A bombing in the Philippines tells peacemakers to make haste

IT DID not take long for Islamic State (IS) to claim responsibility for a bomb on the island of Basilan, part of the southern region of Mindanao in the Philippines, that killed nine soldiers and civilian bystanders, along with the driver of the van the bomb was carried in. The army suspects the work of Abu Sayyaf, a brutal kidnapping-for-ransom gang from Basilan and the neighbouring island of Jolo which these days claims allegiance to IS.

The attack, on July 31st, highlighted the dangers of dragging out a slow, stumbling peace process that had made a leap forward just days before, when President Rodrigo Duterte enacted the Bangsamoro Organic Law. The law is key to ending half a century of rebellion by Filipino Muslim separatists in Mindanao which has cost tens of thousands of lives. It is surely key, too, to ending the chaos in which jihadists such as IS thrive.

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Congress in Manila, the capital, had taken years to pass the new law, which provides for greater autonomy for the homeland of the Bangsamoro, Muslims who are in a majority in their part of Mindanao (which is predominantly Christian, like the country). In return, the main rebel group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), has dropped its demand for Bangsamoro independence. Greater autonomy was promised in a peace agreement signed by the government with the MILF in 2014.

The armed campaign for Bangsamoro independence began in 1969. The 2014 agreement was the culmination of decades of on-and-off negotiations between the government and Muslim separatist rebels, first the Moro National Liberation Front and then its less secular offshoot, the MILF. During those years, war-torn, impoverished Mindanao spawned a plethora of armed groups: some Muslim separatists, some communists, some simply violent criminals. Jihadists took advantage of the general lawlessness to recruit fighters to their cause.

After the peace agreement was signed, Congress shied away from passing the legislation it entailed when current and former MILF fighters killed 44 paramilitary policemen operating against jihadists. When Mr Duterte, whose power base is in Davao, the largest metropolitan region in Mindanao, became president in 2016, he said he was determined to complete the peace process.

Yet Congress was still slow to pass the legislation, fearful lest it turn out to contravene the country’s constitution. In 2008 the Supreme Court had declared a previous peace agreement unconstitutional, so infuriating one faction of the MILF that it broke away. The splinter group, the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), later pledged allegiance to Islamic State.

The Bangsamoro Organic Law may yet be challenged in court. That is one reason (admittedly of several) why Mr Duterte has called for the constitution to be rewritten to turn the Philippines from a unitary state into a federation.

A bloody attempt last year by groups, including Filipino adherents of IS, to capture and hold the city of Marawi was crushed when the army laid siege for months, destroying the city to save it. In that siege, one notable Abu Sayyaf leader, Isnilon Hapilon, was killed. Yet BIFF guerrillas and Abu Sayyaf terrorists remain active in the south, as the latest bombing in Basilan showed. Not just the government but also the MILF chairman, Al-Hajj Murad Ebrahim, believe peace and economic development in Mindanao will defeat the jihadists by drying up their sources of recruits. The battle for Marawi, and now this latest bombing, are warnings that jihadists are lurking, ready to pounce unless Mr Murad and Mr Duterte make haste to end the separatist conflict.

Japan’s habits of overwork are hard to change

YOSHIHISA AONO could be a model for Japanese executives. The offices of Cybozu, his software company, would appear staid were they in Palo Alto. But they are radical for central Tokyo, where each day waves of black-suited Stakhanovites make their way to grimly utilitarian offices. Slap-bang in the centre of Cybozu’s headquarters are stuffed-toy monkeys and parrots. Staff in casual wear and trainers perch on stools sipping coffee and tapping away at laptops. Mr Aono himself leaves work at 4.30pm to see his three children. He takes paternity leave, unlike most Japanese fathers. Good lord, he even goes on holiday.

To many Japanese, Mr Aono’s work style will seem extreme. To many in the West, it is Japan’s long working hours that are outlandish. Japanese work notoriously hard—to which the abundance of comatose passengers on the commuter trains attests. Many men work so late, or get so sozzled after work to relieve stress, that they don’t make it home. Hence the ease with which, early the next morning, you can buy a cheap shirt and tie in the convenience stores in the business districts of Nagoya, Osaka and the capital.

Twelve-hour days are common. Holidays are stingy—just ten days a year when you start out at work—yet Japanese workers, on average, take only half their due. Japan leads the world in paternity leave—up to a year. Yet barely 5% of men take advantage of it, and then usually for just a few days. Japan has given the world the term karoshi, or death by overwork.

Japan’s work system dates to the end of the second world war, when defeated soldiers swapped uniforms for suits. Salarymen became the shock battalions of Japan’s economic miracle, rebuilding the country during an era of turbocharged growth. Companies needed lots of male workers quickly (women worked as secretaries and then became homemakers once they had found a husband—often at work). In return for absolute loyalty, workers at big companies got regular wage rises, generous benefits and the guarantee of employment for life. Company ties were sometimes stronger than family ones.

The model now holds Japan back. It is miserable for male workers, especially as companies no longer make the money to offer new employees the same benefits and guarantees. It is even worse for women. Those who succeed in a male-dominated workplace risk all if they have children, after which it is hard to pick up careers again. A large number of women don’t return to work at all. As for Japan’s young, many opt out of corporate life to open or staff boutiques, cafés and the like. There they accept low pay rather than toil in bleak offices. None of this helps companies either—Japan has the lowest productivity of the G7.

Government and businesses increasingly acknowledge a problem, but struggle to deal with it. It is telling that “Cool Biz”, a ballyhooed campaign launched in 2005 to get people to take off ties and jackets at work, was motivated not by a need to please workers but to save on summer air-conditioning. These days, bureaucrats dress down during the sweltering summer months, but employees at banks and the like rarely dare.

Pressure to create a better work environment is growing. After a young female employee at Dentsu, Japan’s advertising behemoth, committed suicide in 2015, a court ruled that it was because of karoshi. That was the cause of much hand-wringing. But more broadly, at a time when an expanding economy and a declining population are creating severe labour shortages, companies with a reputation for grinding work struggle to attract staff. One woman, a senior executive who barely saw her children as she climbed the corporate ladder, wonders whether the sacrifices she made were worth it.

Some companies really are trying to change. A consultant on matters of employee well-being says she has never been so much in demand. Panasonic, which in 1965 was the first Japanese company to introduce a five-day week, now lets people work from home and wear jeans in the office. Yet powerful instincts of conformity and self-sacrifice still mark Japanese society. Panasonic admits that few are willing to leave work early or wear jeans before other colleagues do the same first. People in authority need to lead by example. Tokyo’s governor, Yuriko Koike, shuts her offices each evening at 8pm; staff have no choice but to leave. By contrast, after weeks of debating radical change, the Diet (parliament) recently passed greatly watered-down legislation. Overtime hours were capped at an exhausting 100 hours a month.

Work harder, at reform

Japanese continue to work long hours because, almost without exception, big companies continue to judge employees by input not output. They base promotion and pay not on merit, but on age and years at the company. It is almost impossible, by law, to fire incompetent staff hired on permanent contracts.

Only a drastic overhaul of the labour system will do, not tinkering at the edges. Above all, the law needs to make it easier to hire and—especially—fire, so that people move jobs much more than now. That would shake up the relationship between employers and employees. Productivity would rise. Workplaces would be more diverse. Women would have many more chances. But so, too, would men: for instance, fathers could play a greater part in bringing up their offspring. With better work prospects, couples might even have more babies, an obsession with Japanese demographers worrying about the country’s falling population.

The time is ripe for change. The economy is in relatively good shape. Japanese companies are keen to adapt to be competitive abroad. Yet too many of Japan’s politicians and corporate titans are male, hidebound and timid. Many workers are undemanding. Conformism remains powerful, at work more than anywhere. Change is coming, but it is coming all too slowly.

Why the mayor of Seoul sleeps in a shack

“MY WIFE can barely contain her happiness,” Park Won-soon, the mayor of Seoul, South Korea’s capital, wrote on his Facebook page on July 27th. The occasion for her ecstasy was that an electric fan had arrived in the household.

In the circumstances, the excitement was understandable. Five days earlier the couple had moved into a rooftop shack in Samyang-dong, a dilapidated neighbourhood on the northern fringes of the megalopolis. The shack is not air-conditioned, and in the sweltering recent weather—South Korea’s hottest on record—temperatures inside topped 50°C. Plus, the fan came with a message of solidarity from the president, Moon Jae-in, a political ally.

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Mr Park, who in June was elected to his third term as mayor, says that by spending a month in Samyang-dong he will learn first-hand about the difficulties that Seoul’s poorer residents face. The stunt has earned him a fair amount of mockery. When City Hall workers delivered ready-made rice porridge to him over the weekend, onlookers questioned the seriousness of Mr Park’s quest to experience “ordinary life”. (City Hall said the porridge was for a breakfast meeting with neighbours.) Ha Tae-kyung, from the conservative opposition, described the move to the roof as a “comedy”. If the mayor really wanted to know about ordinary life, he said, “he should live in the neighbourhood for his entire term.”

Locals queue up at all hours outside the mayor’s temporary home to air their grievances. Yet some are sympathetic. “It’s a good thing he’s doing,” says one neighbour playing in the street with her little grandson. “Why would I complain about someone trying to understand more about our lives?”

The mayor’s stint of living like common folk is a reminder that beyond the city’s glitzy centre many Seoulites still live in flimsy, barely legal dwellings similar to Mr Park’s temporary lodging. These people cannot afford the capital’s sky-high property prices. In many areas, particularly north of the Han river, houses are poorly equipped for Seoul’s steamy summers and biting winters.

For a long time, the city’s approach was to raze such quarters and build brutally utilitarian tower blocks in their place, says Rieh Sun-young, an architecture professor at the University of Seoul. Yet such flats are still expensive and do not always meet the needs of the people they displace—for instance, they are too big for today’s smaller families, couples or young singles wishing to live alone. Ms Rieh hopes that the mayor’s time on the roof will help him develop a more nuanced approach to urban regeneration. Widening streets, refurbishing houses and improving local transport links, libraries and child care would do much more for deprived areas than simply razing them to the ground.

Whether he learns any rooftop lessons or not, Mr Park leaves his Samyang-dong shack later this month, to return to his air-conditioned apartment.

How will Imran Khan govern?

A WEEK after a general election rocked by suspicions of fraud, the dust is beginning to settle. It looks all but certain that Imran Khan, a former captain of Pakistan’s cricket team, will be sworn in as the country’s next prime minister. His party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), will dominate the legislature. The outgoing Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and the Pakistan Peoples Party cried foul, noting that the army had come out strongly in Mr Khan’s favour, muzzling the press and sending security agents to meddle in polling stations. But the fact that these two ancient rivals are now making common cause as the loyal opposition suggests that they accept the result. Few Pakistanis want endless street protests and political turmoil. So the democratic show rolls on. For the second time in Pakistani history, power has been democratically transferred.

For over two decades Mr Khan has railed against a sleazy system of hereditary politicians and patronage networks. Yet this is the first time the PTI has shown a broadly national appeal in a country of 207m. Its 4m more votes than the PML-N represent a notable popular victory, one only partly undermined by vote-rigging allegations. Most remarkable is the PTI’s win in Karachi, a city of powerful local machines and thuggish street politics. The PTI may yet wrest Punjab, the country’s bread basket and most populous province, from the PML-N. That would cap a remarkable fall for the Sharif brothers: Nawaz, the “Lion of Punjab”, who was prime minister until last year and is now in jail facing corruption charges, and Shahbaz, Punjab’s former chief minister.

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Yes, he Khan

Mr Khan, who now commands about 115 seats in the National Assembly, still needs a handful of allies—independents and smaller parties—in order to govern. The PTI’s chief bankroller, Jahangir Tareen, has been flattering independents by flying them in to Islamabad, the capital, on his private jet. The grubby promises to them are the kind of thing Mr Khan used to decry. His wooing of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement, or MQM, the most unsavoury of Karachi’s parties, is making some PTI leaders gag. But at least it means that Mr Khan does not need radical Islamist parties to form a governing coalition. Before the election, he pandered to zealots.

Meanwhile, over the economy there is no time to lose. Not for the first time, an incoming government faces a balance-of-payments crisis. The current-account deficit has widened and the currency is sliding. Pakistan imports three-quarters of all its energy needs. Yet foreign-exchange reserves are down to just $9bn—barely two months’ import cover. An IMF bail-out, of perhaps $12bn, looks all but inevitable. Negotiating one will require finesse. Pakistan is in hock to China which, through a ballyhooed China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, has promised $62bn of infrastructure spending. This week America’s secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, insisted that his country would block any IMF bail-out that profited China. The task of stitching a deal together will fall to Asad Umar, Mr Khan’s probable finance minister. He is a good choice: the former head of Engro, the country’s biggest private conglomerate, Mr Umar is reform-minded and admired.

The terms of an IMF deal will bring a populist party down to earth—so much for Mr Khan’s wild promises of an “Islamic welfare state”. The next challenge is the electricity sector. In office, the PML-N did much to fix Pakistan’s notorious blackouts, helped by China building new capacity. But a tangle of debts among state generators, energy suppliers and banks has been exacerbated by theft from the grid. This can be resolved by reducing subsidies, raising energy taxes and recapitalising state entities. Mr Khan has long bemoaned Pakistan’s institutional decay. Renewal starts with fixing the electricity mess.

Then come security and foreign policy. Islamist violence marred the election and is a constant threat to Pakistan. Meanwhile, the regional situation grows trickier, with rivalry between America and China, and China and India. That comes on top of rocky relations with America itself, the festering sore of war-torn Afghanistan to the north-west, and Pakistan’s age-old and bitter animosity towards India.

Mr Khan would seem ill-suited for these challenges. He has been more critical of America, especially over its use of drones to kill jihadists, than of the extremists themselves. And he is pally with an army that is the chief obstacle to better relations with India, the sworn enemy.

There is room for surprises, though. Under Nawaz Sharif, the civilian government and the army clashed. The generals distrusted, and then thwarted, Mr Sharif’s overtures to his Indian counterpart, Narendra Modi. Relations with India, they make it clear, are their remit. But perhaps, says Sehar Tariq of the United States Institute of Peace, “harmony” between civilian rulers and the army (ie, civilian subservience) could “reap dividends” over India. High-level exchanges have recently taken place between the two countries’ armed forces. Pakistan’s army chief, General Qamar Bajwa, is relatively doveish towards India, acknowledging that home-grown jihadism is a far greater threat to Pakistan. Pakistan, via the generals, may yet find the will to seek better Indian ties.

One day, though, Mr Khan will surely clash with the generals. He speaks of opening the border with Afghanistan, an idea at odds with the 2,300km-long fence the army wants to build. And he wants to spend heavily on health and education, money which can only be found by crimping the armed forces’ budget. Farooq Tirmizi, an analyst, predicts a fight that will come down to “guns versus textbooks”.

But that is for the future. For now, Mr Khan, who has seldom attended parliamentary sessions and who has described the assembly as “the most boring place on earth”, must find a sense of dedication, detail and compromise that has evaded him till now. He must learn to work with a political class he has only slammed. And he must gently let down his most enthusiastic supporters from the irresponsible highs he generated for them—for instance, by promising to end corruption within 90 days. It will require dogged strength, which he has in abundance, and humility—which, equally, he lacks. Over to the captain.

A controversial register of citizens in north-east India

GIVEN the problem, it seemed a reasonable solution. The north-eastern state of Assam is among the most ethnically, linguistically, religiously and topographically mixed bits of India. It is also the most combustible. In the 1970s and 1980s thousands died in unrest, mostly (but by no means entirely) sparked by fears of the biggest group, Assamese-speaking Hindus, of being swamped by an influx of Bengali-speakers. An impoverished country, Bangladesh, had sprung up next door in 1971, pushing both persecuted Hindus and Muslim migrants over a border so porous that 162 bubbles of foreign territory, some no bigger than a few rice paddies, had been left trapped on either side. So why not, the state’s leaders suggested in 2005, do a tally to sort out Assam natives from recent intruders, and send anyone who came after 1971 packing?

Fast-forward to July 30th, when the state government released a draft of its National Register of Citizens. The much-delayed count, undertaken in earnest only in the past three years, suggests that some 4m out of the state’s 33m people, most of whom are Bengali-speaking Muslims, have failed to prove they are pukka Assamese. The prospect of so many being made stateless, and possibly expelled, has understandably aroused a furore.

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Opposition politicians decry the exercise. They say the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP, which reigns in Assam as well as in Delhi, India’s capital) has cynically designed it to rally its Hindu-nationalist base in advance of next year’s general election. Mamata Banerjee, chief minister of neighbouring West Bengal state, warns of “a civil war, a bloodbath”. While cooler heads in the BJP note that the count was started under previous governments, hotter ones accuse the opposition of being unpatriotic and playing “vote-bank politics” with Muslims, who make up over a third of Assam’s population. One BJP legislator from far-off southern India declared that if Bangladeshi or Rohingya immigrants (the latter fleeing persecution in Myanmar) do not leave, they should be shot.

Assam remains calm, for now. Local leaders insist the register is just a draft, and that anyone may challenge their status. As it is, many have spent weeks and months, as well as fortunes in legal fees, to dig up the dusty old documents needed to prove ancestral links to the state—if these even exist. Those left off the current list include officers in the Indian army, one from a pair of twins, tens of thousands of women from families too poor, unlettered or conservative to have considered registering their births or marriages, and several serving or former members of Assam’s local legislature—including one from the BJP.


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