Dawn.
"This was a sectarian strike. Most of the dead were members of the minority Shia community. Human rights activists say the government is complicit in the killing of Shia because of its failure to protect them from Sunni militant groups. Campaigners say the authorities are either in sympathy with Sunni extremists or incompetent and unable to provide basic security," writes Orla Guerin for the BBC.
"The LeJ wants to impose a Sunni theocracy in U.S.-allied Pakistan by stoking Sunni-Shi'ite violence. It bombs religious processions and shoots civilians in the type of attacks that pushed countries like Iraq close to civil war," writes Gul Yousufzai for Reuters.
Japan, Philippines Boost Maritime Bond
Japan's foreign minister and his Philippine counterpart agreed Thursday to boost maritime cooperation (JapanTimes) amid their countries' territorial disputes with China. Meanwhile, Tokyo announced it will also extend ¥54 billion in low-interest loans to Manila for infrastructure development.
INDONESIA: The United States filed a complaint (FT) with the World Trade Organization against Indonesia's restrictions on imports of horticultural and animal products.
Indonesia's resource nationalism has increased, argues CFR's Josh Kurlantzick in this blog post.
SOUTH AND CENTRAL ASIA
Pakistani Solder Killed by Indian Gunfire
Indian troops killed a Pakistani soldier Thursday after firing across the disputed Kashmir border, marking the third deadly incident (AP) in the disputed Himalayan region in recent days. The Indian military said its troops responded to fire from soldiers across the frontier.
Syria Fires Back at Brahimi
A day after UN-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi ruled out a role for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in a transitional government, Syria denounced him as "flagrantly biased" (al-Jazeera), casting doubt on how long the veteran Algerian diplomat can pursue his peace mission.
EGYPT: Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi named Hisham Ramez, a former deputy central banker, as Egypt's new central bank chief (al-Arabiya) after accepting the resignation of Farouk El-Okdah, who helped steer the central bank during last year's uprising.
UN Expedites Troops to Mali
The UN Security Council called for the "swift deployment" of an international force (BBC) to Mali after Islamist militants said they had entered the key central town of Konna, advancing further into government-held territory.
CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC: Central African Republic's government and the Seleka rebel alliance, which has seized control of much of the northern and eastern parts of the country, agreed to a week-long cease-fire (DeutscheWelle).
Germany Tells UK Not to 'Blackmail' EU
Gunther Krichbaum, the chair of Germany's European affairs committee and one of Chancellor Angela Merkel's closest allies, warned UK Prime Minister David Cameron against considering an EU exit (Guardian). Krichbaum is leading a high-powered delegation from the German Bundestag on a two-day visit to Britain.
CFR's Charles Kupchan talks about the consequences of a UK exit from the EU in this op-ed.
CZECH REPUBLIC: The Czech Republic's nine presidential candidates held a debate on Thursday evening, eighteen hours ahead of the first round of the country's first ever direct election (PragueDailyMonitor).
Chavez Misses Inauguration
Venezuela held a rally to mark the beginning of President Hugo Chávez's new six-year term, despite the leader's absence (MiamiHerald). The rally comes the day after the Supreme Court ruled that the fifty-eight-year-old leader can be sworn in whenever he recovers.
ARGENTINA: Argentinean President Cristina Kirchner gave a speech accusing the UK of threatening to invade the contested Falkland Islands (MercoPress). The rhetoric follows the announcement that an additional 150 British soldiers were sent to the islands.
CFR's Robert Kahn discusses Argentina's debt mess in this blog post.
Obama's Second-Term Team
President Obama's second-term team, including Thursday's nomination of Jack Lew as Treasury secretary, signals a desire to complete the unfinished business of his first, reports the Washington Post. From ending the war in Afghanistan to negotiations with Congress over fiscal issues, Obama has turned to like-minded allies, instead of inviting contrarian ones he once said he welcomed, the Post said.
Foreign Policy's Joshua Keating looks at whether Obama's recent appointments reflect a "boys' club" mentality and suggests ten women he could appoint to top national security jobs.