Asia/Africa update: June 23 2017



The Taliban have made no secret of the fact that one of their demands before negotiations with Kabul can begin is a full American withdrawal from Afghanistan. Of course, it’s possible that a full American withdrawal from Afghanistan would obviate the need for talks, so quickly would the Taliban be likely to regain control of the country militarily in that scenario. Wherever you come down on the “should the US stay or should it go” question, if you’re a fan of beating dead horses then Taliban leader Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada reiterated the Taliban’s position for the we’ve-all-lost-count-th time on Friday:

Calling for “complete independence of the country and establishment of an Islamic system”, he warned against plans under consideration to increase the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan by up to 3,000-5,000.

“The more they insist on maintaining the presence of their forces here or want a surge of their forces, the more regional sensitivity against them will intensify,” he said.

However, he also promised “constructive and good relations with you and the world” once “your illegitimate occupation of Afghanistan comes to an end”.

He dismissed widespread accusations that the Taliban benefited from aid from other countries including Pakistan and, more recently, Russia, saying it would “not allow anyone else to intervene in Afghanistan”.

“Likewise, we don’t permit others to use the soil of Afghanistan against anyone,” he said.

Right, of course. Pakistan only let the Afghan Taliban move its headquarters over the border circa 2002 and carry out regular attacks against Afghan targets for funsies, not because the Taliban is a client of Pakistani intelligence or anything like that. Akhundzada added a call for his forces to avoid civilian casualties, which is so beyond parody I don’t even know where to begin.


One or two of Pakistan’s myriad terrorist groups decided to make a big splash heading into Eid al-Fitr:

At least 37 people have been killed and more than 100 injured in two separate attacks in Pakistan, according to local officials.

Early on Friday, a suicide car bomber killed 12 people in Quetta in the volatile south-west.

In the afternoon, twin blasts hit a market in Parachinar, the largest city in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, killing at least 25 and injuring more than 100, medical officials said.

The Quetta attack, claimed by Pakistani Taliban splinter faction Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, targeted a high-ranking police official. The Parachinar attack, so far unclaimed (the Pakistani Taliban have carried out other attacks in the area but ISIS is also a possibility), simply targeted Shiʿa civilians.

UPDATE: It’s now Saturday evening east coast time and the death toll from these attacks has now climbed to 85, 67 of whom were killed in Parachinar. Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, a Sunni extremist group with past al-Qaeda ties and possibly current ISIS ties, has claimed credit for the Parachinar bombings, which is at least their second major bombing there this year. LeJ’s main animating principle is basically the eradication of Pakistan’s Shiʿa community, so their attacks over the past ~20 years have primarily been against Shiʿa population centers.


A police officer was beaten to death Thursday night in Srinagar by a crowd of people outside the city’s main mosque after he began shooting at them when they accused him of spying on them. The officer was reportedly taking pictures (so, yes, he probably was surveilling the crowd at the mosque) and when challenged by some in the crowd he drew his weapon and began firing. Three people were injured before some in the crowd grabbed and lynched him.


Reuters takes a look at the Maute family, as in the Mautes behind the ISIS-aligned Maute Group that is still forcibly holding on to part of Marawi after nearly five weeks of government efforts to dislodge them:

Farhana Maute was related to politicians in her hometown of Butig, near Marawi, and was considered somewhat of a kingmaker because of her wealth and influence. And like many clans in the lawless area, the Mautes maintained a private militia that included Farhana’s seven sons, the analysts said.

When the Mautes got involved in a dispute with Butig Mayor Dimnatang Pansar over the award of civil contracts, it erupted into a brutal clan feud, a clash so common to Mindanao it has its own name, rido.

Other militant groups in the southern Philippines joined the Mautes, and they formed a joint front in Marawi against government troops.

Abdullah Maute (L) and Omar Maute (R), founders of the Maute Group, both believed killed in the Marawi fighting though this is unconfirmed

Farhana, the matriarch of the family, is a wealthy business owner who does not seem to have become radicalized to the extent that her (possibly late) sons, Omar and Abdullah, the two leaders of the Maute Group, are (or were). But she does seem to be sympathetic toward the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, an Islamist separatist movement that ended its long rebellion against Manila in 2014. She’s apparently now been arrested, suggesting that she’s had some role in the formation of her sons’ insurgent group, though admittedly in Rodrigo Duterte’s Philippines being arrested isn’t necessarily evidence that you’ve done anything wrong.


There was a missile test on the Korean Peninsula on Friday, but for a change it wasn’t North Korea conducting the test:

South Korea successfully test-fired on Friday a new ballistic missile with a range far enough to hit any part of North Korea, as it seeks to counter the North’s growing missile threat.

While President Moon Jae-in watched, the weapon, a type of Hyunmoo-2 ballistic missile, blasted off from a test site in Taean, a coastal county southwest of Seoul, the capital, the president’s office said in a statement.

The missile traveled a designated distance before hitting a target, the office said, without disclosing how far it flew. Defense officials and the domestic news media said the missile could fly up to 800 kilometers, or 497 miles — the maximum ballistic missile range allowed under a deal with the United States.

South Korea has tested the missile four times so far and will have it ready to use after two additional tests, Mr. Moon’s office said.

Additionally, two North Korean soldiers have defected across the North-South border in the past ten days. This is interesting in that defectors generally go via a third country because of the difficulty of making it into South Korea overland directly from the North.



Nasser Zefzafi, leader of the Hirak al-Shaabi protest movement that has spread from Hoceima throughout Morocco’s Rif region since October, was badly beaten by Moroccan authorities after his arrest in late May, according to Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. Moreover, many of the charges that have been leveled at Zefzafi seem overblown or downright illegitimate:

The evening of the hearing, the crown prosecutor referred the defendants to the investigating judge. According to the prosecutor’s written referral, dated June 14 and published on the news website, the charges he asked the judge to investigate include one that carries the death penalty: “participation in harming internal state security by carrying out an attack the goal of which is to cause destruction and killing and theft in more than one region.”

The prosecutor also recommended charges of “participating in violence against state security forces that led to blood-letting;” “forming a plot to harm internal security;” “harming internal state security by receiving financial sums […] to finance activities and propaganda of a nature to harm the unity and sovereignty of the Kingdom of Morocco and shake the faith of citizens in the Moroccan state and the institutions of the Moroccan people;” “organizing unauthorized demonstrations and holding public gatherings without permission and participating in an armed gathering;” “insulting state institutions and the public security agents;” and “publicly inciting against the Kingdom’s territorial integrity.”

While the recommended charges that include acts of violence are recognizably criminal, many of the other charges either violate by their very nature basic rights (such as “insulting state institutions”) or are so broad and vague that authorities can easily use them to punish opponents for speaking or protesting peacefully. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Morocco ratified in 1979, and Morocco’s 2011 constitution, guarantee the right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.


Here’s an interesting piece on patterns of enlistment in jihadi movements by young Fulani in Mali and elsewhere in West Africa over the past several years. Young Fulani who join al-Qaeda affiliates like MUJAO, then al-Mourabitoun, and now Nusrat al-Islam are often assumed to be doing so out of a sense of religious extremism and/or malevolence. But economic upheavals within the traditional Fulani nomadic community and tensions with other ethnic groups in the region are at least as big a part of the story:

The current conflicts in Central Mali are mostly related to the technical and operational conditions for resource exploitation, as well as difficulties in defining and delineating agro-pastoral areas – but are also increasingly due to the expansion of the conflict that erupted in Northern Mali in 2012. Fulani pastoralists were the first people to join the jihadist movement MUJAO. As members of MUJAO, they were able to access training and secure weapons with which to fight the Tuaregs from Hairé and Gourma regions, who they accused of stealing their livestock and who used to represent the Mouvement national pour la liberation de l’Azawad in the area in 2012. The relationship between Fulani pastoralists and those Tuareg communities has been tense and conflictual for ages, due to competition over the exploitation of local resources, tenure rights and pastoralist practices.

Fulani are often joining these organizations for the leg up it gives them in their struggles with traditional competitors. A simultaneous growth in non-religious Fulani militias shows that there’s a general Fulani movement toward militarizing that’s irrespective of Islamic extremism.


The Monkey Cage’s Laura Seay reviews a couple of books on Boko Haram that might be of interest:

Brandon Kendhammer’s “Muslims Talking Politics: Framing Islam, Democracy, and Law in Northern Nigeria” seeks to explain how northern Nigerians understand the relationship between their faith and Nigeria’s at times unsteady democracy. Kendhammer’s bona fides on this subject are solid; he speaks Hausa and was the last Fulbright scholar in northern Nigeria before security conditions became prohibitive for the program. In the book, he analyzes an astonishing range of historical and modern discourses from the 19th-century Sokoto Caliphate through the colonial period and the tumult of early post-colonial years to the present day to argue that most Nigerian Muslims see Islamic religious values and sharia law as compliments to, not detractors from, democratic institutions.

Like Kendhammer, Alexander Thurston seeks to understand how religion and societal values intersect. Thurston examines northern Nigerian religious values with a deep dive into the history and development of particular strains of Islam in northern Nigeria in “Salafism in Nigeria: Islam, Preaching, and Politics.”  Based on extensive fieldwork in Nigeria’s north, Thurston’s fascinating book examines how the Salafi strain of conservative Islam made its way to the region and how the development of a canon of religious texts and thoughts affects the way that Nigerian Muslims might encounter Salafism.


Four attackers killed three people on Friday in the town of El Wak, in northern Kenya. The attackers fled north toward the border with Somalia, so the obvious assumption is that they were al-Shabab members.

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