- IT IS just over a year since NATO formally ended its combat mission in Afghanistan. It left behind 13,000-odd soldiers to “train, advise and assist” Afghan security forces taking the lead in the fight against the Taliban. Of the foreign troops, America has provided about half (with a further 3,000 deployed on counter-terrorism operations against what remains of al-Qaeda). Twelve months on, the results of the so-called “transition” look grim.Determined to exploit the departure of Western forces, in 2015 the Taliban maintained their usual spring offensive much longer into the winter than in the past. The insurgents now control more territory than at any time since American forces kicked the Taliban out of power in 2001.Worst of all has been the steady erosion of government control in Helmand province in the south.Retaking Helmand, the heart of Afghanistan’s opium country, is a priority for the Taliban, who desperately want the money that drug-peddling generates. Out of nearly 400 districts across Afghanistan, the Taliban controls a tenth and contests another tenth.The growing intensity of the fighting is taking its toll on the 352,000-strong Afghan army and police. Last year they sustained 28% more losses than in 2014: 16,000 casualties, about 7,000 of them fatal.
- Yet despite promises from the Pakistani prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, and the powerful head of the army, General Raheel Sharif, that they will urge the Taliban to kill less and negotiate more, there is scant sign of progress. That may be because the spymasters of Pakistan’s “deep state” still prefer a weak, chaotic Afghanistan, or because Pakistan, itself locked in an existential fight with the Taliban’s sister outfit, the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, may not have the control it once had.Meanwhile, a power struggle has been under way within the Afghan Taliban.Yet even after the departure in the past year.Taliban have not made the breakthrough they were hoping for. Their recent victories in Helmand have been small. They rule over a mere 5% more of the country’s population than before.
- HERE were six Arab countries in which massive peaceful protests called for hated rulers to go in the spring of 2011. Other than Tunisia, none of the uprisings came to a happy end. Libya and Yemen have imploded, their central states replaced in whole or part by warring militias, some backed by foreign powers, some flying the flags of al-Qaeda or Islamic State. Egypt is now yet more autocratic, in some ways, than when the protests began. And Syria has descended into an abyss.For decades Arab opinion-makers have ascribed a host of regional ills to the West. But the morass left by America’s spectacularly inept occupation of Iraq, along with the West’s ineffectual response to the Arab spring, have convinced all but a conspiracy-addled fringe that there is not much substance to talk of Western omnipotence, American hegemony or even a Zionist conspiracy.
- ON JANUARY 11th, 38 leaders of Anglican provinces around the world will begin a five-day meeting in Canterbury, the spiritual home of the global Anglican communion.In what observers are calling a last-ditch attempt to save the third-biggest Christian denomination in the world, with some 85m followers.Anglican primates usually meet every two years, but have not convened since 2011, largely because of an ongoing dispute about homosexuality. In 2003 the Episcopal Church (the American wing of Anglicanism) consecrated a sexually active gay bishop and last year moved towards allowing its clergy to solemnise same-sex marriage. The Anglican communion cannot excommunicate people or provinces and, as a result, conservative bishops have formed a group, the Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON), which is threatening to break away entirely.Another miracle will be needed to keep everyone in the same room. Archbishop Welby is said to be encouraging a looser affiliation, so that liberals and conservatives can maintain relations with the mother church in Canterbury and continue to call themselves Anglicans without necessarily having to relate directly to each other.
- Jollibee, a fast-food chain from Philippines is much loved and highly profitable at home.But its attempts to conquer foreign markets have had only modest success. After decades of trying, the Jollibee chain has only 133 foreign branches (compared with 890 back home), catering mainly to clusters of expat Filipinos in places such as the Gulf and California.At home Mr Tan and his burger joints are feted for having survived the arrival of McDonald’s, which entered the Philippines in 1981. Today Jollibee far outsells its great rival there. It catered better to the whims of locals.Since 2010 the parent’s sales and net profits have increased by around 70%, to 118 billion pesos ($2.5 billion) and 5.4 billion pesos respectively.However, Mr Tan has long aspired to make Jollibee Foods a global champion.The company has gradually come round to the view that to reach its goal, it needs to buy foreign restaurant chains with menus better suited to the tastes of non-Filipinos.In October Jollibee Foods said it would fork out a little under $100m—its biggest investment to date—for a 40% stake in Smashburger, an American “fast-casual” burger joint.