1 | Afghanistan
Millions Missing at Kabul Bank
Afghan regulators are struggling to uncover what happened to up to $900 million that may have gone missing from Kabul Bank, Afghanistan's largest and most sophisticated financial institution. The sum, now thought to be three times as large as an estimate made in August, is alleged to have been siphoned off in a web of corruption, bribes and mismanagement that likely benefited a small group of privileged and politically connected Afghans. Analysts fear that because the bank is a pillar of the country's meager financial system, its collapse could crash Afghanistan's fragile economy and spark domestic chaos. The government is determined to keep the bank afloat, though doing so would require a large cash injection from its already strapped, foreign-aid-dependent budget.
2 | India
Tibet's Troubled Lama
A media frenzy surrounded Ogyen Trinley Dorje, the 17th incarnation of the Karmapa Lama, after investigators seized about $1 million in cash from his monastery home in India, including currency in Chinese yuan. Dorje, 25, is the second most famous Tibetan religious figure in exile, after the Dalai Lama. He has long faced rival claimants to his holy position as well as the distrust of some in New Delhi who see him as a possible Chinese agent and question the nature of his dramatic 1999 escape from Chinese Tibet. Dorje's associates and allies, like the Dalai Lama, insist the cash comes from routine donations made by Buddhists around the world, including mainland China.
3 | Burma
A Democracy, in Theory
The Burmese parliament convened for the first time in more than two decades, bringing into effect a new constitution that technically ends a half-century of military rule. While Burmese officials tout a transition to democracy, most of the seats remain controlled by the all-powerful military. Though Than Shwe, the highest-ranking figure in the junta, is not in the mix to become President, most expect him to retain ultimate power in the country.
4 | Niger
Election Held To Restore Civilian Rule
The impoverished West African nation held elections meant to bring an end to a year of military rule. In 2010 a coup ousted Mamadou Tandja, who had come to power in 1999 after replacing another military leader. Tandja had attempted to seek a third term and now faces corruption charges. The polls came amid tensions between Niger and its former colonial ruler, France, over recent kidnappings of French nationals by suspected al-Qaeda terrorists.
5 | Pakistan
An Expanded Nuclear Arsenal
According to new estimates, Pakistan has steadily grown its nuclear stockpile over the past two years and now boasts between 95 and 110 deployed weapons. The nuke count, tallied by U.S. intelligence and nongovernmental analysts in Washington, puts the unstable, poverty-wracked country significantly ahead of its archrival India. While Islamabad insists its arsenal is for deterrence, there are long-standing concerns about the Pakistani nuclear program's vulnerability to Islamist extremists.
Estimated stockpiles of strategic nuclear warheads worldwide