Following are some of major events that have been dominating the global headlines in the month of February:
Diplomatic fallout between India and Pakistan amid deadly terror attack in Pulwama
Tension once again flared between India and Pakistan following a deadly attack that targeted security forces in Pulwama. The attack in India-controlled Kashmir region was one of the deadliest seen in decades with at least 40 members of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) dead. In a statement that was released in response to the attack, Delhi accused Islamabad for failing to act against the militant group, Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) that has been under the leadership of Masood Azhar. It also launched airstrikes against militants inside the Khyber Paktunkhwa region of Pakistan in late February. The move ratcheted tension between the two rivals and both sides accused each other of aerial incursions in the days that followed. Airspace in the Jammu and Kashmir region was also closed as a result. Without immediate de-escalation measures, the latest incident is likely to be a major test for newly-sworn in Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan who sought to improve ties with Delhi. It is evident that the ties between the two countries have once again ventured into murky waters though the burden to avoid a full-scale conflict should also be shared by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who must tread carefully between action that sharpens his image as a strongman or dangerous escalation of tension with Pakistan ahead of a key election in April.
US and North Korea end summit in Hanoi without agreement
US President Donald J. Trump met with North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un once again during their second summit in Hanoi, Vietnam. Although both Trump and Kim kicked off on a positive note, the summit eventually ended with no agreement, raising questions if both sides have failed to iron out the thorny issue of complete nuclear disarmament. Stakes were high for the summit as both leaders were expected go beyond their pageantries in Singapore and reach a deal on more concrete measures. With the absent of an agreement, the de-nuclearization process will likely to become more complicated as momentum has been hard to build between these two countries. In a press conference following the summit, Trump continued to exhibit signs of optimism though he said that Washington was not ready for some of the demands by Pyongyang. Going forward, negotiating teams would need to go back to the drawing board and narrow the differences that have cropped up during the summit. Past talks since the meeting in Singapore have been dragged down by a number of issues including sanctions relief, verification of nuclear facilities as well as human rights among others. For Trump, the current setback could jeopardize one of his key foreign policy goals and he stands to lose a lot should the process falls apart.
Buhari declares victory in Nigeria’s elections, but faces challenges ahead
Voters headed to the polls in February in one of Nigeria’s closely-contested elections seen in years. The process got off with a bumpy start as the Electoral Commission delayed the elections by a week at the eleventh hour, citing logistical challenges and poor weather conditions. Although the final results gave the incumbent president, Muhammadu Buhari from the All Progressives Congress (APC) party a victory, the low turnout of just 35.6 per cent is a clear sign of voters’ disenchantment and could even dampen his credibility. Following the results announcement, Buhari repeated the pledges he made in 2015 namely to rid Nigeria of corruption, fix the economy and defeat threats to security. His strongest challenger, Atiku Abubakar of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) however had refused to accept the results though it remains unclear if he could succeed in overturning them. Amidst the victory, enormous challenges await Buhari, who presided over a lackluster first-term. Combating corruption will be on top of his priority list though the fact that most of them actually originated from his own APC party could mean that he will need to balance between retaining political support vis-à-vis coming down hard on senior members who have been enriching themselves. Additionally, he will also need to address the country’s over-reliant on oil revenues and how he intends to diversify the economy amid falling global prices. On the security front, the threat of Boko Haram also continues to linger in the north while clashes between farmers and herders in the Middle Belt become more frequent.
Trump declares emergency as border wall dispute escalates
In his efforts to build a controversial border wall, US President Donald Trump declared an emergency on the border with Mexico, further pitting his administration against the Democrat-controlled Congress. Trump defended his decision by saying that it was his “absolute right” to do so though the move has sparked much criticisms from various quarters. A constitutional dispute is also on the horizon as 16 states including California, New York and Colorado were up in arms over the move and launched lawsuits against the Trump administration. All the states involved have Democratic attorneys general. While Trump thought that an emergency declaration would grant him access to billions of dollars needed to build the wall, it also raised questions about the adherence of the doctrine of separation of powers as outlined by the constitution. Additionally, critics have also accused Trump of “manufacturing” the crisis as the situation was far from dire at the southern borders. On the streets, the wall that has been dividing public opinion since Trump took over, also caused protests to be held in major cities across the US including Atlanta, Philadelphia and Maine among others.
Macedonia ends long-running naming dispute with Greece
Macedonia officially changed its name in mid-February after sealing the so-called “Prespa Agreement” with neighbouring Greece. The country previously known as Republic of Macedonia will instead be called Republic of North Macedonia, marking an end to the naming dispute that started in the early 1990’s. The controversy over country’s name began when the then government decided to call itself Macedonia after declaring independence from Yugoslavia. The choice eventually irked Greece that also has a region called Macedonia in the north where its second largest city of Thessaloniki is located. Since then, ties between two countries have been severely affected while talks to resolve the dispute were held. With the latest development however, it appears that a major hurdle for Macedonia’s ascension to the EU and NATO has been lifted as Athens agreed to end its opposition to such move. Despite this, not everyone is happy with the deal as seen by street protests that erupted in the run-up to its ratification. Greek nationalists in particular were upset as they accused the Prime Minister, Alexis Tsipras of giving in too much. Besides street protests, Tsipras also lost a junior partner in his government over the deal. While the nationalistic sentiment might take a while to dissipate, some also hoped that the deal would be able to usher in better regional stability in the Balkans.