Top of the Agenda: Pakistani Ex-PM's Son Abducted Before Sunday Vote
Ali Haider, the son of Pakistan's former Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani and a candidate for the Pakistan Peoples' Party, was kidnapped (BBC) in the central city of Multan by gunmen during an election rally ahead of Sunday's vote. The incident marks the latest threat to the country's fragile stability as it faces the first transition of a civilian government. Meanwhile, a letter (Reuters) from the Pakistani Taliban leader revealed plans for suicide attacks in provinces on polling day. Since April, the al Qaeda-linked group has killed more than one hundred people in attacks on candidates and rallies in a bid to undermine elections they regard as un-Islamic.
"The elimination of liberal political figures must be seen as part of the process of creeping Islamization, as well as the permanent militarization of Pakistan, which began during Zia ul-Haq's military dictatorship. Using Islam and a narrow definition of patriotism to limit the options available to voters is nothing new," writes Farahnaz Ispahani for Foreign Policy.
"The old post-Ottoman 'grand bargain' – Western acceptance of authoritarianism in exchange for the secure flow of oil, use of sensitive sea-lanes, and some tolerance for the existence of Israel – has broken down. What replaces it will be determined by the shape of the new political order that finally emerges in the western Islamic world," writes Shahid Javed Burki for Project Syndicate.
"Whether Mian Nawaz Sharif emerges on top and is able to form a ruling coalition with Imran Khan, setting aside their aversion for one another, or President Zardari shows he is still able to hold onto power despite a lacklustre performance, the new government will very quickly need to address the law and order situation on the ground. It has collapsed in many districts of Pakistan," writes Akbar Ahmed for al-Jazeera.
China, Japan Territorial Tensions Heighten
China criticized Japan on Thursday for lodging a diplomatic protest (Reuters) against a commentary released by a Chinese state-run newspaper that questioned Japanese sovereignty over the southern Ryukyu Islands, which include Okinawa.
CFR's Sheila A. Smith examines Japan, China, and the East China Sea dispute in this article.
ASIA: Sixteen Asian economies, including all ten ASEAN members, are set to hold their first meeting Thursday in Brunei for the establishment of a regional free-trade agreement (JapanTimes).
SOUTH AND CENTRAL ASIA
Karzai Offers to Keep U.S. Bases
Afghan President Hamid Karzai said Thursday that he would welcome the United States keeping nine bases (AP) in the country after the scheduled 2014 NATO troop drawdown, marking the first time he has made such an offer in public.
Israel Approves New Settlements
Israel has approved the building of nearly three hundred houses in a settlement near the occupied West Bank city of Ramallah, a move likely to spark tensions as Washington seeks to restart peace talks (al-Jazeera). Israel's settlements have been one of the biggest roadblocks in negotiations.
The once-rejected Arab Peace Initiative could be the basis for a serious reconstituted peace process, explains CFR's Robert M. Danin in this op-ed.
SYRIA: UN-Arab League envoy for Syria Lakhdar Brahimi hailed a U.S.-Russian commitment to an international peace conference, agreed to on Tuesday, that seeks to find a solution to Syria's war (BBC).
CFR's Stewart Patrick discusses how to end Syria's agony in this blog post.
Nigerian Police Die in Ambush
At least twenty-three police officers in Nigeria were killed in an ambush by a local militia in central Nasarawa state (iOL). The officers were reportedly on their way to arrest the leader of the Ombatse tribal group, which had been outlawed earlier by the governor.
ERITREA: A new Amnesty International report said that thousands of political prisoners (AI) have been held by Eritrea in "atrocious" conditions since President Isaias Afewerki came to power twenty years ago.
Slovenia Avoids Bailout
Slovenia's new government is expected to announce Thursday an economic plan aimed at avoiding a bailout (AFP). The measures, which will be sent to Brussels, reportedly include privatizations, taxes, and austerity cuts as the country battles recession and an unemployment rate of 13.5 percent.
ITALY: Italy's former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi lost an appeal against a four-year jail sentence for tax fraud (FT), a result that could lead to friction within Italy's new coalition government.
Mexico Proposes New Banking Bill
The Mexican government is proposing sweeping reforms (AP) to the banking sector that would make credit cheaper and more available in the country. Currently, bank loans make up less than 20 percent of GDP.
HAITI: Former Haitian president Jean-Bertrand Aristide appeared at a Port-au-Prince courthouse to testify before a judge investigating the 2000 slaying of a prominent journalist (MiamiHerald).